The Root Interview: William Jelani Cobb on Obama and Black Leadership

Historians in the News

Dr. William Jelani Cobb, one of the country's most visible African-American intellectuals, is an associate professor and chair of the history department at Spelman College in Atlanta. His meditation on the hip-hop aesthetic, To the Break of Dawn, is one of the most important texts on this cultural phenomenon.

In his latest book, The Substance of Hope, Cobb turns his attention to the 2008 election, the political climate preceding the election and his own involvement as a delegate for the state of Georgia. (He blogged for The Root from the Democratic National Convention in 2008.) His training as a historian comes to bear as he asks, What does this all mean? And where do we go from here?

The interview was conducted via Google Chat.

The Root: In The Substance of Hope, you play both historian and participant as a delegate in the 2008 election. How did these distinct roles help shape your book?

William Jelani Cobb: Initially they made it more difficult because I'm accustomed to writing about things that are more static. This was an attempt to place the election into a context in terms of history, and in some ways in terms of irony. But this was also a rapidly changing subject. The result was that I wrote about three-quarters of the book and then threw it all out and started again from scratch. It was much more difficult to decide what story I wanted to tell.

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