Who was Tom Mboya?

This is another in the “who is…” series of people you never heard of, but probably should have.

The New York Times is running a warm and fuzzy story about a treasure trove of letters and documents from Barack Obama Sr, just recently discovered in 2013 in Harlem.

They are documents from an organization called the African American Students Program, an organization organized by William Scheinman, with help from trade unionist Tom Mboye to bring students from Kenya to study at American Universities. Note “African American”, not African-American. The “treasure trove” are not personal letters, they are typewritten applications, transcripts and letters of recommendation.

When Scheinman had trouble raising money, he turned to Senator John F Kennedy who coughed up $100k on the condition that the source not be disclosed. Running against anti-Communist Richard Nixon, that would have been a bombshell.

The Americans involved with AASP included Harry Belafonte, a friend of Paul Robeson, a trade union supporter who had traveled to the Soviet Union to discuss how Communism could help the civil rights movement. Most important was William X Scheinman, who introduced Mboya to Kennedy and after his death had his ashes flown to Africa for burial next to Mboya, who had been assisinated 30 years earlier in 1969.

Robeson campaigned for Henry Wallace in 1948, the closest we came to having a communist as President. Wallace had been Vice President under FDR, but as it was becoming clear FDR would not survive his fourth term, Democrats forced him from the ticket and he was replaced by Harry Truman. Wallace would challenge Truman in 1948 on the Progressive Party, but only got 2.4% of the vote.

Other people involved with AASP included Sidney Poitier, Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mboya, along with Thurgood Marshall, returned to Kenya to negotiate the terms of the British exit from Kenya, and would serve in the first post-British government formed in 1963.

If you are looking for the unknown person who opened doors for Barack Obama Jr, I’m pretty sure we just found him

(Note this profile is from the Hoover Institution)

Interestingly, Barack Obama Sr was the last person to talk to Mboya before he was assassinated. Undoubtedly, a coincidence.

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6 Responses to Who was Tom Mboya?

  1. haiti222 says:

    The difficulties in getting a quality education makes me realize how good America had it in the 20th century. I have met people from Sierra Leone and Haiti that both told me that the names of those who passed the High School Baccalaureate exam were read on the radio with people excitedly awaiting the results. The one from Sierra Leone was the top student that year, and a minor celebrity. He got an internship with Guinness, became a cabbie in Detroit, and eventually became a CPA.

    A story about someone I knew: He got scholarships to study Engineering in both East Germany and South Korea. He had the one track mind typical of many engineers. He was a socialist, a fervent Christian, and returned to do engineering in Jamaica. He was a stand-up and very moral individual. His wife left him and their child to come to America (she used his good immigration history that gave them both 10 year visas, as he always returned). He lived in a poorer neighborhood out of principle, and got robbed and tied up as a result (It was an inside job by the helper (child care)). He considered himself still married, as he did not know of or then recognize the divorce in the U.S., and they were getting back together when he died. She later went back again to settle his affairs, and discovered he did all of his engineering work in German.

    I took an Islamic studies elective in High School. The teacher was married to an Afghani, and was living in Kabul when the Soviets invaded. She told me that during the 70ś, she saw first-hand how the U.S. and the Soviets were always sponsoring ill thought-out projects to curry favor.

  2. haiti222 says:

    Mr. Mboya and his family are in this Life article:

    (Also ads for Bel Air and Raleigh cigarettes. The next article is about a 13 year old who trained Green Berets.)

    Kenya had less than 500 college graduates at independence.

    • Fred Stiening says:

      Barack Obama (Sr) made that point in his application. Kenya had no college or University, so students had to go elsewhere. Very few students could afford the plane fare, let alone the tuition. When Kennedy came forward, he insisted that the recruits be from other East African countries, not just Kenya.

      I was born in 1955, so by the time I was taking Geography in grade school, everything in the textbooks was wrong. Before satellite images, the interior areas of Africa were very vague. To a large degree, Africa didn’t matter.

  3. Fred Stiening says:

    Who is Cora Weiss might be a good sequel. There is little doubt the KGB was an integral part of this story…

  4. Fred Stiening says:

    Wordnet Daily makes a convincing case, Barack Obama’s understanding of how his father got to Hawaii was wrong


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