August 29, 2008 3:00 am

African-Americans fall in love again with Bill Clinton

African-American Democrats were celebrating the nomination of Barack Obama for president yesterday and granted forgiveness to Bill Clinton as the party sought to heal the racial divisions exposed during its bitter primary battle.

Mr Obama became the first black presidential nominee of a main US political party on Wednesday night, a day before yesterday's 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

"This is the mountaintop that Martin Luther King spoke about and Barack Obama has scaled it," said Frank Matthews, an activist from Alabama. "This shows that America is a country worthy of forgiveness. We were brought here as slaves. Now we can run for president."

There was redemption, too, for Mr Clinton, whose convention speech on Wednesday earned praise from black Democrats for its endorsement of Mr Obama.

Mr Clinton was once nicknamed "America's first black president" because of his popularity among African-Americans, but the relationship was soured by his aggressive campaigning against Mr Obama during the primaries. But in his speech, he repaired much of the damage by lavishing praise on his wife Hillary's former rival.

"I adored him as president and was disappointed by some of the things he said during the primaries," said Jacki Brown, a black delegate from New York. "But tonight he said everything Obama would have hoped for and more."

The previous night, Mrs Clinton gave a widely praised speech urging her supporters to rally behind Mr Obama but she was criticised in some quarters for failing to dwell on her former opponent's qualities. No such complaint could be levelled against Mr Clinton.

He acknowledged the primaries had "generated so much heat it increased global warming" and insisted he was proud of the campaign his wife ran. But he moved on quickly to fill the gaps Mrs Clinton left in her speech. It was as if the Clintons had agreed a division of labour: Hillary would rally her troops; Bill would flatter Obama supporters.

"Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I've done since . . . has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job," he said. The cheers grew louder as the speech wore on and, by the end, it was as if the past year had never happened. Democrats - black and white - were in love with Bill Clinton all over again.

But outside the convention hall, Gerald Kariem, a black delegate from Michigan, issued a reminder that the nomination was a means to the end, not an end in itself. "It is a monumental moment for African-Americans but the nomination doesn't mean much unless he wins in November," he said. "The other party is waiting to chew him up. We must be prepared for a fight."

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