Love a good conspiracy theory? Ever hear the one about all the Black presidents before Barack Obama’s election four years ago? Every conspiracy theorist knows Abraham Lincoln’s mom was from an Ethiopian tribe; that President Eisenhower’s mother was as “mixed race” as Thomas Jefferson’s dad, or as Obama himself; that the maiden name of Calvin Coolidge’s mom was “Moor” (and not by coincidence). Andrew Jackson’s parents were Irish and Black, so the story goes. Republicans reportedly fronted Warren Harding about his Black ancestry, which he refused to deny.
But there couldn’t possibly be any truth to these other African-American POTUS, could there? (nudge, wink) So let’s move on.
What we know for sure is that back in 1972, James Earl Jones portrayed President Douglass Dilman in The Man—an adaptation of the 1964 Irving Wallace novel—and Hollywood was never the same. Nobody made a bigger impact opening mainstream America’s eyes to the viability of a Black head of state more than President David Palmer on the Fox network’s high-rated series, 24. But many others floated the idea way before then—from 7-year-old Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1933 musical comedy Rufus Jones for President to Richard Pryor, in a 1977 skit on The Richard Pryor Show.
Here are seven of pop culture’s most well-known Black presidents. All hail the chiefs.
—Miles Marshall Lewis