In South Carolina, Talk About History
By Krissah Williams
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The rich mashed potatoes and juicy baked chicken in the church cafeteria at the United House of Prayer are a lunchtime draw in the heart of the black community here. And, as the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination intensifies in South Carolina, interviews with regulars during the lunch rush revealed political chatter just as juicy.
"I'm ready for a change in the politics of this country and I think [Obama's] a good vehicle to bring that in," said Yvette Wider, a 51-year-old accountant. "Give us a chance. Everyone else has had their chance."
Wider walked into Barack Obama's headquarters here a few months ago and, after talking to one of his campaign volunteers, made up her mind then and there that she would vote for him.
"I was already leaning that way," she said.
Hilton Cooper, a 52-year-old government worker who was eating with Wider, said she is still undecided and caught up in the excitement of having the opportunity to choose between a white woman and a black man. "I'm so happy I'm alive in this era," she said. "It is a very historic event."
When Cooper walks into the polls next Saturday, she said, she is going to vote for the candidate that she believes will bring her relatives serving in the military home and can help her family maneuver through the economic recession that she believes is headed her way.
This part of town is a Democratic stronghold, and no one is talking about the Republican candidates. They are closely vetting the top two Democrats; few mention John Edwards.
As for the controversy over Hillary Clinton's statements about Martin Luther King Jr. needing an assist from President Lyndon Johnson to get the Civil Rights Act passed, the murmurs continue, even after she and Obama sought to put that racially sensitive discussion to rest at a debate last night.
Cooper said, "I'm not paying attention to that foolishness." She said Clinton's comments have been taken out of context. But they remain a point of discussion for many as city leaders plan for a big NAACP rally at the State House on the holiday commemorating King's birthday, to pressure the state government to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the capitol grounds, where it still flies.
A few minutes after Wider and Cooper left the cafeteria, South Carolina state Sen. Kay Patterson, who has served this district for 34 years and announced last week that he is "cutting wood and toting water for" Obama, sat down with a plate of baked chicken and green beans. He said plenty of people are peeved.
"I think the name Clinton has a lot of weight in South Carolina, but I think that they are losing some of those people," Patterson said. "I like Bill Clinton, always have, always will, but I don't like what Hillary said about Dr. King.
"Dr. King symbolized hope for us. He symbolizes the progress that we have made and that's why we love him, and I hope we continue that legacy."
Al Hanna, a 63-year-old human resources director, chimed in. "It's a bunch of crap what she said. I've been in the jungle fighting for our rights, and if we hadn't started the civil rights movement Congress would never have enacted the law."
Hanna is supporting Obama. "Some people say it's not time for a black man" to be president, he says. "If the time is not now, when will it be time?"
Posted at 2:54 PM ET on Jan 16, 2008
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