Was Obama's Dad Forced Out of Harvard for Dating White Women?

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There was another set of records released today about Barack Obama's family: his father's immigration file, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request 

by the Arizona Independent

Andrew Rice, a writer who has written extensively about Africa, perused the documents and has come to a pretty shocking conclusion: the reason Barack Obama Sr. was forced to leave Harvard, and ultimately America, was because of racist attitudes about miscegenation.

In a piece for Capital New York, Rice argues that the documents reveal "a subtle, institutionalized conspiracy that in a way seems more insidious than overt cross-burning racism, because almost surely none of its participants thought of their actions as discriminatory at all." What might those actions be? The first unusual item in the elder Obama's file, Rice explains, is a 1961 memo from a University of Hawaii adviser notifying the INS of Obama Sr.'s marriage to Ann Dunham, despite his having a wife in Kenya.

[T]he informant noted that he had been "running around with several girls" and had been "warned about his playboy ways." ... Polygamy is not a charge meriting deportation, the memo notes, adding that "If the subject were convicted of bigamy we might get a deportation charge but not before." But it recommends that Obama be "closely questioned before another [visa] extension is granted—and denial be considered."

Obama Sr. and Dunham separated when he received a scholarship at Harvard and she stayed in Hawaii. Another memo mentions their divorce in 1964, saying Obama Sr. had had some sort of relationship with an exchange student from Kenya. The woman's scholarship sponsor, the Unitarian Universalist Service, is upset over a trip the woman took overseas: "The suspicion exists... that she may have gone to London for [redacted]." Rice writes, "We don't know what the couple was suspected to have done, but since this was a decade prior to Roe v. Wade, we can guess."

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Then, in May 1964, Harvard informs the INS that even though Obama Sr. aced his finals, the school will "try to cook something up to ease him out." Harvard then informs Obama that the money for his scholarship has run out, and that he should complete his studies in Kenya. Obama can't renew his student visa without the scholarship money, and another memo says he appealed the decision.

A couple months later, a mother writes to say her daughter, 27, plans on marrying Obama Sr. 

This is almost certainly the mother of Ruth Nidesand, who met Obama's father at Harvard and eventually became his third wife. Again, another white woman. The INS investigates and determines that Obama had already departed for Kenya. The last note of interest in the file is a follow-up report--once more, circumstances strongly suggest it came from Nidesand's family--complaining that their daughter had eloped to Nairobi despite knowing that Obama had a couple of other wives floating around.

After, Obama Sr. returned to Kenya, he only saw his son in Hawaii once in 1971. He died in 1982. Obama's 1995 book Dreams from My Father is largely a memoir of growing up with an absent dad. Rice concedes that Obama Sr. "behaved like a cad." But he thinks it's unlikely the government have investigated, say, a womanizing Frenchman so thoroughly, or tried to get a university to cancel his scholarship.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.