How Barack Obama's Parents Defied The Odds By Getting Married In The '60s

Nearly 50 years before Barack Obama would become the first Black President of the United States, his parents were blazing their own trails on campus at the University of Hawaii in the early 1960s. The former president's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and father, Barack Obama Sr., met while pursuing their undergraduate degrees, and the connection was instantaneous. 

"Both of them were quite taken with each other," Sally H. Jacobs, author of "The Other Barack: The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama's Father," told NPR. "This relationship picked up speed pretty quickly. The president describes it in his own memoir ["Dreams from My Father"] of how drawn they were to each other." 

Three months later, they conceived the then-future President Barack Obama and married shortly after that in 1960 when Dunham was 18. Having a child out of wedlock was a big enough social taboo on its own. For the parents to be an interracial couple at a time when these unions were still considered illegal in much of the United States was another matter entirely.

Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. were forward thinkers

When Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. first met each other as undergraduate students in Hawaii, nearly half of the United States considered interracial marriage illegal. Luckily for the young, enamored couple, no such laws were ever implemented in their state of residence. Still, in a racially divided country fast approaching the boiling point of its mid-century civil rights movement, former President Barack Obama's parents' relationship stood in bold defiance of these widespread, racially charged prejudices.

Their willingness to fight against the status quo in the name of love spilled over into other areas of their life as well. Dunham, a successful anthropologist of her time, would go on to create microfinance models for women-led businesses in Indonesia. The microloan program she created to help local women gain financial autonomy and success is still used in Indonesia today. Though she initially brought her young son to Indonesia with her, she later sent him to live with his grandparents in Hawaii, as she believed he would have greater opportunities receiving an English-language education.

Barack Obama Sr. studied at Harvard University after completing his undergrad in Hawaii. He later moved back to his native Kenya, where he served as a senior economist for the Kenyan government. His outspoken support of socialism — and condemnation of ideologies he deemed less than socialistic — would later cause his professional life to suffer.

Barack Obama Sr. had a controversial past that led to fraught estate wars

Barack Obama Sr. was Stanley Ann Dunham's first husband, but she was not his first wife. Before moving to Hawaii from Kenya to become the first Black student enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu — a groundbreaking glimpse into his son's later accomplishments — Obama Sr. was married to Kezia Aoko. He and Aoko had two children, Malik and Auma, before divorcing. 

However, Sally Jacobs posits in her book "The Other Barack" that it was not entirely clear if Obama Sr. had officially divorced from Aoko before marrying Dunham. Obama Sr. had several other children with past romantic partners and his third wife, leading to a tense battle over his estate following his death in 1982. Per Jacobs' book, the situation played out as "colorful legal drama, which went on for years, pitted the first wife against the fourth, the eldest son against the youngest, and generally divided the family into two warring camps" (via Oprah Daily). 

Although Obama Jr.'s connections to his parents ebbed and flowed, it's clear that their intellectual, forward-thinking tendencies rubbed off on the politician, activist, and, post-2016, Hollywood film producer.