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Remembering the D.C. centenarian who went viral after dancing with President Obama

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When the late Virginia McLaurin was 105 years old, she made a wish.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VIRGINIA MCLAURIN: My name is Virginia McLaurin. I was born 1909 in Cheraw, S.C. I would love to meet you, President, 'cause I didn't think I'd ever live to see a colored president.

SHAPIRO: She was born to Black sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South, and the presidency of Barack Obama meant a lot to her. In early 2016, she got her wish and made her way to the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCLAURIN: Hi.

BARACK OBAMA: How are you?

MCLAURIN: Oh, fine.

OBAMA: Oh, it's so nice to see you.

MCLAURIN: It's an honor. It's an honor.

OBAMA: You want to say hi to Michelle?

MCLAURIN: Yes.

OBAMA: All right, now.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Love it. In the video of her encounter with the Obamas, she could hardly contain her excitement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: She's dancing. Come on. So what's the secret to still dancing at 107?

CHANG: That viral moment brought McLaurin something that she had never experienced in her first century of life - fame.

DEBORAH MENKART: After, you know, her visit to the White House, she really couldn't go anywhere that people didn't recognize her and would want to get their picture taken.

SHAPIRO: That's Deborah Menkart, a longtime friend and former neighbor of McLaurin. She says after McLaurin retired, she volunteered in the schools of Washington, D.C., where she had lived since about 1939.

MENKART: Miss Virginia is known for her volunteer work, but she was also outspoken about any injustices that she saw. And I think that also contributes to her long life and her exuberance is that she didn't hold back.

CHANG: McLaurin redirected her newfound attention to advocacy. Deborah Menkart says that voting was an especially important issue to her.

MENKART: She was very committed to voting, but she noted that she had not always been allowed to vote as an African American and that the moment she could exercise that right, she would, and she encouraged everyone else to.

CHANG: Having grown up with segregation and discrimination, she told NPR's Here & Now that the election of President Obama was especially meaningful.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MCLAURIN: I didn't think I would ever live to see a Black president. I didn't think I would ever live to get into the White House.

SHAPIRO: Virginia McLaurin died last Monday. Though she did not have a birth certificate, by her own accounting, she was 113 years old. On Twitter, Barack and Michelle Obama wrote, rest in peace, Virginia. We know you're up there dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.