Poverty, mass incarceration and other issues impacting African Americans took center stage on Feb. 21 when BET aired “Black Votes Matter.” The town hall special featured Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in separate interviews discussing their records of helping the black community.
With 76% of black votes going to Clinton in the Nevada Democratic caucus, Sanders clearly has a lot of work to do. He continues to tout his early involvement with civil rights, however, and told BET host and CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill that the 1996 welfare reform bill signed by former President Bill Clinton, was "an attack, by and large, on low income African-Americans," which he voted against.
Endorsed by top black lawmakers like South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, Clinton told journalist Jeff Johnson on BET, "I feel very supported by the large majority of the African-American community, I feel trusted by them."
African Americans will continue to be a major Democratic voting bloc for the candidates as they seek to clinch the nomination. Fortunately, both candidates are benefitting from black star power.
Harry, Morgan and Spike
Singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte is backing Sanders.
“I think he represents opportunity,” Belafonte said in an online interview. "I think he represents a moral imperative. I think he represents a certain kind of truth that’s not often evidenced in the course of politics…[He will] be able to turn this ship of state called America around and place it on a new course.”
Morgan Freeman has lent his vocal talent to the Clinton campaign. The veteran actor who was the voice of God in “Bruce Almighty” said in the TV ad, “Her life’s work has been about breaking barriers and so would her presidency, which is why for every American who’s not being paid what they’re worth, who’s being held back by student debt or a system tilted against them, and there are far too many of you, she understands that our country can’t reach its potential unless we all do."
Filmmaker Spike Lee is on Team Sanders, and recently endorsed his candidate in a radio ad: "Bernie takes no money from corporations. Nada. Which means he's not on the take. And when Bernie gets into the White House, he will do the right thing."
The African American vote was the topic of a segment on “The Nightly Show” on Feb. 23. Host Larry Wilmore, the Rev. Al Sharpton and show contributor Mike Yard discussed what candidates needed to do to win.
“Does Sanders have a shot at the black vote?” Wilmore asked. “It seems like he’s creating a lot of passion among a lot of voters. What would be the most important issues?”
“Black people need good paying jobs. That is the most important thing,” Yard said, adding that some family members have not had decent jobs in years.
“We get pinpointed in one area … We want what everybody else wants across the board and when they talk to us like we’re different, that is really condescending,” Sharpton said.
Reasons for supporting Clinton or Sanders varied among celebrities.
On Fox Business Network in May 2015, Ja-Rule said that he'd vote for Hillary Clinton because he is a Democrat, but also thought Jeb (Bush) was a good candidate.
"Scandal" star Kerry Washington said last year she would be “hitting the stump trail" for Clinton.
Last fall, T.I. got into big trouble after an interview with D.J. Whoo Kid, when he said he would not elect a female president. “I just know that women make rash decisions emotionally. They make very permanent, cemented decisions, and then later, it's kind of like it didn't happen or they didn't mean for it to happen. And I sure would hate to just set off a nuke," he said. The rapper later apologized on Twitter.
Beyonce is going with Clinton, as is Magic Johnson who tweeted: Clinton “will be a great president for the American people and she will make sure that everyone has a voice!"
Recent Sanders endorsements have come from philosopher Cornel West and former NAACP President Ben Jealous.
It has been 7 years since America’s first black president was elected. Wilmore asked how the black community may feel about how President Obama has done.
“When you look at the numbers, (we) have higher unemployment. We can’t get business loans under Obama,” Yard said.
“We are now at 8 percent—why are you distorting facts?” Sharpton replied. “That’s a 50 percent cut of unemployment under Obama … If he was walking on water, someone would say ‘I told you the brother couldn’t swim.’ Think of what he has had to deal with.”
So, who will the majority of African Americans support?
Sharpton is focused on getting black people to vote. “You wonder how Bernie or Hillary could get the black vote? Let Trump be the nominee, we’re all going to vote.”
Clinton owns a nearly 30-point edge going into the South Carolina Democratic primary on Feb. 27.