When this pho­to came out a few years back, we post­ed it on BGLH, and now the sto­ry behind it has come to light in a New York Times arti­cle. Check it out:

By Jack­ie Calmes of The New York Times

For decades at the White House, pho­tographs of the pres­i­dent at work and at play have hung through­out the West Wing, and each print soon gives way to a more recent shot. But one pic­ture of Pres­i­dent Oba­ma remains after three years.

In the pho­to, Mr. Oba­ma looks to be bow­ing to a sharply dressed 5-year-old black boy, who stands erect beside the Oval Office desk, his arm raised to touch the president’s hair — to see if it feels like his. The image has struck so many White House aides and vis­i­tors that by pop­u­lar demand it stays put while oth­ers come and go.

As a can­di­date and as pres­i­dent, Mr. Oba­ma has avoid­ed dis­cussing race except in rare instances when he seemed to have lit­tle choice — respond­ing to the racial­ly incen­di­ary words of his for­mer pas­tor, for exam­ple, or to the fatal shoot­ing of an unarmed black teenager in Flori­da. Some black lead­ers crit­i­cize Mr. Oba­ma for not direct­ly address­ing young blacks or propos­ing poli­cies specif­i­cal­ly for them.

Yet the pho­to is tan­gi­ble evi­dence of what polls also show: Mr. Oba­ma remains a potent sym­bol for blacks, with a deep reser­voir of sup­port. As skit­tish as White House aides often are in dis­cussing race, they also clear­ly rev­el in the pow­er of their boss’s exam­ple.

The boy in the pic­ture is Jacob Philadel­phia of Columbia, Md. Three years ago this mon­th, his father, Carl­ton, a for­mer Marine, was leav­ing the White House staff after a two-year stint on the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil that began in the Bush admin­is­tra­tion. As depart­ing staff mem­bers often do, Mr. Philadel­phia asked for a fam­i­ly pho­tograph with Mr. Oba­ma.

When the pic­tures were tak­en and the fam­i­ly was about to leave, Mr. Philadel­phia told Mr. Oba­ma that his sons each had a ques­tion. In inter­views, he and his wife, Roseane, said they did not know what the boys would ask. The White House pho­tog­ra­pher, Pete Souza, was sur­prised, too, as the photo’s awk­ward com­po­si­tion attests: The par­ents’ heads are cut off; Jacob’s arm obscures his face; and his old­er broth­er, Isaac, is blur­ry.

Jacob spoke first.

“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Oba­ma, so qui­et­ly that the pres­i­dent asked him to speak again.

Jacob did, and Mr. Oba­ma replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for your­self?” He low­ered his head, lev­el with Jacob, who hes­i­tat­ed.

“Touch it, dude!” Mr. Oba­ma said.

As Jacob pat­ted the pres­i­den­tial crown, Mr. Souza snapped.

“So, what do you think?” Mr. Oba­ma asked.

“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said.

(Isaac, now 11, asked Mr. Oba­ma why he had elim­i­nat­ed the F-22 fight­er jet. Mr. Oba­ma said it cost too much, Isaac and his par­ents recount­ed.)

In keep­ing with a prac­tice of White House pho­tog­ra­phers back to Ger­ald R. Ford’s pres­i­den­cy, each week Mr. Souza picks new pho­tos for dis­play. That week, Jacob’s eas­i­ly made the cut.

“As a pho­tog­ra­pher, you know when you have a unique moment. But I didn’t real­ize the extent to which this one would take on a life of its own,” Mr. Souza said. “That one became an instant favorite of the staff. I think peo­ple are struck by the fact that the pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States was will­ing to bend down and let a lit­tle boy feel his head.”

David Axel­rod, Mr. Obama’s long­time advis­er, has a copy framed in his Chicago office. He said of Jacob, “Real­ly, what he was say­ing is, ‘Gee, you’re just like me.’ And it doesn’t take a big leap to think that child could be think­ing, ‘May­be I could be here some­day.’ This can be such a cyn­i­cal busi­ness, and then there are moments like that that just remind you that it’s worth it.”

A copy of the pho­to hangs in the Philadel­phia family’s liv­ing room with sev­er­al oth­ers tak­en that day. Mr. Philadel­phia, now in Afghanistan for the State Depart­ment, said: “It’s impor­tant for black chil­dren to see a black man as pres­i­dent. You can believe that any posi­tion is pos­si­ble to achieve if you see a black per­son in it.”

Jacob, now 8, said he indeed does want to be pres­i­dent. “Or a test pilot.”

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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29 Comments on "The Story Behind the Boy Who Touched President Obama’s Hair"

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Lena Scottu

I stopped read­ing after the ref­er­ence to ‘black boy’. I don’t think I’ve EVER read a sto­ry that said ‘nice­ly dressed 5 y/o white boy…” 

Do bet­ter

Rahm

B. Hus­sein was hop­ing that the boy want­ed to touch his publc hair.

Sandy

Does any­one recall this man is sup­pos­ed­ly only HALF black? So if his moth­er was Chi­ne­se or Japan­ese would he have been the first pres­i­dent of Africane­se or Eseafrica decent? Cute lit­tle boy.

Ned

Yes, we all real­ize that this president’s father was african, and what that means to Amer­i­cans of african descent…yet instead of acknowl­edg­ing this and mov­ing on, the most pro­pogan­dized lead­er in sev­en­ty years con­tin­ues the pub­lic­i­ty jun­ket and cam­paign because that’s all he’s real­ly capa­ble of.

Blondell Purl

Woah this weblog is excel­lent i love study­ing your arti­cles. Keep up the good paint­ings! You know, many indi­vid­u­als are hunt­ing round for this infor­ma­tion, you can help them great­ly.

chanela

if the lit­tle boy was white would peo­ple still think this was a cute tear jerk­er moment? just ask­ing cause nat­u­rals com­plain ALL the time about peo­ple ask­ing to touch their hair. : )

dana

Does any­one else not seem to notice or care when our sit­ting pres­i­dent is referred to as “Mr” by the media? It seems to be a sub­tle way of putting him down and not accord­ing him the prop­er respect he deserves. Even past pres­i­dents liv­ing and deceased main­tain the title “Pres­i­dent” out of respect for hav­ing held the office. I do not care how many syl­la­bles his name has, he will always be Pres­i­dent Oba­ma to me!!!

Natural girl

Awe­some! Yes some boys need to see suc­cess to be suc­cess­ful and men need moti­va­tion from the “have not men­tal­i­ty”. I can see the change in oppor­tu­ni­ties and offi­cials of col­or after Pres­i­dent Oba­ma elec­tion.

Natalie

The same thing hap­pened to my broth­er when he came to vis­it me in Japan, a Japan­ese man asked if he could touch my brother’s hair. I think it is great that some peo­ple are curi­ous like that and that Oba­ma encour­aged lit­tle Jacob to touch his hair, even in my own imme­di­ate fam­i­ly there are dif­fer­ent hair tex­tures, lit­tle Jacob seems to recog­nise this too.

Pamela Nicole

Awe­some post made my morn­ing for sure!Our Pres­i­dent is the bomb!!! oldie but goody! lol and what a lit­tle cutie!!!!

au napptural

I just awwwwww right out loud in the library! Cutest pic ever. I need a copy.

-_-

i love this pic­ture. it takes some­thing real­ly seri­ous and makes it super adorable x

B

This is my first time see­ing the pho­to and its very mov­ing!

gracie

Yes! I’m British and nev­er saw this pho­to before. See­ing it this morn­ing and read­ing the arti­cle I shed a few tears at my lap­top. Thanks for post­ing it.

InNARA2

Me too.… I have nev­er seen this pho­to.

MsMonaAKA

+1

merry

i under­stood what was going on in the pho­to with­out even need­ing to read the sto­ry.

it just goes to show how hair real­ly is an iden­ti­fier of “black­ness,” despite what peo­ple claim.

B

I dont think hair is “an iden­ti­fier of black­ness” but OUR HAIR is dif­fer­ent then any oth­er group of peo­ple, blacks are the only group whose hair is NATURALLY curly, wavy, kinky, coily or nap­py and no oth­er eth­nic groups hair is like ours…

Rahm

My pubes are!

merry

“blacks are the only group whose hair is NATURALLY curly, wavy, kinky, coily or nap­py and no oth­er eth­nic groups hair is like ours…”

you just proved my point…

and that lit­tle boy would dis­agree with you. he want­ed to see if that man had black in him, cuz a true negro would have some degree of kink in his hair — that’s what that lit­tle boy was think­ing — is he real­ly me?

touch­ing the hair proved it.

boy was prob­a­bly like, dang, he is a negro. i didn’t believe it before, but now i real­ly do. i touched the hair. lmao.

anastasia

Mer­ry, hey lady! I’m always feel­in’ your words too! =) Enjoy your week­end!

merry

awwww. you too.

Zoopath

+1

anastasia
One of my favorite pics of POTUS!! Oth­er favorites include: gaz­ing at FLOTUS with so much love in his eyes, play­ing with the kids, or sit­ting with his cab­i­net look­ing so calm, cool, and col­lect­ed! =) Love this sto­ry and I can only imag­ine how this may trans­late pos­i­tive­ly into this child’s psy­che. “Black” male and female rep­re­sen­ta­tions in posi­tions of pow­er and sta­tus mat­ter in iden­ti­ty for­ma­tion for chil­dren of the African dias­po­ra. We cer­tain­ly know oth­er so-called ‘races’ can cer­tain­ly relate to their ‘fic­tive kin’, and we see and read this when peo­ple assume blacks have done lit­tle… Read more »
Annie L.

+ 1,000,000,000,000,000

The lead­er of the free world — my good­ness! I am always warmed by our president’s abil­i­ty to exude his over­whelm­ing human­i­ty and enor­mous charm. 

I’m also dis­traught at the ‘his­tor­i­cal era­sure’ of amaz­ing Black inno­va­tion in art, sci­ence, pol­i­tics, law and eco­nom­ics. I grew up with Ency­clo­pe­dia Britannica’s ‘The Negro in Amer­i­can His­to­ry’ vols. I-III and feel as if this knowl­edge has been buried from view of gen­er­a­tions of Black peo­ple around the world and their acces­si­bil­i­ty to a wealth of iden­ti­fi­able for­bears.

Jacob is soooo cute!

anastasia

O, Annie-I want­ed to say I 1000% agree w/ your state­ment regard­ing knowl­edge and every­thing else. I had some­thing writ­ten out, but my lap­top keeps kick­ing me off-line leav­ing me lit­tle time to expand on what I want­ed to say. =/ 

Cheers all!

Annie L.

Much thanks anas­tasia!

I’m always nod­ding with and high-fiv­ing your posts too, Lol! It’s so amaz­ing our lit­tle com­mu­ni­ty and how much I’m used to feel­ing like I know every­one :) Enjoy the rest of this h-o-t week­end all!

anastasia

Annie L, you’re my type of lady!! Love to read what you have to say! 

Enjoy your week­end=)

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