Friday, March 28, 2008

The first black president, 1990

Thanks to the The New York Times' wayback machine! Here's Obama at 28, not quite post-racial, but quite recognizable:

First Black Elected to Head Harvard's Law Review

Published: February 6, 1990

The Harvard Law Review, generally considered the most prestigious in the country, elected the first black president in its 104-year history today. The job is considered the highest student position at Harvard Law School.

The new president of the Review is Barack Obama, a 28-year-old graduate of Columbia University who spent four years heading a community development program for poor blacks on Chicago's South Side before enrolling in law school. His late father, Barack Obama, was a finance minister in Kenya and his mother, Ann Dunham, is an American anthropologist now doing fieldwork in Indonesia. Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.

''The fact that I've been elected shows a lot of progress,'' Mr. Obama said today in an interview. ''It's encouraging.

''But it's important that stories like mine aren't used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don't get a chance,'' he said, alluding to poverty or growing up in a drug environment....[snip]

On his goals in his new post, Mr. Obama said: ''I personally am interested in pushing a strong minority perspective. I'm fairly opinionated about this. But as president of the law review, I have a limited role as only first among equals.''

Therefore, Mr. Obama said, he would concentrate on making the review a ''forum for debate,'' bringing in new writers and pushing for livelier, more accessible writing.
The voice is the same, the themes familiar. We've made a lot of progress, but we have a long way to go. It's not about me. Leadership is listening. Ready for change.

I was struck, too, by the almost surreal strangeness of Obama's bio--coming to it cold, in three laconic sentences. Father a Kenyan finance minister? Mother an anthropologist in Indonesia? Born in Hawaii? Who is this that comes out of the wilderness?

His plans at that point were as off-the-beaten-path as his past:
A President's Future (sic!)

The president of the law review usually goes on to serve as a clerk for a judge on the Federal Court of Appeals for a year, and then as a clerk for an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Mr. Obama said he planned to spend two or three years in private law practice and then return to Chicago to re-enter community work, either in politics or in local organizing.

He knew where he was headed. Here's hoping that this was our first look at "A President's Past."

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