Key Part of JFK-Obama Myth Not True

Key Part of JFK-Obama Myth Not True

Our friend Michael Dobbs, the Fact Checker at the Washington Post, takes a look today at the claim by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, wrapping up his existence in the hagiography of Camelot.

The basic notion is this: the Kennedy family, led by then-Sen. John Kennedy, D-Mass., funded an airlift of 81 Kenyan students to the United States.

Among those 81 Kenyan students -- Barack Obama Sr., who then met and married a young woman named Ann Dunham, from Kansas.

And on August 4, 1961, Barack Obama, Jr., was born.

As Obama said to voters in Alabama last year: "What happened in Selma, Alabama and Birmingham also stirred the conscience of the nation. It worried folks in the White House who said, 'You know, we're battling Communism. How are we going to win hearts and minds all across the world? If right here in our own country, John, we're not observing the ideals set fort in our Constitution, we might be accused of being hypocrites.'

"So the Kennedys decided, 'We're going to do an air lift. We're going to go to Africa and start bringing young Africans over to this country and give them scholarships to study so they can learn what a wonderful country America is,'" Obama continued. "This young man named Barack Obama got one of those tickets and came over to this country. He met this woman whose great great-great-great-grandfather had owned slaves; but she had a good idea there was some craziness going on because they looked at each other and they decided that we know that the world as it has been it might not be possible for us to get together and have a child."

What a great story, right?

Reporting on Caroline Kennedy's decision to endorse Obama, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter wrote that "One intriguing element of Obama's family history that resonated with Caroline was a long-buried story that was brought to her attention last summer. It drove home for her how history replays itself, how two generations of two families — separated by distance, culture and wealth — can intersect in strange and wonderful ways, and how people have no idea that their good deeds may come back to them someday."

A key part of this for Caroline, Alter writes, is that "Two weeks after he was nominated for president in July 1960, then-Senator Kennedy received a visit at his vacation home in Hyannis Port, Mass., from a Kenyan educator, Tom Mboya, who told him that more than 200 African students had received scholarships to American universities through the African-American Students Foundation but did not have the $100,000 for air transport."

For whatever reason, the Eisenhower State Department would not pay for what "the African airlift."

So then-Sen. John F. Kennedy "quietly tapped his family's Kennedy Foundation, which agreed to raise the necessary funds privately," Alter writes. "The airlift money came through from the Kennedy Foundation, and the students arrived. Barack Obama Sr. went to the University of Hawaii, where he met and married a young white woman from Kansas. Their son, born the following year, arrived in the United States Senate in early 2005 and found that the antique desk he had been assigned on the Senate floor had once belonged to JFK, whose initials were carved inside. Obama learned only recently how his father's dream of studying in the United States had been fulfilled."

When Obama secured the endorsements of Caroline and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., he referred to the airlift that brought his father over to the U.S., saying, "part of what made it possible for him to come here was an effort by the young senator from Massachusetts at the time, John F. Kennedy and by a grant -- and by a grant from the Kennedy Foundation to help Kenyan students pay for travel. So it is partly because of their generosity that my father came to this country. And because he did, I stand before you today inspired by America's past, filled with hope for America's future and determined to do my part in writing our next great chapter."

But here's the rub, writes Dobbs today. "It is a touching story -- but the key details are either untrue or grossly oversimplified."

Because Obama's father was part of the September 1959 airlift -- which the Kennedys did not help fund.

The Kennedys helped fund the September 1960 airlift.

Writes Dobbs: "Obama spokesman Bill Burton acknowledged yesterday that the senator from Illinois had erred in crediting the Kennedy family with a role in his father's arrival in the United States. He said the Kennedy involvement in the Kenya student program apparently 'started 48 years ago, not 49 years ago as Obama has mistakenly suggested in the past.'"

So Mboya secured funding from the Kennedys after Obama Sr. was already studying in Hawaii.

Dobbs reports that "The former executive director of the African-American Students Foundation, Cora Weiss, said some of the money provided by the Kennedys was used to pay off old debts and subsidize student stipends. Even though Obama Sr. arrived the previous year, he and other members of the 1959 cohort benefited indirectly from Kennedy family support."

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, though, does it?

- jpt

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