Another Presidential Connection

A large proportion of the students would subsequently assume leadership positions in government and the professions in their home countries. One of them was the future Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya. Another Kenyan, a brilliant 23-year-old named Barack Obama, was inspired by the 1959 airlift and made his own way to the University of Hawaii. The first African to study in Hawaii, Obama was supported in part by an AASF scholarship fund set up by Jackie Robinson. He graduated at the top of his class. At the university, he met and married an American student named Ann Dunham. Their son, Barack H. Obama Jr., was born on August 4, 1961.

The airlifts continued through 1963, eventually bringing more than 750 East African students to the United States.  Kenya would celebrate its independence in a ceremony on December 12, 1963, three weeks after President Kennedy's death. Tom Mboya went on to hold several senior ministry posts in the new Kenyan government, and many expected he would one day become the nation's leader. Tragically, he was assassinated in Nairobi in 1969.

[Note:   Portions of this article were based on information in Airlift to America by Tom Shachtman. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2009.]