Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hillary Clinton Addresses Civil Rights Group After Missteps With Black Voters


The presidential primary in New York is less than a week away, and the Democratic candidates are making their case to the National Action Network. That's the civil rights group in New York City led by the reverend, Al Sharpton. Today, the group heard from Hillary Clinton, who's dealing with some missteps with black voters over the past week. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton told an almost entirely African-American audience at the National Action Network convention race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead and who gets left behind.


HILLARY CLINTON: There's something wrong, my friends, when the median wealth for black families is a tiny fraction of the median wealth for white families.

KEITH: She hit recurring themes from her campaign about breaking down barriers and bringing the country together and owned her privilege as a white American. For Clinton, this comes after a week of less than favorable press for her campaign. First, there was her husband Bill Clinton's confrontation with Black Lives Matter activists.


BILL CLINTON: I like protesters, but the ones that won't let you answer are afraid of the truth.

KEITH: In a more than 10-minute exchange with the activists, Bill Clinton defended some of the more controversial elements of his presidency, the 1994 crime bill and the 1996 welfare reform and then there was the comedy routine at a New York City gala where Hillary Clinton joined with Mayor Bill de Blasio to perform a joke taken by many to be racially insensitive. But you wouldn't know Clinton was having a rough week by the response to her speech today.

SYLVIA DUMMIT: Hearing her speak today really brought tears to my eyes.

KEITH: Really. Sylvia Dummit is a pastor from the Bronx, and she doesn't hold President Clinton's policies against his wife.

DUMMIT: But she's willing to make some changes, so I'm holding her accountable to the things that she said today. I can't look back at what decisions that they made back then because at that time it was relevant. It was relevant for welfare reform, it was.

KEITH: Dummit says she likes some of Sen. Bernie Sanders' ideas, but she's all in for Clinton because of her tenacity. Demographically, if you had to pick an audience most likely to support Clinton, it would be this one. Her strongest support this election cycle has come from African-Americans over 30 years old.

But Tad Devine, a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign, says in Wisconsin, the senator made some inroads with black voters. And he expects that to continue in New York by highlighting Sanders' lifelong commitment to civil rights.

TAD DEVINE: So we've got to tell his story, his own narrative, and most importantly, we've got to make sure that the African-American community knows about the policies that he wants to pursue as president, to achieve racial justice in America, to deal with the economic disparities that are so profound on the African-American community.

KEITH: Sanders spoke here last year and will address the convention again tomorrow. Based on interviews with attendees, their support for Clinton wasn't for a lack of knowing about Sanders. Paulette Roca said on a scale of one to 10, she'd give Clinton's remarks an 11.

PAULETTE ROCA: We can understand her. We can relate to her. I know I can. I like her. I feel very comfortable with her. She has respect. When black women respect you, you've got respect.

KEITH: And in the lead up to the primary here in New York, Clinton has been working hard to shore up that support.



UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Can you hear me now?

KEITH: In the last two weeks, Clinton has visited six black churches.


H. CLINTON: Oh, this is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

KEITH: That's on pace with her run for Senate in 2000, when by WNYC's count, Clinton visited 27 black churches in two months. In New York, black voters made up 17 percent of the primary electorate in 2008. And if Clinton wins on Tuesday, it may well be because of their support. Tamara Keith, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.