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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Michelle Obama's College Roommate: "I Was Horrified" To Live With A Black Person

Georgian recalls rooming with Michelle Obama

Catherine Donnelly shopped at Kmart, settled into her dorm room and soaked up the Gothic stone buildings where, over the next four years, she would grow into her own woman.

But her first day at Princeton held a surprise, too. And Donnelly knew it would mean confronting the past.

She walked into the historic Nassau Inn that evening and delivered the news to her mother, Alice Brown. "I was horrified," recalled Brown, who had driven her daughter up from New Orleans. Brown stormed down to the campus housing office and demanded Donnelly be moved to another room.

The reason: One of her roommates was black.

"I told them we weren't used to living with black people — Catherine is from the South," Brown said. "They probably thought I was crazy."

Today both Donnelly, an Atlanta attorney, and Brown, a retired schoolteacher living in the North Carolina mountains, look back at that time with regret. Like many Americans, they've built new perceptions of race on top of a foundation cracked by prejudices past — and present. Yet they rarely speak of the subject.

Barack Obama's run for president changed that. When the Democratic senator from Illinois invited more dialogue on race last month, Donnelly and Brown, both lifetime Republicans, were ready.

But their willingness to talk isn't a response to the candidate born to a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya. It's more about Obama's wife, Michelle.

She's that roommate from a quarter century ago.

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