Barack Obama: The Story
By David Maraniss


"The BSO [Black Students Organization] gathered on the first floor of Hartley Hall, in the Malcolm X Lounge, where the walls were lined with pictures of famous black leaders. Greg Smith, a premed student from Lexington, Massachusetts, who arrived the same year as Obama, called the lounge "a little oasis, a getaway, like 'I don't have to explain myself, I don't have to prove anything.' You learn as an African American in an Ivy League school, you learn to speak two languages.  This probably relates to Obama his whole life. You learn to be bilingual when you're in there and you're talking about the philosophy of Aristotle or Kierkegaard and you want to make erudite explanations of symbolism in the world...  and then you want to let your hair down and say, 'Yo, wassup? I'm still in New York, Be chill.  Where you gonna be hanging? Let me tell you what these crazy people did to me today."  Derek Hawkins, a varsity basketball player from South Jamaica, Queens, sometimes served as the deejay at parties there, spinning "club music, R&B, Evelyn 'Champagne' King, early rap, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow."

Wayne P. Weddington III, who came to Columbia College from Central High in Philadelphia, remembered seeing Obarna at meetings and parties in the Malcolm X Lounge.  He described Obama's personality then as "very island mentality... always smiling, nice guy," but also thought of him as 'a mature, engaged, cerebral, responsible guy."  He recalled that Obama would stay late at BSO meetings to talk about life and politics; Weddington would flee early. Weddington was more social, less serious, and not above making fun of Obama's name. At parties, he would shout buh-ROCK OBAMA like the bray of a horn.  At the time, Weddington recalled, Obama was pursuing a black woman from Barnard ("she had green eyes; she was very pretty") who was one of the leaders of the BSO. "It was kind of hard to carry on those things without people knowing," he said. But Obama never took a lead role with the group, and did not make much of a mark beyond Weddington's memory...."


Reprinted with permission from "Barack Obama: The Story" by David Maraniss, Copyright  © 2012.