Fred Logan: Black Politics in Allegheny County, Campaign 2024

by Fred Logan

Over the past 59 years, since the 1965 Voting Rights Act, there have been 14 US presidential elections. Right this moment, the fifteenth campaign is raging like a hurricane between the National Democratic Party and the National Republican Party.

White America—not Black America—is bitterly divided. Mainstream experts on White America repeat over and over that White America is more politically divided today than at any time since the US Civil War of the 1860’s.

Democratic and Republican elected officials battle in federal, state, and local chambers like the North and the Confederate armies fought during the US Civil War.

Recently, the whole country was warned by US President Joe Biden that if Donald Trump wins the White House, American democracy is threatened.   

What is the role of Black politics at this grave moment? Is it to sit passively and hope for the best? Hell no! The Black community in the vanguard of US resistance to right-wing reaction, and a united front against it, must be in the forefront battling reaction in 2024.  But what does this mean in concrete political struggle?

In US presidential campaigns since the VRA, Black Pittsburgh voters have voted for the Democratic candidate as “the lesser of two evils” in opposition to the Republican Party’s overt White racist “Southern Strategy” to win the White House. 

We voted, however lukewarm, for Democratic candidates, Humbert Humphries, Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, Mike Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Baraka Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton. For the most part this has been a vote for the lesser of two evils, the Democrat being the lesser.

In 2024, Joe Biden is the lesser of two evils in comparison to Donald Trump. But will the 2024 Black voter turn-out be lower than the 2020 vote without another George Floyd police/state assassination to enrage the masses?

Black Pittsburgh voted for Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1984 and for Baraka Obama in 2008 and 2012. But we have not used these historic opportunities to build the partisan political institution, organizations and instruments that are necessary to defend and promote the political interests of the Allegheny County Black community in local, state, and national politics. That is the major task for the local Black community in the current 2024 campaign.

Heeding the wisdom of Paul Robeson, we must acknowledge and emphasize that Black people have waged many important local political struggles over the past 59 years that we fail to appreciate. These examples testify to the potential for local Black politics rooted in the vision and ethics of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, Minster Malcolm X, the Reverend Martin Luther King and the masses of African American people in our centuries-long struggles for the right to vote. 

One example, at a week-day noon hour, the Homewood African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on Bennett Street was standing-room-only with Black people to hear the Reverend Jesse Jackson make an unscheduled 1984 presidential campaign speech. He told the audience, which had been mobilized from all over Allegheny County with just last-minute telephone calls, that Black politics in the Pittsburgh region would never be the same because of the unprecedented national impact of his campaign.  The potential for Black, mass-based “Fannie Lou Hamer” politics was there.

Four years later Reverend Jackson won a whole lot more votes than he did in 1984.  But regrettably, The Reverend’s earlier zeal for independent grassroots politics had waned significantly.

Nationally, if you recall, the Reverend Jesse Jackson went on to become, literally, the court jester in the Bill Clinton White House—with the moniker Clinton’s “special envoy for democracy and human rights in Africa.”  

That said, Jackson’s two campaigns were much more “progressive” than Baraka Obama’s campaigns which never claimed to be anything but middle-of-the-road Democratic Party establishment politics. 

During his eight years in the White House, Obama ducked and dodged the “Black Agenda,” the Congressional Black Caucus, the Association for the Study of African American History and Life Black History Month, and the list goes on.

The late Dr. Martin Kilson wrote a very important paper on the key role of Black women in the 2008 Super Tuesday South Carolina primary. The indispensable work of African American women turned the national tide for Baraka Obama.  Since he left the White House, Obama still has not fully acknowledged the role the national Black vote played in his victory road to the White House.

Without “the Black Vote” Obama would never have been elected.  In 2008 and 2012, the majority—that is 50 percent plus—of White American voters did not vote for USA mainstream-safe Baraka Obama.  You go check that online.

And for eight years, very loud voices in the national Black community scolded, and berated Black people to “Give the brother a chance,” lay low.  During this same time period the US White right “mobilized, educated, and organized” its base and rose to national power.

Also, the recent rise in the national Democratic Party’s “Progressive” wing—whose policies echo many of the priorities of the “Black Agenda” going back over 50 years—does not owe its rise to Baraka Obama’s campaigns or presidential politics.

In 2024, local US Congresswoman Summer Lee is running for reelection. What does that mean for Pittsburgh area Black politics?

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