Oprah: Let's go to the night of the 2004 Democratic convention. How were you chosen to deliver the keynote speech?
Barack: We won our primary in a way that shocked people. In a seven-person field, we got 53 percent of the vote. People's assumption had been that if I won, I'd get 90 percent of the black vote, then maybe a little of the liberal white vote. We did win the black vote by 90 percent, but we also won the white vote—both on Chicago's South Side and up north. That created a sense of hopefulness among Democrats. I debunked this notion that whites won't vote for blacks. Or suburbanites won't vote for city people. Or downstate Illinois won't vote for upstate Illinois. That was the bedrock of my campaign: People may look different, talk different, and live in different places, but they've got some core values that they all care about and they all believe in. If you can speak to those values, people will respond—even if you have a funny name.
Oprah: When I was working at a news station in Baltimore, the manager wanted me to change my name to Suzie. He said, "Nobody will ever remember Oprah."
Barack: I was told, "People will remember your name and won't like it." You can have one African name, but not two. You can be Barack Smith or Joe Obama—but not Barack Obama.
Oprah: I loved reading where you said, "People don't know whether it's Osama or Yo' Mama."
Barack: Alabama, Bahama, or Barama.
Oprah: I think the name is working for you now.
Barack: Absolutely. Yours turned out okay for you, too. So anyway, John Kerry came to town for an event a few weeks after the primary. He and Teresa and I were all sitting at the same table, and I gave a speech before he did—and I can talk pretty good! [He and Oprah laugh.]
Oprah: When did you know that about yourself? I've known since I was 3, when I was speaking in church.
Barack: I didn't grow up in a setting where I had a lot of formal training, but I always knew I could express myself. I knew I could win some arguments. I knew I could get my grandparents and mom frustrated! Anyway, because of the five-minute speech I gave at the Kerry event, he thought it would be good for me to speak at the convention, but I didn't know in what capacity. About two weeks before the convention, I was asked to give the keynote address.
Oprah: I remember the first time I got called to do The Tonight Show. I was like, "My God—Johnny Carson!" We were jumping on the tables. The convention was your Johnny Carson moment. Did you dance a little hula?
Barack: I said, "This will be big."
Oprah: Did you start thinking about what you'd say?
Barack: The best move I made was to begin writing the speech that night. After I'd scribbled some notes, I wrote it in about three nights and sent it to the Kerry staff.