Nine letters from a young Barack Obama to his college girlfriend are now on display at Emory University.
The letters, from the 1980s, are to Alexandra McNear, Obama’s girlfriend at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he attended college until his junior year before transferring to Columbia University.
The letters address a variety of topics including his racial identity, his career, and his relationship with McNear. “I think of you often, though I stay confused about my feelings,” Obama wrote to her. “It seems we will ever want what we cannot have; that’s what binds us; that’s what keeps us apart.”
In that same letter, from 1983, Obama wrote about a trip to Indonesia to visit his mother and sister.
“I can’t speak the language well anymore,” he wrote. “I’m treated with a mixture of puzzlement, deference and scorn because I’m American, my money and my plane ticket back to the U.S. overriding my blackness. I see old dim roads, rickety homes winding back towards the fields, old routes of mine, routes I no longer have access to.”
Addressing his career in a letter dated November 15, 1983, while he was working as a research assistant for the Business International Corporation, Obama wrote, “Salaries in the community organizations are too low to survive on right now … so I hope to work in some more conventional capacity for a year, allowing me to store up enough nuts to pursue those interests next.”
In 1985, Obama then followed up on that dream, moving to Chicago to begin work as a community activist on the city’s South Side.
The letters were obtained by Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library in Atlanta and will be available to the public.