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Stanley Ann Dunham
Born in 1942, just five years before Hillary Clinton, Obama's mother came into an America constrained by war, segregation and a distrust of difference. Her parents named her Stanley because her father had wanted a boy. She endured the expected teasing over this indignity, but dutifully lugged the name through high school, apologizing for it each time she introduced herself in a new town.
During her life, she was known by four different names, each representing a distinct chapter. In the course of the Stanley period, her family moved more than five timesfrom Kansas to California to Texas to Washingtonbefore her 18th birthday. Her father, a furniture salesman, had a restlessness that she inherited.
She spent her high school years on a small island in Washington, taking advanced classes in philosophy and visiting coffee shops in Seattle. "She was a very intelligent, quiet girl, interested in her friendships and current events," remembers Maxine Box, a close high school friend. Both girls assumed they would go to college and pursue careers. "She wasn't particularly interested in children or in getting married," Box says. Although Stanley was accepted early by the University of Chicago, her father wouldn't let her go. She was too young to be off on her own, he said, unaware, as fathers tend to be, of what could happen when she lived in his house.
After she finished high school, her father whisked the family away againthis time to Honolulu, after he heard about a big new furniture store there. Hawaii had just become a state, and it was the new frontier. Stanley grudgingly went along yet again, enrolling in the University of Hawaii as a freshman.
Mrs. Barack H. Obama
Shortly before she moved to Hawaii, Stanley saw her first foreign film. Black Orpheus was an award-winning musical retelling of the myth of Orpheus, a tale of doomed love. The movie was considered exotic because it was filmed in Brazil, but it was written and directed by white Frenchmen. The result was sentimental and, to some modern eyes, patronizing. Years later Obama saw the film with his mother and thought about walking out. But looking at her in the theater, he glimpsed her 16-year-old self. "I suddenly realized," he wrote in his memoir, Dreams from My Father, "that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen ... was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life, warm, sensual, exotic, different."
By college, Stanley had started introducing herself as Ann. She met Barack Obama Sr. in a Russian-language class. He was one of the first Africans to attend the University of Hawaii and a focus of great curiosity. He spoke at church groups and was interviewed for several local-newspaper stories. "He had this magnetic personality," remembers Neil Abercrombie, a member of Congress from Hawaii who was friends with Obama Sr. in college. "Everything was oratory from him, even the most commonplace observation."
Obama's father quickly drew a crowd of friends at the university. "We would drink beer, eat pizza and play records," Abercrombie says. They talked about Vietnam and politics. "Everyone had an opinion about everything, and everyone was of the opinion that everyone wanted to hear their opinionno one more so than Barack."