Michelle Obama Dreamed of Living in a House With Stairs — Why Her Father Said No

Michelle Obama lived in the White House for eight years as the first lady to President Barack Obama. Growing up, she wanted to live in a home with stairs so she finally got a house with lots of stairs. Obama told the story of why she wanted stairs, but also why her father, Fraser C. Robinson III, decided not to move them out of the South Side of Chicago.

Michelle Obama | Michael Parmelee/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The Michelle Obama Podcast launched July 29 on Spotify. During her first podcast, in which her guest was Barack Obama, the former first lady discussed her own complicated relationship with stairs.

Michelle Obama remembers the push to move to the suburbs

The former first lady has spoken about “white flight,” when White people left integrated neighborhoods to form their own predominantly White suburbs. She said moving to the suburbs was also possible for her family, too.

“I write in my book about white flight but the truth is later on down the line, in the ’80s or so as Black folks earned more money and got professions, the dream was to move to the suburbs,” Obama said. “That was the dream of middle class Black folks, too.”

Not the Robinsons, though.

“My parents were uniquely stubborn about the suburbs,” Obama said. “Number one, my father never wanted to be house poor.”

Why stairs meant so much to Michelle Obama

One of the downsides of living on the South Side is that most homes were one level. So, young Michelle Robinson felt a little crowded

“There were times when they talked about buying a home and I remember going to look at some homes and being excited about ooh, I’m going to have my own room,” Obama said. “I was obsessed with having stairs in your house along with a station wagon. I said, ‘Maybe we’re going to have an upstairs.’ I distinctly remember that I wanted some stairs and a station wagon.’”

Michelle Obama and Barack Obama
Barack Michelle Obama | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Television sitcoms also fueled her dream of stairs. Shows like Leave It to Beaver, The Brady Bunch and The Patrdige Family made her think a home with stairs meant you’d made it.

“That’s some Cleaver success,” Obama said. “Everybody had stairs. The Brady Bunch had stairs, The Partridge Family. Only people who didn’t have stairs was The Jeffersons and the Evans family [from Good Times], and the Robinsons. I thought, ‘I want some stairs.’”

Why Fraser C. Robinson III said no to stairs

Robinson had reasons for staying on the South Side. Owning a house with stairs didn’t outweigh those advantages.

“My parents looked and my dad crunched the numbers,” Obama said. “He said, ‘If I’m putting all my money into a mortgage then we’re not going to be able to go on vacation and I’m not going to be able to save for your college. Who cares about stairs?/ We grew up in the city and this is just fine. You need to learn how to live in the city.”

Michelle Obama BET Awards
Michelle Obama | BET Awards 2020/Getty Images

Obama shared stories of racist attacks that discouraged the Robinsons from leaving their community.

“My father was suspicious of the suburbs because they ewren’t completely welcoming,” Obama said. “We had had incidents of going into the suburbs of Park Forest that were all White. I wrote about the incident where someone scratched my father’s car because we were Black folks in a neighborhood. I think they probably felt a level of safety and security staying in a neighborhood that was surrounded by our extended family.”