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(The Nation) — Barack Obama’s candidacy inspired comparisons to change agents like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Critics of his presidency have invoked Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to portray him as weak and to decry his rightward shift. In my circle of African-American progressive academics and advocates, the name hissed with particular derision recently is Booker T. Washington, who at the turn of the twentieth century publicly articulated his acceptance of segregation, brokered compromises on racial disenfranchisement and emphasized individual effort over structural justice. To equate President Obama with Booker T. Washington is to suggest that the president is willingly complicit in atrocities of inequality.

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