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Bucknell Forum: Leonard Pitts Jr. speaking at Trout Auditorium Monday, March 24.

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- This presidential election, in which an African-American candidate has established himself as the frontrunner for a major party nomination, has reminded us how potent a force issues of race are in American culture, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. told a packed Trout Auditorium Monday night at Bucknell University.

Pitts gave the talk, "America's Second Black President: Race, Politics and Obama," the final event this spring in the continuing national speaker series, "The Bucknell Forum: The Citizen & Politics in America."

"Six months from now, Barack Obama may or may not be elected the second black president of these United States," Pitts said. "In case you're wondering, Bill Clinton was the first, or so people keep telling me." Audio excerpt: Pitts in his own words

How Americans view race
As Obama's candidacy has progressed, it has again raised questions about how Americans view race and how such views shape our discussion and consideration of African-American candidates, Pitts said.

"Obama's candidacy is already a watershed event," he said. "Not simply because he stands poised to make history, but because he has already served as a kind of human Rorschach ink blot, drawing to the surface feelings and fears that we as Americans -- black, white, and otherwise -- often bury so deeply that they are secret even to ourselves."

"By his very presence and prominence in this political season," Pitts added, "Obama requires us to have a discussion we have spent most of the last 40 years avoiding. Obama makes us reveal ourselves in ways that do not always flatter self-image. And when I say us, I am talking about people on both sides of the nation's most enduring racial divide."

'What is black?'
For example, too many African-Americans spent too much of the past year themselves asking whether Obama was "black enough," Pitts said. "What is black, let alone black enough? And who gets to define it?" What such conversations suggest, he said, is that a successful black man doesn't fit the stereotypes we have readily accepted.

Obama himself was forced to address race and its continued emphasis in the campaign in a speech earlier this month after controversial comments by his pastor came under fire and pushed race to the forefront.

"I'm not surprised by what's been going on, but I am disappointed," Pitts said. "We are only doing what we always do. That's what Obama himself alluded to in the last moments of his speech when he said, 'Not this time.' He was saying that we can be distracted by race, as we usually are, bamboozled and confused by race, as we usually are, or we can make the decision we have never made before. We can say, 'Not this time.'"

Miami Herald
Pitts is a Miami Herald columnist who has been hailed as one of the most insightful commentators on the significance of race in American politics and society. Since 1994, millions of readers have sought out his commentary on social and political issues and family life in his column, which is syndicated in newspapers across the country, including The Daily Item in central Pennsylvania.

Awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, Pitts was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. In 1997, he took first place for commentary in the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors' Ninth Annual Writing Awards competition. And in 2002, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists awarded Pitts its inaugural Columnist of the Year award.

Pitts has taught journalism as a visiting professor at Hampton University, Ohio University, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

His book, Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, was released in 1999 and reissued in paperback in June 2006. It has been called "an unflinching investigation, both personal and journalistic, of black fatherhood in America."

The Bucknell Forum
Focusing on major issues in the 2008 presidential election, the Bucknell Forum series features nationally renowned leaders, scholars, and commentators who are examining issues at the forefront of today's national discourse from multi-disciplinary perspectives and a diversity of viewpoints in a model for civil discourse. The series will run through the inauguration of the new U.S. president in January.

This semester's theme was "Issues of Identity."

Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin will lead off the fall series, which will focus on "Power and the President," with a talk at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30 in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts.

Contact: Office of Communications

Posted March 25, 2008