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The Roads That Got Us Here

Joe Nathan and Isla Mae Kindred lived in a simple, two-story, four-bedroom house in Severn, N.C. Mr. Kindred hauled peanuts for the local peanut company. Mrs. Kindred worked in the town's peanut factory. And when work slowed in the summer, she would walk the narrow, unnamed dirt road from her house to the paved expanse of asphalt that led to white families' homes that she'd clean. Mr. and Mrs. Kindred could see those homes from their backyard.

With education credentials that didn't rise beyond grade school, the Kindreds raised seven children under the specter of segregation and Jim Crow. The two boys and five girls worked in the cotton fields when school was out, stuffing the canvas bags with as much of the puffy fiber as possible to make as much money as possible. Work in the fields was hard. Life at home was hard. They didn't know when or how things would get better. The American Dream they'd heard so much about seemed so far out of their reach. Yet, they persevered. Many of the children would graduate from college.

Mrs. Kindred was a Jehovah's Witness. She would travel the back roads near Conway and Pendelton and Murfreesboro, searching for converts. And I was her grandson riding shotgun. The houses we visited in the early 1970s looked like they hadn't been painted since the Civil War and always smelled of a mix of chewing tobacco and wood-burning stove. Our hosts bore, in their eyes and in their bodies, the struggle and sacrifice of a people accustomed to lives of want. And still, rare was the day when we weren't greeted by displays of hope through pictures on their spartan walls of what I call the "Black Trinity": Jesus Christ, President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Three men African Americans believed would deliver them to better days.

Much will be made of the historic nature of what will take place at Invesco Field tonight. That's as it should be. Sen. Barack Obama, the first African American with a credible shot at sitting in the Oval Office, is accepting the nomination of his party 45 years to the day that Dr. King exhorted the nation to live up to its ideals. No doubt, we will be treated to images of tear-streaked faces of black and white alike. For this moment is the best of America.

But when Obama takes the stage, I will look back on the faces of my grandparents, the children they raised, and the people my grandmother introduced me to on those lonely southern roads. They believed strongly in this country and worked hard to make it a better place. Tonight might be Obama's night, but it's their night, too.

By Jonathan Capehart  | August 28, 2008; 2:46 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Given the fact that Obama has a white mother and black father why does everyone portray him as a black man? He is every bit as white as he is black so if we find ourselves with a need to characterize him as something more than just American, then shouldn’t we be saying that a he is either Mulatto or Bi-Racial? To deny the 50% white part of his genetic makeup is to promote and preserve racism and racial division.

Posted by: Ken | August 28, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Jonathan!

Although I gave you the proverbial "beat down" earlier this month regarding your Scarborough appearance, I must also give you kudos for this very well written, and evocative piece.

Posted by: L. Gulley | August 28, 2008 4:05 PM | Report abuse

This was a lovely piece of your heart to share with us, Jonathan. You've also been one of the fairest reporters/pundits all campaign season long in your appearances on MSNBC.

Posted by: Carole | August 28, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

So, we'll continue to wait as Hispanics continue to experience those same one seems to be clamoring for a Hispanic President..when is their night, or a night for women ?

Posted by: Matt E | August 28, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse


Thank you for sharing that with us.

Not unlike Michelle Obama, I have never felt as 'proud' of this country as I do today. I am a caucasian woman of a 'certain age'.

Also, I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your candor on Morning Joe when you shared what your Mother told you about how much higher the 'bar' would be for you.

As someone who broke through the 'glass ceiling', to some small extent I completely agree and understand.

I had a 'mentor' \ boss once tell me that 'if' I had been a man, the sky would be my limit.

Thank you Jonathan for speaking truth.

Bless you!

Posted by: Dari | August 28, 2008 5:12 PM | Report abuse

An obviously heartfelt piece, Mr. Capehart.

I am curious though. Does the fact that Sen. Obama is not descended from the oppressed African-American minority as are you and Dr. King "take the bloom off the rose" for you? Are his accomplishments in any way diminished in your eyes because his lineage does not trace back through the abomination which was slavery?

Posted by: Just wondering | August 28, 2008 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Bravo for this lovely, loving tribute. May it remind us all that we are descendants of simple and truly elegant folk. We have this in our bones. We must keep it in our hearts

Posted by: Marguerite Cummings | August 28, 2008 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Sweet and poignant, Jonathan. Thanks.

My southern white grandparents were sharecroppers and poverty stricken too; never went past the sixth grade.

Poverty and ignorance are the truest cripplers of any civilization. We're sliding backwards for the past 25 years on many levels, but moving forward on lots of others. The benefits of the few must be shared with the hardworking folks families who have not benefited from the republican greed machine. The dems have not done their share either yet the elites of both parties have grown wealthy and powerful.

Much of what you wrote brought back memories of similar experiences (minus the racism your grandparents endured) of poverty in the south which still exists.

Time to turn a page in this country if we are to truly reposition ourselves as moral and world leaders and join the 21st century.

Posted by: Southern Progressive | August 28, 2008 6:20 PM | Report abuse

I had a morning similar to your story. My next door neighbor James is from South Carolina and has told us stories of how unusual his last name is and how not many other African Americans have his surname. He went back to school recently to learn to read after a lifetime of work because his grandaughter is old enough now to to catch on. He is a proud man. We are a gay couple and he has always been warm and civil. He was with his grandaughter today and I asked her if she had seen Senator Obama last night and she said she did with a HUGE smile. We discussed how today was the anniversary of the "I Have A Dream Speech" and how wonderful it is for our country. We all agreed! Then James said it could have been better if he had picked Hillary looking at his grandaughter. We all agreed! It is sad that my mom,a single parent, my mates mom, a born again Christian and all the woman of this planet could have shared in Dr King's dream too! Obama could have made history and herstory!

Posted by: rverbist | August 28, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Capeheart, That was very touching. Thank you.

Posted by: Donna | August 28, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

EMPEROR OBAMA is ready for you all to bow down!!!

Posted by: Jeff Crocket | August 28, 2008 6:50 PM | Report abuse

This is a historic night for Africans but a tragic night for American women, and their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters. A female coworker shared how she cried in anguish as Hillary Clinton gave her "support Barack" speech. Clearly this author and the American media completely miss the feelings of many women about this campaign and this candidate.

I would say "Work in the pro-male workplace was hard. Life at home doing all the househhold chores aftrer a full days' work was hard. They didn't know when or how things would get better. The American Dream they'd heard so much about seemed so far out of their reach. Yet, they persevered. Many of their daughters would graduate from college."

American women are still struggling and waiting while enduring the disrepectful treatment of Barack Obama, his supporters, and the media. Our tragedy is made clear tonight, and I will be thinking of my mother and all her sacrifices that have yet to be noticed or appreciated.

Posted by: Not Our Night | August 28, 2008 6:52 PM | Report abuse

I disagree, Not Our Night, this woman doesn't feel like its a "tragic night for women."

I think of my great aunts and the sacrifices they made: living under Jim Crow; being paid less than their white female and male counterparts.
Still, they graduated from college in 1942, and they've handed down a legacy. My niece - their great-great-niece - is a fifth-generation college graduate.

Not all women were shut out. Many of us supported Obama. And I'll tell you like I tell my "black" friends who castigate HRC's African-American supporters.

It's not an either-or proposition. It's an "and-and" proposition. We can really live together.

Posted by: Afi Scruggs | August 28, 2008 7:29 PM | Report abuse

P.S., "Not Our Night,"
Ain't Michelle Obama a woman?

Posted by: Afi Scruggs | August 28, 2008 7:32 PM | Report abuse

To Not Our Night, Jeff Crocket, and any others who cannot look beyond your own self, your own politics, and your own hatred (which I personally believe is at the root of negative comments like these). . . I only hope that in life you will someday be as proud of this country as I am today. Despite the fact this country's history (and even present) has dictated that Black people (whether you are Bi-racial or not), our history, and our story do not count, (at least as much as the majority), somehow we have managed to reach this day when, from doubt, disbelief, there rises a hope that maybe this dream of equality is real. You may not want to hear that, but nothing can erase what has already been done. We can, however, learn from it and keep moving forward. As the article clearly highlights, Barack Obama's acceptance of the nomination tonight is not about's bigger than him, it's bigger than you, and it's bigger than me. It's progress. Regardless of whether I am a Republican or Democrat, I am able to put aside whatever philosophical, political, socioeconomic, religious, racial, and cultural differences I may have with Obama, and recognize that this is an historical moment. Please wake up and recognize what everyone else seems to grasp.

Posted by: Very Proud Woman | August 28, 2008 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Carleton College in the house!!

Posted by: Carl | August 28, 2008 9:06 PM | Report abuse

How sweet of you to paint a picture that only blacks suffered from poverty and want.

My fathers parents had to take up tenent farming after my grandfather was fired for getting hurt on the railroad -- no workmens' comp then.

At the ripe old age of 9 my father had to start hand milking cows twice a day. The farm owner said he had enough school(4th grade). Either my 9 year old father worked or the family would be evicted.

And the KKK was a tool of the land owners. White or black if you made trouble or did do as you were told...

So excuse me if I do not have a guilt complex.

Posted by: William | August 28, 2008 9:43 PM | Report abuse

To "A Very Proud Woman" and others who castigate anyone who is not pro-Obama: it is entirely possible to appreciate the historic moment and still feel sad that it's not the candidate you would like to have seen partaking of that historic moment.

Posted by: Sky | August 28, 2008 11:12 PM | Report abuse

Nowhere do you mention his white family If we who do not share your skin color and mention how our 1st gnereration german-swiss grandfather struggled to come to America, how our 2nd genereation mother , her 8 sisters and 2 brothers worked from dusk till dawn in farming fields in north west Ohio, who cleaned houses for" rich white people" in the big city. who always was proud of her children who graduated from high school as only one of her family did. How my father worked in grease and mud to repair cars , how his father and grandfathers on both side labored in the railroads , oil fields , farmers and as fishing guides in Northwest Ohio. How the grandmothers also planted, tended crops and canned and cooked everything to survive , even the chicken feet. Then maybe I will say we have over come. Just because he looks black and chooses to ignore his white side, how can he claim to be American if both sides are not honored. Shame on you and him!!!!!

Posted by: grannymoss2 | August 28, 2008 11:54 PM | Report abuse

I applaud your heartfelt and personal piece. I think this is such an important night in our Nation's history. This is a night we should ALL be proud of - blacks, whites, republicans, and democrats. Whether you are for Senator Obama or Senator McCain - be proud of this night that we have come this far that a black man can stand up and accept a major party's nomination for President.

Posted by: Jonathan M | August 28, 2008 11:57 PM | Report abuse

great article. all you naysaying redstate rednecks can crawl back into your SUVs...

Posted by: vaporland | August 29, 2008 12:36 AM | Report abuse

I would guess as the Grandson, That your not a Jehovah's Witness now? Since they are not allowed to speak about Politics.

I remember 4 years ago as a JW that on my MySpace page I had remarked about how bad I felt for the Boy's dying in Iraq on a useless War and not to mention them only but the 10's of Thousands of Iraqi's that have been killed. The Elders at the congregation called me on the carpet for my remarks.

When you think of all the Supreme Court decisions that were WON on behalf of the JW's for the Freedoms of Speech remember that as a JW you have neither, Freedom nor Speech.
Yet the Watchtower Magazine can bash the Catholic's, The United Nations and anything else that they depict as being EVIL. I love how they used to talk about the Perverted Clergy in the Catholic Church. But now it seems they themselves are paying out MILLIONS to those abused by their Elders. Only the Whats worse is that the Families that Won the cases have GAG ORDERS so as not to be able to even talk about the Filth that they have experienced in the so called (Spiritual Paradise) that they claim the Brotherhood is in today.

As a JW it was nice to talk to many people about the Kingdom of God. But I can be honest about one thing, They have replaced the Christ with the Organization.

You can't adhere to the Scriptures because only THEY can say what the scriptures mean. The Bible clearly say's "LET THE READER USE DISCERNMENT."

But I think the most Damage I have seen in my stay with them is where they call Jehovah the FATHER, The Organization in New York is the MOTHER and then as we know, Jesus is the Son. What a Total Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit! and may Jehovah REBUKE them for that.

As far as Obama, Is he the New Messiah? Is he going to lead us to the land flowing with Milk and Honey? I thought only the Watchtower Organization could do that...

Posted by: Keith | August 29, 2008 4:01 AM | Report abuse

It is curious that Jonathan Capehart weaves into a story about Barach Obama, the upcoming election, and acheiving the American Dream, the fact that his family were Jehovah's Witnesses, given that JWs are "anti" all of the aforementioned.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Government of the United States is an active partner with Satan the Devil in his universal rebellion against GOD's own rightful sovereignty. The WatchTower Society teaches that "Jehovah" established earth's rightful government, in heaven, in 1914, and that, in 1919, the WatchTower Society was "chosen" as the earthly representative of that heavenly government.

Right now, Jehovah's Witnesses are waiting anxiously for the Battle of Armageddon, during which Jesus Christ will destroy the Government of the United States, and all other governments, along with all other religious groups, and every person who failed to convert to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Thereafter, a world government composed of Jehovah's Witnesses will rule the planet.

The following SUMMARIES OF OVER 1300 JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES LAWSUITS & COURT CASES will provide the BEST and MOST ACCURATE info about Jehovah's Witnesses, their beliefs, and how they ACTUALLY practice such day to day.

The following website summarizes 850 court cases and lawsuits affecting children of Jehovah's Witness Parents, including 400 cases where the JW Parents refused to consent to life-saving blood transfusions for their dying children:


The following website summarizes over 500 lawsuits filed by Jehovah's Witnesses against their Employers, incidents involving problem JW Employees, and other secret JW "history" court cases:


Posted by: Jerry Jones | August 29, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

"How long is the Beast allowed to have authority in Revelations? "

Revelations Chapter 13 tells us that it is 42 months...

... Almost a four-year term of a Presidency...

According to The Book of Revelations the anti-Christ is:

"...a man, in his 40's, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal....the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, he will destroy everything..."

Do we recognize this description?


Even if you don't believe in the Bible or it's teachings, how can we ignore the fact that this man has such close ties to the Muslim faith and it's beliefs?
And that the Pastor from his church preached hate against America?--No matter how much he may denounce him now, this was his spiritual leader for many years.


In a recent news broadcast, Barack Obama made this statement with pride, 'We are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, . .." To think our forefathers fought and died for the right for our nation to be a Christian nation--then to have this man say with pride that we are no longer that.

How far has this nation come from what our founding fathers intended it to be!

Posted by: Shayna Arnold | August 29, 2008 10:18 AM | Report abuse

As a white southerner who grew up in the very bad old days (Ku Klux Klan lynched a black man in Dade County, Florida when I was 6 or 7 years old, 1952-53), I can say to you all Immigrants who work hard and suffered long that you did so without the sentence of death hanging over your head solely because of the color of your skin. Mr. Obama would have been under that same threat back in the day.
Mr. Capeheart, I hope things had progressed sufficiently in North Carolina that you did not literally have to ride shotgun for your grandmother.

Posted by: A Hardwick | August 29, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

@S. Arnold
(1) I attrribut your astounding statement to you having slept through what was proably as rather poor excuse for a course in American History.

(2) If you are a Republican, reread your statemen, and than never never wonder again why y'all cannot attract more of our Jewish brothers and sisters into y'alls very very small tent!!!

Posted by: A. Hardwick | August 29, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I grew up in Mississippi and can relate to the story you just wrote about the struggles of the poor. If my grandparents are anywhere looking down on me as I beleive that they continue to watch and keep me uplifted. I beleive their words to me would be; "I told you a change would come, our struggles were worth it, and we are so proud that you lived to see this historic event of change."

Posted by: Esmitty | August 29, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

For the first time in my life, I'm proud of America.

Posted by: Jonathan Capehart | August 29, 2008 4:48 PM | Report abuse

On race and religion:

I remember when Mikhail Gorbachev was supposed to be the anti-christ. That didn't work out?

Our country's founders weren't all Christians and they valued the freedom to express your beliefs and thoughts. Nowhere in our constitution did the founding fathers indicate a preference for Christianity. When Obama touts the fact that we have become a nation of many beliefs, he is stating a fact and, to my Unitarian Universalist mind, he is celebrating the fact that we can share our similarities without hating each other over our differences. Buddhists, Muslims, athiests, etc. all have a moral view. Very often those views agree. Buidling common ground where you are divided by differences is an ability I want in a president.

In terms of celebrating his white heritage, it seems to me that Obama does plenty of that, but who could blame him if he didn't? He certainly would be branded black or multi'racial anyway.

When I grew up in the 70's and 80's, the start of a new school year was always marked by my father asking me if my
new teacher was "pink". Any hint of a dark skin would have been enough for him to request a change of teacher for me.
Like my father, many in our country did or do feel that any hint of minority heritage makes you less-than-white, so I do not in any way fault those of bi- or multi-racial heritage for not touting their "white" sides. Embrace who you are, right? Senator Obama has talked extensively - throughout the campaign and during the convention - about both his parents and their families. He isn't downplaying anything.

Unfortunately, by the definitions we still insist on using, you can be Irish and Sweedish and still be white. But you
can't be Kenyan and Kansan and still be white. My hope is that as minorities and women continue to shatter those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, thise labels will begin to fall away. I love Hillary, she was my candidate and I cried when she had to conceed, but Barack Obama has such a
vision and a passion for this country that shows in his service that I completely support him as my candidate.

Senator Clinton may no longer be in the running for this election, but a good man is. We have a viable choice that can inspire us to be better than these last 8 years. It is a joyful moment any way you count it.

Posted by: trm | August 30, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

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