Former President Barack Obama has had many biographies written about him, but until this point, none of the works challenged the notion of Michelle being his first—and only—proposal.
But a new book written by David J. Garrow does just that.
Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, claims America’s first Black president proposed to another woman before asking Michelle LaVaughn Robinson to be his wife.
Garrow “tells us how Obama lived, and explores the calculations he made in the decades leading up to his winning the presidency,” the Chicago Tribune reports. “Garrow portrays Obama as a man who ruthlessly compartmentalized his existence; who believed early on that he was fated for greatness; and who made emotional sacrifices in the pursuit of a goal that must have seemed unlikely to everyone but him.”
In his book, Garrow also says the former POTUS lived with a woman in Chicago who he proposed to in the years before meeting Michelle. He says Oberlin College professor, Sheila Miyoshi Jager, had a long “drawn-out relationship with Obama” and rejected his proposal for marriage not once, but twice.
“In the winter of ’86, when we visited my parents, he asked me to marry him,” she reportedly told Garrow. “Not yet,” Sheila, who was two years Barack’s junior said, and the two stayed together.
The publication notes that according to Garrow, Obama “believed that he had a ‘calling,'” that was coupled “with a heightened awareness that to pursue it he had to fully identify as African-American.”
“The marriage discussions dragged on and on,” Sheila reportedly told Garrow and were fused with Obama’s “torment over this central issue of his life …race and identity” and that the “resolution of his Black identity was directly linked to his decision to pursue a political career.”
Garrow claims Obama asked Sheila to marry him before heading to Harvard Law School. At the time, she was heading to Seoul for dissertation research and resented the future president’s assumption that she’d forgo her dreams for his.
“Barack and Sheila had continued to see each other irregularly throughout the 1990-91 academic year, notwithstanding the deepening of Barack’s relationship with Michelle Robinson,” Garrow writes.
“I always felt bad about it,” Sheila told the author more than 20 years later. Once Barack and Michelle were married, Garrow claims Barack and Sheila only kept in contact through the occasional letter and phone call.
Okay. So basically what this author is saying that like many people, Barack Obama proposed to a woman that he did not end up marrying. The author also states that he married Michelle Obama for more political reasons, as opposed to marrying Sheila Miyoshi Jager, a White woman.
The entire time I’ve been reading up on this newfound information, I’ve been attempting to simultaneously understand why this is in fact news, and not an attempt to dispel the Black love that we’ve all come to adore and admire. If former President Obama decided that he needed to marry an African-American woman because it was his destiny, then guess what? It is his choice.
Barack and Michelle Obama may have made history by becoming the first Black couple to helm the White House, but they are still human beings. Their love for each other is absolutely undeniable.
How many times have we loved someone that we knew we could not be with? How many times have we attempted to make a relationship work, but the odds—and sometimes, even the one we love—were stacked against us? Sounds to me like Obama did not make as much of a political choice as he did a solid one, which was to move on with his life. After all, who wants to marry someone after they’ve rejected your proposal twice? That’s a sure-fire sign that they’re not on the same page as you regarding your relationship.
Barack and Michelle just announced they made a personal donation of $2 million to summer jobs programs in Chicago. That’s news. Details from a woman who rejected him years before he got married to the eventual love of his life is not.
Mr. Garrow, I get it. The man not only survived not one, but two presidential terms without a scandal. So I don’t blame you for trying to go there. But come on, do better and leave Barack and Michelle, a genuinely happy couple, alone because this is weak sauce.
Shantell E. Jamison is a senior editor for EBONY. She moderates various events centered on love, relationships, politics and wellness and has appeared on panels throughout the country. Her book, “Drive Yourself in the Right Direction” is available now. Keep up with Shantell via her website, Facebook, Twitter @Shantell_em and Instagram @Shantell_em.
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