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Sudbury native searching for truth about 'Obama' photo

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Jun 17, 2014 - 10:16 AM |
 Sudbury native Shaun Zia is seen here with a 1961 photo of his father, LU prof Abdul Zia (top row, second from right), and who he believes is United States President Barack Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr. (bottom row, left). Photo by Arron Pickard.

Sudbury native Shaun Zia is seen here with a 1961 photo of his father, LU prof Abdul Zia (top row, second from right), and who he believes is United States President Barack Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr. (bottom row, left). Photo by Arron Pickard.

1961 photo appears to show LU prof with U.S. president's dad

The black and white photo shows a group of seven young men and women posing outside, holding their books.

One of the people in the photo — taken in April 1961 at the University of Hawaii's East-West Center — is Abdul Zia, who went on to become one of Laurentian University's first history professors.

Zia's son, Shaun, found the photograph among his father's books and papers.

And while the photo is a nice memento of his father, that's not what piqued the younger Zia's interest in the image.

What captured his attention in the photo is a dark-skinned man he believes is United States President Barack Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr.

He bases this belief on cross-referencing photos of Obama Sr. on the Internet and the fact that his father, who passed away in 2003, and Obama Sr. attended the East-West Center at the same time.
 

The man Shaun Zia believes to be United States President Barack Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., is located in the bottom row, at the far left. Zia's father, the late Abdul Zia, is located in the top row, second from right.

The man Shaun Zia believes to be United States President Barack Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., is located in the bottom row, at the far left. Zia's father, the late Abdul Zia, is located in the top row, second from right.


“I hazard a guess they're leaving class — quite possibly they're leaving an exam,” Zia said. “I don't have the story because my father's dead, (President Obama's) father is dead, and I don't know who these other people are.”

The Center for Cultural and Technical Interchange Between East and West, commonly known as the East–West Center, is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific and the United States.

At the time the photo was taken, Abdul Zia was an Indian national who left his job as a history professor in Pakistan to attend the East-West Center. Obama Sr. was a Kenyan national who was studying economics at the school.

President Barack Obama later went on to write a book about his father, who abandoned him and his mother, Ann Dunham, when he was still an infant. Obama Sr. passed away as a result of a car crash in 1982.

Zia, now an electrical engineer in Montreal, said he found the photo last month while sorting through some of his late parents' belongings at a storage unit in Windsor, where he used to live.

He was in Sudbury recently to donate some of his father's files — including a copy of the “Obama” photo — to Laurentian's archives.

Zia said his next step is to write a letter to President Barack Obama to verify that it is, indeed, Obama Sr. in the photo.

“I'm not talking Microsoft Word, I'm talking an old-fashioned letter, which matches the era (when the photo was taken),” he said.

The “Obama” photo isn't the only connection Abdul Zia has with the White House.

Zia also has a photo of his father — who he said was the East-West Center's first student — participating in a groundbreaking ceremony at the educational institution with vice-president Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson.

He also has an invitation from President John Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, which asks Abdul Zia to attend a reception at the White House May 10, 1962.

Zia said he has less information about the invitation, but speculates his father must have somehow crossed paths with the Kennedys while doing research at the Library of Congress in Washington.

Learning more about his parents has become something of a passion for Zia. He said he thinks his father, as a historian, would have approved. “I am honouring my dad, in a sense, by digging up his history,” he said.

Anyone who may have information about the “Obama” photo is asked to email Zia at [email protected]

Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer

@heidi_ulrichsen

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