News & Politics

DC’s “Dancing Centenarian” Celebrated Her 108th Birthday With the Harlem Globetrotters

Virginia McLaurin became famous for dancing with the Obamas. She's still smiling.

All photographs by Kayla Randall.

Virginia McLaurin never stopped smiling. Her face was lit up from the moment her wheelchair made contact with the halls of LAMB Public Charter School in Brightwood. She cheerily greeted staff as she rolled by; she spoke to a room full of children who looked up at her in awe.

At 108 years old, McLaurin has a lot to smile about. Since her meeting with President Obama and Michelle Obama last February went viral, she’s been recognized by the DC Council with a ceremonial resolution for her lifelong work in public service, and has become perhaps the most beloved centenarian in DC.

Her neighbors at LAMB Public Charter—she lives right across the street–celebrated her 108th birthday Monday.  Two members of the Harlem Globetrotters, Buckets Blakes and Hoops Green, were there to help. The team will donate 108 tickets for underprivileged youth to see the team play in DC and Fairfax from March 17-19.

They were all in the middle of a multipurpose room, surrounded by young students. When Blakes announced that McLaurin was 108, the kids let out huge gasps, each one turning to a peer next to them with mouths agape, repeating the number “108.”

Teachers, staff, and students presented her with a big birthday card, signed by every student. McLaurin keeps her apartment full of birthday cards and flowers from former employers. “The people I used to work for, they never forget me,” she says.

McLaurin rocked a Globetrotters jersey and was presented with a three-tiered, Globetrotters-themed cake with the number “108” written across it. She even got in on some basketball tricks, spinning a ball on her index finger.

McLaurin was born in South Carolina on March 12, 1909. She has no record of her birth, but was fortunate to have an aunt live long enough to tell her when she was born. She moved to Washington when she was in her 20s, and has lived here for about 80 years. “I didn’t think I would ever live to this age, I really didn’t. I don’t know [the secret] myself. Cornbread, collard greens, hog heads,” she says, laughing.

That dance with the Obamas remains a shining moment in her life. She had always wanted to go to the White House, but she never thought she would, let alone to see the first black president.

“Where I grew up, you had to come in the back door and leave in the back door,” she says. “You weren’t allowed to come through the front door. We were separated completely.”

Recently, McLaurin had the flu and she thought it would kill her. She was worried she wouldn’t be able to continue her volunteer work reading, telling stories, and playing games at schools. This month, she’ll take a physical and if everything checks out, she’ll be right back where she loves to be, volunteering with children. She always watches LAMB children play outside from her apartment across the street. She likes hearing their laughter.

“They keep me alive, the kids who play out there,” McLaurin says.

Former editorial fellow Kayla Randall is City Lights editor at Washington City Paper.