Let­ters from young Obama show a man find­ing his way

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JESSE J. HOL­LAND As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON -A young Barack Obama ques­tioned his place in the world and his racial iden­tity, ag­o­nized over whether he'd make enough money as a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, and lamented his in­com­pat­i­bil­ity with his ex-girl­friend in 30 pages of let­ters he wrote to her that are now be­ing archived by Emory Uni­ver­sity in At­lanta.

The nine full let­ters, sent by Obama to his col­lege girl­friend, Alexan­dra McNear, are be­ing made pub­lic to re­searchers through Emory Uni­ver­sity's Stu­art A. Rose Man­u­script, Ar­chives and Rare Book Li­brary. The uni­ver­sity has had the let­ters since 2014 but could only make them pub­lic now, of­fi­cials said.

Writ­ten in the 1980s, the let­ters give a peek into Obama's psy­che as he sought out the path that would even­tu­ally land him in the White House as the United States' first black pres­i­dent, Emory Uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day.

“My ideas aren't as crys­tal­lized as they were while in school, but they have an im­me­di­acy and weight that may be more use­ful if and when I'm less ob­server and more par­tic­i­pant,” Obama wrote in 1984 to McNear, who was a stu­dent at a Cal­i­for­nia col­lege at­tended by Obama be­fore he moved to Columbia.

The “very lyri­cal, very po­etic” let­ters will be use­ful to re­searchers try­ing to craft a pic­ture of Obama the col­lege stu­dent and re­cent grad­u­ate, Emory of­fi­cials said. Parts of the let­ters from Obama have al­ready ap­peared in books about Obama over the last few years.

“They tell the jour­ney of a young man who is seek­ing mean­ing and pur­pose in life and di­rec­tion,” said Rose­mary Magee, the Rose Li­brary di­rec­tor. Obama is “try­ing to find what his dis­tinc­tive place would be both in that time and go­ing for­ward.”

The let­ters span 1982 to 1984. Dur­ing that time, Obama was at Columbia Uni­ver­sity in New York City, in

In­done­sia, and fi­nally work­ing at Busi­ness In­ter­na­tional Cor­po­ra­tion, “with ev­ery­one slap­ping my back,” in a job for which he had no pas­sion. Obama wrote for the news­let­ter Busi­ness In­ter­na­tional Money Re­port.

“Salaries in the com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions are too low to sur­vive on right now, so I hope to work in some more con­ven­tional ca­pac­ity for a year, al­low­ing me to store up enough nuts to pur­sue those in­ter­ests next,” Obama wrote in 1983.

The fu­ture pres­i­dent's let­ters were penned in a com­bi­na­tion of care­ful cur­sive and “Dear Alex” in print. He wrote them on sta­tionery as well as ripped-out yel­low and white, col­lege-ruled notebook pa­per. At least one was sent in Busi­ness In­ter­na­tional Money Re­port en­velopes with the busi­ness's ad­dress crossed out and “Barack Obama” writ­ten above it.

Emory Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor An­dra Gil­lispie, di­rec­tor of Emory's James Wel­don John­son In­sti­tute for the Study of Race and Dif­fer­ence, is us­ing the let­ters in an up­com­ing book about Obama. She said the let­ters are not overly ro­man­tic as they span the end of the pair's re­la­tion­ship.

“I think of you often, though I stay con­fused about my feel­ings,” Obama wrote to McNear in 1983. “It seems we will ever want what we can­not have; that's what binds us; that's what keeps us apart.”

But the let­ters aren't all angst, Gil­lispie said. Obama - “clearly a per­son of the mind,” she said, once ripped out a

New York Times book re­view of Rachel M. Brown­stein's book, “Be­com­ing a Hero­ine” and sent it to McNear, some­thing that amused the pro­fes­sor.

“This is part of his courtship strat­egy. Okay ... Who rips out book re­views to send to their girl­friend?” Gil­lispie laughed. “I think it is a sign of his proto-fem­i­nism but it is more of a `Wow, this is re­ally cere­bral re­la­tion­ship' but I per­son­ally like the idea of a cere­bral re­la­tion­ship. I'm a nerd too, so the nerd in me was like, `That was real cool.’”


Young Barack Obama wrote let­ters to his col­lege sweet­heart, Alexan­dra McNear dur­ing the 1980's.

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