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The Honorable Barack Obama

Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He attended Occidental College for two years before transferring to Columbia University in New York, where he became interested in a career as a social activist.

After graduation, Obama found work as a community organizer, which led him to Chicago. Obama was hired to head the Developing Communities Project and served in this capacity for over three years. However, realizing the limitations of working at such a localized level, Obama enrolled at Harvard Law School. At Harvard, Obama excelled, eventually becoming the President of the Harvard Law Review, the first African American ever to hold this position. After he graduated from Harvard, Obama wrote a book, Dreams from My Father, based on his family’s experiences. He went to work at the Chicago law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland.

On advice from friends, Obama ran for a vacant state Senate seat in 1996, and was successfully elected to represent the 13th Legislative District. In 2000, Obama ran for a seat in Congress but lost to incumbent Bobby Rush. In 2004, Obama successfully ran for a seat in the United States Senate representing Illinois, becoming only the fifth African American senator in United States history. On February 10, 2007, Obama announced that he would run for President of the United States. On June 3, 2008, Obama became the presumptive democratic nominee for the U.S. presidency. He is the first African American to ever win a major political party’s nomination for president. On November 4, 2008, Obama became the president-elect when he won the election for President of the United States. He is the first African American president in the history of the United States. Obama was sworn-in as U.S. president on January 20, 2009.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, are the parents of two daughters, Sasha and Malia.

Accession Number

A2001.082

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/16/2001

Last Name

Obama

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Punahou School

Occidental College

Columbia University

Harvard Law School

First Name

Barack

Birth City, State, Country

Honolulu

HM ID

PITS017

Favorite Season

Fall, Summer

State

Hawaii

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bali, Indonesia

Favorite Quote

I'm tired.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

8/4/1961

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Beans (Red), Rice

Short Description

State senator, president, and U.S. senator The Honorable Barack Obama (1961 - ) ran for a vacant State Senate seat in 1996, and was successfully elected to represent the 13th Legislative District. In 2004, Obama successfully ran for a seat in the United States Senate representing Illinois, becoming only the fifth African American Senator in United States history. On November 4, 2008, Obama became the first African American president-elect when he won the election for President of the United States. Obama was sworn-in as U.S. president on January 20, 2009.

Employment

Delete

Project Vote

Miner, Barnhill & Galland

Illinois State Senate

University of Chicago Law School

United States Senate

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Barack Obama interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Barack Obama names his favorite food

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Barack Obama lists his other favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Barack Obama describes his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Barack Obama describes his mother and her background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Barack Obama shares his experience defining a racial identity, part I

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Barack Obama shares his earliest memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Barack Obama explains his mother's investment in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Barack Obama describes his adolescent behavior

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Barack Obama reflects on his years in Indonesia as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Barack Obama shares his experience defining a racial identity, part II

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Barack Obama recounts his college years

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Barack Obama recalls his experience as a community organizer

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Barack Obama recalls law school and the beginning of his political career

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Barack Obama evaluates his success as a law student

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Barack Obama assesses his law school education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Barack Obama discusses his early exposure to electoral politics

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Barack Obama details his entrance into politics

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Barack Obama recounts his 1996 campaign for Illinois state senate

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Barack Obama reacts to proceedings in the Illinois state legislature

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Barack Obama reflects on the histories of local Chicago politics and Illinois state politics

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Barack Obama classifies a generation of young, black elected officials

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Barack Obama evaluates the role of government in improving black lives

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Barack Obama considers his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Barack Obama credits influential figures in his life

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

4$4

DATitle
Barack Obama recalls his experience as a community organizer
Barack Obama recounts his 1996 campaign for Illinois state senate
Transcript
I decided, upon graduation [from Columbia University, New York, New York], that I wanted to continue in that kind of work [political activism]. So I--for a year I worked as a financial journalist to pay off my student loans and as soon as I had those paid off, I started looking for work as a community organizer or political activist or something that was going to lead me into that area of work. And it turned out that it was actually harder to find work doing good than I had expected. It's an irony of this country that it's actually easier to find a paying job, you know, just to make money than it is to try to find a job that involves social change in some fashion. But there were a small group of churches on the far South Side of Chicago [Illinois] that were experiencing tremendous pressure because the steel mills in the area had closed, people were losing jobs, there was a lot of racial turnover. This would be in places like Roseland and West Pullman [Chicago, Illinois]. And these churches had decided to get together, form an organization, raise a small budget and try to hire somebody who could staff a community organization that would help them with these problems. And they only had a small budget, so they could only afford to pay somebody thirteen thousand dollars a--thirteen thousand dollars a year. And it just so happened that I saw an advertisement that they had placed in a community newspaper and wrote to them and they agreed to hire me. So I drove out to Chicago not knowing a single person in Chicago. I was--this would have been 1985 and so I was twenty-four years old, and ended up serving as the director of this community organization for three and a half years, and it was the best education of my life because it allowed me to not only learn some of the skills of organizing and politics that I still apply today in my career, but, more importantly, it gave me a home--it gave me a base. It sort of rooted me in a specific community of African Americans whose, you know, values and stories I soaked up and found an affinity with. And we did some good in this organizing work. You know, we were able to set up job training programs and college counseling and education programs for youth, cleaned up vacant lots, brought more money into neighborhood parks, worked on school reform issues, trained a cadre of neighborhood leaders that are still active in that area and so, overall, it was a wonderful experience and, you know, difficult. When I think back to me being twenty-four and working mostly with women and men and pastors who were my parents' age or grandparents' age, not really knowing anything about Chicago, not knowing that much about the church, I was pretty green behind the ears. But they, I think the community appreciated my efforts even if sometimes they weren't always as effective or as efficient as if I had had a little more experience, and it ended up being a wonderful training ground for me. After about three and a half years of doing that work, I became more keenly aware of the fact that it was--it was going to be difficult though to bring about the kind of change that I was concerned about by working at such a local level. The problems of joblessness or drug violence or the failures of the public education system, all those decisions weren't just being made locally and they didn't just track particular neighborhood boundaries. They were citywide issues, statewide issues, national issues. So I became more aware of the need for me to step back and be able to evaluate and analyze these issues at a larger level and a larger scale, and potentially have more power to shape the decisions that were affecting those issues. And, in addition, you know, the years during which I was organizing, those were the years that [Mayor] Harold Washington was in office and [city] 'Council Wars' was going on here in Chicago. And part of the reason, I think, I had been attracted to Chicago was reading about Harold Washington, and I think the inspiration that African Americans across the country had taken from his election as the first African American mayor in Chicago. And Harold died in '87 [1987] after I had been organizing for about three years, and, you know, you just got a sense that the city was going to be going through a transition. That the kinds of organizing work that I was doing wasn't going to be the focal point of people's attention because, you know, there were all these transitions and struggles and tumult that was going on in terms of the African American community figuring where to go next. And so I decided it was a good time for me to pull back and I went to law school at Harvard [Harvard Law School, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts].$What about the election? Was there anything surprising about that? You won your first time out so--,$$Well, I did, but, you know, it was an interesting introduction to politics in Chicago [Illinois] because what had happened was that the incumbent, [Illinois state senator] Alice Palmer, had decided to run for [U.S.] Congress against Mel Reynolds. Mel Reynolds, at the time, was still the congressman. She had made the decision early to run against him and had asked me for help on the campaign, and I said that I would because she had a good reputation in progressive circles and had struck me as a capable woman and had a good voting record in the senate. So I assisted her with her campaign. About halfway through the campaign, it became apparent that Mel Reynolds was going to be indicted for a variety of charges and that there would probably be a special election, which would take place about three weeks to a month before the deadline for filing petitions for the [Illinois] state senate race. And the significance of that was is that up until Mel Reynolds's indictment and conviction and the scheduling of a special election, Alice Palmer had to vacate her seat to run for Congress. She couldn't run for both at the same time. Because the special election occurred early, it left the possibility that Alice could run for Congress and, if she lost, retain her state senate seat. So, at that point, I approached her--at this point, people--mutual supporters had already talked to me about running. I had already started the process of opening an office and raising money and doing all these things, but I went to her and I said, "Look. It's a new scenario now. I haven't announced publicly that I'm running. If you want to hedge your bets and wait and see if you win, then I'm comfortable with that and I can sort of keep my campaign on a holding pattern until we see what happens." She said, "No, Barack. I'm telling you I'm not interested in being in the state senate anymore. I'm going to win this congressional race and so, you know, you have my blessing and my go ahead." And she had endorsed me formally at the announcement. Of course then what happened was that when Mel Reynolds was indicted and convicted, a lot of people decided they were interested in that race. So Emil Jones ran, Monique Davis ran and Jesse [Jackson] Jr. ran, and Alice probably was not in the best position at that point to win the race. And I continued to ask her whether she was still sure that she wanted to give up her senate seat and she insisted that she did. So we went ahead with our campaign. Well, Alice, you know--as we know today, lost to Jesse, Jr.. And the next day, I hear back from her supporters that I should step down and let her stay in her senate seat. And, at that point, I had, you know, raised money and gathered petitions and had this entire campaign apparatus and I said, you know, "I can't do that. I've been having these conversations with her for quite some time now and, you know, I indicated that I was committed once I got in." So it was an unfortunate incident. I understood what happened from Alice's perspective. I think it's always hard to leave politics, especially on a losing note like that, but she did try to get back in the race. It turned out that she didn't actually have enough time to put together the necessary petition signatures to run and wasn't able to get on the ballot. But, you know, it was a--it left a little bit of a bitter taste in my mouth just in the sense that it reminded me that part of politics is this struggle for individual advancement that doesn't always have to do with, you know, the actual agenda of the community, and it's hard to keep above the fray. I mean, if you're going to be involved in this process that you end up having to play hard ball and battle it out even as you keep your eye on the prize, and that's not always an easy thing to do to balance those two things--the gamesmanship or the power struggles involved in politics and the policy and, you know, long term concerns that should be driving our political process.