The United States has come a long way since the days when twelve of her former presidents owned slaves; eight of them while in office. The paradigm shifted irrevocably, however, when an African-American, Barack Hussein Obama, was elected the country’s 44th President.
As Barack Obama undertook a landmark second-term, Sonia Grant’s polemical book looks at other black presidential candidates, in order to put his achievement into historical perspective. But, she argues, more significant than the nuts-and-bolts of the individual campaigns of Blanche Kelso Bruce; George Edwin Taylor; James W. Ford; Charlotta Bass; Clennon W. King Jr.; Dick Gregory; Eldridge Cleaver; Angela Davis; Reverend Jesse Jackson; and Reverend Al Sharpton, outlined in her book, were the conditions which gave rise to their candidacies. Indeed, it was America’s unprecedented social upheaval – spanning Slavery, Reconstruction, domestic terrorism, race riots and Segregation – which paved the way for an Obama ascendency.
However, in terms of race, Grant contends that America still seemed conflicted. Despite hard-fought gains borne out in the civil rights movement, for instance, centuries of systematic and deep-seated racism still haunted; and, on occasions, the nation was schismatic and betrayed signs of polarization.
Nonetheless, she observes that many optimistically hung on to the notion that the election of the country’s first black president was transformative; indeed, it was, but Grant suggests it also proved to be as revelatory as it was historic. To that extent, Before Barack is a lens through which the confluence of race and power is examined in the context of America’s eventful social and political history.
An accessible narrative, the book charts the trials and triumphs of the black presidential candidate: beginning speculatively in the nineteenth century; approached earnestly in the twentieth; but only destined to be realised – or not – in the twenty-first, with the election of Barack Obama.
Sonia Grant is a British freelance journalist, publicist and author; this is her first book.
Before Barack is available now as an eBook on Amazon and in print at Waterstones.
EBook £5.99 – file size 0.72mb; Print RRP £14.99 – 408pp.