In March 2004, while attending a planned rally meeting at MacArthur’s Restaurant, 5412 W. Madison, on Chicago’s West Side for then state Senator Barack Obama, little did I or the organizers-radio host Nate Clay and community activists such as Collins Pierce and Doris Lewis-realize what this meeting would eventually lead to.
An interesting occurrence took place at this meeting. The young, unknown U.S. Senate candidate was confronted by some very serious and outspoken activists. Things became so volatile, the management of MacArthur’s threatened to call the police because of the rather loud confrontation.
Many of us in attendance that rainy March evening were impressed and surprised how well Obama handled himself as the activists became more animated and agitated. Obama stood his ground and even told one of the young men, “I gave you my phone number once before, but you never called with your concerns.”
Obama took off his suit jacket and vowed to stay all night if necessary to address the young men’s concerns. “I will stay as long as needed to hear your complaints.” One of the complaints concerned Obama’s allegiance to the Jewish community, jobs and better representation for African Americans.
Nate Clay, former WLS Radio talk show host related how that meeting occurred:
“I first met Senator Obama about four years ago when WVON president/CEO Melody Spann Cooper called me to attend a meeting in ‘Little Italy’ at a cafe called Maple Street located on Taylor Street. In fact, it is the only African-American restaurant in Little Italy. Obama was present, as was Rev. Jesse Jackson and his son Jonathan.
“Barack was talking about his aspirations and goals and wanted advice as he planned his U.S. senatorial run. I said to him that a few people know you on the South Side, but you need to be formally introduced on the West Side. He said that was a good idea and asked me to plan the rally. I told him what I would need and a way to reach him. He provided this and I began organizing. We would meet every Thursday night at MacArthur’s, a place that had been recommended by one of my group. We met for about one and half months, passing out flyers, and posters all over the West Side announcing the upcoming rally. Cong. Danny Davis and his staff were very instrumental in helping us get the information out. Finally, I told Barack he needed to come to a meeting to meet the group and he agreed. Of course, little did any of us realize he would be confronted by the activists. I was quite impressed by how he handled this situation and those of us present that evening didn’t realize we were watching the making of a presidential candidate.”
Throughout Obama’s campaign we have heard the pundits state how his demeanor was one of calm and cool. Many of us were not surprised by these observations after witnessing his “trial by fire” during the meeting at MacArthur’s.
In the African-American community many of us have said how we wish our parents who have passed on could be present. There are so many people who paid with their lives trying to vote. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act was signed and black people gained access to vote without enduring brutality and even murder.
We’ve had many dramatic events in African-American history: 1619, first Negroes land at Jamestown, Va.; 1770, The Boston Massacre, Crispus Attucks was the hero that night; 1964 Fannie Lou Hamer, the Mississippi woman who tried to become a Democratic delegate said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired;”1963, Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington; and Nov. 4, 2008, Senator Barack Obama became president of the United States of America.