Barack Obama, 2008

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This poster, designed by street artist and designer Shepard Fairey, became one of the iconic images of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, in which hope was a central theme. The poster alternately appeared with the words “change” and “progress.” Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery via Smithsonian Institution.

Barack Obama, the Hawaii-born son of a Kenyan father and American mother, began his 2008 presidential campaign as a relative newcomer to Washington politics. He was the first term junior senator from Illinois who ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination in part on his status as a party outsider, espousing a fresh vision of hope and change, a counterargument to Washington politics as usual. Obama would become the first African American president of the United States.

Early in the election cycle, it was Hillary Clinton, not Obama, who commanded strong support in many black communities and among black political leaders. However, the primaries proved that Obama’s message resonated and that he could earn votes across the country, from overwhelmingly white Iowa to South Carolina, where he garnered support from the majority African American voter base. Barack Obama went on to win the presidential election with 69.5 million votes, the most ever cast for a presidential candidate to date.

Barack Obama’s victory was undoubtedly influenced by the campaigns of Chisholm and Jackson and the activists of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the National Black Political Convention, and countless others that came before him. However, in critical ways, Obama represented a shift; he had not been a part of the Civil Rights Movement or Black Power-era political organizing. Instead, he was part of the generation that was heir to the political landscape that these movements helped create—where people were registered and could vote regardless of race, class, or creed and where an African American could be recognized as a presidential candidate that represented America, including but not limited to black America.