Originally created 11/04/02

Black candidates make history



SPARTANBURG, S.C. - The two black men and one black woman on Tuesday's ballot will make history, win or lose.

With attorney general hopeful Steve Benjamin, secretary of state aspirant Rick Wade and Marva Y. Manigault running for education superintendent, voters will see three blacks on the statewide ballot for the first time in state history.

A fourth black candidate, Kevin Gray, was expected to be on the ballot in a belated bid for governor. However, the State Election Commission refused to put him on the ballot because he was nominated too late by the United Citizens Party. Mr. Gray, a Columbia activist, is waging a write-in campaign.

All of those candidates are on ballots where about a fourth of the voters are black. In the 2000 election, 76 percent of voters were white.

"It is long overdue," said Blease Graham, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina. He views the candidacies as part of the fulfillment of the implementation of the Voting Rights Act in 1964, which ensured black people the right to vote.

"There is no reason why African-Americans couldn't get elected, but it would be naive to think racism isn't discussed in some circles," he said.

Willie M. Legette, an associate professor of political science and history at South Carolina State University, says black candidates are staying away from the historical angle because they are afraid it will discourage white support.

"Black candidates don't bring the historic significance to attention because they don't want to give white voters the impression that they are trying to take over," he said. "Their idea is to de-emphasize race and hope and pray that white people will be able to pull the lever for them."

The candidates disagree.

"I am not running to make history," Mr. Benjamin said. "I am running to make a difference."

Mr. Wade knows the significance of his race, but says he is in the race because of his qualifications and experience.

"I am running on jobs and economic prosperity, and that isn't black or white and it isn't Democratic or Republican," Mr. Wade said.

Ms. Manigault is the first black woman to appear on a statewide ballot. The 11th-grade English teacher, running as a Libertarian, has gotten little attention.

"Running is more challenging for me than the others because I have to deal with issues of race, gender and party affiliation," she said. "I believe my campaign is historically significant, but no one is really paying any attention."