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Summer 2008 online edition

The Myth of Barack Obama's Early Life

by Michael Patrick Leahy

page 8 of 9
Whatever the nature of the event, it was of sufficient significance to cause Stanley Ann Dunham to leave Barack Obama Senior and move thousands of miles from Honolulu to Seattle. In March, 1962, Stanley Ann Dunham moved from Honolulu to Seattle, Washington, where she enrolled as a full time student at the University of Washington for the spring quarter, which continued until June, 1962, and got her own apartment. She enrolled in classes and earned 10 credit hours that quarter.

Seattle Times journalist Jonathan Martin reports that some high school classmates recall visiting her and her young son alternately at the Laurelhurst student housing, then at a Capitol Hill apartment during the period that stretched from March 1962 to at least September 1962. (43)

It appears that Stanley Ann Dunham intended this move to be a permanent one, away from the painful memories of Hawaii, her estranged husband, and her parents. Though she had found the courses she had taken at the University of Hawaii surprisingly stimulating, she had never wanted to go there in the first place.

The University of Chicago was no longer an option for financial reasons, but as a graduate of a high school in the state of Washington, she could still claim the lower tuition rate of a Washington resident there. It had been her second choice initially, after all, one that was superior to the University of Hawaii in her mind.

During these months though she was visited by some classmates, she did not actively seek to re-connect with many of her Mercer High School friends, suggesting that perhaps she was not interesting in letting them know the painful details of her personal story. Good friend Maxine Box, whose mother fed her chocolate cake after school while the two girls did their home work, attended the University of Washington during this time, and was not even aware that Dunham was living in Seattle and also attending the University of Washington at this time.

High school friend John W. Hunt apparently visited her at her Laurelhurst student apartment or her Capitol Hill apartment, as did another class mate, Barbara Cannon Rusk. Rusk recalls visiting Stanley Ann Dunham and her baby son Barack at her apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle shortly after the end of these spring quarter classes.

I had moved to Utah for a while after high school, and I came back to Seattle in the summer of 1962. I remember visiting the World's Fair, and then stopping by Stanley Ann's apartment on Capitol Hill. It was a small apartment, upstairs. It was after June, and could have been as late as September, 1962. I visited her for half a day or so. It was after the end of the spring quarter classes, and she wasn't in classes, and didn't have a job. I recall her being melancholy at the time. I had a sense that something wasn't right in her marriage. It was all very mysterious. First, her husband wasn't there, he was already off in Harvard. I didn't ask her about the relationship, feeling it was a private matter. My daughter Michelle was just a few weeks younger than Stanley's son, who she called Barry, and they played together on the floor. (44)

As with Susan Blake and Maxine Box, Barbara Cannon Rusk never saw her friend Stanley Ann Dunham again.

While Stanley Ann Dunham was living in Seattle, Barack Obama Senior finished his senior year at the University of Hawaii. The Kenyan sponsor who had covered most of Barack Obama Senior's expenses while he studied at the University of Hawaii, Ella Kirk, wrote to Tom Mboya asking him to fund Obama Senior's graduate studies, preferably at Harvard, in May of 1962. No mention was made in the request of the need to fund the living expenses for his wife and son. (45)

He graduated from the University of Hawaii in June of 1962 with a degree in mathematics and economics, an a Phi Beta Kappa key in recognition of his academic excellence.

In his memoirs, Barack Obama describes a short Honolulu Star-Bulletin article about his father at the time, in which he criticized some of the Universityís policies concerning the treatment of foreign exchange students. Obama notes that the article made no mention of either his mother or him. This comment would make sense, as it is likely that Stanley Ann Dunham did not attend her husbandís graduation ceremony, as she was in Seattle.

Author and Washington Post writer David Marannis confirms this story:

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.

Many years later, Barack Jr., then in high school, found a clipping of the article in a family stash of birth certificates and old vaccination forms. Why wasn't his name there, or his mother's? He wondered, he later wrote, "whether the omission caused a fight between my parents."

On his way east, Obama stopped in San Francisco and went to dinner at the Blue Fox in the financial district with Hal Abercrombie, who had moved to the city with his wife, Shirley. Abercrombie would never forget that dinner; he thought it showed the worst side of his old friend, a combination of anger and arrogance that frightened him. Shirley was a blonde with a high bouffant hairdo, and when she showed up at the side of Hal and Barack, the maitre d' took them to the most obscure table in the restaurant. Obama interpreted this as a racial slight. When the waiter arrived, Obama tore into him, shouting that he was an important person on his way to Harvard and would not tolerate such treatment, Abercrombie recalled. "He was berating the guy and condescending every time the waiter came to our table. There was a superiority and an arrogance about it that I didn't like."

In the family lore, Obama was accepted into graduate school at the New School in New York and at Harvard, and if he had chosen the New School there would have been enough scholarship money for his wife and son to come along. However, the story goes, he opted for Harvard because of the world-class academic credentials a Crimson degree would bring. But there is an unresolved part of the story: Did Ann try to follow him to Cambridge? Her friends from Mercer Island were left with that impression. (46)

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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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