Madelyn Dunham

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Madelyn Dunham, Stanley and Ann

Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham (October 26, 1922 - November 2, 2008) was a retired bank vice president and the maternal grandmother to Barack Obama and his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. She was the widow of Stanley Armour Dunham. They had one daughter, Stanley Ann Dunham who was Barack’s and Maya's mother.


Early life and family

Madelyn Payne was born in Peru, Kansas. Later the family moved to Augusta, Kansas a town know for its oil drilling. Both of her parents were conservative Methodists. She was a good student and graduated from high school in 1940. [1] Madelyn met Stanley Dunham from the nearby town of El Dorado. They were secretly married on May 4, 1940 several weeks before Madelyn’s high school graduation.

Stanley enlisted in the Army in World War II and Madelyn went to work at the Boeing Company defense plant in Wichita. Their daughter Stanley Ann Dunham, named after her father, was born in November 1942. After the end of the war, the Dunhams both worked to make ends meet. Stanley Dunham ran a furniture store and Madelyn worked at restaurants.


From Kansas, the family moved to California, Texas, and in 1955 to Seattle, Washington where Stanley Dunham worked at the downtown Standard-Grunbaum Furniture store. A year later they moved to nearby Mercer Island to enroll their daughter at Mercer Island High School that had recently opened. Both parents would commute to Seattle; by this time Madelyn was an escrow officer at a bank. [2]

Mercer Island High School was a hotbed of radical indoctrination with ties to the Communist Party. Some parents protested the school’s politics, but not the Dunhams. They had abandoned their conservative religious ties and began attending a Unitarian church which the locals called ‘the little Red church on the hill.’


Madelyn Dunham attended the University of California-Berkeley and University of Washington but never obtained a degree. [3]


After Ann Dunham’s graduation the family moved to Hawaii where Stanley Dunham again found work in a furniture store. Madelyn joined the Bank of Hawaii. Their daughter, Ann, enrolled at the University of Hawaii where she meet Barack Obama, Sr. a Kenyan student who was six years older than Ann. They were allegedly married February 2, 1961 in Maui. No guests attended the ceremony. [4] According to Barack Obama’s memoir, the Dunhams reportedly were against the marriage. There is some question if this is true since the Obama memoir has been found to be an unreliable narrative. Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961. Two years later Obama, Sr. left to attend Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts abandoning Ann and his son.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright conrtoversy

In an attempt to handle the Rev. Jeremiah Wright racial controversy, Barack Obama gave a speech on race in which he said he could not disown Rev. Wright or his white grandmother who he accused of making racially insensitive remarks in the past.

"I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe." [5]

Senator Obama later tried to explain his remarks by saying he grandmother was a 'typical white person'.

".. The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity. She doesn't. But she is a typical white person who, uh, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know there's a reaction that's been been bred into our experiences that don't go away and that sometimes come out in the wrong way and that's just the nature of race in our society. We have to break through it..." [6]

Former colleagues of Madelyn Dunham found Obama’s remarks about her as shocking and inconsistent with the person they know. Madelyn Dunham died of cancer on November 3, 2008 on the eve of the 2008 presidential election.

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