Did somebody forget the first black president? | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Did somebody forget the first black president?

Posted By on Sun, Feb 19, 2012 at 4:15 PM

As I've mentioned before, the American Experience's "Clinton" biography will air at 8 p.m. Monday and 7 p.m. Tuesday on AETN. The Tuesday show will be followed by a panel moderated by Steve Barnes with local people, such as me, talking about the production and the Bill Clinton years.

Reviews are starting to stack up, including my own brief capsule and longer views today in the Democrat-Gazette by Michael Storey and John Brummett.

Betsey Wright, Clinton' former gubernatorial chief of staff, wrote me today with what she thought was a glaring omission. I share the shortcoming she describes of journalists who've written about the program. In my defense, UA historian Randall Woods and I discussed the larger theme at Conway last Thursday in taping the panel to be shown Tuesday. Her note:

I have seen only the first 12 minutes (that which was available to those of us without i-gadgets). Carol Willis was simply superb in that first bit! BUT it is my understanding that he is the ONLY African-American interviewed, and that means the documentary fails to convey a major part of Clinton's life, both in Arkansas and nationally. I also noticed that Michael Storey failed to list Willis with Arkansans who were interviewed, as does John Brummett. Even these two Arkansas writers contributed to this omission. How can this be?!?!?!?

Willis, the long-time Clinton staff member and critical campaigner who now heads a funeral home in McGehee, was great on the show and he was the only black person interviewed. It does seem inadequate. The "First Black President's" career was distinguished by his strength among black people, a strength built on mutual respect and affection. I think the rock-ribbed support of the congressional black caucus contributed to his enduring of the impeachment crisis. Only Clinton could have had the Sister Souljah moment and not only survived, but prospered from it (Newt Gingrich's recent boasting about how he'd tell the NAACP a thing or two if they'd invite him brought that to mind.)

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