President Barack Obama signifies both the power of the institutional presidency and the legacy of black freedom struggles. His post in the White House provides an opportunity to think through the process by which these themes became intertwined and the manner in which the US presidency became a site for resolving the black freedom struggle. This essay traces the routes through which the US state, in the form of the presidency, appropriated black images to suppress autonomous black freedom struggles and promote less threatening racial narratives. It critiques the production and reproduction of black freedom imagery for state utility. The materials investigated reveal the value of black visibility to state interests at key moments in US race relations—namely, during slavery, enfranchisement, and national elections.

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