Excerpt of Airlift to America by Tom Shachtman
(Page 5 of 6)
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As Obama Jr. would later write in Dreams from My Father, his father
was a complicated man; the son gleaned a sense of that complexity
from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin interview with his father
published upon his graduation in 1962.
He appears guarded and responsible, the model student, the
ambassador for his continent. He mildly scolds the university
for herding visiting students into dormitories and forcing
them to attend programs designed to promote cultural understanding
a distraction, he says, from the practical training
he seeks. Although he hasnt experienced any problems himself,
he detects self-segregation and overt discrimination taking
place between the various ethnic groups and expresses
wry amusement at the fact that Caucasians in Hawaii are
occasionally on the receiving end of prejudice.
Because of Obama Sr.s good record at Hawaii, he received scholarship
offers to work toward a doctorate in economics, a full one
from the New School in New York City and a partial one from Harvard
University; he chose the latter, which did not have enough
money attached for him to bring his wife and son. He moved to
Cambridge alone, and, except for the occasional letter, mostly disappeared
from his young sons life for the next decade. He suddenly
reappeared when Barack Jr. was ten years old, and the two had an
intense reunion for a month, after which the father and son never
saw one another again. Barack Jr. knew that his father had remarried,
and had a new family in Kenya and worked for the government,
but he had few other details about his fathers life.
Barack Jr. was twenty-one and living in New York City when he
received the news of his fathers death in a car accident in Kenya. It hit him hard. He then embarked on a journey of discovery of himself and of his father that took him a decade, reunited him with his Kenyan half-brothers and half-sisters, brought him to Kogelo and the site of his grandfathers land which he was taught to revere as Home Squared, the center of the center of his Kenyan familys existenceand culminated in Dreams from My Father, his autobiographical exploration of the complex relationships between father and son, whiteness and blackness, and being American and Kenyan.
As the 2008 Massachusetts primary approached, Senator Obamas
candidacy was endorsed by several members of the Kennedy
family, including Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, surviving
patriarch of the clan, and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late
president. They said that Obama and his candidacy, with their expressions
of great promise and hope, reminded the family forcefully
of John F. Kennedy and his 1960 campaign for the presidency. The
Kennedy endorsement was a very important matter for Obama, since
Hillary Clinton was still the choice of Democratic Party leaders.
In trying to make the connection between himself and President
Kennedy more direct, candidate Obama, based on incomplete information,
made a mistake about his own history, saying that his
fathers journey to America in 1959 had been aided by the Joseph P.
Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Not exactly, fact- checkers soon found out.
The Kennedy Foundation had not underwritten the airlift until
1960, although Obama Sr. had been aided earlier by the AASF, and
some Kennedy money was later used to assist him in Hawaii. Glossed
over by news reporters in 2008 was that John F. Kennedys support
for the 1960 airlift had created a political uproar that affected the
African- American vote in a very close election a story long overlooked
by historians and popular culture. The Kennedy Foundations
underwriting of the airlift had trumped Vice President Richard
Nixons attempt to force the State Department to fund the airlift so
that Nixon rather than Kennedy could reap the po liti cal benefi t of
African- American votes.
Excerpted from Airlift to America
by Tom Shachtman. Copyright © 2009 by Tom Shachtman.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.