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The Black President

Hope and Fury in the Age of Obama

The first sweeping, legacy-defining history of the entire Obama presidency.

Finalist of the PROSE Award for Best Book in Biography & Autobiography by the Association of American Publishers

In The Black President, the first interpretative, grand-narrative history of Barack Obama's presidency in its entirety, Claude A. Clegg III situates the former president in his dynamic, inspirational, yet contentious political context. He captures the America that made Obama's White House years possible, while insightfully rendering the America that resolutely resisted the idea of a Black chief executive, thus making conceivable the ascent of the most unlikely of his successors.

In elucidating the Obama moment in American politics and culture, this book is also, at its core, a sweeping exploration of the Obama presidency's historical environment, impact, and meaning for African Americans—the tens of millions of people from every walk of life who collectively were his staunchest group of supporters and who most starkly experienced both the euphoric triumphs and dispiriting shortcomings of his years in office. In Obama's own words, his White House years were "the best of times and worst of times" for Black America. Clegg is vitally concerned with the veracity of this claim, along with how Obama engaged the aspirations, struggles, and disappointments of his most loyal constituency and how representative segments of Black America engaged, experienced, and interpreted his historic presidency.

Clegg draws on an expansive archive of materials, including government records and reports, interviews, speeches, memoirs, and insider accounts, in order to examine Obama's complicated upbringing and early political ambitions, his delicate navigation of matters of race, the nature and impacts of his administration's policies and politics, the inspired but also carefully choreographed symbolism of his presidency (and Michelle Obama's role), and the spectrum of allies and enemies that he made along the way. The successes and the aspirations of the Obama era, Clegg argues, are explicitly connected to our current racist, toxic political discourse. Combining lively prose with a balanced, nonpartisan portrait of Obama's successes and failures, The Black President will be required reading not only for historians, politics junkies, and Obama fans but also for anyone seeking to understand America's contemporary struggles with inequality, prejudice, and fear.

About the Author

Claude A. Clegg III is the Lyle V. Jones Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad and Troubled Ground: A Tale of Murder, Lynching, and Reckoning in the New South.

Reviews

"... a gracefully written, scrupulously balanced and quite satisfying account of what Obama meant for Black Americans."

"A brilliant book."

- Dorothy V. Smith, M. Phil, PhD, Dillard University - African & Asian Studies Journal of The Netherlands

"A scholarly and well-written book that considers what the Obama presidency did for Black Americans. Professor Clegg describes very eloquently the glamour and hope of the Obama presidency while assessing the accomplishments and domestic failures beneath it."

- Vince Cable, former Liberal Democrat leader 2017—2019

"Clegg is a compelling writer with an understated wit. His account is comprehensive and judicious."

- Daniel Geary, Trinity College Dublin - The Irish Times

"The Black President: Hope and fury in the age of Obama by Claude A. Clegg III is an impressive attempt to gauge how well the former president performed in that impossible job.... This thoughtful, even-handed, highly useful book looks at the entire span of the forty-fourth US presidency."

- Clifford Thompson - The Times Literary Supplement

Endorsements

"This is the best book I have read about the Obama presidency. Clegg offers a compelling portrait of the president, his policies, and his reception by the African American community. Beautifully connecting the personal with the political, Clegg offers an astute assessment of Barack Obama's many difficult choices as a candidate, leader, and public figure. The book is thorough, fair-minded, deeply researched, and fluidly written."

- Jeremi Suri, University of Texas at Austin, author of The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office

"For Black Americans, the Obama years brought dizzying heights of racial progress and frustrating lows of racial animus and inequality. In this engrossing new history of African Americans and the Obama presidency, Claude Clegg explains why, placing the nation's first Black president in the grossly unequal and politically polarized context of early twenty-first-century America."

- George Derek Musgrove, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, coauthor of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital

"Clegg brings the style and substance of our first Black president back to center stage, revealing new perspectives and insights about a man and an administration we didn't know as well as we thought. When as a society we finally have begun to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter, Clegg shows us how and why Barack Obama mattered enormously."

- Larry J. Sabato, Director, Center for Politics, University of Virginia

"The Black President is an authoritative account of how America lurched from a president who led with love to an administration forged by fear. Told in vivid detail, Clegg's analysis is as insightful as it is accessible––pulling back the curtain on the forces that frustrated Barack Obama's vision and carried Trumpism from the margins to the mainstream. This volume is more than a history of the Obama presidency; it is a summary of the era's most searing lessons on race and identity, a prism through which to understand our nation's fractured present, and a roadmap for building a more just society."

- Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles

"Clegg's prodigiously researched, authoritative study chronicles the first Black presidency and its complex, fraught relationship to African Americans, from its exhilarating start to its final, foreboding days. This lively, judicious, unsparing account of Obama's equanimity in the face of lofty Black expectations and the weaponized anti-Black racism of his opponents is a must-read for future researchers of his administration."

- Kevin K. Gaines, University of Virginia, author of American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era

"Claude Clegg's detailed history of President Obama's two terms situates his tenure in the context of America's troubled race relations, portraying a presidency buffeted by the crosswinds of white expectations, black aspirations and the growing force of white nationalism. This account is essential reading for those seeking to understand how we arrived at our current political moment."

- Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, coauthor of The Southernization of America: A Story of Democracy in the Balance
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