Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech in Selma, Ala., to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Obama being Obama, he couldn’t help but politicize the event, claiming the Voting Rights Act is in jeopardy because of he called “voter suppression laws,” a skewed reference to voter ID laws.
At least the president got his facts mostly right, unlike in 2007, when he claimed that his parents met during the march in Selma, a statement belied by the fact that Obama was born in 1961, four years before the march was held.
Speaking of his parents, Obama at one point in the speech seemed to forget that he was half white, announcing to applause, “We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South.”
Which brings us back to the question posed in the title of this post. Much has been made of the claim that Obama is descended from the first slave to arrive in the New World, a man named John Punch. But the 44th president also has some interesting genealogy on his mother’s side of the family tree. One ancestor of particular interest is John Browning, who was born in Culpeper County, Va., in 1728.
A document titled Descendants of John Browning indicates:
He was one of 19 men enrolling in the Culpeper County, Virginia infantry in March of 1756 to fight in the French and Indian Wars. He was later a soldier in the Revolutionary War and was found on the Culpeper County, Virginia tax list from 1783 to 1787. In 1803 his will was recorded in Green County, Georgia.
That will appears further down in the same document. It follows herein in its entirety:
Will of John Browning
Greene County, Georgia
Will Book A & B, pages 342, 343
In the name of God, Amen. I, John Browning, of the County of Greene and state of Georgia – Being sick and weak in body but of sound and perfect memory and calling to mind the transitory thins of this life do make, constitute and ordain this to be my last will and testament, revoking all other wills heretofore made by me.
First – I give and bequeath (after paying all my just debts) unto my beloved wife Susannah Browning all my property both real and personal during the life of her widowhood and after her decease or marriage it is my will that the plantation whereon I now live containing on hundred and eighty seven and a half acres with all its improvements, shall belong to my son William Browning – it is also my will that all the balance of my property including all my Negroes, Horses, cattle, Hogs and stock of every kind, also money, bonds, notes ore debts with all my household furniture, working tools, with all and everything that may belong to me at my decease should be equally divided between my children as hereafter named, to wit, Frances Browning, John Browning, William Browning, Anna Bird, Phebe Boring, Siney Fuller, Clara Haralson and Millicent Wright, except a Negro man named Jack and a bay mare called Bony and one feather bed and furniture which I give unto my beloved wife Susannah Browning to keep during her life and to be at here disposal at her death – I also give unto my son, Joshua Browning, one Dollar and desire my executors to pay him that sum ___ – Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 7th day of Oct. 1803 –
In referring to “my Negroes” as property, along with “horses, cattle, hogs and stock,” it appears pretty likely that John Browning — a man with a direct blood line to the nation’s “first black president” — owned slaves.