May 25, 2012



The above photo has easily become one of the most iconic images from the Obama presidency.  The picture, taken in 2009, features then 5 year old Jacob Philadelphia touching the head of President Obama. 

Jacob was visiting the White House with his father, a former Marine who was leaving his 2-year stint working for the National Security Council as part of the White House staff.  As departing staff members often do, Mr. Philadelphia asked for a family photograph with Mr. Obama. 

It was during that visit that Jacob asked the President a question.

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

Here's how the New York Times reported the story:

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.

2 comments:

  1. Just curious...what prompted the NYT to write an article about this considering it is not a new photo? I appreciate the reminder. I think the photo is adorable and speaks volumes. Need to copy it for myself.

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  2. I would like to know also. Anyway, since the President is keeping some of the gray in his hair, that question probably won't come up again -- at least from a child's perspective - gray hair = elder, grandpa, grandma :-)

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