On February 18, 1981, a student at Occidental College, Barack Obama, delivered his first public speech. As the opening speaker at a rally protesting Occidental’s investments in companies that were doing business in apartheid South Africa, he stood with one hand in his pocket, spoke in declarative spurts, and showed no sign of being the orator who would become President nearly twenty-eight years later. Before he could say much, he was carried off by two students pretending to be oppressive Afrikaners.
I was a student at Occidental then, too. So was Tom Grauman, a sophomore who took thousands of photos for the Office of Communications, a selection of which can be seen in the slide show above. Many of Grauman’s photographs documented formative events and influential people in Obama’s life at that time, including Obama’s friends and fellow-organizers Hasan Chandoo and Caroline Boss, his friends Wahid Hamid and Laurent Delanney, and two activists, Earl Chew and Sara-Etta Harris, who spoke at the rally and who later appeared in the composite characters Marcus and Regina in “Dreams from My Father.”
Click-through for a slideshow of never before seen photos of Obama, and for more from Margot Mifflin on the anti-apartheid demonstration: http://nyr.kr/SCPxTG