‘Race in the Age of Obama’

Washington University and American Academy of Arts and Sciences host symposium Feb. 25

How have race relations in America evolved since the civil rights movement of the 1960s? Was the election of President Barack Obama a milestone in this regard? Did it truly serve as a turning point in America’s history of racial inequality?


Later this month, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Washington University in St. Louis will explore these questions and more with a symposium titled “Race in the Age of Obama.”

The event, which begins at 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25, is occasioned by publication of the Winter 2011 issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Guest-edited by Gerald L. Early, PhD, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and director of the Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, the issue — also titled “Race in the Age of Obama” — collects 15 essays examining both recent progress and recent setbacks in American race relations.

Early, who will moderate the discussion, suggests that the national conversation about race remains as significant today as it was in the 1960s, “when America seemed on the edge of a brave new world, poised for redefinition and ready to see itself anew.”

In his essay in Daedalus, “The Two Worlds of Race Revisited: A Meditation on Race in the Age of Obama,” Early writes that the election of Barack Obama “brought together the privileged majority and the aggrieved minority in a new way: instead of each complaining about how the other is dependent on it, each cooperated to achieve a common goal, electing Obama as a way to restart or redefine American history.

This was the prospect they found so exciting about his candidacy,” Early continues. “Obama the bridge, the mixed-race messiah, Obama the blended beneficence. Alas, it is questionable if he can unify us. In the end, the two worlds of race demand that we be on either one side or the other.”


Other participants will include:

Jeffrey B. Ferguson, PhD, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Black Studies and American Studies at Amherst College, who contributed the essay “Freedom, Equality, Race.”

David A. Hollinger, PhD, the Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote on “The Concept of Post-Racial: How Its Easy Dismissal Obscures Important Questions.”

Korina Jocson, PhD, assistant professor of education in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, who wrote on “Poetry in a New Race Era.”


“Race in the Age of Obama” is free and open to the public, but space is limited. To register, call (617) 576-5021 or visit amacad.org.

The event takes place in Washington University’s Hurst Lounge, Room 201, Duncker Hall. A reception for the participants will immediately follow. Duncker Hall is located in Brookings Quadrangle, near the intersection of Brookings and Hoyt drives.

For more information or to receive a free parking pass, call (314) 935-5576 or e-mail cenhum@artsci.wustl.edu.


Early has been a Fellow of the American Academy since 1997 and currently co-chairs the Academy Council. His many publications include The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture (1994) and This Is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s (2003). In addition, Early is the series editor for the anthologies Best African American Fiction and Best African American Essays.

Ferguson is author of The Harlem Renaissance: A Brief History with Documents (2008) and The Sage of Sugar Hill: George S. Schuyler and the Harlem Renaissance (2005).

Hollinger, a fellow of the American Academy since 1997, is currently president of the Organization of American Historians. His publications include The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II (2006), for which he served as editor; Cosmopolitanism and Solidarity: Studies in Ethnoracial, Religious, and Professional Affiliation in the United States (2006); and Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism, third expanded edition (2006).

Jocson’s research and teaching focus on literacy, youth and cultural studies in education. Recent publications include the book Youth Poets: Empowering Literacies In and Out of Schools (2008) as well as “Unpacking Symbolic Creativities: Writing in School and Across Contexts” for the Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies (2010) and “Steering Legacies: Pedagogy, Literacy, and Social Justice in Schools” for The Urban Review (2009).


Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current academy research focuses on science and technology policy; global security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education. With headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., the academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world.

Washington University is counted among the world’s leaders in teaching and research, and it draws students and faculty to St. Louis from all 50 states and more than 110 nations. Nearly 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students enroll each year. Twenty-three Nobel laureates have been associated with Washington University, with nine doing the major portion of their pioneering research here. The university offers more than 90 programs and almost 1,500 courses leading to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in a broad spectrum of traditional and interdisciplinary fields, with additional opportunities for minor concentrations and individualized programs.

Calendar Summary

WHO: Gerald L. Early, Jeffrey B. Ferguson, David A. Hollinger and Korina Jocson

WHAT: Panel discussion, “Race in the Age of Obama”

WHEN: 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25

WHERE: Hurst Lounge, Room 201, Duncker Hall

COST: Free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To register, call (617) 576-5021 or visit www.amacad.org.

SPONSOR: American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Washington University’s Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences

INFORMATION: (314) 935-5576 or cenhum@artsci.wustl.edu.