Barack ObamaSep 21st, 2011 | By BHS | Category: Politics
1961- Barack Hussein Obama rose through Illinois state politics and the U.S. Senate with unprecedented speed, deep convictions, and deft skill to be elected the first African American President of the United States. In so doing, he shattered racial barriers, altered the domestic political landscape, and electrified the world with his message of hope and unity.
Obama was born in 1961 in Hawaii, where his black father and white mother had met. His mother, Ann Dunham, moved there with her parents from Kansas following World War II. His father, Barack Obama, Sr., grew up in rural Kenya, and earned a scholarship that enabled him to study at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where Ann was also a student. They married in 1961, and had one child.
The couple separated when Obama was two years old, and in 1964, they divorced. Barack Senior returned to Kenya, leaving Ann to raise her son. Her struggles as a working single mother made an early impression on the boy, as did her values of service and compassion. She remarried, and the family moved to her husband’s home country of Indonesia in 1967 where Obama remained until he was 10 years old. He then returned to Honolulu and was subsequently raised by his maternal grandparents. After graduating from high school, he studied at Occidental College in Los Angeles for two years, then transferred to Columbia University in New York City where he majored in political science and graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Obama spent several years working in New York, and relocated to Chicago in 1985. There, he began working with the Developing Communities Project, a church-based organization, as a community organizer, committed to destitute areas affected by high unemployment and crime. His achievements were significant, but as a result of the experience, he came to understand that effecting real change would require action at the level of the political and legal systems. Obama visited Kenya in 1988, where he met many of his deceased father’s relatives for the first time. He was accepted at Harvard Law School that year, graduating in 1991 after serving as the first black president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. This resulted in a contract for him to write a book about race relations, which became the memoir Dreams from My Father.
Returning to Chicago shortly thereafter, Obama began teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, while practicing as a civil and neighborhood rights attorney and serving on numerous social action boards of directors. In 1992, he married Michelle Robinson, whom he’d met in 1989 as a summer associate at the Chicago law firm where she worked. They would have two daughters, Malia born in 1999 and Natasha (nicknamed Sasha) born in 2001. Following his path of progressive social action, Obama then ran for and was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996. He served there for three terms and eight years, often reaching out to unify Republicans and Democrats to achieve important goals and progressive policies in areas such as taxation, welfare reform, and education.
Obama had run unsuccessfully in the Illinois Democratic primary for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000. Nevertheless, in 2003, he began campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate. At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he was exposed to a national audience for the first time when he delivered the keynote address. The response was immediate, with political insiders citing his presidential potential, and ordinary Americans resonating with his message of unity and promise as expressed by the speech’s title, “The Audacity of Hope.” Propelled by this electrifying debut, he won the primary and general election for the Senate in 2004 by the largest margin in Illinois history, and became only the third African American so honored since Reconstruction.
Acknowledged by his Senate peers as an exceptionally promising freshman, Obama continued to work with leaders from both parties in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to create important legislation. He served on the Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works, and Veterans’ Affairs Committees, and worked on arms proliferation, climate change, and ethics reform among other notable achievements. In 2006, he published a second book titled The Audacity of Hope, which climbed to the top of the best-seller lists.
On February 10, 2007, with Senator Hillary Clinton the self-described presumptive Democratic nominee for President in the 2008 election, Obama announced his unlikely candidacy for the office at the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech of 1858. Shattering fund-raising records and enlisting a vast army of small contributors, Obama emerged victorious in June of that year despite controversies over his former pastor that led to Obama’s historic speech on race entitled “A More Perfect Union.” In a difficult, and frequently acrimonious general campaign against Republican nominee Senator John McCain, Obama distinguished himself with his poise and articulate focus on key issues affecting all Americans, and continued to raise record-breaking sums from a growing grassroots base of support. His choice of Senator Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as running mate offered a stark contrast to the Republican Vice Presidential nominee, as did his constant message of hope and unity epitomized by the hugely popular refrain, “Yes we can.”
Over the course of the campaign, Obama steadily established and widened a leading margin in polls, which accelerated with the deterioration of the U.S. economy in the fall of 2008. Toward the end of the contest, he campaigned actively in Republican strongholds, seeking a broad mandate from the electorate to enact his theme of “The change we need.”
On November 4, 2008, history was made. Obama became the 44th President-Elect of the United States with a landslide victory of 365 electoral votes to McCain’s 162, the first Black elected to the highest office in the land. One hundred and forty-six years after the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans’ march toward freedom, civil rights, equity, and full participation culminated in the leadership of this nation. A dream too long deferred had been realized. A new chapter in American history had begun.