I’ve read the acceptance speech and heard the soundbites but more than once I have wanted to hear the views of the man who wrote countless letters from America – Alistair Cooke. How would that Anglo American gentlemen view the election of America’s first black president. I suspect his thoughts would be profound and set in a succinct historical context. Instead we hear the powerpoint like summaries from BBC political editors – editted down for an inattentive audience, shame.
However, Obama’s election was put into context by accident and by a program narrative that was recorded long before the result was called. The BBC Four series “1914-1918” is narrated by Judi Dench and it was her voice that summed up Obama’s election without even knowing. She spoke of the first black USA regiments who fought in World War I – they fought to have the right to serve and in many cases die just like their white fellow citizens. American democracy took a huge step forward as black Americans fought for the right to fight.
The point that I would like to think that Alistair Cooke would make is a simple one – from black Americans winning the right to lead black troops in 1917 to the actuality of a black man leading a multi-racial democracy. All within living memory. A transformation of significance by any measure and a welcome one, though one with further to go.
I recall one Letter from America in which Cooke described his night in ‘darktown Baltimore’ when Joe Louis won the heavyweight boxing championship. It’s not his warm description of the night that I find memorable – it’s the word “darktown”. The term in common use at that time jars, it really jars.
I’d like to hear Alastair Cooke reflect on the Obama victory – his objective and considered views on a country going through an enlightenment would be profound.