Early LifeBarack 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 SchoolWhile 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."
Obama also struggled with the absence of his father, who he saw only once more after his parents divorced, when Obama Sr. visited Hawaii for a short time in 1971. "[My father] had left paradise, and nothing that my mother or grandparents told me could obviate that single, unassailable fact," he later reflected. "They couldn't describe what it might have been like had he stayed."
Ten years later, in 1981, tragedy struck Obama Sr. He was involved in a serious car accident,
losing both of his legs as a result. Confined to a wheelchair, he also lost his job. In 1982, Obama Sr. was involved in yet another car accident while traveling in Nairobi. This time, however, the crash was fatal. Obama Sr. died on November 24, 1982, when Barack was 21 years old. "At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me," Obama later said, "both more and less than a man."
After high school, Obama studied at Occidental College in Los Angeles for two years. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York, graduating in 1983 with a degree in political science. After working in the business sector for two years, Obama moved to Chicago in 1985. There, he worked on the South Side as a community organizer for low-income residents in the Roseland and the Altgeld Gardens communities.
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