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On the unveiling of her official portrait, we feel it appropriate and timely to continue our tribute to Black History month with a hero who continues to make history. She has been nominated by more people than any other figure featured thus far on the #HistoryHero BLAST, second only in nominations to her husband, Barack Obama. Indeed, as incredible as her achievements are already, we're fairly certain she has yet to make her most indelible mark.
The descendant of slaves from the US state of South Carolina, Michelle Robinson was born on January 17, 1964, 101 years after President Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in the Unites States with the Emancipation Proclamation. Michelle grew up on Chicago's "South Side," which has been overwhelmingly African American since after the US Civil War (1861-645). That's when millions of freed black southern slaves pulled up stakes and headed north. With the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s, blacks received access to better education and jobs and became more upwardly mobile. The South Side lost population then, leaving a concentration of poor families. Many of its businesses and cultural amenities departed too as gang violence rose.
Michelle's parents understood the value of a good education. They enrolled Michelle in school in Chicago's more affluent North Side. It took nearly two hours to get to school each day. Despite the long trip, Michelle worked hard and quickly made the honor roll. She graduated as Whitney Young High School 1981 Class Salutatorian.
When it came time for her older brother Craig -- also a great student as well as a star basketball player -- to consider higher education, their father insisted that he try for the Ivy Leagues. Craig earned a place at Princeton University. But when Michelle expressed her desire to follow in her brother's footsteps, many teachers discouraged her. Even in the early 1980s, they had little faith that a black girl from Chicago's South Side had a chance at attending one of the top schools in the country.
Michelle's parents supported her ambition, however. She persevered and was admitted to Princeton, class of 1985. There were few other black students, however, and many of her classmates drove BMWs and had trust funds. At Princeton, Michelle often felt an outsider because of her race.
Determined to change the culture at Princeton, she worked as a tutor to minority students. She wrote her thesis on what it was like to be black at Princeton. After graduating in 1985, she attended Harvard Law School. While there, she authored an article protesting the exclusion of tenured black professors at the US's oldest university, stating the faculty distrusted black candidates and reinforced "racist and sexist stereotypes" in their hiring practices.
After graduating Harvard, Michelle returned to Chicago to work as a lawyer, determined to maintain her roots while still pursuing a career. In 1988, she mentored another young lawyer named Barack Obama. The two quickly connected over their mutual love of South Side Chicago and a mutual passion for community activism. In 1992, they married and she became Michelle Obama.
Barack Obama's political career has sometimes overshadowed Michelle's life of activism. In the 1990s, Michelle worked as an assistant to the Chicago mayor's office and as a founding Executive Director for Public Allies, a non-profit organization dedicated to young-adult leadership development. She achieved tremendous success in both roles, helping to build Public Allies into a national organization.
When Barack decided to enter politics, Michelle was incredulous. She liked having a private life and didn't want her family or her work to be disrupted. After a failed campaign in 2000, Barack finally convinced Michelle to support his 2008 run for the Presidency with a promise to her that he would quit smoking.
Once Barack was elected the 44th president of the United States, Michelle threw herself into the role of First Lady. While many previous First Lady's remained in the shadows, Michelle advocated for numerous causes, including nutrition reform in America's schools and helping homeless veterans, in addition to embracing her role a mother to two beautiful and talented young African-American girls. When Michelle was criticized, mostly from the right and often in veiled racist terms that depicted her as an "angry black woman," she maintained an honorable aura of calm and grace that disarmed many of her critics. As her years in the White House went by, she became extremely popular with both her political allies and enemies.
Michelle began to speak out more actively on the rights of LGBTQ citizens, especially after the 2011 repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell that had kept openly gay soldiers from serving in the military. In 2016, Michelle Obama's simple refrain, "when they go low, we go high," became the anthem of Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign, cementing Michelle's status as a spiritual leader of the Democratic Party and one of the most popular women in the nation.
Michelle Obama is truly a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero and one of our Top Ten "people to watch" in future. She is surely destined to achieve many more great things. As she has said herself...
Who's your #HistoryHero?
Message us (above) or tell us in the comments (below) and we'll let you know when we feature him or her on the #HistoryHero BLAST.