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.