LISTEN: Before Obama Was President, In His Own Words On NPR NPR listeners first heard Barack Obama in the 1990s before he became a politician. Here are some of his earliest appearances as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review and as an activist.
NPR logo

LISTEN: Before Obama Was President, In His Own Words On NPR

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/509116533/509179957" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
LISTEN: Before Obama Was President, In His Own Words On NPR

LISTEN: Before Obama Was President, In His Own Words On NPR

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/509116533/509179957" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Ahead of the president's farewell speech tonight, we decided to look in the stacks of CDs where we keep our archives to find some of the earliest times we heard the name Barack Obama on NPR.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As you'll hear, we found tape of Obama when he was in his late 20s and early 30s, like in this interview on Morning Edition in 1990. Back then, Obama was at Harvard Law School.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BOB EDWARDS, BYLINE: The Harvard Law Review has a new president who may initiate significant changes in the publication. Barack Obama is the organization's first black president, and he has some definite ideas he wants to try.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Law reviews are notoriously bad bedtime reading, so making the writing more accessible, making it more interesting is a primary goal.

MCEVERS: At the time, Obama was 29 years old. He had worked for a few years as a community organizer in Chicago before going to Harvard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: Presidents of Harvard Law Review generally go on to serve as a clerk to a judge on a federal appeals court, then to a justice of the Supreme Court.

OBAMA: Right.

EDWARDS: That in your plans?

OBAMA: Well, you know, probably not, actually. I'm very interested in helping to rebuild inner city communities in the country. I'm very interested in figuring out ways to foster dialogue between the private sector and the public sector, between blacks and whites. Because of all those things, I think I'm more interested to go either back into community organizing or to go into government service or politics at some stage.

CORNISH: By the summer of 1992, Obama had gotten involved in politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JOHN HOCKENBERRY, BYLINE: On the line with me from Chicago is Barack Obama, who's the state director of Illinois Project Vote. Mr. Obama, good afternoon.

OBAMA: Good afternoon. How are you?

MCEVERS: That's from NPR's Talk of the Nation ahead of the 1992 presidential election. Obama was 30 years old and working on voter registration.

CORNISH: Even in the '90s, Obama was talking about getting people involved in politics and said voting alone wasn't enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

OBAMA: At some point, you're going to have to have leadership. You're going to have to have organizations. You're going to have to have political leaders giving people some sense that the debates about the issues are real, that they touch their lives, that they have some means of accessing the debate so that by the time an election comes about and voting comes about, people are already plugged in. They already feel invested.

MCEVERS: Another theme in these old recordings? Obama talking about race, like in this commentary for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED in 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

OBAMA: It's time for all of us - and now I'm talking about the larger American community - to acknowledge that we've never even come close to providing equal opportunity to the majority of black children.

CORNISH: Obama was criticizing the book "The Bell Curve," co-authored by Charles Murray. That book was controversial for the way it linked race, genetics and IQ. And Obama called it dubious science.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

OBAMA: Mr. Murray has apparently decided that white America is ready for a return to good old-fashioned racism so long as it's artfully packaged and can admit for exceptions like Colin Powell. It's easy to see the basis for Mr. Murray's calculations. After watching their incomes stagnate or decline over the past decade, the majority of Americans are in an ugly mood and deeply resent any advantages, real or perceived, that minorities may enjoy.

MCEVERS: Obama argued the country needed to invest in public schools and good paying jobs, and provide what he called real opportunity for black children.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

OBAMA: That we fail to make this investment is just plain stupid. It's not the result of an intellectual deficit. It's the result of a moral deficit.

NOAH ADAMS, BYLINE: Barack Obama. He's a civil rights lawyer and writer. He lives in Chicago.

CORNISH: That was from ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on October 28, 1994.

MCEVERS: After that, we heard from Obama more and more as he became a national figure. Exactly 14 years after that commentary aired, he was campaigning in Pennsylvania.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: If we are - if we see this kind of dedication on Election Day, there is no way that we're not going to bring change to America.

MCEVERS: He was one week away from being elected America's first black president.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FISHERMAN THREE AND BEN FRIES SONG, "THE REIGN OF NIGHT IS FINALLY OVER")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.