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The Obamas and Black Chicago’s Long Liberal Tradition

(p.278) Postscript
Crucibles of Black Empowerment
Jeffrey Helgeson
University of Chicago Press

This chapter argues that Chicago’s long tradition of black liberalism helps explain the rise of Barack and Michelle Obama to the White House. The chapter also suggests that President Obama’s urban policy agenda exemplifies the limits of black liberalism. Michelle Obama grew up in a family engaged in the kind of neighborhood-based black liberal politics examined in this book. And she and her family provided one of the key institutional bases for her husband’s rise. The president also benefited directly from the long tradition of black liberalism in his experiences working as a community organizer, in the ideology of Christian liberal nationalism articulated by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and even in the neighborhoods around Reverend Wright’s church built by black bricklayers discussed earlier (Ch. 3 and 4). The Obamas represent both the subversive potential and practical limits of the black liberal political tradition and connect that tradition directly to the broader history of American liberalism.

Keywords:   Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, Liberalism, Black liberalism, Urban policy, Neighborhood, Chicago, Nationalism, Community

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