Politics and Government

Federal Government

Who became the first African-American president of the United States?

Barack Hussein Obama (1961–) won the nomination for the U.S. presidency and in 2008 became the first African American elected to the highest office in the nation. He was sworn in on January 20, 2009, and took the oath of office using the Bible that President Abraham Lincoln used when sworn in during his first inauguration in 1861, making Obama the first president sworn in using that Bible since its initial use. When the Democratic primary season for the presidency ended on June 3, 2008, Obama became the first African American to secure the nomination of any major national political party. His stirring keynote address before the Democratic National Convention in July 2004 catapulted Obama onto the national political scene. With a landslide victory in November, he was also elected U.S. senator from Illinois, becoming the third African American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction. In February 2007 he announced his intent to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for the U.S. Presidency. During his campaign, Obama garnered financial support from small donations solicited over the Internet and went on to amass a record-breaking $745 million. His use of the Internet, twenty-four-hour cable television programming, blogs, and other nontraditional media changed the way political campaigns are conducted. During his campaign, Obama frequently drew enormous crowds and was placed under Secret Service protection nine months before the election, earlier than any other candidate who ever ran for president. He defeated Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in the November 4 election and was sworn into office on January 20, 2009, as the 44th president. He was soon awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. His first one hundred days in office were consumed by a range of activities, including passage of a massive stimulus bill to help jumpstart the sagging economy, interventions in the housing and credit markets, a plan to bail out the automobile industry, strict regulations proposed for Wall Street, an overhaul of foreign policy, and a push for a national health insurance plan. During the 2012 presidential election, Obama defied predictions by sailing to reelection. This triggered a face-off with Republicans over averting a “fiscal cliff” that threatened to send the nation into a recession; the fiscal cliff was never realized.

Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Barack Obama Sr., a native of Kenya, and Ann Dunham, a white woman and a native of Kansas; they divorced in 1964. Obama lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, with his mother and stepfather before resettling in Hawaii, where he lived with his maternal grandparents and attended an elite college preparatory school. In 1983 Obama graduated from Columbia University in New York City, and then worked as a researcher. Two years later he moved to Chicago and became a community organizer in several low-income neighborhoods. He entered Harvard Law School in 1988, and in 1990 was elected president of the prestigious and competitive Harvard Law Review—the first African American to hold that honor. While he is articulate, serious, and challenging, Obama’s initial popularity at home and abroad, and, for a time, his continuing high approval rating among the American public led him to be regarded as a celebrity president.

First Lady Michelle Obama is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School. In addition to supporting the president, she has been an advocate of women’s health issues and for better nutrition and exercise for children.


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