Barak Obama, Sr.

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Barak Obama, Sr.

Barak Hussein Obama, Sr. (also spelled as Barack) was the Kenyan father of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Wheeler connection

From a John Bachtell review of Tim Wheeler's memoir, “News from Rain Shadow Country.”[1]

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Tim Wheeler is a great storyteller. He’s also a wonderful landscape artist. Together these talents are on full display in his engaging new memoir, “News from Rain Shadow Country.”

One of Tim’s remarkable connections is with President Obama. It turns out Tim attended the University of Washington with Barack Obama, Sr. They became acquainted through another exchange student from Kenya, Muga Ndenga. Once Tim invited Muga and his fellow Kenyan to visit the family farm.

Obama drove with two women friends up front, while Muga, Joyce and Tim rode in the back seat. Tim writes, “Obama drove at eighty or ninety miles-an-hour on the twisting curves of Old Olympic Highway. We were convinced we all would die!”
They did arrive safely and the next day Tim proudly took everyone on a tour of the dairy farm.
“I sized Obama up: slim, dark complexioned, strikingly handsome, courteous and soft-spoken. Like Muga, he spoke the “King’s English.”
Obama Sr. dressed “like he had just stepped out of the pages of one of those fashion magazines. I decided then to remove from the tour a demonstration of the wonders of our manure pump.”
Tragically, Obama, Sr. died later in a fiery auto accident in Kenya. It was 40 years later Tim and Joyce realized they had hosted the father of the 44th president.

Studying in Hawaii

The first African student at the University of Hawaii, Barak Obama, reached Honolulu 11 months before Stanley Ann Dunham and her parents arrived from Seattle. He was on the first airlift of Kenyan students brought to study at U.S. universities as part of a program organized by Kenyan nationalist Tom Mboya and funded primarily by hundreds of American supporters.

His arrival in Honolulu was announced in an article in a local newspaper, the Star-Bulletin, under the headline: "Young Men from Kenya, Jordan and Iran Here to Study at U.H."

Obama told the journalist, Shurei Hirozawa, that he grew up on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya, in east Africa, and was a member of the Luo tribe. He said he had worked as an office clerk in Nairobi for several years to save money for college and settled on the University of Hawaii "when he read in an American magazine about its racial tolerance."

Obama also told Hirozawa that he had enough money to stay in Hawaii only for two semesters unless he applied for a scholarship. He said he would study business administration and wanted to return to Kenya to help with its transition from tribal customs to a modern economy. He was concerned, he said, about his generation's disorientation as Kenyans rejected old ways yet struggled with westernization.

Hawaiian friends

(from left) Arnie Nachmanoff, (Former Under Secretary of the Treasury, and host), Suzie Nachmanoff (host), Barak Obama (Kenya), Bob Ruenitz (Fromer Senior State Department official, USA), and Dorothy (USA)
Taken in Hawaii in 1961 at the house of Arnie Nachmanoff and Suzie Nachmanoff (Pearl Harbor): (from left) Kiri Tith (then Cambodia), Kitaichi (Japan), Marda (USA), Ichiro (Japan), Suzie Nachmanoff (Host, USA), Dave (USA), Kunio (Japan), Bob (USA), Rajapakse (Sri Lanka), Barak Obama (Kenya), Anne (USA)

Taking a room at the Charles H. Atherton branch of the YMCA, not far from campus, Obama quickly adapted to the rhythms of student life. One of his frequent hangouts was the snack bar in an old Army barracks-style building near his business classes. It was there that he met first Neil Abercrombie, then brother Hal Abercrombie-both attending graduate school in Honolulu, and their friends Peter Gilpin, Chet Gorman and Pake Zane.

They were antiestablishment intellectuals, experimenters, outsiders, somewhere between beatniks and hippies, and they loved to talk and drink coffee and beer. They were immediately taken by the one and only African student in their midst.

According to Zane;

"He was very black, probably the blackest person I've ever met...Handsome in his own way. But the most impressive thing was his voice. His voice and his inflection -- he had this Oxford accent. You heard a little Kenyan English, but more this British accent with this really deep, mellow voice that just resounded. If he said something in the room and the room was not real noisy, everybody stopped and turned around. I mean he just had this wonderful, wonderful voice. He was charismatic as a speaker."

Barak Obama and his friends at a party hosted by Arnie and Suzie Nachmanoff, in the early 1960's, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Political activity

Mother’s Peace Rally

Barak Obama speaking at the Mother’s Peace Rally, May 13, 1962

On Sunday May 13, 1962, 350 people with banners and flags took part in a "walk for peace" in a "public expression of Peace sentiment", arriving in Ala Moana Park where they were addressed by a line-up of speakers. ILWU leaders, including one time Communist Party USA leader Jack Hall, joined the march and rally which was known as the Mother’s Peace Rally.[2]

Barak Obama, then an economics student at the University of Hawaii Afro-American Affairs Institute, was one of the featured speakers at the rally. He told the crowd of 350,

"Anything which relieves military spending will help us, Peace will release great resources."

Others speaking at the rally included: Ralph Vanderslice, Rev. Nicolas Dizon, First Community Church, Thomas P. Gill, Rev. Seikan Higa, Rabbi Roy Rosenberg, Rev. Delwyn Rayson, Dr. John Mollett and Patsy Mink

Barack Obama Senior had married Ann Dunham in February 1961 and Barack Junior, who was born on August 4, 1961, would have been 10 months old at the time of the event.[3]

"Problems Facing Our Socialism"


In July 1965, Barak Obama, Sr. published an paper entitled "Problems Facing Our Socialism" in the East Africa Journal. Click here to read the paper.

Barak Obama wrote an article for the East Africa Journal in 1965 in response to the Kenyan government’s ‘Sessional Paper No. 10,’ which had been published earlier that year. Obama Sr. was working on his doctorate in economics at the time.[4]

Marriage to Stanley Ann

In 1960, Stanley Ann Dunham's senior year, she learned her father had found a better opportunity -- another furniture store, this one in Hawaii.

Stanley Ann began classes at the University of Hawaii in 1960, and shortly after that, her seattle friend Maxine Box received a letter saying that her friend had fallen in love with a grad student. He was black, from Kenya and named Obama.

About that same time, another letter crossed the Pacific, this one heading to Africa. It was from Barak Obama to his mother, Sarah Hussein Onyango Obama.

Though the letter didn't go into great detail, it said he had met a young woman named Ann (not Stanley). There wasn't much on how they met or what the attraction was, but he announced their plans to wed.

Stanley Ann's prospective father-in-law was furious. He wrote the Dunhams "this long, nasty letter saying that he didn't approve of the marriage," Obama recounted his mother telling him in "Dreams." "He didn't want the Obama blood sullied by a white woman."

Stanley Ann, relationship with Barak Obama introduced her to a new circle-graduate students from the University of Hawaii.

They spent weekends listening to jazz, drinking beer and debating politics and world affairs.

Neil Abercrombie, later a Democratic Party congressman from Hawaii who was part of those regular gatherings.

While Barak Obama was impatient and energized, Stanley Ann Dunham, whom Abercrombie described as "the original feminist," was endlessly patient but quietly passionate in her arguments. She was the only woman in the group.

"I think she was attracted to his powerful personality," Abercrombie said, "and he was attracted to her beauty and her calmness[5]."

On Feb. 2, 1961,, Ann and Obama took a plane to Maui and got married. No guests, not even family members, were there[6].

Six months after they wed, Barack Obama, was born August 4, 1961[7].

Barak eventually told Ann about a former marriage in Kenya but said he was divorced, which she would discover years later was a lie[8].


After Barak Obama was accepted to study at Harvard, Stanley Ann Dunham disappeared from the University of Hawaii student gatherings, but she did not accompany her husband to Harvard. Neil Abercrombie said he rarely saw her after that.

Ann, the earnest student, dropped out of school to take care of her baby. Her husband finished his degree, graduating in June 1962, after three years in Hawaii, as a Phi Beta Kappa straight-A student. Then, before the month was out, he took off, leaving behind his still-teenage wife and namesake child. He did not return for 10 years, and then only briefly. A story in the Star-Bulletin on the day he left, June 22, said Obama planned a several-weeks grand tour of mainland universities before he arrived at Harvard to study economics on a graduate faculty fellowship.

The story did not mention that he had a wife and an infant son[9].

Stanley Ann filed for divorce in 1964 and remarried two years later, when her son was five. The senior Obama finished his work at Harvard and returned to Kenya, where he hoped to realize his big dreams of taking a place in the Kenyan government[10].


  1. [ PW Book review: Rich depiction of Pacific NW and its people September 5, 2017 1:31 PM CDT BY JOHN BACHTELL]
  2. Voice of the ILWU, May 18, 1962
  3. Hawaii (Local 142) ILWU website: Barack Obama Senior in 1962, March 12, 2009
  4. "Problems Facing Our Socialism," Barak H. Obama
  5. Chicago Tribune March 27 2007
  6. Washington Post Staff Writer David Maraniss, August 22, 2008
  7. Chicago Tribune March 27 2007
  8. Washington Post Staff Writer David Maraniss, August 22, 2008
  9. Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, August 22, 2008
  10. Chicago Tribune March 27 2007