The airlift which brought my father--Philip Ochieng--and Barack Obama, Sr. to America is back in the news again. Originally discussed this time last year after Obama, Jr.'s Selma speech--which saw the senator curiously attribute some of the events surrounding his 1961 birth to the 1964 Selma march—Obama asserted that the airlift in question was due to the efforts of John F. Kennedy. Observers threw the BS flag on that as well since Obama had already been conceived by the time JFK was sworn in as POTUS.
However, when I found out that my father had been on the same plane as Obama Senior, I did some digging and discovered that JFK had indeed been responsible for an airlift of students from Kenya before he became president. An op-ed written by my father in 2004 seemed to confirm this.
Like Obama Senior, I too went to the US on the famous Tom Mboya Airlift of 1959 [when hundreds of Kenyan students were given scholarships to American universities]. I first met Obama Senior in Tom Mboya's Nairobi office [Mboya was then the secretary general of the Kenya Federation of Labour]. Obama and I met up again on returning to Nairobi and remained drinking buddies for many years.(Emphasis mine. That will be important in a moment.)
Note that my father calls the trip the ‘Tom Mboya Airlift.’ However, the 1960 article in TIME magazine calls it the ‘Kennedy Airlift.’ At first I chalked the difference up to cultural pride--of course, each nation would want to give their countryman the credit. After that, it seemed that the bit of history was settled. (Obama was on his own as far as the Selma issue went, however.)
Then, last week, I received an email from a gentleman named Gregory Gelembiuk who provided yet more info about the airlift. Mr. Gelembiuk contended that Senator Obama was deliberately lying about the Kennedy connection because the Ivy-educated senator was more used to doing in-depth research than I am, because he has access to more information than I do and because the senator has a history of, shall we say, selective recall. All are true but I was merely going by what my father had said.
Later in the week I received an email from the Washington Post’s Michael Dobbs who asked about the same information, so I provided him with my father’s email address and at least one link, courtesy of Mr. Gelembiuk. I don’t know whether either was useful to Mr. Dobbs, but today’s Post contains his piece entitled “Obama Overstates Kennedys' Role in Helping His Father.”
Contrary to Obama's claims in speeches in January at American University and in Selma last year, the Kennedy family did not provide the funding for a September 1959 airlift of 81 Kenyan students to the United States that included Obama's father. According to historical records and interviews with participants, the Kennedys were first approached for support for the program nearly a year later, in July 1960. The family responded with a $100,000 donation, most of which went to pay for a second airlift in September 1960. [SNIP]So the problem is that there was more than one sortie in the airlift and Obama--and Hot Air's Allahpundit and myself--got one of the Kennedy-funded trips confused with earlier ones which had different funding--an easy thing to do since none of us were born yet when the events in question occurred. Personally I didn't even know about the airlifts until Obama mentioned it last year and I asked my father about it afterward.
A more accurate version of the story would begin not with the Kennedys but with a Kenyan nationalist leader named Tom Mboya, who traveled to the United States in 1959 and 1960 to persuade thousands of Americans to support his efforts to educate a new African elite. Mboya did not approach the Kennedys for financial support until Obama Sr. was already studying in Hawaii.
Compounding the confusion, my father innocently bunches all of the sorties together when telling of the endeavor in his 2004 column. He speaks of hundreds of students being the beneficiaries of Mboya’s idea rather than the eighty-one students in the singular year of 1959, among them himself and Obama Sr.
In 1959 Mboya coordinated an “airlift” of 81 Kenyan students to the United States to attend college, and shortly after attending the “Africa Freedom Dinner,” Mboya wrote [Dr. Martin Luther] King requesting financial assistance for a Kenyan student who was to enter Tuskegee Institute in the fall. In an 8 November 1959 letter to the New York Times Mboya explained: “Nothing constitutes a greater contribution to the struggle against poverty, disease and political subjection in Africa more than the contribution made towards our peoples’ educational advancement.” With the help of the African American Students Foundation and its sponsors, Harry Belafonte, Jackie Robinson, and Sidney Poitier, Mboya raised sufficient funds to cover the students’ travel expenses.
Believing that Africans and African Americans shared “a common struggle” against colonialism and segregation King took an active interest in the education of African students. He encouraged college presidents in the United States to expand financial aid options available to Africans. He arranged for the Montgomery Improvement Association and other Montgomery organizations to fund five Kenyan students to study at American universities and pledged the SCLC and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to fund the living expenses for Kenyan student, Nicholas Raballa, who was admitted to Tuskegee Institute.(It is interesting to know that Mboya went to the black glitterati of the era for help and good to know that they came through. Upon discovering this new information, I briefly considered being nicer to Mr. Belafonte from now on, then discarded the notion. After all, who knows who else will be discovered to have been responsible for Obama's and my presence in this country?)
The bottom line is this: I dissent from Misters Gelembiuk, Dobbs and Morrissey in that I think the discrepancies in the airlift story are an innocent mistake on Obama's part. Of course I understand why they do not believe this-- they're thinking of all the not-so-innocent mistakes on topics large and small which the good senator has made. I, too, would have come to a similar conclusion if it weren't for the mitigating circumstances which I've highlighted. But "I ain't mad at" the above gentlemen if they're not convinced.
See, that's the problem with chronic dissembling. Even when you make an honest-to-goodness oopsie, no one believes that it stems from honesty or goodness.