In the spirit of President and Mrs. Obama’s belief that change happens from the bottom up, we hosted community events in Chicago, Iowa, and Hawaiʻi to discover some of the objects that will inform the Museum’s collection and to hear the stories of the people who held onto them.
When the Obama Presidential Center opens on the South Side of Chicago, the core exhibit galleries of the museum will emphasize the grassroots nature of President Obama’s path to the presidency within the larger context of American democracy.
Check out some of the wonderful objects and stories we’ve discovered so far.
Des Moines, IA
In 2004, Nancy Bobo first witnessed the potential of political convention accessories. It inspired her to create a signature accessory of her own for 2008: the corn hat.
As an early support Barack Obama, Nancy wanted a hat that was more than a fashion statement—she wanted one that “represented all of what Iowa did to lead to President Obama’s presidency." It opened the door for her to speak about his caucus win in Iowa and the momentum he carried on his way to the White House.
“It shows the evolution of Barack Obama from a community organizer to a Senator to President.” Lazerick Vaughen hung onto four of these yard signs for years, keeping them in his home attic in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.
“Knowing that President Obama’s values have been curated and cultivated by the diversity here in Hawaiʻi couldn’t make us prouder.”
Kealoha Fox is one of 200 changemakers in our Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific program, but that wasn’t her first encounter with the Obama network. In 2013, Kealoha was a part of the Hawaiʻi state delegation for President Obama’s second inauguration—and entering the third trimester of her pregnancy. The lei hulu, or neck garland, that incorporates the Obama rising sun motif is a cherished possession from that time, as is the t-shirt her son (pictured) is now big enough to wear.
“A hush came over the crowd. Everyone was just silent." On November 4th, 2008, President Obama delivered a victory speech in Grant Park to over 200,000 people. Chicagoan Marieth Mitchell and her husband James were there, and after hugging strangers and cheering with the crowd, wanted a way to hold on to that moment. As Marieth left the park, her husband encouraged her to grab this t-shirt from a street vendor. It became her reminder of the bated breath the city held that night, the hope she experienced, and the history she felt she was part of once she learned America had elected its first black President.
Des Moines, IA
"It was cold a lot of times, but you’d get out there and do what you needed to do because we knew how important it was." During the 2007 campaign, Kimberly Reed of Des Moines, Iowa, did everything she could to elect President Obama—whether it was registering voters, making phone calls, or canvassing.
Now, the handmade sign from a rally at Drake University that was signed by President Obama himself, connects her to the energy of that moment in time: "The sign makes me feel the excitement again."
As a school teacher-librarian, Diane Nelson shares these colorful Obama Easter Eggs with her students to teach them about the former first family. “Everything they did and worked on was so important to our country and to the world, and so just knowing about the Obamas and remembering the Obamas in the White House is an important part of our history.”
When we asked Chicagoans to share an Obama Keepsake with us, Mike Smith of the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side walked in wearing his. While working on President Obama's campaigns, Mike added buttons, signs and stickers to his jacket. “It’s history. This is a timeline. This piece, this jacket itself is 15 years old, and has been used on the campaign trail for every level of his political career.”
“It’s a native Hawaiian fish named after our native Hawaiian president. We just felt it was appropriate.”
When coral reef fish expert Richard Pyle went on an expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands—a cluster of tiny islands and surrounding area that the Obama administration would go on to make the largest protected marine area on Earth—he spotted what he assumed was a common pink fish until he noticed a spot on its back that resembled the Obama campaign rising sun logo.
What started as a joke about naming this newly discovered species of fish after President Obama quickly became a visit to Midway Atoll to ask for his permission to do just that. To Richard, the Tosanoides obama species name is “something that [President Obama] legitimately earned by his actions in protecting the only place on Earth where the species can be found.”
For Pier Smith of the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, this purse is more than a fashion statement—it's a reminder of the Obama's impact on popular culture. "You cannot look at them and not see how much style and elegance they brought."
Des Moines, IA
Jordan Oster’s meaningful object isn’t only a reminder of one of his greatest adventures, but of his part in the journey to elect President Obama.
After supporting the caucus and 2008 campaigns, Jordan went abroad to teach English in China. It was then that President Obama came to visit: "I saw these news posters pop up all over newsstands in the city. I knew I had to add one to my collection."
Today, the poster reminds him of the optimism he felt, his adventure in China, and his time on the campaign trail.
When Ghian Foreman and his wife look at the metro pass cards they held onto from President Obama's second inauguration, they think of the last time Ghian carried his daughter on his shoulders. “I had to have her see this momentous occasion.” It’s these items in their Obama keepsake collection, along with tickets to the inaugural parade in 2009, that remind them of how much the first family meant to them and so many others.
What started as a passion for baseball stats became a meaningful object for David Cihla. After a 2007 campaign event, David created the Barack-O-Meter to hand out to other Obama supporters. It tracked poll numbers, election returns, or other pertinent pieces of data.
For David, the Barack-O-Meter became a way to break the ice at campaign events. And today, they remind him "of all the wonderful folks we met during President Obama’s campaign and presidency, and the collective passion when we all work towards a common goal."
This is just the beginning. Right now, we're looking for materials related to the Obama Presidency and Administration. Learn more about how you can contribute to the collection of artifacts we’re building for the Obama Presidential Center Museum.