Archive for Sunday, June 1, 2008

Barack Obama’s mother more than just a Kansas girl

Barack Obama sits with his grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham on a park bench in New York City, in this undated photo taken when Obama was a student at Columbia University. Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the Dunhams also lived briefly in El Dorado.

Barack Obama sits with his grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham on a park bench in New York City, in this undated photo taken when Obama was a student at Columbia University. Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the Dunhams also lived briefly in El Dorado.

June 1, 2008


Five years before giving birth to a future presidential contender, the girl from Kansas extended her hand to Susan Botkin, a fellow ninth-grader.

"Hi. I'm Stanley," she said, rolling her eyes. "My dad wanted a boy."

He'd get a grandson, Barack Obama, who has almost locked up becoming the first African-American presidential nominee from a major party. Obama recently said that if his mother had lived to see his success to date, "she'd say, 'Don't let it get to your head. Just keep on working hard.' But I think she'd be pretty proud."

Convention, though, rarely fit Stanley Ann Dunham.

Heartland roots

Obama likes to talk about her Kansas roots, repeating "mother from Kansas, father from Kenya," implying the values of the heartland in the parent who stuck by him.

But she hardly left a trace in the Sunflower State, where she was born. Her family swept through California and Texas before returning briefly to El Dorado, Kan., her dad's hometown, when she was in seventh grade.

The Dunhams soon left the heartland for good. And from the islands where she spent her remaining 40 years until her death from ovarian cancer in 1995, she never looked back.

The girl from Kansas twice entered into ethnically mixed wedlock; both marriages broke apart. She studied anthropology and spent years in Indonesia, teaching English and lining up microloans for the poor.

She spoke Javanese, French, Indonesian and a bit of Urdu.

And she trusted her son, "Barry," to overcome the thorny identity issues of a childhood without a father.

He did. Barack Obama found his path to a prestigious college - even as his mom pursued interests half a world away.

The senator from Illinois attributes "what is best in me" to her can-do idealism and resilience to adversity.

He also notes how her wanderlust and "a certain recklessness" compelled him to seek for his own daughters a more stable upbringing - a home in Chicago, with two parents.

Those who knew her notice other traits passed down: A pointy chin, tilted up in pensive moments. A genuine rejection of racial lines. A supreme confidence - some might say elitism - in the face of circumstances that were anything but elite.

"She provided a very different role" from other mothers of her day, said Susan Blake, the former Susan Botkin.

Born in Fort Leavenworth

Most of what is known about Stanley Ann Dunham's childhood comes from her son's 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, which she proofread before she died.

She was born in November 1942 at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to Stan and Madelyn Dunham - both Kansas natives from the "dab-smack, landlocked center of the country," Obama wrote.

Her father was a restless furniture salesman who so desired a son that he gave his daughter his first name. He joined the Army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and likely was off to war when his wife traveled from the Wichita area to give birth.

Leavenworth post historian Kelvin Crow explains: "It's reasonable to believe that's why she'd be born here - for the medical benefits."

She spent her infancy in the Wichita area, where mother Madelyn worked during World War II at a B-29 bomber factory.

Later, in Texas, according to Obama's book, an 11-year-old Stanley Ann endured teasing from neighbors after she invited a black child into her yard to play.

By the mid-1950s, if just for one year, the family was back in El Dorado, local records show.

When Obama traveled there for a rally in January, resident Clarence Kerns gave him information about the family home on Olive Street.

"He didn't know the house existed ... so he seemed to appreciate it," said Kerns, who attended high school with Obama's grandfather.

Before 1956, when the Dunhams again left Kansas, Stanley Ann hadn't stayed in one place long enough to leave much of an impression.

That changed on Mercer Island, Wash., where classmate Jill Burton-Dascher said: "She was comfortable in the bohemian group. They spent a lot of time in coffeehouses."

Graduates of the Mercer Island class of 1960 reckon that Stanley Ann's mother, a bank executive of white-collar stock, persuaded her freewheeling husband to settle down for the sake of their daughter's education.

That education included questioning authority and religious institutions, and reading the works of Marx and Kierkegaard.

Friend John Hunt recalled that Stanley Ann "could step into a conversation and lightly call someone to account. She wasn't nasty, but neither was she intimidated."

Barack Obama Sr.

When she graduated, they moved to Hawaii, where she applied to a university and quickly fell in love with one of the few black students on campus.

Barack Obama Sr. was Kenyan, deep-voiced, well-spoken and viewed by many female students as an exotic catch.

Alice Dewey, a friend, said: "He had whatever that spark is, the spark his son has today."

"He was brilliant," said Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, a fellow graduate student.

Stanley Ann Dunham was 18 and pregnant when she married, to the disapproval of her parents.

Friends wondered if her relationship with a black man was meant to shock her father.

But all doubts dissipated when she passed through Mercer Island in 1961 with her month-old son.

"She was so proud of her baby, so relaxed, so self-possessed - excited about the future," said Blake, who changed Barry's diaper.

Moving to Indonesia

The Dunham-Obama marriage failed within three years.

Obama returned to Kenya to pursue politics but became embittered by the tribal order. He had little contact with his ex-wife and son, though she never spoke a harsh word to Barry about his father except that he was a bad driver. (He died in a traffic accident in 1982.)

In Hawaii, Dunham had re-enrolled at the university to study anthropology.

For a time, she received food stamps.

By 1967 she had married an Indonesian student, Lolo Sotoroe, and followed him to his country. They lived in a house lacking electricity and a bathtub.

There, Barry acquired a half-sister, Maya Sotoroe.

"My mom's optimism might be seen as naive, but it informed my brother's politics in a very significant way," she said.

He attended a Catholic school, where the Indonesian kids called him "Negro."

His mother, always the educator, woke him at 4 a.m. for American correspondence courses.

She showered Barry with books about the U.S. civil rights movement, speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and recordings of Mahalia Jackson.

"To be black was to be the beneficiary of ... a special destiny, glorious burdens that only we were strong enough to bear," Obama wrote. "More than once my mother would point out: 'Harry Bellefonte is the best-looking man on the planet."'

When Barry turned 10, she recognized the limitations of his Indonesian education. She and the children returned to Hawaii so he could attend the prestigious Punahou prep school. When her fondness for Indonesia pulled, she allowed Barry to stay in Honolulu.

Her parents finished the job of raising him. Hawaii's multi-ethnic culture granted young Barry "a freedom" that mixed-race children wouldn't enjoy in other places, Abercrombie said.

Grandfather Stan, who died in 1992, finally had the boy he'd hoped for.

His daughter opened a school in Jakarta teaching English and helped build Indonesia's microfinance program, providing tiny loans to entrepreneurs with poor credit.

Fellow anthropologist Dewey recalls her motto, "'Gee, Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.' And wouldn't you know? Little Dorothy just takes over."

The son had graduated from Harvard Law School and was close to launching his political career in Illinois when cancer claimed his mom.

Among his biggest regrets, he says, was not being at her bedside when she died in Hawaii.


bondmen 10 years ago

Barack Obama's mother more than just a Kansas girl and sadly much less than a part time mother. She had her interests and her goals and Barack Hussein is now critical of his "racist" grandmother who took him in and loved him when his parents were gone. Granted, as children born and pre-born, we cannot choose our parents but talk about a lack of gratitude. Barack's supporters better beware less they be treated as useful idiots like early supporters of all Marxist revolutionaries.

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

What a ridiculous initial posting. Obama's trajectory this political season is a positive sign that systematic racism in America is nearing its end: for some it may seem too soon; for others of us, at long last. It reflects very negatively on the Republicans that the best they can come up with are ad hominem attacks, while Obama cleans their clocks on the most relevant and substantive issues. And it is no lack of gratitude to look objectively at ones parents and learn from an understanding of areas of their lives in which their own awareness was limited by racism or some other unconscious, socially ingrained bias. I'm looking forward to having a thinking president who speaks directly to Americans about the challenges of today's world. The current bunch have nearly wrecked the ship of state, so the next couple of administrations will mostly be spent undoing as much of the damage as possible, with the hope that in another decade or two our country can really see some progress at home and overseas. President Obama has a chance to help move America in a much better direction, more in line with the plans and ideals of those who founded this country and wrote the Constitution to guide us.

bondmen 10 years ago

You are boisterous blog bullies and it's obvious by now to most folks your evolution faith cannot tolerate an alternative which makes a great deal more science and sense. So you win the bully on the government school playground award this time but its a Pyrrhic victory boys so relish it. Your imagined world is crumbling and its grey dead edifices are falling daily and weekly as new thinkers analyze the data without the hindrance of your Godless blinders. Your evolution is failing and its once numerous believers are now falling away in droves. So people get ready, there's a train comin'...

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

The suggested summary of a child's emotional journey and need for approval sounds more like the way Bill Clinton's career turned out. It doesn't seem to match Obama's life story, but I have not read his books. I've heard him speak, watched his development over the campaign season, and studied his policies. My only major disagreement with him is that he has ties to the nuclear power industry while I believe we should be phasing out nuclear energy to protect future generations. But he seems to be standing on pretty firm emotional ground from everything I've seen and heard from him during 16 months of meticulous attention to every detail. This guy is tough and stands firmer than Bill Clinton but more open to reason than George Bush. President Obama will be a refreshing change.

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

It is important to remember that the SupremeCourt was envisioned as a fully coequal thirdbranch of government and it is interesting thatyou single out the Earl Warren court, whichoperated more independently and on a muchless partisan basis than, for example, theRehnquist and, presently, the Stevens court.If you are referring to the original principleof fair and equal treatment under the lawwhen you talk about judicial conduct, Iam surprised that you would suggest thatsocial justice is not a legitimate concernof the Supreme Court and other courts.I'm sure it's just coincidence, butmy goodness the most pervasive senseof democracy and freedom that our nationhas experienced in the past hundredyears or so seems to me to have beenthe mid to late 1960s, when the courtsand the legislators and, finally, thepresident all were forced to hear thevoices of the American people and ourcommon desire for peace and justice.I am glad that Barack Obama is onthe scene now and including the voicesof so many previously disenfranchised,disinterested, jaded and cynical Americans.If the worst effect you foresee is agreater emphasis on social justice,that seems to me an argument to votefor Obama. I will also add that it isencouraging to see a Democrat toughenough mentally and principled enoughto withstand the cutthroat tactics ofsome Republicans today. I don't think the issues you raisedare bedrock Republican concerns today.Instead, the party seems to stand foran odd juxtaposition of federal interferencewith states's rights on moral issuessuch as medical marijuana and gaymarriage, but reduced federal involvementto protect equitable access to educationor basic civil rights. These may onlybe extremists in the Republican party,but their "activism" pretty much drownsout the more traditional concerns youseem to be promoting.I would read with great interest anyfurther comment you have on thesematters. Thanks for a thoughtfuland challenging post.

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

Max those are great links. I have to add one more:"Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster"

Lindsey Buscher 10 years ago

Retardlicans:If it were up to Kansans, you are right, Obama would not get elected, fortunately though, Kansans have a very very small voice in the electoral college...and there is good reason why that voice is generally ignored by the rest of the country. Enjoy watching McCain go down in November.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

Bondmen is obviously from the "am not, you are!!" school of debate.

tunahelper 10 years ago

obama bin laden will NOT get elected. There is no way in h3ll he will ever get elected. Way too extremely leftist liberal for America.

1Patriot 10 years ago

One of my concerns is that he continually emphasizes his mother was from Kansas when she clearly spent little time here. If that little span of time made such an impact on him then the 20 years he spent being preached to in his "former" church must have left an immeasurable impact! In addition, I find it hard to comprehend that he came from a less than middle class up-bringing when his grandparents raised him and his grandmother was a bank executive.

dirkleisure 10 years ago

Godot, source? You're claiming he went by Barry up until 1996? You might also want to qualify what you mean by "went by" - do you mean legally? Do you mean his course listings read "Professor Barry Obama"? Do you mean his listing for the Woods Fund in Chicago read "Barry Obama"? Do you mean the reporting of his election as president of Harvard Law Review cited him as "Barry Obama"?Please source it.

cato_the_elder 10 years ago

RiverCity, if you think that a President Obama would move America in a direction "...more in line with the plans and ideals of those who founded this country and wrote the Constitution to guide us," then I am indeed puzzled. Given Senator Obama's clearly expressed views, both orally and in writing, his history in Chicago political circles, and his track record in political office, it's absolutely clear that he supports the type of judicial activism that had its nascent stage in the late 30's, became bolder in the 40's and 50's, and reached its zenith with the Warren Court in the 60's - which completed the virtual emasculation of the Commerce Clause, found "rights" where none existed, and finished the job of "selectively incorporating" most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights against the States - which left the concept of Federalism hardly recognizable as it was originally envisioned. It seems quite clear to me that the chances are close to 100% that few, if any, of his judicial appointees would be at all deferential to the intent of the Framers - unless in a given case an "original intent" argument were to appear that could be twisted to support legislating from the bench in order to promote a particular brand of "social justice." A President Obama might attempt to steer this country in a direction more to your liking, but it would certainly not be compatible with most of the legal principles on which this country was founded.

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

Puggy's comment is the kind of stuff that ought to make any Democrat or Obama supporter cringe. If you are already getting smug at this early stage, that is the time-tested formula for losing in these contests. Think about Gore's demeanor in the first Gore-Bush debate; think about Kerry's pride but slowness in responding to the swiftboat attacks when his opponents were chickenhawk Bush and draft dodger Cheney. Puggy also ought to be reminded that Kansas Democrats went nearly 80 percent for Obama in our caucus deliberations, with very high rates of participation, and our governor is considered a possible running mate for Obama. The commonsense words and behaviors of Kansans have often helped our country to navigate turbulent sociopolitical waters. We came into the Union as an anti-slavery state at a pivotal moment; we have fed the nation and the world for many decades; we gave America President Eisenhower (notably the architect of the interstate highway system) and Senator Bob Dole (a true Republican unlike many more reactionary ones who have surfaced since then). Check a climate map and see where the cleanest air and resources are in America. And, finally, let me say that I am one Kansan who will very much enjoy "watching McCain go down in November," so that we can begin to bring home the many Kansans now fighting a misguided war in Iraq. P.S. I really hope that others in both parties do not degrade important political debates by using terms like "Retardlicans." There are, of course, individuals with mental retardation or other physical or intellectual difficulties in both political parties, and that is something to celebrate rather than characterize derisively. Puggy's use of a term like that is reprehensible and offensive to anyone who believes in respecting and including all Americans in every aspect of community life.

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

Kansas 778, thanks. You're right. I should have said the John Roberts court.

bondmen 10 years ago

Max1 - It's the evolution religion which should not be taught as gospel in the government schools. Critical thinking and logic would be a far superior education set to teach than random mutation and chance.

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

Sometimes it seems like a big difference between conservatives and liberals is really whether they approach problems/projects/ideas inductively or deductively. Do you gather your data and try to "induce" new hypotheses and conclusions, or do you generate a hypothesis and check it against a new set of facts? I've wondered a lot about people this political season who have suggested Obama has uplifting rhetoric but without any supporting details, because I don't think a rhetorical argument can appeal to reason unless it incorporates supporting examples and evidence, and that is what I hear each time I listen to this candidate. The empty phrases, or party lines, from some of the other candidates are less inspiring because the reasoning behind them is not as evident as it is when Obama explains what he wants to do. I've recently been trying to listen to Hillary with a more open mind because I recognize I may be closing myself off from her "rhetoric" the same way people refuse to really listen to Obama. I can still remember Bob Dole's outdoor speech in Russell, Kansas, the day he introduced his running mate in 1996. There were so many interesting details and the currents of his thoughts appealed to something deep in my mind--it was almost like listening to a close relative speaking. I ended up voting for Ralph Nader that year, but my response to Dole's speech that early summer made it clear to me that I could not vote for Bill Clinton. I will pay close attention to the upcoming debates and informal daily back and forth between McCain and Obama, and I want to keep an openmind towards McCain. That is my challenge this season. As I listen to them both, I will also try to remember the words of Henry David Thoreau: "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." Viva America!

bondmen 10 years ago

Black men worth my vote for President would include Alan Keyes, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell and Bill Cosby, to name a few. Barack hasn't explained yet what changes he means to implement and I for one will not pour my meaning of change into his undefined meaning of change just to make me feel good.Barack is a Marxist like Bush and McCain are socialists. We despise them because of what they stand for (or what they fail to stand against) not because of their melanin. There is a Constitution and Libertarian and Green party for those who wish to make a principled vote and to send the Demipublican Republicrat establishment a message we will not take leftists as our leaders in America! If you want a leftist leader move to Venezuela or Zimbabwe. Another Obama Marxist's Marxist Axis Of Friends

Left_handed 10 years ago

The vacuuousness that this conservative extremist based his vote for Bush the last two elections was the vacuousness of mssrs. Kerry and Gore, two of the biggest liberal extremists on the planet (and like most liberal extremists, they are hypocrites, doing one thing, saying another.)

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

One key fact available to us both is that this guy has run a winning campaign for the Democratic nomination, defeating a number of good candidates, including the pre-election-year favorite, Hillary Clinton. He ran circles around them all and got out so far ahead of Clinton that by the time her campaign was shifting into high gear it was already over. Talk about being ready on day one. Not sure if my remarks qualify as the "party line" on Obama, but one thing that has helped me has been to actually read his policies and listen to his policy speeches. Again, I am very concerned about his openness to new development of nuclear power plants. I would be far more outspoken in support of his candidacy if he changed this position, but I am willing to vote for him based on the ability he has shown to listen and learn--two key components of leadership--in his career of public service up to now. I do not hear orthodoxy or dogmatism in his conversations, and that is important to me. Thank you Godot for your thoughtful and challenging comments.

Godot 10 years ago

Barak Obama has a gift for filling in the blanks, for creating something form nothing. I think Barak is more suited for a career as a writer of fiction than as a politician. Having chosen to pursue the path of politician, Barak has subjected himself to fact checks, and we have seen where that has gotten him. However, if Barak had chosen to direct his considerable verbal talent to literary fiction, he would likely have had a meteoric rise to success, without all the negatives of a political campaign, and he might have been even more effective in changing the hearts ande minds of the American citizenry. Think: Oprah.

Godot 10 years ago

Obama went by the name of "Barry" through college and even after. He chose to use "Barak" when he first ran for elected office.

dirkleisure 10 years ago

bd - "Barry" is a little joke from the right, because as a child Barack Obama was known as "Barry."Of course, not a one of the asinine posters who use "Barry" would ever refer to John McCain as "Johnnie," which was his name on through his years in the service.

1Patriot 10 years ago

Is it just me or is the election of 2008 going to be a revival for "Affirmative Action?"

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

O.K., let's be clear. Although our state board of education on two occasions in the past 15 years has mandated the teaching of the Creation story in public schools, the people of Kansas in both cases have pushed back and voted off the offending board members in favor moderates who respect the scientific method. But you're right--that was pretty embarrassing. Separation of church and state is such an important principle in a democracy. Thanks for the reminder.

Godot 10 years ago

This thread has gone far astray from the article. Barak Obama is the product of a very dysfunctional childhood. He was abandoned by his father, a step father, and then his mother. His mother died in his young adulthood, and he was not there when she passed. He has layers and layers of emotional baggage. He does not know who he is; he does no know where he belongs. He will be defensive of criticism; he will seek approval; moreover, he will seek approval from an authority figure.How can someone know what he believes when he does not know who he is?

bondmen 10 years ago

RiverCityCon - will you tell us where you were socialized in the speech patterns and doctrine of the social left? I assume it happened in the government schools. You've certainly got the lingo down baby!

kansas778 10 years ago

RiverCityConservative (Anonymous) says: and, presently, the Stevens court.****The present court is the Roberts court.

Godot 10 years ago

There you have it, folks, the Obama party line offered up by RiverCityConservative.

RiverCityConservative 10 years ago

Someone asked about my language patterning. I was raised in central Kansas, attended 4-5 hours of Sunday school and church services weekly in a congregation focused on Calvinist doctrine and well-formed sermons which were basically 25 minute college-style lectures based on original Hebrew and Greek and presented by highly educated pastors. There was a lot of intellectual creativity on the part of younger teachers in those days who were perhaps indirectly inspired by the social discourse in what I believe was a renaissance of democracy at that time. But my best teachers were my parents, who believed in education and also had moral compasses which were tightly wound. At our family dinner table, any time one of us children made a grammatical error in our speech, we had to stop, think, and repeat that statement correctly, so I thank my folks for what you have noticed in my "speech patterns." Thank you very much.

bd 10 years ago

Who the f%#* is Barry??????Annother attempt to Americanize his name!

RedwoodCoast 10 years ago

Sounds to me like Obama can relate better to the family issues of the American public than any solid 'family values' candidate. That's the reality of things, and maybe we need someone who reflects that reality for a change.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

lhs76"Very interesting!"If you base your vote on that bit of vacuousness, I can see why you likely supported Bush the last two elections-- airheads think alike.

kansas778 10 years ago

bondmen--it seems that you are saying all religion and faith-based beliefs are clearly false and should be rejected by rational thinkers. Clearly Christianity should also be rejected, don't you agree?

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