Friday, March 02, 2007

Obama's ancestors may have owned slaves

I usually try to shy away from stories like this one at the Chicago Tribune until they are verified, but I think this one brings up an interesting topic. Barak Obama's ancestors may have owned slaves:

Many people know that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's father was from Kenya and his mother from Kansas.

But an intriguing sliver of his family history has received almost no attention until now: it appears that forebears of his white mother owned slaves, according to genealogical research and Census records.

The records -- which had never been addressed publicly by the Illinois senator or his relatives -- were first noted in an ancestry report compiled by William Addams Reitwiesner, who works at the Library of Congress and practices genealogy in his spare time. The report, on Reitwiesner's Web site, carries a disclaimer that it is a "first draft" -- one likely to be examined more closely if Obama is nominated.

According to the research, one of Obama's great-great-great-great grandfathers, George Washington Overall, owned two slaves who were recorded in the 1850 Census in Nelson County, Ky. The same records show that one of Obama's great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers, Mary Duvall, also owned two slaves.

Does this reflect on Obama in any way? Absolutely not. He cannot be held accountable for the actions of his forebears. We have grown very accustomed in this country to pillar-like racial classifications, though, and I think we are going to struggle a bit to redefine racial classifications as those pillars break up and more and more Americans come from multiple races. I studied race relations in the Americas for a semester in college, and in Latin American the issue of mixed-bloods is still very complicated. I think we've had a certain advantage here in that we've been able to deal with race in very simple terms for many years, and that has given us a jump start on being able to handle thorny racial situations. We may still face the difficult overlapping issues of race and class that Latin America has struggled with, though, and as our racial paradigms shift, there will be some struggling to come to understand the new reality. This Obama story may seem unusual to us now, but it behooves us to absorb and understand it as quickly as possible because things are only going to get more complicated over time.

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