At 8:00 p.m. everything stopped. One night a week, in prime time, they turned on the trusty black and white TV prepared to take in everybody's favorite show: Mod Squad.
This was something new, something never seen before. One of us, they thought; one of us in a starring role. Clarence Williams III was one third of the trio young, hip cops who performed weekly morality plays about the dangers of life on the wrong side of the law. Ex-offenders, these bold, new, narcs often protected their peers from the oppressors who would use them to fund their underworld enterprises.
This was it. This was the first time the kids in Houston's 3rd Ward, where I was spending my summer, saw a black person on TV who wasn't a servant or a buffoon. No butler, maid, cook, or janitor. No Beulah, Kingfish, Willie, or Mammy. No Yessuh, Nosuh, shuffling scamp.
His name was Linc; short for Lincoln, Lincoln Hayes (two Presidents!) and he was cool. In the words of Blackpoet Don L. Lee, "he was triple hip."
The kids in Mrs. Miller's shotgun shack clustered around that little Admiral TV and saw a role model. An authentic, 100% American, do-gooder, tough talking, straight shooting, seriously inspiring role model. And he was cool. He was super cool.
When Barack Obama, equally as cool, addressed the crowd in Grant Park on election night, I thought of those kids watching Linc. I thought of Randolf, six years old at the time, 44 now. Just about Obama's age. I thought of how many people saw the new President-elect that night. It's only been 40 years. Half a lifetime, since those kids ran to see Linc; ran to see someone who looked like them, the one person, in all of the variety shows, used car commercials, sit-coms, and daytime dramas. In all the ads for laundry detergent, old movies, westerns, and detective stories. And his name was two presidents.