By Robert Samuels
During those two electric Novembers, the chance to elect a black president, and then keep him in office, seized Regenia Motley’s neighborhood.
Nightclubs were registering voters. Churches held fish fries after loading buses that ferried parishioners to the polls. A truck hoisted a big sign that said “Obama.” And residents waited in long lines at precincts across the community.
But as Motley and some friends sought shade recently under a mulberry tree and looked across the landscape of empty lots and abandoned houses that has persisted here, they wondered whether they would ever bother voting again.
“What was the point?” asked Motley, 23, a grocery store clerk. “We made history, but I don’t see change.”
On Jacksonville’s north side and in other struggling urban neighborhoods across the country, where Barack Obama mobilized large numbers of new African American voters who were inspired partly by the emotional draw of his biography, high hopes have turned to frustration: Even a black president was unable to heal places still gripped by violence, drugs and joblessness.
The dynamic, made prominent in recent months after unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., sets up a stark challenge for Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner.
While supporting Obama became a cause for many here rather than a typical campaign, Clinton faces a higher bar in making a case that she, too, can be a transformative figure.
Her campaign is planning to build on the multiethnic coalition that turned out to support Obama. Running to be the first female president, Clinton will also try to generate Obama-like enthusiasm among new voters — those who were too young to turn out for Obama or have not previously been engaged with politics.
Yet as her allies prepare to register voters and expand the black electorate, her candidacy presents residents here with a question: If Obama’s presidency didn’t do more to help African Americans, then how could hers?