Summary and book reviews of Airlift to America by Tom Shachtman

Airlift to America

How Barack Obama, Sr., John F. Kennedy, Tom Mboya, and 800 East African Students Changed Their World and Ours

By Tom Shachtman

Airlift to America
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2009,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

This is the long-hidden saga of how a handful of Americans and Kenyans fought the British colonial government, the U.S. State Department, and segregation to "airlift" to U.S. universities, between 1959 and 1963, nearly 800 young East African men and women who would go on to change the world. The students included Barack Obama Sr., future father of a U.S. president, Wangari Maathai, future Nobel Peace Prize laureate, as well as the nation-builders of post-colonial East Africa - cabinet ministers, ambassadors, university chancellors, clinic and school founders.

The airlift was conceived by the unusual partnership of the charismatic, later-assassinated Kenyan Tom Mboya and William X. Scheinman, a young American entrepreneur, with supporting roles played by Jackie Robinson, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The airlift even had an impact on the 1960 presidential race, as Vice-President Richard Nixon tried to muscle the State Department into funding the project to prevent Senator Jack Kennedy from using his family foundation to do so and reaping the political benefit.

The book is based on the files of the airlift's sponsor, the African American Students Foundation, untouched for almost fifty years.

Prologue
Iowa and Kogelo

In December of 2007, before the Iowa caucuses— the first tests of the 2008 presidential primary season—Senator Barack Hussein Obama of Illinois was not thought by most Americans to have much of a chance of winning his party’s nomination or the presidency. He was not well known in the rest of the country, and the media for the most part treated his candidacy as a novelty because he was African- American. That he was truly an African-American, the son of a Kenyan father of the same name and of a white mother from Kansas, was not well understood despite the growing popularity of his memoir Dreams from My Father, in which he explored his unusual combination of African and American heritage.

Prior to Obama’s 2004 election to the Senate he had been an Illinois state senator, and before that a community organizer, civil rights attorney, and law school professor. His curriculum vitae also included having been elected editor in chief ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

This thorough, patiently researched, and at times moving account will appeal to students of American history in the 1960's in particular, and anyone interested in an important turning-point in the struggle for human rights in the U.S. and in Africa... The architects of the student airlifts believed in freedom, human dignity and self-determination; the students they helped believed that through education they could help a nation. By having the courage to act on those beliefs, and the determination to persevere through delay and defeat, they would change the world in ways they could never have imagined.   (Reviewed by Jo Perry).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

A memorable and poignant recounting of a significant endeavor that is still scoring successes around the world, this book is not to be missed by African and American history buffs.

Kirkus Reviews

A valuable case study of the effectiveness of NGOs when they are operated with care and confidence.

Library Journal

A well-written and fascinating account that all students of history will appreciate.

The Nation

Airlift offers an intriguing tidbit of US history and a look back at a brief moment when many Americans and Africans caught glimpses of a shared and hopeful future.

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Beyond the Book

The Africa-America Institute
The work of the airlift organizers continues: The Africa-America Institute is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, non-profit organization with headquarters in New York, and offices in Washington, South Africa, and Mozambique. Founded in 1953, AAI's mission is to promote enlightened engagement between Africa and America through education, training, and dialogue.

The Institute pursues its mission in two program areas: African Higher Education and Training (AHET) and Educational Outreach and Policy (EOP) which aim to educate Africans and educate Americans about Africa.

AAI scholarships have assisted Africans to complete college, graduate-level, and professional training in fundamental capacity-building fields...

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