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Sarah Obama (2021), matriarch of Barack Obama’s family

by Linnea Crowther

Sarah Obama was an educator and philanthropist who was President Barack Obama’s step-grandmother and the matriarch of his African family.

Suddenly in the spotlight

Born around 1920 or 1921 – records were not kept at the time and she was unsure of the date – Obama lived her whole life in Kenya. She was the third wife of President Obama’s grandfather, and though they weren’t blood relations, she and the former president formed a bond after they met in the 1980s. He came to call her “Granny Sarah,” and when he became president, she attended his first inauguration and received widespread attention. She spoke out in defense of her step-grandson in the face of accusations from his detractors about his place of birth and religion. Later, she formed the Mama Sarah Education Foundation to support a school in her village and the education of local girls.

Obama on her foundation

“I help the orphans and widows, especially the young girls who have been orphaned by their parents dying of H.I.V. I am their sole parent right now, so I help pay school fees and also get them the things they need, like sanitary towels, books, necessities like a pencil, school uniforms. That’s what I do.” —from a 2014 interview with NPR

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Tributes to Sarah Obama

Full obituary: The New York Times

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