Fraser and Marian Robinson raised the former first lady in Chicago
Michelle Obama's parents, Fraser and Marian Robinson, married in 1960 and raised the former first lady and her brother Craig in Chicago’s South Side, not far from where they each grew up.
Michelle has openly praised both of her parents over the years, especially her father, who died in 1991, before she and former president Barack Obama married. Ahead of Father’s Day in 2021, she shared a photo of herself with her parents on Instagram and captioned it, “My father gave great advice, taught me the value of hard work, encouraged me to ask questions, and always gave me the space to do so. I always thought he was so cool — just look at this photo!”
Michelle has also been effusive in praise and gratitude for her mother. In a 2019 essay for Mother’s Day, she credited her mother with being “willing to endure endless questioning from me,” and explained, “She and my father, Fraser, were wholly invested in their children, pouring a deep and durable foundation of goodness and honesty, of right and wrong, into my brother and me. After that, they simply let us be ourselves.”
Here is a look at the lives of Michelle Obama’s parents, Fraser and Marian Robinson.
Fraser and Marian both grew up in Chicago
According to Hello! Magazine, Fraser and Marian grew up in Chicago’s South Side, the same area where they would go on to raise their two children, Craig and Michelle, together. Fraser was born in 1935, and Marian was born a few years later in 1937.
In 2022, Michelle told Chicago’s ABC 7 that the foundation her parents gave her and her brother in Chicago has influenced every part of her life. She said, “We were poor. We lived in a small house, but what they gave us was a feeling of importance, a belief that our voices mattered at a very young age, a sense of understanding, of pushing through, resilience.”
Fraser and Marian did not finish college
Both Fraser and Marian did not finish college, as Marian dropped out and Fraser left school to get a job and help support his younger brother, according to Oprah.com. Both Michelle and Craig were smart children who even skipped second grade and ended up going to Princeton.
While hosting the “Beating the Odds” event at the White House in July 2016, Michelle told the room of college-bound students, “My parents didn’t go to college, and I was one of those kids who was not picked out by my counselors to go to some of the top schools.”
“In fact, when I applied to my alma mater, Princeton, when I was in high school, my counselor told me I was reaching too high,” she added.
Fraser was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 30
Things for the Robinson family changed when Fraser was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 30. As reported by Life in Spite of MS, even though he had to battle the unpredictable disease, Fraser showed up at his job at a water filtration plant nearly every day.
Michelle previously posted about her dad’s experience with MS on Instagram in November 2022. She wrote in part that her father’s health battles were hard, but that she also learned how to keep going no matter what, adding, “He used to say, ‘You fall, you get back up, you carry on,’ and he showed me that it was okay to lean on something or someone in order to make it through life.”
Fraser was politically active
Perhaps it comes as on surprised that Fraser and Marian were both politically engaged and active throughout Michelle’s youth. While speaking at the “REVOLT x Michelle Obama: The Cross Generational Conversation” event in 2022, Michelle spoke about her father’s past as a precinct captain for the Democratic Party.
She said, “That is the power of what a working-class Black man can do in the world, which is why I don't want any Black man out here to think that they don't have something to offer their kids.”
Fraser died before Michelle and Barack Obama married
Fraser died a year and a half before Michelle married husband Barack. He was 55 years old at the time of his death in 1991, and was buried not far from his home in Chicago.
In her book Becoming, Michelle wrote about the aftermath of her father’s death. She explained, “It hurts to live after someone has died. It just does. It can hurt to walk down a hallway or open the fridge. It hurts to put on a pair of socks, to brush your teeth.”
She also shared that her dad didn’t necessarily think she and Barack would make it to the altar because of how her previous relationships had ended. As she put it, “My father appreciated Barack instantly, but still didn’t like his odds.”
Marian lived in the White House
In January 2009, the New York Times announced that Marian would be moving into the White House with her daughter and Barack. On one hand, the move made sense, especially as Marian was instrumental in the lives of her granddaughters Sasha and Malia.
But on the other hand, the move was a new experience that Marian wasn’t sure she was ready for. As she told the outlet, having lived in Chicago her entire life meant that this shift would definitely be a departure. She said, “In the end, in the end, I’ll do whatever. I might fuss a little, but I’ll be there.”
A spokesperson for the White House later clarified that Marian only planned to live in the presidential home temporarily. She told PEOPLE after the 2008 election, “I love those people, but I love my own house. The White House reminds me of a museum, and it’s like, how do you sleep in a museum?”
Fraser and Marian focused on success with their kids
In 2012, Marian wrote an essay for Essence about her time living in the White House. While reflecting on how much she loved being there for her granddaughters and her daughter, she also looked back on the lessons that she and Fraser instilled in Michelle and her brother Craig.
As she told the outlet, the pair always tried to teach their children that a stumbling block is little more than that – a temporary barrier to your goals. As she put it, “We’d tell them that everybody goes through trials and tribulations, and the people who succeed are the ones who say, 'Okay, that’s just a snag,' and keep on going.”
Michelle says Marian raised her to be competent
Michelle told NPR that Marian gave both of her children alarm clocks when they began school at 5 years old, and the former first lady added that her mother “knew that we were capable of getting ourselves up. She wanted us to feel the power of our competence.”
Marian also encouraged her children to walk themselves to school from a young age, and Michelle noted that her mom “required us to be independent.”
For the author and public speaker, this instilled trust and courage. As Michelle said, “And what that does for a kid - when your parent trust you, it encourages you. It tells you that if my mom thinks I can do this, that I must be capable."
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