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Remembering The Beautiful And Prescient Words Of Dorothy Tillman On Black Politics Softening Under Obama

Remembering The Beautiful And Prescient Words Of Dorothy Tillman On Black Politics Softening Under Obama

Dorothy Tillman
Remembering The Beautiful And Prescient Words Of Dorothy Tillman On Black Politics Softening Under Obama. In this photo, Former Chicago Alderman Dorothy Tillman, known for her hats, gets into the music as hundreds listen to gospel music on the main floor of Operation PUSH headquarters, Chicago, for the funeral of Koko Taylor, Queen of the Blues, Friday, June 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Eric Y. Exit)

Over the years, former President Barack Obama has been criticized by many for not doing more to push a Black agenda. One of those critics was Dorothy Tillman, a civil rights activist and former alderman of Chicago’s 3rd Ward, who was in office from 1985 through 2007. Tillman, a Democrat, has gone on record several times to decry the weakening of Black political power under Obama. Here is a look back at some of her words.

“Now the truth of the matter is … President Obama is not addressing the Black Agenda. President Obama have (sic) been told that it’s alright not to address our agenda. They said if you don’t address it don’t worry about it because they gon’ be quiet,” Tillman said in 2010 during talk show host Tavis Smiley’s Black Agenda Forum.

Tillman, now 73, was joined in her criticism of Obama by other notable Black leaders including scholar Cornell West, Minister Louis Farrakhan, author Michael Eric Dyson and more. When Smiley asked who “they” were that told Obama it’s alright not to address the Black agenda, Tillman replied, “He been told by the little birds in his ears.”  


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She added that many Black people had become complacent because someone who looked like them was in the oval office. However, she said it wasn’t enough.

“We are so happy to have a Black face in the White House that we have to get back in our place where they had us before,” Tillman said. “Now let me tell you, I refuse, and I teach my children – and for the youth who’s out there watching today, I grew up in the Civil Rights Movement and it’s been young people who have really moved this movement … if we don’t stand and be strong, we cannot make our young people cowards by being quiet. We just can’t do that.”

According to Dorothy Tillman, Obama did not live up to the expectation that he would help Black people in a grand way.

“It is not about anybody around this table,” Tillman told Smiley. “It’s not about us. It is about our future, it is about our children, it is about our communities.”

“We live in what you call representative government,” Tillman continued. “Now what makes me upset is that we work and put Black folks in office and they say ‘I can’t deal with that. That’s too Black.’ Now everybody thinks that something is wrong with you. Don’t you know that everybody in this country and in the world expected the president to deal with the Black agenda? The Irishmen deal with their agenda; the Italians deal with their agenda; the Latinos deal with their agenda. That’s just natural.”

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Also a staunch advocate of reparations for Black Americans for the institution of slavery, Tillman said no one was really speaking up for Black people specifically under Obama. She said many Black Americans were afraid to speak out on their own behalf during Obama’s tenure for fear that it would challenge his presidency.

“Nobody in America right now speaks for Black people whether they’re elected, annointed or appointed. Whenever they mention Black people, they say minority, or they say women, Hispanic …” Tillman said. “I think that we have a responsibility to bring the question to the president of the United States, I don’t care what color he is because that’s when you’re dealing with the content of the character, it’s not the color of the man, it’s about what’s going on with our people,” Tillman said.

“When we look at Black people today – and I come from the South, I come out of the Civil Rights Movement – I have never in my life … even in Jim Crow, we’re in a new era of Jim Crow and Black Codes, I’ve never seen Black folks so fearful and scared. Black folks are in pain and this is the first time since we’ve been in this country that we’ve been in pain and didn’t know what to do about it,” she added.

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Tillman said even one of the white listeners of her radio show underscored her point.

“A white man called me on my radio station one day and said, ‘Dorothy, if I’d have known all I had to do to keep you quiet was get a Black president I would have been gotten one.’ That’s very profound.”

Tillman said Obama’s “the rising tide will lift all boats” philosophy did not help Black people. Though she did not blame him for his views, she pointed out they did not serve Black Americans descended from slaves.  

“Barack is president of the United States of America. We have to understand what Barack says he believes, so we can’t get angry at him when he says ‘the rising tide will lift all boats’ because that’s the way he was raised. That’s not to put anything on him. The descendants of enslaved Africans in America have a different experience,” Tillman said. “We are the only group of people that did not voluntarily come here. We are forced immigrants. We’re also the only group of people in this country that the American government made laws against to keep in bondage.”

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