Analysis: Hillary and the ”moms of Black Lives Matter”

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Hillary and the ”moms of Black Lives Matter”

When Hillary Clinton recently won the South Carolina primary with an overwhelming percentage of black votes, she thanked five women for making it possible: the “moms of Black Lives Matter”. 

By Gitte Nielsen

Five mothers of black men who have been killed within the past two years are supporting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, not only by endorsing her but by actively campaigning for her: Sabrina Fulton (mother of Travyon Martin who was shot by a neighborhood watchman), Lucy McBath (mother of Jordan Davis who was shot by a private citizen), Maria Hamilton (mother of Dontre Hamilton who was shot by police) Gwen Carr (mother of Eric Garner who was choked to death by police), and Geneva Reed (mother of Sandra Bland who died in jail).

After her victory in South Carolina, Clinton thanked them each by name and called them “the moms of Black Lives Matter”.

Political exploitation of bereaved mothers?
When Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, endorsed Hillary in January of this year, she stated:

“We’ve got to do something about the violence in our communities — especially gun violence — and the racial and economic injustice that’s connected to it. […] Hillary seems to be the only candidate right now who’s talking about how we can be strategic in trying to solve this problem.”

This is a striking claim since Clinton’s only rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has spent a good chunk of his campaign talking about police violence and economic inequality.

Also, Sanders actually met with Geneva Reed, the mother of Sandra Bland, last year. According to a pastor, Hannah Bonner, who was there, it was a chance meeting, not part of Sanders’ political campaign:

“He did not use the moment as an opportunity to promote his campaign. … He did not try to turn it into a publicity stunt. He simply made space for a sacred moment, and then let it pass without trying to gain anything from it. … For that, I respect him. …. That choice may not have made him a very good politician, but it made him a better man.”

If we contrast this comment with Reed’s political campaigning for Clinton, it could make Hillary seem more calculated and less human, and Reed even had to ensure black news website The Root that her support of Clinton is voluntary and that she is not being exploited. However, she also used that interview to make clear that, as with Sanders, she has met privately with Clinton and to paint the candidate as just as empathic as her opponent:

“Hillary reached out to my family last year. She sent a handwritten note. She met with me and other mothers in Chicago. No press was there, no one talked about all the things she’s done for me and my family. And let me be clear: Had I not lost Sandy, I would still be out there endorsing and working for Hillary.”

Gun control as an important issue
Recall how Gwen Carr emphasized gun violence as the most important issue? She is referring to the fact that many black communities suffer from gun violence and that someone like the white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine black people in a South Carolina church last year was even able to get his hands on a gun in the first place.

As Democratic congressman Hakeem Jeffries has put it: “We know that Hillary Clinton has consistently stood up against the gun lobby, and spoken out against the epidemic of gun violence in the African American community and beyond. The record of Bernie Sanders is very different.”

Indeed, Sanders, who hails from the state of Vermont where hunting is a big deal, has been repeatedly painted (unfairly, perhaps) as an opponent of gun control.

Therefore, the gun violence and gun control issues that the five mothers bring up may be one of Hillary’s strongest weapons (pardon the pun) against Sanders.

Generational split among black voters
It is important to know, however, that while Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, is campaigning for Hillary, her granddaughter, Eric’s daughter Erica Garner, is a vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders. She is even part of a powerful political TV ad for the Sanders campaign in which she declares: “I believe Bernie Sanders is a protester.”


Some commentators have pointed out that this generational difference in political endorsements reflects a split within what is popularly known as “the black vote”, between older and younger generations.

The five bereaved mothers may indeed be the mothers of Black Lives Matter, but they are not representatives of the Black Lives Matter organization itself. Their children and grandchildren are.

Black Lives Matter is predominantly a young organization, and, overall, Bernie Sanders has been able to tap into the young vote in a way that Hillary has not. (This generational split may, in fact, be emblematic of the Democratic voter corps in general.)

Hillary’s forté, is that older voters, regardless of race, are turning up to vote in numbers that the younger generation has yet to match. In fact, according to the Atlantic, “[b]etween 1964 and 2012, youth voter turnout in presidential elections has fallen below 50 percent.” 

Sanders as activist, but too white?
As mentioned, Erica Garner’s endorsement of Sanders even paints him as an activist, a view that was strengthened when the Chicago Tribune unearthed photos of Sanders being arrested in 1963 for protesting against racial segregation.


Seen through that lens, the fact that Sanders has not secured more black votes may mean that his biggest problem is that at this point in the campaign many black voters are not familiar with his past or simply don’t know him.

Back in August, Bernie’s rallies were so overwhelmingly white that one observer described his audience as “more lily white than an albino eating a powdered doughnut in a storm,”which is also one reason the black vote is so important to Hillary.

The abstract versus the personal
In addition, as others have pointed out, Sanders rhetoric, which is focused on economics, can be quite abstract, whereas Hillary makes the issues personal and relatable.


Although Bernie often mentions Sandra Bland’s name, Hillary is pictured campaigning with Sandra Bland’s mother right there at her side.

Therefore, Clinton’s biggest coup yet may be to have the endorsement and campaign trail presence of five strong black mothers who are household names in black communities across the country. Perhaps most importantly, they also represent a generation of black voters that are actually doing just that: voting. For Hillary.

Gitte Nielsen holds an MA in American Studies from the University of Southern Denmark. Her studies included a semester at Ohio University where she studied, among other things, Critical Race Theory. She runs her own website where she writes articles in Danish that primarily deal with racial issues in the US. On occasion she has also contributed analyses of current events on Radio24Syv and TV2 News. Previously, she was a freelance writer for Danish website, and she contributed a chapter to the book “Fem år med Obama”. You may visit her website at and follow her on Twitter: @gitten.

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