Biography of Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

Barack Obama

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Barack Obama (born Aug. 4, 1961) is an American politician who served as the 44th president of the United States, the first Black man to do so. Prior to that, he was a civil rights lawyer, constitutional law professor, and U.S. senator from Illinois. As president, Obama oversaw the passage of several notable pieces of legislation, including the Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare") and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Fast Facts: Barack Obama

  • Known For: Obama was the 44th president of the United States.
  • Born: Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Parents: Barack Obama Sr. and Ann Dunham
  • Education: Occidental College, Columbia University (B.A.), Harvard University (J.D.)
  • Awards and Honors: Nobel Peace Prize
  • Spouse: Michelle Robinson Obama (m. 1992)
  • Children: Malia, Sasha

Early Life

Barack Obama was born on Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to a White mother and a Black father. His mother Ann Dunham was an anthropologist, and his father Barack Obama Sr. was an economist. They met while studying at the University of Hawaii. The couple divorced in 1964 and Obama Sr. returned to his native Kenya to work for the government. He rarely saw his son after this separation.

In 1967, Barack Obama moved with his mother to Jakarta, where he lived for four years. At the age of 10, he returned to Hawaii to be raised by his maternal grandparents while his mother completed fieldwork in Indonesia. After finishing high school, Obama went on to study at Occidental College, where he gave his first public speech—a call for the school to divest from South Africa in protest of the country's system of apartheid. In 1981, Obama transferred to Columbia University, where he graduated with a degree in political science and English literature.

In 1988, Obama began studying at Harvard Law School. He became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review and spent his summers working at law firms in Chicago. He graduated magna cum laude in 1991.


Obama married Michelle LaVaughn Robinson—a lawyer from Chicago he met while he was working in the city—on Oct. 3, 1992. Together they have two children, Malia and Sasha. In her 2018 memoir "Becoming," Michelle Obama described their marriage as "a full-on merger, a reconfiguring of two lives into one, with the well-being of a family taking precedence over any one agenda or goal.” Barack supported Michelle when she chose to leave private law for public service, and she supported him when he decided to enter politics.

Career Before Politics

Upon graduating from Columbia University, Barack Obama worked at Business International Corporation and then at the New York Public Interest Research Group, a nonpartisan political organization. He then moved to Chicago and became director of the Developing Communities Project. After law school, Obama wrote his memoir, "Dreams from My Father," which was widely acclaimed by critics and other writers, including Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

Obama worked as a community organizer and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years. He also worked as a lawyer during this same period. In 1996, Obama made his foray into political life as a member of the Illinois State Senate. He supported bipartisan efforts to improve healthcare and increase tax credits for childcare. Obama was reelected to the State Senate in 1998 and again in 2002.

U.S. Senate

In 2004, Obama launched a campaign for U.S. Senate. He positioned himself as a progressive and an opponent of the Iraq War. Obama won a decisive victory in November with 70% of the vote and was sworn in as a U.S. senator in January 2005. As a senator, Obama served on five committees and chaired the European Affairs subcommittee. He sponsored legislation to expand Pell grants, provide support for victims of Hurricane Katrina, improve the safety of consumer products, and reduce homelessness among veterans.

By now, Obama was a national figure and a rising star in the Democratic Party, having delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In 2006, Obama released his second book, "The Audacity of Hope," which became a New York Times bestseller.

2008 Election

Obama began his run for U.S. president in February 2007. He was nominated after a very close primary race against key opponent Hillary Clinton, the wife of former president Bill Clinton. Obama chose Delaware Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate. The two campaigned on a platform of hope and change; Obama made ending the Iraq War and passing healthcare reform his primary issues. His campaign was notable for its digital strategy and fundraising efforts. With support from small donors and activists across the nation, the campaign raised a record $750 million. Obama's main opponent in the presidential race was Republican Sen. John McCain. In the end, Obama won 365 electoral votes and 52.9% of the popular vote.

First Term

Within the first 100 days of his presidency, Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a piece of legislation designed to address the worst effects of the Great Recession. The Recovery Act was a stimulus package that injected about $800 billion into the economy through tax incentives for individuals and businesses, infrastructure investment, aid for low-income workers, and scientific research. Leading economists broadly agreed that this stimulus spending helped reduce unemployment and avert further economic challenges.

Obama's signature achievement—the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare")—was passed on March 23, 2010. The legislation was designed to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance by subsidizing those who meet certain income requirements. At the time of its passage, the bill was quite controversial. In fact, it came before the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2012 that it was not unconstitutional.

By the end of 2010, Obama had also added two new judges to the Supreme Court—Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed on Aug. 6, 2009, and Elena Kagan, who was confirmed on Aug. 5, 2010. Both are members of the court's liberal wing.

On May 1, 2011, Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, was killed during a Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan. This was a major victory for Obama, winning him praise across party lines. "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda," Obama said in a public address to the nation. "Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people."

2012 Reelection

Obama launched his campaign for reelection in 2011. His main challenger was Republican Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts. To make use of growing social networks like Facebook and Twitter, the Obama campaign hired a team of tech workers to build digital campaign tools. The election centered on domestic issues, including healthcare and Social Security, and in many ways was a referendum on the Obama administration's response to the Great Recession. In November 2012, Obama defeated Romney with 332 electoral votes and 51.1% of the popular vote. Obama called the victory a vote for "action, not politics as usual," and promised to work on bipartisan proposals to improve the American economy.

Second Term

During his second term as president, Obama focused on new challenges facing the country. In 2013, he organized a group to begin negotiations with Iran. An agreement was reached in 2015 in which the United States would lift sanctions and steps would be taken to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Obama signed a series of executive orders designed to reduce gun violence. He also voiced support for more comprehensive background checks and a ban on assault weapons. In a press conference at the White House, Obama said, "If there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try."

In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage was protected by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This was a major milestone in the fight for LGBTQ rights. Obama called the ruling a "victory for America."

In July 2013, Obama announced that the United States had negotiated plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. The following year, he became the first American president to visit the country since Calvin Coolidge did so in 1928. The shift in U.S.-Cuba relations—dubbed the Cuban thaw—was met with approval by many political leaders around the world.

Key Speeches

Obama gave a number of important speeches during his two terms as President, Mark Greenberg and David M. Tait reprinted some of the key speeches, in the book, "Obama: The Historic Presidency of Barack Obama: 2,920 Days":

Victory speech: Obama told a crowd in Grant Park In Chicago on Nov. 4, 2008, during his election night victory speech: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer."

Inaugural address: Obama told a record 1.8 million people gathered in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2009: "(O)ur patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth."

On the death of Osama bin Laden: Obama announced bin Laden's death at the White House on May 3, 2011, stating: "On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood....On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family." Obama also announced: "Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against (a) compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (where bin Laden was living)....After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."

On marriage equality: Obama spoke in the White House rose garden on July 26, 2015, stating: "This morning, the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality." On the POTUS Twitter account, Obama added; "Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like everyone else."

On the Affordable Care Act: Obama addressed a crowd at Miami Dade College on Oct. 20, 2016, six years after the passage of the act, telling listeners, "...never in American history has the uninsured rate been lower than it is today....It's dropped among women, among Latinos and African Americans, (and in) every other demographic group. It's worked."


Obama is the first Black man to not only be nominated by a major political party but also to win the presidency of the United States. He ran as an agent of change. It may be too early to fully discuss Obama's legacy as of October 2020—more than four years after he left office. Elaine C. Kamarck, the director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C., was not glowing in her review of Obama, published in 2018:

"It becomes clearer every day that Barack Obama, a historic president, presided over a somewhat less than historic presidency. With only one major legislative achievement (Obamacare)—and a fragile one at that—the legacy of Obama’s presidency mainly rests on its tremendous symbolic importance and the fate of a patchwork of executive actions."

But historians note that the very fact that Obama was the first Black man to hold the office of president of the United States, was a huge door-opener for the country. H.W. Brands, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, stated:

"The single undeniable aspect of Obama’s legacy is that he demonstrated that a black man can become president of the United States. This accomplishment will inform the first line in his obituary and will earn him assured mention in every American history textbook written from now to eternity."

Other historians note that Obama "brought stability to the economy, to the job market, to the housing market, to the auto industry and to the banks," as Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian and author of bestselling biographies, noted in an article in Time magazine. Kearns also said that Obama brought "tremendous progress" to gay people, and helped initiate an era of cultural change—which is a major legacy in an of itself.

Additional References

  • Obama, Barack. "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." Canongate, 2016.
  • Obama, Michelle. "Becoming." Crown Publishing Group, 2018.
  • Remnick, David. "The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama." Vintage Books, 2011.
View Article Sources
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  4. “Remarks by the President on the Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality.” National Archives and Records Administration, 26 June 2015.

  5. Greenberg, Mark and Tait, David M. Obama: the Historic Presidency of Barack Obama - 2,920 Days. Sterling Publishing Co., 2019

  6. Kamarck, Elaine. “The Fragile Legacy of Barack Obama.” Brookings, Brookings, 6 Apr. 2018.

  7. Staff, TIME. “President Barack Obamas Legacy: 10 Historians Weigh In.” Time, Time, 20 Jan. 201.