Obama in Altgeld Gardens and South Carolina

Michael Kranish takes a look at Obama the community organizer that we keep hearing so much about; Jonathan Kaufman looks at how the Obama campaign is playing among Black folk in South Carolina.


Some residents remain upset at Obama’s characterization of the people in the projects and his role in helping them. Hazel Johnson, who has lived at Altgeld Gardens since 1962… said she worked on the asbestos issue at the same time as Obama, said she doesn’t know of any other work that Obama did at Altgeld Gardens aside from helping on asbestos.

“I like him, he is a nice, young intelligent man, but some of the things he said are not true,” said Johnson. “I was organizing, doing that work before Obama even came to the Gardens.”…Jerry Kellman, who hired Obama for the job in 1985, said Obama arrived full of idealism that needed to be tempered by the reality of what it took to bring about change. The experience turned Obama into a more practical person, Kellman said.


Even as Mr. Obama is promising to bring America together, his candidacy is casting new light on the mounting class divide in the black community — and the debate among blacks about how to get ahead. The expanding black middle class — accounting for about 40% of the black population — see in Mr. Obama a validation of the choices they have made: attending largely white colleges, working in predominantly white companies and government offices, climbing up the ladder of American success.

For African-Americans living in the inner city — where most children are being raised by single mothers, male unemployment in some cities tops 50% and 40% of young black men are either in jail, awaiting trial or on probation — the view of Mr. Obama is much more skeptical.


One thought on “Obama in Altgeld Gardens and South Carolina

  1. Hazel Johnson claim – It was already debunked by Obama campaign (see below) last year.

    LA TIMES: Hazel Johnson’s Role Was So Prominent That It Was “Offensive” To Tell the Story of Altgeld Gardens Without Including Her

    FACT: Johnson Was An Activist, Not An Organizer; CHA Action Came After Obama, Randle, and Others Organized Residents Around the Issue

    Johnson Raised the Issue With Public Health Experts in “Early 1980s”; No Action Was Taken Until 1986. Johnson raised the asbestos issue with Regnal Jones, a “scientist that [she was trying to get] to study possible links between the ailments that residents reported to her and [asbestos]…Jones visited Johnson in the early 1980s recalls sitting in her kitchen as she laid out hundreds of index cards listing the illnesses throughout Altgeld.” However, no action was taken to address the asbestos in Ida B. Wells or Altgeld Gardens until 1986. [Los Angeles Times, 2/19/07; Chicago Reporter, July 1986]

    Jerry Kellman: Obama Pulled Together A Variety of People That Others Could Not. Jerry Kellman, who was the basis for the character “Marty” in Dreams from my Father, was Obama’s supervisor at the Developing Communities Project. When asked about the role that Johnson played in the asbestos work at Altgeld, Kellman said, “Barack pulled together a variety of people that someone like Hazel would not have been able to do at that point. Barack’s book is very accurate.” [Conversation with Jerry Kellman, 2/7/07]

    Loretta Augustine-Herron: Hazel Johnson Was An Activist, Not An Organizer. Loretta Augustine-Herron, who was the basis for the character “Angela” in Dreams from My Father, was present at the initial meeting with the Chicago Housing Authority to discuss the issue of asbestos in the Altgeld Garden apartments. When asked about the role that Johnson played in the asbestos work at Altgeld, Augustine-Herron said, “Hazel was there [for the asbestos work]…[she] might have been an activist. But she was not an organizer.” [Conversations with Loretta Augustine-Herron, 2/9/07, 2/14/07]

    Augustine-Herron: Before Obama, “There Really Wasn’t Anything Happening.” Augustine-Herron said that “There was work [on the asbestos issue in Altgeld] going on before Barack got there, but before him, there wasn’t really anything happening. He really came in and started building a base and empowering people [Conversation With Loretta Augustine-Herron, 2/14/07]

    Johnson And Obama Worked Together On Asbestos. “Altgeld Gardens resident Hazel Johnson, 69, worked with Obama in the Developing Communities Project on pushing the Chicago Housing Authority to remove asbestos from public housing and other issues. She remembers Obama renting a bus to take a group of residents downtown to protest at CHA headquarters. ‘He even got us coffee and doughnuts,” she said. “And he didn’t have to do that.'” [Chicago Sun Times, 10/3/04]

    LA TIMES: Obama Painted Altgeld Gardens Residents As “Pathetic,” “Meek,” And “Confused”

    FACT: Obama Wrote of Residents With Respect; Saw Parallels Between His Personal Story and Theirs

    Obama Wrote Admiringly of Women He Worked With in Altgeld, Respected the Challenges They Faced. In Dreams from My Father, Obama wrote, “They were spirited, good-humored women [the women he worked with at Developing Communities], those three, women whoâ without husbands to help somehow managed to raise sons and daughters, juggle an assortment of part-time jobs and small business schemes, and organize Girl Scout troops, fashion shows, and summer camps for the parade of children that wandered through the church every day.” [Dreams from My Father, p.167]

    Obama Saw Parallels Between His Personal Story and Altgeld Resident. “Sometimes I would stop by Mary’s house just to say hello, drawn perhaps by the loneliness I sensed there, and the easy parallels between my own mother and Mary; and between myself and Mary’s daughters, such sweet and pretty girls whose lives were so much more difficult than mine had ever been, with grandparents who shunned them, black classmates who teased them, all the poison in the air.” [Dreams from My Father, p.176]

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