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What is the political valence of blackness at the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century; has it waxed or waned? Is it headed to greater potency or back into the dark days of the past when complexion determined the worth of character? Major political advances have been achieved nationally in the last ten years, most significantly in the election of the nation’s first African American president. Yet a resistant status quo remains. The push to unseat President Obama is virulent, and it is hard to imagine that all of the motivation to do so is tied only to his performance.

A vanguard state in some respects, Massachusetts made history this century by granting a black governor a second term for the first time ever. In the twentieth century, the state also distinguished itself as an out-front player in black politics when Edward Brooke, a Republican, became the first black U.S. senator to enjoy reelection in a place with the best and worst of racial history. Boston, where Martin Luther King earned his doctorate and developed his theory of non-violence, is identified with liberalism but also reactionary racial attitudes, exemplified most prominently in the busing crisis of the 1970s, when an angry young man of Irish background from South Boston whacked an ambitious young black lawyer of African descent. Boston, the symbolic navel of the nation, is one of the last large cities in the country to tarry in electing a black mayor. Will the city look out from its vaunted hill and rise above the quagmire of its racial past or will it slip and fall like Jack and Jill, tumbling down and losing its capacity to hold water?


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