In Candid, Personal Podcast, Booker Reflects on Black History, Path Forward
WASHINGTON, D.C – U.S. Senator Cory Booker shared his candid and deeply personal thoughts on black history in the U.S., his family’s story of struggle and perseverance, and how we can gift to future generations “an America beyond our greatest dreams,” in a special bonus episode of his podcast, Lift Every Voice, released today.
In the episode, Booker charts his family’s history – from the small, segregated town in North Carolina where his father grew up to the suburb in New Jersey where Senator Booker was raised (after his parents successfully fought against housing discrimination) to the floor of the U.S. Senate, to which Booker is only the fourth African-American ever to be popularly elected.
“I honor and love black history because it’s American history – our nation founded in perfect ideals, but yet in a savagely imperfect reality: that the very founders of our nation seemed to be strangled by the issue of blacks on our soil,” Booker says in the podcast.“I stand on the Senate floor and never lose sight of what had to happen to get me there. My dad’s not with me – he never got to sit in the galleries and watch his son – but I know he’s watching in heaven along with all of our ancestors…who watch us now as players on the American field.”
“On this podcast I wanted to share a few words with you not just of my history, but share words in the hope that we think about the future and the now and what we must do to carry on, despite obstacles and challenges and frustrations and setbacks, to carry on like our ancestors did, because there’s still work to do, there’s still injustice to be made just. The spirit of our ancestors, the spirit of those who have come before – may we continue on, may we fight the good fight, and may we – even if we don’t live to see it - gift to coming generations an America beyond our greatest dreams – an America that lives up to her promise in a way that we’re not experiencing now. We can make that happen.”
Booker launched the Lift Every Voice podcast last month on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as a way to shine a light on overlooked issues of injustice and inequality and share inspiring stories of change. The podcast features an exclusive recording of the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed by the choir at Booker’s church in Newark, the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
On his father’s upbringing:
“My dad had a tough childhood when his mom and grandmother couldn’t take care of him, my father…would tell me about the story of love in this country, of people’s commitment to one another – because a family took him in and put a roof over his head…and they raised my father as if he was one of their own sons.”
“My dad had no history of college in his family going back to slavery, but yet it was this family and people in town that saw in my dad somebody that should go to college and they worked to put him on that track and break the traditions in my family of not going to college…In fact when he couldn’t pay for it…it was people in that town who got him enough money to enroll in a historically black college in North Carolina [North Carolina Central University].”
On his father’s career:
“My father became IBM’s first black salesman in the entire Virginia area, including Washington, D.C. This is a powerful thing about our country – when you lower barriers to entry [for] qualified people to serve, to compete, to be a part of organizations, we all thrive…and that’s what happened with my dad and he eventually got a promotion up to New Jersey and New York to work [on] Madison Ave in Manhattan.”
On the lessons his parents imparted:
“My parents let me know that my brother and I, and my generation, drink deeply from wells of freedom and liberty and opportunity that we did not dig…my parents wanted me to understand what American history was all about. That black history is American history…They let me know I couldn’t pay those blessings I inherited back, but I had to pay them forward - I had to go to work in service of this country…”
“We have two choices in this nation: we can either just simply luxuriate in the blessings of our nation or we can decide to let the blessings of our country metabolize in our spirits and be committed to continuing the work of America - because our nation is not just yet, there are still wrongs to be righted, there are still people that demand our action, there is still work to be done.”
“My father would die six days before I was elected to the U.S. Senate. This boy from North Carolina who had such dreams for his family and such hopes for his country would not see his son be elected to serve New Jersey in the U.S. Senate. It was hurtful and painful not to have my dad there when I got a chance to swear this oath, but I tell you what – when I got down to Washington I thought a lot about American history and I thought a lot about our journey.”
On Congressman George H. White’s farewell address (Congressman White served in the U.S. House of Representatives after Reconstruction. After he left office, it would be more than 70 years before another African-American southerner would serve in Congress):
“[His remarks] speak so clearly to the American story of struggle for justice…He [White] was speaking to the aspirations of my dad, a young boy who would go to the movie theaters in a segregated theater and watch scenes of America on the screens of white people doing incredible things. He dared to dream that despite the circumstances he was living in, maybe one day he would grow up and be able to live that life of equality and opportunity. This is the story of our country…So much of our history as Americans is captured in the story of these decades between that last African-American Congressperson and the time when blacks would return to serve in the U.S. Congress.”