Dominion of New York


July 30, 2012

Obama’s Mother Had Black Ancestor, Likely a Slave

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Written by: Kelly Virella

Photo courtesy of Flickr/U.S. Embassy, Jakarta, Indonesia


he worst fears of Cornel West and the birthers and anyone else who’s questioned Barack Obama’s authenticity as an African-American or American have come true. Not only is the president born in America — he and his mother are most likely descended from the first slave in American history, a man named John Punch, according to new genealogical research by

The circumstantial evidence is strong, according to two genealogists who’ve reviewed it, but pretty convoluted. Fortunately, the Gray Lady broke it down this morning. You should definitely read The New York Times’ account, but here’s a quick summary of the reasoning:

  1. Obama’s mother descends from a family called the Bunches.
  2. The Bunch males have markers on their genes indicating sub-saharan African ancestry.
  3. The family traces its genealogy back to colonial Virginia, where John Punch once lived in the early 1600s.
  4. Punch fathered children with a white woman, records suggest.
  5. The similarity between the surnames Punch and Bunch and
  6. the relative dearth of Africans in Virginia during that era led researchers to conclude Punch is probably Obama’s forebear.

It’s not air-tight logic and  let me be clear (to borrow a phrase from Obama): to be the first black slave in American history is nothing to celebrate. But the announcement is a pretty extraordinary feat of political gamesmanship — even if the president didn’t orchestrate any of it. How will his detractors top the news that the most racially exotic man in America has become even more racially exotic? The only thing comparable would be the announcement that Mitt’s real mother was his father’s Mexican-American maid. I don’t know if the family ever had one, but it’s a place Mitt could start looking if he feels he needs to concoct a multi-cultural background.


About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


Official portrait from his tenure as US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.