BY JAMES HARPER
Not many people can say they are a confidant of the president of the United States of America.
Harvard Professor Dr. Charles Ogletree is in that elite group and was in Daytona Beach last Friday stomping for President Barack Obama, whom he taught as a student in the late 1980s at Harvard Law School.
“It’s hard to imagine how successful he has been. He changed the whole dialogue in the Middle East in the way people are thinking about democracy. He took out Osama bin Laden. He is responsible for more generosity and more support for Israel,” said Ogletree, also noting that Obama passed what he calls “Obamacares,” the Lilly Ledbetter Act, rescued the auto industry, and ended “don’t ask, don’t tell” stopping discrimination against gays in the military.
“Romney is not going to win his own state where he was governor of Massachusetts. He is not going to win his home state where he was born in Michigan. Barack is going to win Hawaii (where he was born). He is going to win Illinois (where he was an elected official). It tells you how important it is to leave a legacy. People have a choice. Choice couldn’t be clearer,” noted Ogletree, who was on a tight schedule last Friday visiting colleges and universities across the state.
Visits included Florida A&M University, Florida State University, the University of Florida and Bethune-Cookman University. He was at the universities encouraging students to vote to re-elect Obama on Nov. 6.
Ogletree said he was impressed with the students he has encountered at schools he has visited.
“I thought he had little chance to win in a place like Florida. Students told me they marched. Students are fired up and ready to go. I hope they are,” he said.
Ogletree managed to carve 45 minutes out of his time to stop by the Daytona Times office in Daytona Beach.
Over the years and even during his time as president, Ogletree said the president has sought and followed his advice.
“I’ve said to him, there are people who came before you who have suffered as much and even more. I talked about Thurgood Marshall, being the first Black on Supreme Court. How tough that was as a civil rights lawyer to be appointed to Supreme Court in 1967,” Ogletree said in an exclusive interview with the Times.
“I talked about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – his rise and being opposed by Blacks when he was trying to become head of the Baptist Convention. People hated him, there were bomb threats, stabbed him,’’ added Ogletree, noting that Obama understands his role and where he came from and remembers him saying, “I am here because of other people who sacrificed for me.”
Ogletree also taught First Lady Michelle Obama in 1985, his first year at Harvard. She was Michelle Robinson at the time.
“She was involved in the Harvard legal aid bureau. She represented mainly women. She was organized, focused and detailed. I thought she was going to be the first African-American woman to be a senator in the United States,” Ogletree said, adding he now believes she should be the first female president of the United States.
Ogletree said he would not meet and become Obama’s teacher and eventual friend until 1988.
Importance of education
Ogletree calls himself first a child of God, who has been married for 37 years. He was born in 1952 in California and grew up in a poor family but would eventually go on to Stanford on scholarship, ending up getting his law degree at Harvard where he is now a tenured professor.
“My parents were very important to me. My grandparents were one generation away from slavery. They didn’t vote, they didn’t read, they didn’t go to school. My parents didn’t finish high school…invested in me to be the first child to finish school. Because of them … I give back to my high school scholarships. I give to students who have the most potential, not necessarily the best student,” Ogletree continued.
Ogletree is working on a book about the president that is scheduled to come out after the election.
In the book, Ogletree says he compares Obama to past presidents Lyndon Baines Johnson and Abraham Lincoln. He said they were the two presidents that preceded Obama who had the same challenges.
“For example, Abe Lincoln was a pragmatic president. Am I for slavery or against it,” Ogletree questioned. He believes Lincoln had to ask himself and made the right decision of being against it.
In reference to Johnson, Ogletree says, like Johnson, Obama is a Democrat who is a very moderate conservative.
“He (Johnson) did two major things that made him pragmatic. He made sure Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1968 public accommodations act, Fair Housing Act – giving Blacks the same rights as every race in America. We as democrats would lose the South. He (Johnson) had the courage to change the law,” Ogletree said.
“Barack did the same thing, with the stimulus package. How do you not want money from your government to build highways, roads and fences and try to put people back to work,” Ogletree said about Republicans in Congress and Republican governors, many who were against the stimulus package.
Ogletree noted that race is still an issue.
“No matter if we (Blacks) are doctors, lawyers, business leaders, ministers, and educators we can’t get out of being trapped in the race issue. People don’t see how much we have achieved. They see the color of our skin,” he explained.
“We are still fighting that battle that Dr. King fought in 1963 when he said he wanted his children to be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. We’ are still fighting that battle, I think Barrack Obama is going to make sure we achieve that day we are judged by the content of our character,” Ogletree added.