President's White Mom Had Black Ancestry?

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Given the ethnic background of his parents — a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas — it would have seemed that President Barack Obama was not a descendant of American slavery. But genealogists from have dug a bit deeper, according to the New York Times, and may have found proof that the family of Obama's mother has links to a black slave.

Its team, while lacking definitive proof, said it had evidence that "strongly suggests" Mr. Obama's family tree — on his mother’s side — stretches back nearly four centuries to a slave in colonial Virginia named John Punch.

In 1640, Mr. Punch, then an indentured servant, escaped from Virginia and went to Maryland. He was captured there and, along with two white servants who had also escaped, was put on trial. His punishment — servitude for life — was harsher than what the white servants received, and it has led some historians to regard him as the first African to be legally sanctioned as a slave, years before Virginia adopted laws allowing slavery.

Historians say there was a trade in human labor, of both whites and blacks, during this period in American history. There were also some free African-Americans. Beginning around 1617, indentured servants were bought and sold, as were debtors, in the Chesapeake Bay region, said Ira Berlin, a University of Maryland professor and expert in the history of slavery. But while those people were in an “unfree condition,” he said, historians cannot pinpoint a date for the beginning of the slave trade.


Read more at the New York Times.

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