David J. Garrow, who won a Pulitzer for his Martin Luther King, Jr. biography, has published a new biography of President Barack Obama called Rising Star. In it are some fascinating pieces of information about the former President's love life. The Washington Post reports that, "He shares for the first time the story of a woman Obama lived with and loved in Chicago, in the years before he met Michelle, and whom he asked to marry him. Sheila Miyoshi Jager, now a professor at Oberlin College, is a recurring presence in 'Rising Star,' and her pained, drawn-out relationship with Obama informs both his will to rise in politics and the trade-offs he deems necessary to do so."
See Sheila Miyoshi Jager (left) in the below tweet:
Apparently the couple met in Chicago, lived together, and even met each other's parents. “In the winter of ‘86, when we visited my parents, he asked me to marry him,” she told the biographer. Her parents were fine with Barack being black, though -- according to family friends, they considered Barack basically “a white, middle-class kid.” Sheila's mother believed her 23-year-old daughter was too young to marry. They stayed together, but when Barack was 25 he became more ambitious. "I remember very clearly when this transformation happened, and I remember very specifically that by 1987, about a year into our relationship, he already had his sights on becoming president.” Garrow writes that this desire was “coupled with a heightened awareness that to pursue it he had to fully identify as African American.”
Why? Because "for black politicians in Chicago, he writes, a non-African-American spouse could be a liability." In other words, it seems that Obama broke up with the woman because of her race. This breakup seems to have been a bellwether of the racial polarization to come.
Barack soon met Michelle Robinson, but that didn't stop him from seeing Sheila. "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 wrote. Thaaat's probably why Obama didn't mention her in his other books (Jager was, along with other girlfriends, shaped into a composite character). "I always felt bad about it," Sheila said of her second relationship with Barack.
The book paints a portrait of a very ambitious young man who wasn't going to let anything stand in his way. “While the crucible of self-creation had produced an ironclad will," Garrow wrote, "the vessel was hollow at its core.”
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore on Flickr