Former First Lady Michelle Obama has shared her sadness that her late father didn’t get to walk her down the aisle, after he died the year before her wedding to Barack.
Speaking at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Tuesday, Mrs Obama took to the stage with her older brother Craig Robinson, and the siblings described the loss of their ‘patriarchal’ father as ‘traumatic’.
The 55-year-old told host Isabel Wilkerson that marrying Barack Obama on October 3rd 1992 had been ‘bittersweet’.
When asked if it was a ‘beautiful day’, Mrs Obama signed and said ‘Yeah…it was a hard day’, adding: ‘My dad wasn’t there to walk me down the aisle. He had just passed. It was bittersweet and I was marrying the man that I loved – you know that guy Barack Obama – but Dad had died…’
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Michelle Obama (right) was accompanied by her brother, Craig Robinson (left), as she spoke at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Tuesday about the grief of losing her father, Fraser Robinson, to multiple sclerosis aged 55 in 1991
Describing their father as a ‘patriarch’ that family members would go to for comfort and solace, Michelle Obama said her October 1992 wedding to Barack Obama was ‘bittersweet’ and ‘hard’ without her father to walk her down the aisle (Pictured: Michelle Obama (right) sits on her mother Marian Robinson’s lap, while her dad Fraser holds her brother Craig. The family moved to the South Side of Chicago in the 1970s)
Michelle and Barack Obama pictured on their wedding day on October 3rd 1992. Michelle said of her nuptials: ‘I was marrying the man that I loved – you know that guy Barack Obama – but Dad had died…’
Mrs Obama then trailed off, asking brother Craig when exactly their father had passed, admitted that she had ‘blocked out the actual day’.
Fraser Robinson died at the age of 55 in 1991 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.
Her brother, a basketball coach and broadcaster, explained the family’s turmoil: ‘It was so traumatic when our Dad died. This dude was the epitome of dads in our mind.
He added: ‘He was sort of the patriarch. People went to him for advice and jokes and comfort and solace and all the things you go to a family patriarch for.’
Speaking about the siblings’ grief in the months after their father Fraser’s death, Robin said: ‘It was so hard that people would look at the sadness in me or my sister and their face would be sad looking at how sad we were. He had given us so much that helped us be where we were there and where we are now.’
Blessing: Michelle said she was comforted that her father Fraser has given Barack his blessing to marry his daughter before his death. The couple hosted the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago because it is where the ‘Obama Presidential Center’ will be built
Craig Robinson, 57, told the audience about the loss of their father, saying ‘It was so hard that people would look at the sadness in me or my sister and their face would be sad looking at how sad we were’ (Pictured: Michelle Obama and Craig Robinson at the Obama Foundation Summit)
During the speech, she also described how life was for her family – and other black families – when they moved to the South Side of Chicago in the 1970s, saying it was her first experience of ‘white flight’.
The former first lady spoke about her childhood and her life’s work at the the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Tuesday. She has compared her experience to what immigrant families in America now face daily.
She said she wanted to remind white people that they were running from ‘us’, and that they’re still running. She added that ‘artificial things’, like the color of a person’s skin and the texture of their hair, can divide countries.
Robinson said the siblings father had ‘given us so much that helped us be where we were there and where we are now’
‘As families like ours — upstanding families like ours who were doing everything we were supposed to do and better. As we moved in, white folks moved out because they were afraid of what our families represented,’ she said.
‘I always stop there when I talk about this out in the world because I want to remind white folks, ya’ll were running from us. This family. This family with all the values you read about, you were running from us.’
The 55-year-old added that her family was no different to immigrant families making a home for themselves in the US – and in particular, she referenced the area of Pilsen in Chicago, where a large number of Mexican immigrants have been settling in.
Former First lady Michelle Obama has spoken out about racism in America, comparing her experience of moving into a white neighborhood in Chicago to the same experience immigrants now face – all the white people move out
The Obamas in front of the White House during President Barack Obama’s second term in office. Michelle Obama said: ‘Being the first black First Family gave America and the world the opportunity to see the truth of who we are as black people’
The 55-year-old explained that because of this experience she had always felt a sense of injustice. Not just because of the racism, but because the families were ‘disinvesting’ in their community.
‘We were a part of creating… history, and a lot of people walked away from it, they disinvested. One by one, they packed their bags and they ran from us, and they left communities in shambles,’ she said.
‘There were no gang fights, there were no territorial battles but one by one they packed their bags and they ran from us.’
Michelle and Craig, pictured together as children, grew up in the city’s South Side with friends of all races, but the former first lady said it became clear white people started to move out of their neighborhood when they moved in
She explained that this was despite the fact the neighborhood at the time was multi-cultural, and that children of all races in the neighborhood were friends.
‘You know when people are running from you,’ she said.
‘I can’t make people not afraid of black people. I don’t know what’s going on, I can’t explain what’s happening in your head – but maybe if I show up every day as a human, a good human, maybe that work will pick away at the scabs of your discrimination.’
Former President Barack Obama kisses former first lady Michelle Obama on the cheek as they appear on stage together after the Obama Foundation Summit
Michelle Obama said that her parents gave her, and her brother, ‘unconditional love and a notion that our voices mattered’. She’s pictured here with Barack Obama
Michelle Obama – who was accompanied on stage in front of students and community activists at the Illinois Institute of Technology by her brother Craig Robinson – said that their parents had instilled in them a set of beliefs that helped counter the discrimination they felt.
‘What our parents gave us was unconditional love and a notion that our voices mattered and that our opinions counted, and that what we said and thought had meaning,’ she said.
And she added that when husband Barack Obama was elected president for the first time, and the family moved into the White House, it allowed people to look past those ‘artificial things’.
‘Being the first black First Family gave America and the world the opportunity to see the truth of who we are as black people,’ she said.
She added that ‘you can’t worry about the legacy while you’re in it. Let your truth speak for itself’.
Barack and Michelle Obama’s long history with Chicago extends to their children, Sasha and Malia, being born there
Michelle and Barack Obama were both speaking at the Illinois Institute of Technology where their three-day summit will feature talks by activists, including Ava DuVernay and singer Mavis Staples.
The summit is being held in the city as the couple outline their vision for the Obama Presidential Center.
The center is planned along the lakefront of Chicago’s South Side. It’s near where Obama started his political career and lived with his family.
The $500 million center is expected to house a public library branch, house multimedia collections and have community programs, among other things.
President Obama, 58, who opened the summit at a dinner on Monday, said the South Side was the right place for the couple’s post-White House foundation, and eventual presidential library.
‘It was natural for Michelle and I to say, ‘Well, we should do it in this place,’ where I became a man and where Michelle grew up, and where our children were born,” he said.