Archivist Christine McKay discovered a rare collection of letters written by President Barack Obama’s father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., but the president isn’t quite ready to take a look. According to a senior White House official, President Obama is interested in seeing the letters, which chronicle his father’s life from 1958 to 1964, after his term in office comes to an end.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem houses nearly two dozen of Obama Sr.’s letters that document the Kenyan native’s educational journey in the United States. “The papers are rich; they tell a fascinating, traditional, self-made man’s story,” said Schomburg director Khalil Gibran Muhammad. “There’s a reason to bear witness to the personal legacy that is here.”
Although he already had a wife and two children in Kenya, Obama Sr. married Ann Dunham, a classmate he met during his tenure at the University of Hawaii. The couple welcomed their son on Aug. 4, 1961, but the senior never mentioned his new family in his scholarship applications or letters, which end in 1964, the year he returned to Kenya without them.
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“I thought it would be great if the president could see his father’s words,” McKay said. While President Obama has not revealed why he will not read the collection at this time, he has openly discussed the void his father left in his life in public addresses and throughout his memoir Dreams from My Father.
There’s no telling if the letters will help close that gap or reinforce old pain, but according to Obama Sr.’s younger brother Said Obama, he never stopped loving or caring about the son he left behind. He told The New York Times that his older brother proudly showed off photographs of his son who would eventually become the United States’ first black president.
“He loved his son,” Said Obama recalled. “I don’t think you do such things if you don’t love your son.”