Andra  Gillespie-Race and the Obama Administration: Substance

Andra Gillespie


Andra Gillespie is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Emory University.


Race and the Obama Administration

The election of Barack Obama marked a critical point in American political and social history. Did the historic election of a black president actually change the status of blacks in the United States? Did these changes (or lack thereof) inform blacks' perceptions of the President? This book explores these questions by comparing Obama's promotion of substantive and symbolic initiatives for blacks to efforts by the two previous presidential administrations. By employing a comparative analysis, the reader can judge whether Obama did more or less to promote black interests than his predecessors. Taking a more empirical approach to judging Barack Obama, this book hopes to contribute to current debates about the significance of the first African American presidency. It takes care to make distinctions between Obama's substantive and symbolic accomplishments and to explore the significance of both.

Interviewer: Maurice J. Hobson

Dr. Maurice Hobson is an associate professor of African American Studies and a historian at Georgia State University. He earned a Ph.D. degree in History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is the author of award-winning book titled The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta. Dr. Hobson engages the social sciences and has created a new paradigm called the Black New South that explores the experiences of black folk in the American South since WWII. He was the chief historian for the documentary Maynard, which detailed the life and times of the honorable Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr., Atlanta’s first black mayor. He is also the chief historian for the forthcoming ESPN 30 For 30 documentary titled Michael Vick and Atlanta and David McMahon and Sarah Burns’ (Ken Burns’s daughter) East Lake Meadows Project, a documentary that focuses on East Lake Meadows, a former Atlanta housing project that opened in the early 1970s.

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Race and the Obama Administration: Substance, Symbols, and Hope

At the beginning of the 21st-century, a vanguard of young, affluent black leadership has emerged, often clashing with older generations of black leadership for power. The 2002 Newark mayoral race, which featured a contentious battle between the young black challenger Cory Booker and the more established black incumbent Sharpe James, was one of a series of contests in which young, well-educated, moderate black politicians challenged civil rights veterans for power. In The New Black Politician, Andra Gillespie uses Newark as a case study to explain the breakdown of racial unity in black politics, describing how black political entrepreneurs build the political alliances that allow them to be more diversely established with the electorate. Based on rich ethnographic data from six years of intense and ongoing research, Gillespie shows that while both poor and affluent blacks pay lip service to racial cohesion and to continuing the goals of the Civil Rights Movement, the reality is that both groups harbor different visions of how to achieve those goals and what those goals will look like once achieved. This, she argues, leads to class conflict and a very public breakdown in black political unity, providing further evidence of the futility of identifying a single cadre of leadership for black communities. Full of provocative interviews with many of the key players in Newark, including Cory Booker himself, this book provides an on the ground understanding of contemporary Black and mayoral politics.

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