February 23, 2010 African Student Airlift to America Subject of Book Talk at the Library of Congress on March 12

Event Marks 50th Anniversary of Library’s African Section

Press Contact: Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022
Public Contact: Laverne Page (202) 707-1979

A series of airlifts from East Africa (1959-1963) helped students such as environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Wangari Maathai, Barack Obama’s father (a former Kenyan government economist) and more than 700 others study at American and Canadian colleges, universities and high schools. Many of those students returned home to a post-colonial, independent East Africa and became nation-builders – cabinet ministers, members of parliaments, founders of clinics and schools. Coordinated by the African American Students Foundation (AASF), the airlifts were made possible in 1959 by a fundraising effort led by such notables as Jackie Robinson, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, and by a large grant in 1960 from the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation. Collected by former Executive Director Cora Weiss and donated to the Michigan State University Libraries, the archives of AASF have made it possible for author Tom Shachtman to write “Airlift to America: How Barack Obama Sr., John F Kennedy, Tom Mboya and 800 East African Students Changed Their World and Ours,” published by St. Martin’s Press. Weiss and Shachtman will discuss the book and the AASF at the Library of Congress at noon on Friday, March 12, in the Whittall Pavilion, located on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building at 10 First Street S.E., Washington, D.C.

The event, which is sponsored by the African Section of the Librarys African and Middle Eastern Division, is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.

Shachtman is a filmmaker, educator and author of more than 30 non-fiction books. He has produced and directed documentaries for major television networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS.

The airlifts to America were conceived by Kenyan trade unionist and statesman Tom Mboya and William X. Scheinman, a young American entrepreneur and jazz aficionado. The African American Students Foundation was founded and run by Scheinman, along with a Board of Directors that included Cora Weiss, Theodore W. Kheel, George Houser, Frank Montero, Mrs. Ralph Bunche, Buell Gallagher, Jackie Robinson, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. Weiss donated the AASF materials to the African Activist Archive in Special Collections at Michigan State University Libraries.

The Library’s African Section was established in 1960 as part of the General Reference and Bibliography Division. This is one of a series of events that will mark the section’s 50th anniversary year. In 1978, a reorganization established the African and Middle Eastern Division, comprising the African, Hebraic and Near East Sections. Together they cover some 78 countries and regions from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to Central Asia. For more information about the division and its holdings, go to www.loc.gov/rr/amed/.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at myLOC.gov.


PR 10-038
ISSN 0731-3527