Barack Obama, writer and orator, has deep roots in a tradition of eloquence that dates back to the age of slavery. As he prepares to accept the Democratic nomination in Denver next week, Candace Allen traces his literary heritage of memoir and testimony.

Next Thursday, in a major departure from tradition, Illinois Senator Barack Obama will deliver his speech accepting the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party not from within the Party’s convention space but before a crowd of 75,000 at Denver’s Mile High football stadium and, in this era of expanded technological capabilities, a world-wide audience of millions.

This will happen 45 years to the day after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that culminated in Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.’s epochal evocation of a dream. The broad outlines for the Denver convention schedule were finalised long before anyone could have conceived that an African-American candidate would be baking such history, let alone one who shared with MLK, Jr. so eloquent and elegant a mastery of the word, written and then delivered. The emergence of Obama is often thought to be without precedent, but he is part of a tradition stretching back over 150 years.

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