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The Hillary Clinton Effect


When the Clintons took over the White House in the 1990’s, they made a special connection with Black Americans. Now Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to be elected president, and polling data says with African-American women casting six out of every ten votes, we could be the tipping point. Journalist Isabel Wilkerson joined her on the campaign trail to see what we really think about having another Clinton in the White House. Read excerpts from her article in the November issue of ESSENCE, plus some additional quotes, plus check out Wilkerson’s one-on-one with former President Bill Clinton

On first meeting her future husband – former President Bill Clinton:

It was the spring of 1971. The very first time I ever saw him, we were at Yale Law School. I had never seen him before or noticed him before. We were in the student lounge where you go to the Coke machines and get a cup of coffee and all that stuff, and I was walking through with a friend of mine, and Bill was holding forth. And, as I walked by him I heard him say, ‘… And not only that, we grow the biggest watermelons in the world.’

“And I turned to this friend of mine and said, ‘Who is that?’ And she said, ‘That’s Bill Clinton, and he’s from Arkansas and that’s all he ever talks about.’ Fast forward a couple of weeks, I would see him in the hallway, and I would look at him but I never met him. And I thought he was very attractive. I mean, he was tall. At that time, he had long hair and a red beard. His hair was much more red-gold, and it was curly, and he had this Vikingesque beard.

“I was studying in the library one night, and I was bored. I was looking up, and, where I was positioned, I could see right through the door into the hallway where the stairs were. And I saw Bill standing there talking to another one of our classmates. The gentleman’s name was Jeff. Jeff was talking to Bill, and Bill was looking at me, and I was looking at Bill, and I thought, this is ridiculous. So I put my books down and walked up to him and said, ‘If you’re going to keep looking at me, and I’m going to keep looking back at you, we should at least know our names. I’m Hillary Rodham. What’s your name?’ And he always says, ‘I couldn’t remember my name.’ He’s very funny about it. And from that moment on, we started dating, and we stayed together.”


On their political differences:

“We have influenced each other so much over these, goodness, 36 years now,” she says, “there’s a bit of a challenge to say, here’s where he stops and I start, and vice versa. But I believe my experience in the Senate, particularly post 911, has given me a much better first-hand understanding of what we’re going to have to do to repair the damage that Bush has done over the last six and half years.”


On issues, relating to Black men:

“I reject the conversation about the failure of these young men,” she says. “These could be 1.4 million husbands, fathers and role models. When we squander their potential, we squander America’s potential. Ultimately then, the crisis of young men of color is a national crisis. “


On her marriage:

“I know the truth of my life and of my marriage, my relationship and partnership, my deep abiding friendship with my husband. It’s been enormously supportive to me through most of my life. Now obviously we’ve had challenges as everybody in the world knows. “But I never doubted that it was a marriage worth investing in even in the midst of those challenges,” she says, “and I’m really happy that I made that decision. Again, not a decision for everybody. And I think it’s so important for women to stand up for the right of women to make a decision that is best for them.”

On the most romantic thing her husband has done for her:She hesitates for longer than is comfortable, then she says, “Oh he’s so romantic. He’s always bringing me back things from his trips. He brought me a giant wooden giraffe from Africa. Oh, he bought me this watch,” she said, holding out her left wrist to show off a Chanel watch, its bracelet made of white cubes shaped like elegant dentures, if you can picture it. “I had dental surgery, and he said it reminded him of teeth.”


Outside of work, what her proudest moment is:

“Chelsea,” she says without hesitation.


Favorite television show:

“Grey’s Anatomy”


Her message for Black voters:

“Don’t lose faith,” she says. “We haven’t done everything we need to.”


Credit: David Burnett