Alberta's Colby Cosh writes
Last week's column for [Canada's National Post] featured a Paul Harvey-esque disclosure about a white supremacist in Barack Obama's family tree. Although there has been some general discussion concerning Obama's genealogy, of the sort that typically accompanies U.S. presidential elections, I think I am the first journalist anywhere to dig up and publish this particular datum. It's of no more than idle interest, but idle interest is the columnist's business; you'd think someone would have had a rummage.
Colby Cosh wrote in the National Post, (Links added by me) that
The strange part about this narrative is that Obama’s black ancestors aren’t even African-American; he is the son of a dynamic, brilliant Kenyan economist and politician he hardly ever knew. His black identity comes from outside American history. And reporters have barely scratched the surface of his white maternal ancestry, the part of him, so to speak, that lies fully within America, complete with all the contradictions and horrors of its past.
And here’s another strange fact: It is easier to show Barack Obama’s descent from slave-owning American colonists than it is to establish any genealogical connection between himself and American slaves. In many ways, a WASP family-tree snob of the 19th century would probably be more impressed with Obama’s mother’s background than with John McCain’s people. (Both candidates can claim direct descent from King Edward I.) A 2007 investigation by the Baltimore Sun [See family tree] found that Obama’s direct maternal ancestors included slaveowners from the time of William and Mary right down to the eve of the U.S. Civil War, a war in which he had family on both sides.
And the closer you look, the weirder things get.
Take the case of Joseph Samuel Wright (1819-1894), a man who shared an era with Abraham Lincoln and who, like Lincoln, was born in Kentucky and followed the fast-moving frontier west. Wright appears in the historical record as a delegate to the Arkansas constitutional convention of 1868, which met after the rebel state was readmitted to the Union. The federal government had recently passed the Reconstruction Acts, which required the refractory states to enfranchise liberated adult black men. At that time those states still lived under the threat of military intervention by the Union Army, and with Confederate combatants not yet allowed to vote, their politics were dominated by anti-racist Republicans and by the hated “carpetbagger” opportunists from the North.
The constitution framed by the 1868 convention complied with federal law, and arguably went further, outlawing race discrimination, introducing public education for all, and counting blacks as equal to whites in distributing electoral power. Joseph Wright did not take an active part in the debates, but he was part of a group that subscribed to a memorandum opposing the draft constitution on the grounds that it “enfranchises a class of inhabitants totally incapable of self-government” and “will deliver over to stolid and brutish ignorance the political control of the State,” and “encourages the social equality of the white and black races.”
This state constitution was ratified, but like all the immediate work of post-war Reconstruction in the South, it was destined not to survive long. Native Arkansas Republicans soon broke off from their party, which led to the extraordinary sequence of events known as the “Brooks-Baxter War.” By 1874, the state had two rival claimants for the governorship, each with his own military encampment and army. In the end, the liberal-Republican side of the contest lost, Arkansas blacks were subjected to what The New York Times described as a “cold-blooded massacre,” and the egalitarian 1868 constitution was overturned.
But God will have his little jokes. Joseph Samuel Wright, who would have been aghast at the idea of a black American president, eventually moved to Kansas, where his descendants would include a great-great-granddaughter named Ann Dunham—now better known as the precocious, bright radical who moved with her parents to Hawaii and had a baby named Barack Obama Jr.[Colby Cosh: Obama's family tree might have hung him from a limb, National Post Full Comment, October 24, 2008, ]
Of course, it's quite possible that Obama has slaveowning ancestors on the other side of his family, since Kenya, where his father came from, didn't officially abolish slavery, under a British protectorate, until 1907, and since Kenyan independence, (1963) slavery has been coming back.
In 2004, the Department of State found that
"Kenya is a country of origin, destination, and transit for victims trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. Victims are trafficked from South Asian and East Asian countries and the Middle East through Kenya to European destinations for sexual exploitation. Asian nationals, principally Indians, Bangladeshi, and Nepalese, are trafficked into Kenya and coerced into bonded labor in the construction and garment industries. Kenyan children are trafficked internally from rural areas to urban centers and coastal areas into involuntary servitude, including work as street vendors and day laborers, and into prostitution. Women and children are trafficked from Burundi and Rwanda to coastal areas in Kenya for sexual exploitation in the growing sex tourism industry. "