2 Dozen Letters Written by President Obama’s Father Found in Harlem

Angela Bronner Helm
Barack Obama with his father, Barack Obama Sr., in an undated family photo from the 1960s released by Obama’s presidential campaign
Obama for America

How apropos for Father’s Day.

A rare collection of letters written by President Barack Obama’s Kenyan father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., have been discovered by an archivist in Harlem, reports the New York Times.


The letters begin with a 22-year-old in Kenya, who could translate Swahili to English, asking for financial help to come study in the United States.

“It has been my long cherished ambition to further my studies in America,” the elder Obama wrote in a letter in 1958, seeking financial assistance to come to the states.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem now houses the nearly two dozen letters and documents, which date from 1958 to 1964.

“The papers are rich; they tell a fascinating, traditional, self-made man’s story,” said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the director of the Schomburg, who said that he hoped President Obama would read them someday. “There’s a reason to bear witness to the personal legacy that is here.”


The Times reports that as president, Obama has spoken openly about the void his father left in his life. Barack Obama Sr. went home to Kenya in 1964, when Obama was 3 years old, and returned to visit his son only once, for a month, when Obama was 10. President Obama chronicled his loss in his first book, Dreams of My Father.

The letters by Barack Hussein Obama Sr. put together a timeline of Obama’s father’s journey from Kenya to the United States, and then to the University of Hawaii, where he met Obama's mother, and through his graduate studies at Harvard University.


The letters end in 1964, when the senior Obama returned to Kenya without his wife and child.

The Schomburg invited President Obama to see the documents in 2013, but the president has yet to accept the offer. The Times reports that a senior White House official said Obama would be interested in seeing the letters after his term is over.


Read more at the New York Times.

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