Virginia McLaurin’s life isn’t easy. Last winter, she battled bedbugs in her D.C. apartment. This year, snowstorm “Snowzilla” trapped her inside for several days.
With the leader of the free world in one hand and Michelle Obama in the other, McLaurin danced with sheer and utter joy, shaking her hips like a 16-year-old and flashing a smile as bright as the camera flashes going off all around her.
“She’s 106?” the president asked incredulously.
“No, you are not,” scoffed the first lady, before adding: “I want to be like you when I grow up.”
The uplifting moment was also heavy with history, though. After her super-senior shuffle, McLaurin suddenly got serious.
“I thought I would never live to get in the White House,” said McLaurin, who was born in 1909 in South Carolina, worked as a seamstress for most of her life and has been a widow for more than 70 years.
But her amazement went beyond merely making it inside the hallowed building. She was particularly bowled over to be meeting America’s first African American president.
“I tell you, I am so happy,” she said, looking up at Obama before turning to the first lady. “A black president, yay, and his black wife.”
McLaurin said she was there to celebrate Black History Month.
A video of the moving encounter was uploaded to the White House’s Facebook page on Sunday evening and immediately went viral — with nearly 9 million views, roughly 282,000 likes and roughly 223,000 shares in less than 5 hours.
Commenters marveled at all that McLaurin had seen in her 106 years and all that she and her country had endured during that time.
“She lived to see two world wars, the height of racial segregation and finally an elected black president,” wrote Alexandre Meister, before adding a parenthetical: “Hugs from Brazil.”
And when one commenter said those praising the video were “sick,” she was quickly overwhelmed by supporters.
“That woman saw children hanging from trees because of their color, so to see President Obama is a thrill,” replied one woman. “If you don’t get it, it’s ok, but still your tongue until you do.”
The dance party in the White House’s Blue Room was the culmination of more than a year of social media campaigns.
In December 2014, McLaurin submitted a petition to the White House asking to meet with the president.
“I’ve never met a President,” she wrote. “I didn’t think I would live to see a Colored President because I was born in the South and didn’t think it would happen. I am so happy and I would love to meet you and your family if I could.
“I remember the times before President Hoover. I remember when we didn’t have any electricity. I had a kerosene lamp. I remember the first car model Ford,” she said. “My husband was in the Army. I lost my husband in 1941. I’ve been in DC ever since. I was living here when Martin Luther King was killed.
“I know you are a busy man, but I wish I could meet you,” she concluded, offering to “come to your house to make things easier.”
And that’s just what she did one day last week after the Obamas apparently responded to her letter.
McLaurin cackled with glee as soon as she caught sight of the president.
“Hi,” she said. “It’s an honor. It’s an honor.”
“Slow down now, don’t go too quick,” Obama joked as McLaurin shuffled across the room to meet Michelle Obama.
“She’s dancing,” the president said with a laugh. “So what’s the secret to still dancing at 106?”
Instead of answering, McLaurin simply showed off her moves, earning laughter and squeals of delight from the Obamas.
The memorable moment was not out of character for McLaurin.
“She has a flirtatious spirit and is a pure joy to be around,” said Savetria Francis, the principal of a D.C. school where McLaurin volunteers, in a 2012 interview with the Afro-American newspaper. “For those of us who complain about commuting to work, neither rain, sleet, snow nor heat keeps Grandma Virginia from reporting to work.”
“One of my secrets for longevity is reading the Bible and praying daily, loving Jesus Christ, and my fellow man,” McLaurin said in 2014. “There’s no one that I don’t like; I love everybody.”
A video on Facebook shows McLaurin playing with children, touching a tarantula and blowing out birthday candles with a boy nearly a century younger than she.
But the last time McLaurin was in the news, it was a less joyous occasion. She was featured in a December 2014 report on bedbugs in her apartment building.
“They was in my couch, they was in my bedroom, so, that’s why I don’t have no furniture,” she told ABC7.
Last week, though, McLaurin strolled across the Blue Room’s plush carpet and posed in front of priceless presidential portraits.
Then she danced as if she had been waiting a century to do it.
“You have just made our day, you know that?” Michelle Obama said. “That energy, man.”
McLaurin answered, “You made my day.”
Correction: The meeting appears to have taken place in the White House’s Blue Room, not the Oval Office.