Early life and career
Obama was born on August 4, 1961, at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is the only president who was born outside of the contiguous 48 states. He was born to a white mother and a black father. His mother, Ann Dunham (1942–1995), was born in Wichita, Kansas; she was mostly of English descent, with some German, Irish (3.13%), Scottish, Swiss, and Welsh ancestry. His father, Barack Obama Sr. (1936–1982), was a Luo Kenyan from Nyang'oma Kogelo. Obama's parents met in 1960 in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his father was a foreign student on a scholarship. The couple married in Wailuku, Hawaii, on February 2, 1961, six months before Obama was born.
In late August 1961 (a few weeks after he was born), Barack and his mother moved to the University of Washington in Seattle, where they lived for a year. During that time, the elder Obama completed his undergraduate degree in economics in Hawaii, graduating in June 1962. He then left to attend graduate school on a scholarship at Harvard University, where he earned an M.A. in economics. Obama's parents divorced in March 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya in 1964, where he married for a third time and worked for the Kenyan government as the Senior Economic Analyst in the Ministry of Finance. He visited his son in Hawaii only once, at Christmas time in 1971, before he was killed in an automobile accident in 1982, when Obama was 21 years old. Recalling his early childhood, Obama said, "That my father looked nothing like the people around me – that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk – barely registered in my mind." He described his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage.
In 1963, Dunham met Lolo Soetoro at the University of Hawaii; he was an Indonesian East–West Center graduate student in geography. The couple married on Molokai on March 15, 1965. After two one-year extensions of his J-1 visa, Lolo returned to Indonesia in 1966. His wife and stepson followed sixteen months later in 1967. The family initially lived in the Menteng Dalam neighborhood in the Tebet sub district of south Jakarta. From 1970, they lived in a wealthier neighborhood in the Menteng sub district of central Jakarta.
Obama started out in St. Francis Pre-Education from age three to five. From age six to ten, he then attended local Indonesian-language schools: Sekolah Dasar Katolik Santo Fransiskus Asisi (St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Elementary School) for two years and Sekolah Dasar Negeri Menteng 01 (State Elementary School Menteng 01/Besuki school) for one and a half years, supplemented by English-language Calvert School homeschooling by his mother. As a result of those four years in Jakarta, he was able to speak Indonesian fluently as a child. During his time in Indonesia, Obama's step-father taught him to be resilient and gave him "a pretty hardheaded assessment of how the world works".
In 1971, Obama returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham. He attended Punahou School—a private college preparatory school—with the aid of a scholarship from fifth grade until he graduated from high school in 1979. In his youth, Obama went by the nickname "Barry". Obama lived with his mother and half-sister, Maya Soetoro, in Hawaii for three years from 1972 to 1975 while his mother was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Hawaii. Obama chose to stay in Hawaii with his grandparents for high school at Punahou when his mother and half-sister returned to Indonesia in 1975 so his mother could begin anthropology field work. His mother spent most of the next two decades in Indonesia, divorcing Lolo in 1980 and earning a PhD degree in 1992, before dying in 1995 in Hawaii following unsuccessful treatment for ovarian and uterine cancer.
Obama later reflected on his years in Honolulu and wrote: "The opportunity that Hawaii offered – to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect – became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear." Obama has also written and talked about using alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine during his teenage years to "push questions of who I was out of my mind". Obama was also a member of the "choom gang", a self-named group of friends that spent time together and occasionally smoked marijuana.
After graduating from high school in 1979, Obama moved to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College. In February 1981, Obama made his first public speech, calling for Occidental to participate in the disinvestment from South Africa in response to that nation's policy of apartheid. In mid-1981, Obama traveled to Indonesia to visit his mother and half-sister Maya, and visited the families of college friends in Pakistan and India for three weeks. Later in 1981, he transferred as a junior to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialty in international relations and in English literature and lived off-campus on West 109th Street. He graduated with a BA degree in 1983 and worked for about a year at the Business International Corporation, where he was a financial researcher and writer, then as a project coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group on the City College of New York campus for three months in 1985.
Family and personal life
Obama posing in the Green Room
of the White House with wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia, 2009
In a 2006 interview, Obama highlighted the diversity of his extended family: "It's like a little mini-United Nations", he said. "I've got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I've got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher." Obama has a half-sister with whom he was raised (Maya Soetoro-Ng) and seven other half-siblings from his Kenyan father's family—six of them living. Obama's mother was survived by her Kansas-born mother, Madelyn Dunham, until her death on November 2, 2008, two days before his election to the Presidency. Obama also has roots in Ireland; he met with his Irish cousins in Moneygall in May 2011. In Dreams from My Father, Obama ties his mother's family history to possible Native American ancestors and distant relatives of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. He also shares distant ancestors in common with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, among others.
Obama is a supporter of the Chicago White Sox, and he threw out the first pitch at the 2005 ALCS when he was still a senator. In 2009, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game while wearing a White Sox jacket. He is also primarily a Chicago Bears football fan in the , but in his childhood and adolescence was a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and rooted for them ahead of their victory in Super Bowl XLIII 12 days after he took office as president. In 2011, Obama invited the 1985 Chicago Bears to the White House; the team had not visited the White House after their Super Bowl win in 1986 due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He plays basketball, a sport he participated in as a member of his high school's varsity team, and he is left-handed.
Obama lived with anthropologist Sheila Miyoshi Jager while he was a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s. He proposed to her twice, but both Jager and her parents turned him down. The relationship was only made public in May 2017, several months after Obama's presidency had ended.
In June 1989, Obama met Michelle Robinson when he was employed as a summer associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin. Robinson was assigned for three months as Obama's adviser at the firm, and she joined him at several group social functions but declined his initial requests to date. They began dating later that summer, became engaged in 1991, and were married on October 3, 1992. After suffering a miscarriage, Michelle underwent in vitro fertilisation to conceive their children. The couple's first daughter, Malia Ann, was born in 1998, followed by a second daughter, Natasha ("Sasha"), in 2001. The Obama daughters attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. When they moved to Washington, D.C., in January 2009, the girls started at the Sidwell Friends School. The Obamas have two Portuguese Water Dogs; the first, a male named Bo, was a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy. In 2013, Bo was joined by Sunny, a female.
In 2005, the family applied the proceeds of a book deal and moved from a Hyde Park, Chicago condominium to a $1.6 million house (equivalent to $2.1 million in 2018) in neighboring Kenwood, Chicago. The purchase of an adjacent lot—and sale of part of it to Obama by the wife of developer, campaign donor and friend Tony Rezko—attracted media attention because of Rezko's subsequent indictment and conviction on political corruption charges that were unrelated to Obama.
In December 2007, Money Magazine estimated Obama's net worth at $1.3 million (equivalent to $1.6 million in 2018) . Their 2009 tax return showed a household income of $5.5 million—up from about $4.2 million in 2007 and $1.6 million in 2005—mostly from sales of his books. On his 2010 income of $1.7 million, he gave 14% to non-profit organizations, including $131,000 to Fisher House Foundation, a charity assisting wounded veterans' families, allowing them to reside near where the veteran is receiving medical treatments. Per his 2012 financial disclosure, Obama may be worth as much as $10 million.
In early 2010, Michelle spoke about her husband's smoking habit and said that Barack had quit smoking.
On his 55th birthday, August 4, 2016, Obama penned an essay in Glamour, in which he described how his daughters and the presidency have made him a feminist.
Obama is a Protestant Christian whose religious views developed in his adult life. He wrote in The Audacity of Hope that he "was not raised in a religious household". He described his mother, raised by non-religious parents, as being detached from religion, yet "in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I have ever known." He described his father as a "confirmed atheist" by the time his parents met, and his stepfather as "a man who saw religion as not particularly useful." Obama explained how, through working with black churches as a while in his twenties, he came to understand "the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change."
In January 2008, Obama told Christianity Today: "I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life." On September 27, 2010, Obama released a statement commenting on his religious views saying, "I'm a Christian by choice. My family didn't – frankly, they weren't folks who went to church every week. And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn't raise me in the church. So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead – being my brothers' and sisters' keeper, treating others as they would treat me."
Obama met Trinity United Church of Christ pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright in October 1987 and became a member of Trinity in 1992. During Obama's first presidential campaign in May 2008, he resigned from Trinity after some of Wright's statements were criticized. Since moving to Washington, D.C., in 2009, the Obama family has attended several Protestant churches, including Shiloh Baptist Church and St. John's Episcopal Church, as well as Evergreen Chapel at Camp David, but the members of the family do not attend church on a regular basis.
Community organizer and Harvard Law School
Two years after graduating from Columbia, Obama moved from New York to Chicago when he was hired as director of the Developing Communities Project, a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Roseland, West Pullman, and Riverdale on Chicago's South Side. He worked there as a community organizer from June 1985 to May 1988. He helped set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization in Altgeld Gardens. Obama also worked as a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute. In mid-1988, he traveled for the first time in Europe for three weeks and then for five weeks in Kenya, where he met many of his paternal relatives for the first time.
Obama entered Harvard Law School in the fall of 1988, living in nearby Somerville, Massachusetts. He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, president of the journal in his second year, and research assistant to the constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe while at Harvard for two years. During his summers, he returned to Chicago, where he worked as a summer associate at the law firms of Sidley Austin in 1989 and Hopkins & Sutter in 1990. After graduating with a JD degree magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991, he returned to Chicago. Obama's election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review gained national media attention and led to a publishing contract and advance for a book about race relations, which evolved into a personal memoir. The manuscript was published in mid-1995 as Dreams from My Father.
Chicago Law School and civil rights attorney
In 1991, Obama accepted a two-year position as Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School to work on his first book. He then taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years, first as a lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and then as a senior lecturer from 1996 to 2004.
From April to October 1992, Obama directed Illinois's Project Vote, a voter registration campaign with ten staffers and seven hundred volunteer registrars; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, leading Crain's Chicago Business to name Obama to its 1993 list of "40 under Forty" powers to be.
He joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a 13-attorney law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development, where he was an associate for three years from 1993 to 1996, then of counsel from 1996 to 2004. In 1994, he was listed as one of the lawyers in Buycks-Roberson v. Citibank Fed. Sav. Bank, 94 C 4094 (N.D. Ill.). This class action lawsuit was filed in 1994 with Selma Buycks-Roberson as lead plaintiff and alleged that Citibank Federal Savings Bank had engaged in practices forbidden under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act. The case was settled out of court. Final judgment was issued on May 13, 1998, with Citibank Federal Savings Bank agreeing to pay attorney fees. His law license became inactive in 2007.
From 1994 to 2002, Obama served on the boards of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago—which in 1985 had been the first foundation to fund the Developing Communities Project—and of the Joyce Foundation. He served on the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge from 1995 to 2002, as founding president and chairman of the board of directors from 1995 to 1999.
Illinois State Senator (1997–2004)
State Senator Obama and others celebrate the naming of a street in Chicago after ShoreBank
co-founder Milton Davis in 1998
Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, succeeding Democratic State Senator Alice Palmer from Illinois's 13th District, which, at that time, spanned Chicago South Side neighborhoods from Hyde Park–Kenwood south to South Shore and west to Chicago Lawn. Once elected, Obama gained bipartisan support for legislation that reformed ethics and health care laws. He sponsored a law that increased tax credits for low-income workers, negotiated welfare reform, and promoted increased subsidies for childcare. In 2001, as co-chairman of the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Obama supported Republican Governor Ryan's payday loan regulations and predatory mortgage lending regulations aimed at averting home foreclosures.
He was reelected to the Illinois Senate in 1998, defeating Republican Yesse Yehudah in the general election, and was re-elected again in 2002. In 2000, he lost a Democratic primary race for Illinois's 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives to four-term incumbent Bobby Rush by a margin of two to one.
In January 2003, Obama became chairman of the Illinois Senate's Health and Human Services Committee when Democrats, after a decade in the minority, regained a majority. He sponsored and led unanimous, bipartisan passage of legislation to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they detained, and legislation making Illinois the first state to mandate videotaping of homicide interrogations. During his 2004 general election campaign for the U.S. Senate, police representatives credited Obama for his active engagement with police organizations in enacting death penalty reforms. Obama resigned from the Illinois Senate in November 2004 following his election to the U.S. Senate.
2004 U.S. Senate campaign
County results of the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Illinois. Obama won the counties in blue.
In May 2002, Obama commissioned a poll to assess his prospects in a 2004 U.S. Senate race. He created a campaign committee, began raising funds, and lined up political media consultant David Axelrod by August 2002. Obama formally announced his candidacy in January 2003.
Obama was an early opponent of the George W. Bush administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq. On October 2, 2002, the day President Bush and Congress agreed on the joint resolution authorizing the Iraq War, Obama addressed the first high-profile Chicago anti-Iraq War rally, and spoke out against the war. He addressed another anti-war rally in March 2003 and told the crowd that "it's not too late" to stop the war.
Decisions by Republican incumbent Peter Fitzgerald and his Democratic predecessor Carol Moseley Braun to not participate in the election resulted in wide-open Democratic and Republican primary contests involving 15 candidates. In the March 2004 primary election, Obama won in an unexpected landslide—which overnight made him a rising star within the national Democratic Party, started speculation about a presidential future, and led to the reissue of his memoir, Dreams from My Father. In July 2004, Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, seen by 9.1 million viewers. His speech was well received and elevated his status within the Democratic Party.
Obama's expected opponent in the general election, Republican primary winner Jack Ryan, withdrew from the race in June 2004. Six weeks later, Alan Keyes accepted the Republican nomination to replace Ryan. In the November 2004 general election, Obama won with 70% of the vote.
U.S. Senator from Illinois (2005–08)
The official portrait of Obama as a member of the United States Senate
Obama was sworn in as a senator on January 3, 2005, becoming the only Senate member of the Congressional Black Caucus. CQ Weekly characterized him as a "loyal Democrat" based on analysis of all Senate votes from 2005 to 2007. Obama announced on November 13, 2008, that he would resign his Senate seat on November 16, 2008, before the start of the lame-duck session, to focus on his transition period for the presidency.
Obama the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act. He introduced two initiatives that bore his name: Lugar–Obama, which expanded the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction concept to conventional weapons; and the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which authorized the establishment of USAspending.gov, a web search engine on federal spending. On June 3, 2008, Senator Obama—along with Senators Tom Carper, Tom Coburn, and John McCain—introduced follow-up legislation: Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008.
Obama sponsored legislation that would have required nuclear plant owners to notify state and local authorities of radioactive leaks, but the bill failed to pass in the full Senate after being heavily modified in committee. Regarding tort reform, Obama voted for the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which grants immunity from civil liability to telecommunications companies complicit with NSA warrantless wiretapping operations.
Obama and U.S. Senator Richard Lugar
(R-IN) visit a Russian facility for dismantling mobile missiles (August 2005)
In December 2006, President Bush signed into law the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act, marking the first federal legislation to be enacted with Obama as its primary sponsor. In January 2007, Obama and Senator Feingold introduced a corporate jet provision to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which was signed into law in September 2007. Obama also introduced two unsuccessful bills: the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act to criminalize deceptive practices in federal elections, and the Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007.
Later in 2007, Obama sponsored an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act to add safeguards for personality-disorder military discharges. This amendment passed the full Senate in the spring of 2008. He sponsored the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act supporting divestment of state pension funds from Iran's oil and gas industry, which was never enacted but later incorporated in the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010; and co-sponsored legislation to reduce risks of nuclear terrorism. Obama also sponsored a Senate amendment to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, providing one year of job protection for family members caring for soldiers with combat-related injuries.
Obama speaking with a soldier stationed in Iraq, 2006
Obama held assignments on the Senate Committees for Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works and Veterans' Affairs through December 2006. In January 2007, he left the Environment and Public Works committee and took additional assignments with Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He also became Chairman of the Senate's subcommittee on European Affairs. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. He met with Mahmoud Abbas before Abbas became President of the Palestinian National Authority, and gave a speech at the University of Nairobi in which he condemned corruption within the Kenyan government.