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Summer 2008 online edition

The Myth of Barack Obama's Early Life

by Michael Patrick Leahy

page 2 of 9

The facts suggest that Barack Obama Senior did not abandon Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Junior in 1963 when Barack Obama Junior was two years old, leaving them in Honolulu while he went to Harvard. Instead, they suggest that Stanley Ann Dunham left Barack Obama Senior in March 1962, taking seven month old Barack Obama Junior with her. She left Barack Obama Senior in Honolulu and moved into her own apartment in Seattle, Washington.

Here's what the evidence suggests:

1. Barack Obama Senior and Stanley Ann Dunham lived together under the same roof as man and wife, for not more than a six month period, beginning September 1961 and ending February 1962. During some portion of this six month period, Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Junior were in Seattle, Washington while Barack Obama Senior was in Honolulu, Hawaii.

2. Stanley Ann Dunham left Barack Obama Senior, in March, 1962, taking seven month old Barack Obama Junior with her. She moved from Honolulu, where Barack Obama Senior continued his studies at the University of Hawaii, to Seattle, Washington where she enrolled as a full time student at the University of Washington and lived with her son Barack Junior in student housing at the Laurelhurst dormitory, and later in her own apartment, on Capitol Hill. (6)

3. Stanley Ann Dunham returned to Hawaii from Seattle, Washington some time between September, 1962 and January, 1964, only after Barack Obama Senior left Honolulu for Harvard.

The true story of Barack Obama's early life begins with his maternal grandparents, Stanley Dunham and Madelyne Payne Dunham. They were natives of Kansas, from small towns in the vicinity of Wichita. Her parents were Methodists and relatively prosperous for the time, her father was employed as an oil lease manager by Standard Oil. His parents were Baptists, good people, but less prosperous than hers. (7)

They eloped on the evening of her high school graduation in June, 1940. She was seventeen and a half years old, he was twenty-one. Her parents disapproved of the match, and the newlyweds didn't tell them of the marriage until after she had her high school diploma in hand. (8)

Their only child, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in November, 1942, while he served in the Army during World War II. On his release from the Army, he attended the University of California at Berkely on the GI Bill for a period of time. That didn't take, and he launched a career that took his family around various small towns in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In 1955, they moved to Seattle, where Stanley worked in a nearby Seattle furniture store and Madelyne got a job in a bank.

After a year living in an apartment in Seattle, the Dunham family moved to nearby Mercer Island, which had one of the best public high schools in the state. Their only daughter Ann, an intelligent young woman of no particular religious affiliation, with a tendency towards starry eyed liberalism and a vague desire to do good things in the world, was about to start her freshman year in high school, and the Dunhams wanted her to have the best education possible. (9)

Author and Washington Post columnist David Marannis describes their time there:

They arrived in time for her to enter ninth grade at the new high school on Mercer Island, a hilly slab of land in Lake Washington that was popping with tract developments during the western boom of the postwar 1950s. The island is not much more isolated than Staten Island on the other side of the country. Just east of Seattle, it is connected to the city by what was then called the floating bridge.

The population explosion, along with a nomadic propensity, brought the Dunhams to Mercer Island. Stan was in the furniture trade, a salesman always looking for the next best deal, and the middle-class suburbs of Seattle offered fertile territory: All the new houses going up would need new living room and dining room sets. He took a job in a furniture store in Seattle.

Her friend Susan Blake remembers meeting her as a freshman at Mercer Island High School in the fall of 1956.

We were both new to Mercer Island High that year. I remember meeting her at an orientation event. She was very friendly. She stuck out her hand and said "Hi, I'm Stanley."

"Stanley?" I asked.

"Yes Stanley," she replied. "My father wanted a boy, but got a daughter instead and gave me his name anyway. So Stanley it is, and that's that."

We became good friends right then and remained so throughout high school.

Her high school classmates remember her as a great thinker. Barbara Cannon Rusk recalls:

She was a brain. We used to sit around in the library and talk about God. We talked about all sorts of things, and she would say things that were very deep, very insightful. She talked about women's rights. I was surprised that she ever got married. (12)

Her high school friends have uniformly consistent recollections of the personalities and character of her parents.

Madelyne Dunham was the towering hero of her life, of her entire family's life. She propped up her husband throughout his less than successfull sales career, made him feel important. She was an elegant and refined woman, always well groomed, her red hair always perfectly coiffed, her nails always lacquered just so. (13)

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Michael Patrick Leahy is the author of Letter to an Atheist, and Managing Editor of Christian Faith and Reason Magazine.

Comments are welcome. All comments will be read, not all comments will be posted. We may invite authors of the best comments to respond in full articles, to be published in our November edition.

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