“The book says anybody born here can be president.”

-Ethel Waters in “Rufus Jones for President,” Warner Brothers Pictures (1933)

The Obama Presidential Center to open on the South Side of Chicago in 2021 will begin to codify the memory and the legacy of the first Black President of the United States of America. Unlike previous holders of the office, there exist many images and narratives in popular culture about Black Presidents that precede the living reality. There is an archive of film, TV, books, music, and visual cultural that illustrate an ongoing interest in what it would mean to have a black president of the United States of America. The “black presidential imaginary” is the sum total of these images that reveal assumptions and revelation about white supremacy and the black experience in the United States and the world. The “black Presidential imaginary” is not about a single figure, but a dynamic concept of a presidency in our popular imagination that reflects a vision of America and ourselves.

The Black Presidential Imaginary presented films and TV clips, from a film starring a seven-year-old Sammy Davis Jr. to Key and Peele’s “Anger Translator,” alongside commissioned artists and community voices. The exhibition featured artists Rashayla Marie Brown, Aisha Cousins, Zachary Fabri, Lamont Hamilton, Billy McGuinness, Shonna Pryor, Deb Sokolow, and Nate Young and letters from community organizers advocating for the Obama Foundation to sign a Community Benefits Agreement.