President Obama's dire reminder to black voters: American “history can go backwards” like from post-Civil War Reconstruction to Jim Crow

"If we don't vote, we can go backwards"

By Sophia Tesfaye
September 28, 2016 8:12PM (UTC)
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Barack Obama participates in a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made a mockery of his so-called outreach to African-American voters by throwing in a patronizing question to his stump speech: "What do you have to lose?"

In an interview on Steve Harvey's morning radio show today, the first African-American president of the United States attempted to answer that question by reminding black voters of just what is potentially at stake in this election.


"My legacy’s on the ballot,” Obama said on Wednesday. "You know, all the work we’ve done over the last eight years is on the ballot.”

Directing his message to black voters, Obama said, “I don’t want anybody to stay home thinking this is any less important than 2008 or 2012.”

"So the notion somehow that, ‘Well, you know, I’m not as inspired because Barack and Michelle, they’re not on the ballot this time and, you know, maybe we kinda take it easy’ — my legacy’s on the ballot," he repeated.


Claiming that the Trump campaign has publicly stated that one of the GOP candidate's goals is to "eliminate the Obama presidency," he argued, "The stakes could not be higher" in November.

“If you vote for a third-party candidate who's got no chance to win, that's a vote for Trump,” he added.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are earning 7.4 percent and 2.4 percent in Real Clear Politics' average of national polls.


Obama then invoked the new National Museum of African American History and Culture to remind African-American voters that a Trump win could destroy "all the work we've done over the last eight years."

Referring to the latest Smithsonian museum, he said, "This is the culmination of a lot of work over a lot of years."


Added the president: "This is the result of ordinary people, slaves and sharecroppers and civil rights folks and Pullman porters and just generation after generation, doing their part to make sure that the day would come when our achievements were recognized. And that is how progress is made in this country. So I hope that everybody really thinks over the next 45 days about 'What is our role? How do we carry this forward? How do we sustain the progress that's been made?'"

History, Obama said, can go forward, backward or even sideways, depending on how active and involved citizens are.

"If we don't vote, we can go backwards," he warned.


"There have been times in our history where right after the Civil War everybody was feeling good about the course we were on," Obama continued. "And then suddenly next thing you knew Jim Crow was in place and the few African-Americans who had been elected suddenly they were purged and suddenly people couldn't vote again."

He left one final reminder: "If you do not vote, you are voting for Donald Trump."

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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