The Obamas Embrace History With Enthusiasm For ’42


When President Barack Obama embraced Rachel Robinson, the 90-year-old widow of baseball legend Jackie Robinson on Tuesday, he did so as a man in a unique position to relate to her late husband’s story.

Few people get to break color barriers like Robinson did in baseball, let alone the White House, where 43 white men preceded Obama. According to a source who attended the intimate screening of the new film 42 for the cast, crew, guests, and the Robinson family in the East Wing’s private theater, Obama admitted to getting emotional as he and Michelle Obama watched the film depiction of the Robinsons’ odyssey through 1940's America. He praised its young star, Chadwick Boseman, who plays Robinson in the film, which depicts the baseball legend’s rise from the Negro Leagues, to a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and ultimately, to the Dodgers ball club in 1947.

Obama rarely speaks about the historical weight of his achievement in getting elected president — he’ll add flourishes during speeches on Martin Luther King Jr. Day or at his two inaugurals, which hint at his sense of what it means to him. But he rarely drops his guard on matters of race — and when he does, as when his friend, Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates was arrested by a Cambridge police officer after getting locked out of his home, or when he speculated on what his son might look like , the reaction from his political opponents — and the media — has been swift, and often damning.

Michelle Obama is less reticent on the topic — she has spoken movingly about Jacob Philadelphia, the young son of a staffer, for whom the president bent his six-foot-plus frame down low, so the black boy could touch his hair, assuring himself that it was the same texture as his own. She has talked about the importance of sharing the “ newness” of her and the president’s life and position in the White House with people — particularly children — who might not have imagined it. And she has spoken passionately about her life as a young girl from Chicago’s South Side, whose rise can be duplicated by every kid who is willing to dream.

And yet, both Obamas are keenly aware of the delicate dance required of a first black president who leads an entire country, not just the part that holds its breath with fraternal pride each time he takes a stage.


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