Top 10 Fascinating Facts about Barrack Obamas Family

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When ‘regular people’ are drafted up into the limelight it can often be hard to remember they are no different from the rest of us with likes and dislikes, habits and foibles, strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few facts about the Obama family surrounding the first couple that might help the rest of us keep in mind that at the end of the day they face the same challenges and struggles we all face. Here some fascinating facts about Barrack Obamas family:

10. South Carolina slave Jim Robinson was Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandfather

Jim Robinson

Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandfather lived and worked on a plantation called Friendfield. Records show Jim Robinson was born around 1850 and lived as a slave, at least until the Civil War. His descendants believe that Robinson remained to work and live at Friendfield for the rest of his life. Some suspect he is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere on the place. While growing up in Chicago Michelle’s parents didn’t talk much about their family history and Michelle asked few questions. While many family members knew parts or pieces of their family history no one had all the details. Historians however scoured genealogical records to produce a detailed Robinson family tree. The idea that a descendant of slaves is first lady is just as tremendous as the idea that a black man is president.

9. Barrack Obama’s paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama had three wives

Hussein Obama was born about 1895 and died in 1979. He traveled before taking a job cooking for missionaries in Nairobi. He was recruited to fight on behalf of colonial power England in World War I. He visited Europe and India, and afterward lived for a time in Zanzibar. His first wife was Helima with whom he had no children. Second, he married Akuma who was Barack Obama Sr.’s mother, Barack’s actual grandmother. Onyango’s third wife was Sarah. However since Akuma left the family when her children were still young it is Sarah who is often referred to by Barack as his “grandmother.” She was the primary caregiver for Barack Sr. after his mother left. Hussein Obama was “a prominent farmer, an elder of the tribe, a medicine man with healing powers.” But he was a strict disciplinarian. His grandchildren called him “the Terror.” Obama’s older half-brother, Abongo (Roy) Obama says, “Wow, that guy was mean! He would make you sit at the table for dinner, and served the food on china, like an Englishman. If you said one wrong thing, or used the wrong fork — pow! He would hit you with his stick. Sometimes when he hit you, you wouldn’t even know why until the next day.” Grandfather Obama was an herbalist who used plants to heal the sick or wounded. Obama’s step-grandmother Sarah Obama is quoted as saying, “He didn’t smoke or drink, but he did like to dance.”

8. Barack Obama Sr. was a member of the elite Phi Beta Kappa Academic Honor Society

Phi Beta Kappa

The Kenyan independence movement chose Barack Obama Sr. to be nominated for an American-sponsored scholarship in economics. He was the first African student on the University of Hawaii campus. Obama Sr. received an economics scholarship through a program that offered Western educational opportunities to outstanding Kenyan students. Initial supporters of the scholarship program included Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and Jackie Robinson. While enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Obama Sr. married fellow student Ann Dunham in Maui. Their son Barack Obama II, was born on August 4, 1961. Dunham left school to care for the baby, while Obama Sr. completed his degree. When Obama Sr. graduated from the University of Hawaii in June 1962 he was elected into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. The Phi Beta Kappa Society embraces the principles of “freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression.” For over two hundred and twenty five years the Phi Beta Kappa gold key has symbolized these ideas. Phi Beta Kappa advocates excellence in the liberal arts and sciences and invites the most outstanding students in America’s colleges and universities for induction.

7. Obama’s parents divorced when he was only 2 years old

Obama Parents

Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother hailed from Wichita, Kansas until her parents moved to Hawaii in search of a better life. Dunham was first married to Kenyan student Barack Obama, while he studied in Hawaii. But after he left the family to study at Harvard he then returned to Africa and the two were divorced. Dunham later married another foreign student Lolo Soetoro. Soetoro’s student visa was revoked because of political unrest in Indonesia, She and six-year-old Barack moved with him to his native Indonesia in 1967. Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro was born after the family moved to Indonesia. Soetoro became a government consultant for a major US oil company. In his memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama openly discusses the estrangement between his mother and stepfather Soetoro after they lived in Indonesia for a time. Indonesian friends say, “He changed when he came back to Indonesia,” noting “men can be a certain way when in the West and when they come back they are sucked into their own culture.” They were divorced and he died decades later of liver complications.

6. Madelyn Dunham was one of the first female vice presidents at the Bank of Hawaii (1970)

Obama Grandparents

Madelyn and Stanley Dunham, moved to Hawaii, where Stanley found an opportunity to run a better furniture store. Madelyn went to work in Honolulu. In the 1960s and 70s both women and the minority white population were routine targets of discrimination. Despite the fact that she never got a college education she eventually earned her way to becoming the first woman vice-president of the Bank of Hawaii where she worked. She retired in 1986. Her colleagues described her as a “tough boss” who had a “soft spot” for hard those workers. In a “Vanity Fair” interview, Obama said, “She was the opposite of a dreamer, at least by the time I knew her…she was just a very tough, sensible, no-nonsense person.” Obama lived with his grandparents while he attended an elite school in Hawaii. During his teenage years, it was his grandmother who “injected” that traditional sense of hard work.” Obama and his half-sister Madelyn Dunham “Toot” their version of the Hawaiian word “tutu,” for grandmother.

5. Barack’s mother Ann Dunham (mother) earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Hawaii and was an expert in the area of Indonesian hand crafts

Ann Dunham

According to the observations of old friends and neighbors who knew the family while they lived in Indonesia Ann was considered a free-thinker who was enchanted by Indonesia.” Ann was by comparison pale-skinned and ‘frizzy-haired,’ but was usually jolly among her friends at gallery openings or parties. She favored baggy, free-flowing clothes often associated with bohemian women. She always seemed to be laughing. Dunham called Barack; “Berry” — Barry with a lilt. Ann struggled with her decision to send Barack back to Hawaii to live with his grandmother and attend an elite school. But ‘Barry’s’ education was her primary concern. Having been a weaver, Dunham was interested in village handcrafts. She eventually earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Hawaii. When Dunham returned to Indonesia in 1977 for field work Barack chose to stay and finish high school in the US. She moved to Yogyakarta which is, the center of Javanese handicrafts. Dunham then pursued a career in rural championing women’s work. She also advocated microcredit for the world’s poor. Together with Indonesia’s oldest bank, the US Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation, and Women’s World Banking she supported human rights, women’s rights, and grass-roots development in Indonesia.

4. Barack Obama Sr. completed his graduate studies in economics at Harvard

Obama SR

Those who knew him say Barack Obama Sr. was charismatic, eloquent, and idealistic much like his son. After he graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1962 he left for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he would begin graduate study at Harvard University. Dunham and the year-old baby Barack joined Obama Sr. in Cambridge but mother and son soon returned to Seattle before returning to Hawaii. Dunham filed for divorce in Honolulu in January 1964 which Obama Sr. did not contest. While at Harvard, Obama Sr. met teacher Ruth Nidesand eventually became his third wife. She returned with him to Kenya after he received his master’s degree (AM) in economics from Harvard in 1965.

3. Barack Obama Senior (like his father) also had three wives

Obama SR

Obama’s Kenyan family is particularly complicated. His father never really divorced his first wife Kezia when he left Kenya to study. Kezia bore Obama Sr. two children, Roy and Auma, who now works in social services in Berkshire. The Hawaiian wedding to Ann Dunham, his mother’s may not have been properly documented either. Obama writes in his memoir “How and when the marriage occurred remains a bit murky, a bill of particulars that I have never quite had the courage to explore.” After his father left Ann and two-year-old Barack to study at Harvard, he went to Africa with another American woman, Ruth, who became his third wife. In Kenya Ruth bore him two more sons, but Obama Sr. continued to see Kezia. “Traditionally, she was still his wife,” a relative explained. Kezia had two more sons, Abo (Roy) and Bernard whose paternity is in dispute although Obama Sr. regarded them as his own. After his parents split up, Obama saw his father only once before learning that he had died in a car crash in Kenya in 1982. Obama’s eldest brother Roy moved to America and went on to convert to Islam.

2. Maya Soetoro-Ng has a Ph.D degree in international comparative education from the University of Hawaii where she teaches

Maya Soetoro Ng

Maya Soetoro-Ng was born to Ann Durham and her second husband (Barack’s step-father) Lolo Soetoro in Jakarta, Indonesia 1970. She was named after American poet Maya Angelou. Growing up living in Indonesia she was home schooled by her mother and later attended Jakarta International School from 1981 to 1984. Like her brother, Soetoro returned to Hawaii where she lived with their grandparents and attended the private school. After completing her undergraduate degree at Barnard College, Manhattan she went on to earn her M.A. degree in secondary language studies at NYU. Back at home in Hawaii Soetro attained her Ph.D in international comparative education from the University of Hawaii. Soetoro married Konrad Ng the Canadian born son of Malaysian Chinese immigrants who he is now a US citizen. Ng is an assistant professor of Creative Media at the University of Hawaii. They have one daughter. Putting her experience to work Soetoro-Ng teaches high-school history at school for girls in Honolulu. She also teaches night classes at the University of Hawaii. Soetoro-Ng took two months off to campaign for her brother in his bid for president. She participated in the Democratic National Convention by giving a short speech about growing up with her brother.

1. Obama Sr. senior served in the Kenyan Ministry of Transport and later as an economist in the Kenyan Ministry of Finance.

Kenya Flag

Obama Sr. returned to his native land after Kenya’s 1963 independence. Initially he was hired by an oil company to liaise with the Kenyan Government. Soon he transferred to serve first as an economist in the Ministry of Transport before becoming senior economist for the Kenyan Ministry of Finance. The elder Obama was regarded as a rising star upon his return. Idealistic Obama Sr. became aware of corruption in the government and was devastated. The Harvard grad grew more disillusioned the longer he remained in Africa. It didn’t take long for Obama Sr.’s to fall out of favor with the government. Yet when the news broke that a “son of the soil” had made all the way to the White House current Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki, declared the day a public holiday in honor of President Barack Obama. The President’s surviving grandmother Sarah Onyango known as ‘Granny Sarah’ led the celebrations in Kogelo, the home village of Barack Obama’s Kenyan family.