Born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barack Obama is the 44th and current president of the United States. He was a civil-rights lawyer and teacher before pursuing a political career. He was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996, serving from 1997 to 2004. He was elected to the U.S. presidency in 2008,
and won re-election in 2012 against Republican challengerMitt Romney. President Obama continues to enact policy changes in response to the issues of health care and economic crisis.
Barack Hussein Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother, Ann Dunham, grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where her father worked on oil rigs during the Great Depression. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dunham’s father, Stanley, enlisted in the service and marched across Europe in Patton’s army. Dunham’s mother, Madelyn, went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, the couple studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through the Federal Housing Program and, after several moves, landed in Hawaii.
Barack Obama’s father, Barack Obama Sr., was born of Luo ethnicity in Nyanza Province, Kenya. Obama Sr. grew up herding goats in Africa, eventually earning a scholarship that allowed him to leave Kenya and pursue his dreams of college in Hawaii. While studying at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, Obama Sr. met fellow student Ann Dunham, and they married on February 2, 1961. Barack was born six months later.
Obama did not have a relationship with his father as a child. When his son was still an infant, Obama Sr. relocated to Massachusetts to attend Harvard University, pursuing a Ph.D. Barack’s parents officially separated several months later and ultimately divorced in March 1964, when their son was 2. In 1965, Obama Sr. returned to Kenya.
In 1965, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, an East–West Center student from Indonesia. A year later, the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where Barack’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro Ng, was born. Several incidents in Indonesia left Dunham afraid for her son’s safety and education so, at the age of 10, Barack was sent back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents. His mother and sister later joined them.
Excelling in School
While living with his grandparents, Obama enrolled in the esteemed Punahou Academy, excelling in basketball and graduating with academic honors in 1979. As one of only three black students at the school, Obama became conscious of racism and what it meant to be African-American. He later described how he struggled to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage with his own sense of self: “I began to notice there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog … and that Santa was a white man,” he said. “I went to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking the way I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me.”
It was during this time that Barack Obama, who said he “was not raised in a religious household,” joined the Trinity United Church of Christ. He also visited relatives in Kenya, which included an emotional visit to the graves of his biological father and paternal grandfather. “For a long time I sat between the two graves and wept,” Obama said. “I saw that my life in America—the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I’d witnessed in Chicago—all of it was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away.”
Obama published an autobiography, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, in 1995. The work received high praise from literary figures like Toni Morrison and has since been printed in 10 languages, including Chinese, Swedish and Hebrew. The book had a second printing in 2004, and was adapted for a children’s version. The 2006 audiobook version of Dreams, narrated by Obama, received a Grammy Award (best spoken word album).
Obama, encouraged by poll numbers, decided to run for the U.S. Senate open seat vacated by Republican Peter Fitzgerald. In the 2004 Democratic primary, he won 52 percent of the vote, defeating multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull and Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes. That summer, he was invited to deliver the keynote speech in support of John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Obama emphasized the importance of unity, and made veiled jabs at the Bush Administration and the diversionary use of wedge issues.
In February 2007, Obama made headlines when he announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He was locked in a tight battle with former first lady and then-U.S. senator from New York Hillary Rodham Clinton. On June 3, 2008, however, Obama became the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party, and Senator Clinton delivered her full support to Obama for the duration of his campaign. On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama defeated Republican presidential nominee John McCain, 52.9 percent to 45.7 percent, winning election as the 44th president of the United States—and the first African-American to hold this office. His running mate, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, became vice president. Obama’s inauguration took place on January 20, 2009.
On January 27, 2010, President Obama delivered his first State of the Union speech. During his oration, Obama addressed the challenges of the economy, proposing a fee for larger banks, announcing a possible freeze on government spending in 2010 and speaking against the Supreme Court’s reversal of a law capping campaign finance spending. He also challenged politicians to stop thinking of re-election and start making positive changes, criticizing Republicans for their refusal to support any legislation,and chastizing Democrats for not pushing hard enough to get legislation passed. He also insisted that, despite obstacles, he was determined to help American citizens through the nation’s current domestic difficulties. “We don’t quit. I don’t quit,” he said. “Let’s seize this moment to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and strengthen our union once more.”
As he did in 2008, during his campaign for a second presidential term, Obama focused on grassroots initiatives. Celebrities such asAnna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker aided the president’s campaign by hosting fund-raising events.
In the 2012 election, Obama faced Republican opponent Mitt Romney and Romney’s vice-presidential running mate,