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February 27, 2014

By Jennifer Bihm


John Punch is the first known slave in the United States and he is believed to be the ancestor of President Barack Obama. He arrived in the Virginia colony in the 17th century, one  of a handful of indentured servants belonging to Virginia planter, Hugh Gwyn. In 1640 he attempted to escape Gwyn, along with two European indentured servants but was caught and sent back.

Punishment for the two Europeans was four years longer of servitude. But a judge ordered Punch to serve out the rest of his natural life to Gwyn. This incident is believed to have set the precedence for the institution of slavery in America.

It’s also the first documented case of differences in treatment based on race in America. According to historians, Punch had children with a white woman most likely an indentured servant (which was a common occurrence during the time).The children inherited the mother’s free status, causing legislators at the time to reconsider the slavery laws (children usually held the status of the father).

Most likely, said historians drawing from documents, and Y-DNA analysis, Punch’s descendants were called Bunch.

“Before 1640, there were fewer than 100 African men in Virginia, and John Punch was the only one with a surname similar to it,” they said.

“The Bunch descendants were free people of color who became successful landowners in Virginia. Some lines eventually assimilated as white, after generations of marrying whites.”

In the early 1700s, a man called John Bunch III, a mulatto, asked the court to publish proclamation of marriage to a white woman called Sara Slayden, causing  another rule change, mulattos were now considered black, no matter what percentage of white DNA they had. Bunch didn’t marry Slayden, however, historical records show him fathering children with another white woman called Rebecca.

“He had moved to Louisa County as part of the westward migration of colonists to the frontier of Virginia.,” said historians from

“Through continued intermarriage with whites in Virginia, the line of Obama’s maternal Bunch ancestors probably appeared as and identified as white as early as 1720. Members of this line eventually migrated into Tennessee and ultimately to Kansas, where descendants included Obama’s maternal grandmother and his mother Stanley Ann Dunham.

“Another branch of the Bunch family migrated to North Carolina, where they were classified in some records as mulatto. They intermarried with people of a variety of ethnicities, including European. The Bunch or Bunche family was established as free before the American Revolution. The Bunch surname lines also became associated with core mixed-race families later known as Melungeon in Tennessee.

“Y-DNA testing of descendants of the Bunch family lines has revealed common ancestry going back to a single male ancestor of sub-Saharan African ethnicity. Gene­alogists believe this male ancestor to be John Punch the African. He was probably born in present-day Cameroon in West Africa, where his particular type of DNA is most common…”

In July 2012, officials determined that President Barack Obama is an eleventh great grandson of Punch.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

February 27, 2014


Associated Press


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Nearly 1,400 lifers in California's prisons have been released over the past three years in a sharp turnaround in a state where murderers and others sentenced to life with the possibility of parole almost never got out.

Since taking office three years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown has affirmed 82 percent of parole board decisions, resulting in a record number of inmates with life sentences going free.

Brown's predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, authorized the release of 557 lifers during his six-year term, sustaining the board at a 27 percent clip. Before that, Gov. Gray Davis over three years approved the release of two.

This dramatic shift in releases under Brown comes as the state grapples with court orders to ease a decades-long prison crowding crisis that has seen triple bunking, prison gyms turned into dormitories and inmates shipped out of state.

Crime victims and their advocates have said the releases are an injustice to the victims and that the parolees could pose a danger to the public. More than 80 percent of lifers are in prison for murder, while the remaining are mostly rapists and kidnappers.

"This is playing Russian roulette with public safety," said Christine Ward, executive director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance. "This is a change of philosophy that can be dangerous."

The governor's office said the overcrowding crisis plays no role in the parole decisions. Rather, the governor's office said, each case is addressed individually and Brown is bound by court orders that require state officials to ease the stringent parole requirements that have dramatically increased the time murderers spend in prison.

Today, an inmate convicted of first-degree murders can expect to serve an average of 27 years — almost twice what it was two decades ago before California became the fourth state to give governors the politically fraught final decision on lifer paroles.

Since then, the number of lifers has grown from 9,000 to 35,000 inmates, representing a quarter of the state prison population. But two seminal California Supreme Court rulings in 2008 have significantly eased tough parole restrictions.

The court ordered prison officials to consider more than the severity of the applicant's underlying crimes. It ruled that inmates' records while incarcerated plus their volunteer work should count heavily in assessing early release.

State figures show that since the rulings, the board has granted parole to nearly 3,000 lifers, including 590 last year and a record 670 in 2012. In the three decades prior to the 2008 rulings, only about 1,800 such prisoners were granted parole.

Davis allowed only two inmates released out of 232 board decisions granting parole between 1999 and 2002. Schwarzenegger sustained the board at a 27 percent clip during his seven years in office when he was presented with 2,050 paroles granted by the board.

Brown has allowed 82 percent of the 1,590 paroles granted by the board.

Brown's office says he is operating under a different legal landscape than previous governors, and that he is following court rulings and a 23-year-old state law that gave governors the power to block paroles of lifers who the state board found suitable for release.

A Stanford University study of lifer paroles between 1990 and 2010 found that a murderer had a 6 percent chance of leaving prison alive since governors were given the power to veto board decisions.

Gov. Pete Wilson, the first governor vested with veto power, used it sparingly, though the parole board was approving just a few dozen paroles a year compared with the hundreds the board has been approving in recent years.

Between 1991 and when he left office in January 1999, he approved 115 of the 171, or 67 percent, of the lifers the board found suitable for release.

"If an individual is eligible for parole and the board determines they are no longer a threat, the law says they must be paroled unless there is firm evidence indicating they are still a threat," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said.

The few studies of recidivism among released lifers including a Stanford University report show they re-offend at much lower rates than other inmates released on parole and none has been convicted of a new murder.

Of the 860 murderers paroled between 1990 and 2010 that Stanford tracked, only five inmates committed new crimes and none were convicted of murder. The average released lifer is in his mid-50s. Experts say older ex-cons are less prone to commit new crimes than younger ones.

Brown has reversed the parole board. On Friday, his office announced it blocked the parole of 100 inmates deemed fit by the board for release and sent two others back to the board for reconsideration.

One of those inmates found fit for release by the board but blocked by Brown was James Mackey, a former University of Pacific football player found guilty of shooting his victim with a crossbow and then strangling him. Brown said Mackey hasn't sufficiently owned up to the crime.

"Until he can give a better explanation for his actions," Brown wrote, "I do not think he is ready to be released."

Ernest Morgan on the other hand, is a lifer Brown did let free.

Morgan, a San Francisco man convicted of the shotgun slaying of his 14-year-old stepsister burglarizing the family home, was turned down for parole five times before the board granted him parole, only to be overruled by Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger wrote that Morgan posed "a current, unreasonable risk to public safety." And he noted that Morgan had at one point claimed that the shotgun had gone off accidentally, although he later acknowledged his guilt to the parole board.

"So I was devastated when Schwarzenegger denied my release," said Morgan, who now is majoring in business management at San Francisco State. "I felt I was a political pawn who would never get out."

In 2011, Brown approved his release after 24 years in prison. Brown made no comment in granting Morgan his release. Instead, the governor signaled his approval by taking no action within 30 days of the parole board's decision becoming official.

"It's been a remarkable and unexpected change," said Johanna Hoffman, Morgan's lawyer who has represented hundreds of lifers vying for parole since becoming a California lawyer in 2008. "The overcrowding issue has a huge amount to do with it."

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

February 20, 2014

By Jazelle Hunt

Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed race- and gender-based discrimination. Now, 50 years later, Black women still suffer under the double-whammy of race and gender.

Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) and director of Research and Public Education, made that point at a symposium sponsored by the CCF, a nonprofit nonpartisan family research think-tank.

“One of the things we see with African American women is that they’ve actually made bigger gains in terms of their representation in college, in educational gains, and in professional work. The pay gap is lower between Black women and Black men than between White women and White men. All of these are certain kinds of gains,” Coontz explains. “But the other side of it is that the combination of Black womanhood leads to tremendous stereotypes. So there are ways in which Black women have gained in relation to men, but there are ways in which they go through life with the combination of difficulties that are caused by race, but that play out in their gender.”

To use the subject of wages, for example, Black women earn 10 percent less than African American males, and 36 percent less than White men, according to another CCF symposium. (In general, a quarter of the gains made in the wage gap are attributable to a decline in men’s wages rather than an increase in women’s income,  according to one of the papers’ authors). At the same time, African American women’s professional success is on the rise, as Coontz points out. Still, these gains are accompanied by drastic losses among African American men.

“…Black and Hispanic men earn so much less than white men that the lower gender gap for Black women and Latinas does not produce economic security,” one paper finds. “Many of the gains that women have made are not as impressive as they seem at first sight. This is especially true for Black Americans, as low-income Black men in impoverished communities have not only experienced dramatic losses in real wages and job security but tremendous increases in incarceration rates.”

The CCF Civil Rights Online Symposium presents a collection of white papers from researchers across the country that examines America’s progress (or lack thereof) on religion-, race-, and gender-based discrimination since the Civil Rights Act.

Discrimination also manifests in a unique way for high-status African American women, says Joan C. Williams, a distinguished professor of law and at the University of California and one of the symposium’s featured researchers. She points out that Black women tend to lose workplace discrimination cases because of their blended experience of gender- and race-based discrimination. (According to Williams, it is difficult to bolster and win a discrimination case involving both race and gender).

“It appears that the experience of gender bias is really quite different as a Black woman,” says Williams, whose paper for the symposium is based on her co-authored book, What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know. Williams identifies four overall patterns of gender bias that high-achieving career women face. The first is dubbed “prove-it-again” bias, in which women are required to show more evidence of competence than men. Unlike the other women in Williams’ research, Black women often attributed this type bias to their race, as opposed to their gender.

There’s also “the tightrope” bias, which Williams describes as the balance between being feminine, attractive and well-liked, versus being masculine and respected, but disliked. Both hinder advancement in different ways. However, Black women involved in Williams’ research had less of a tightrope to walk. This dovetailed with another finding.

“[The Black women in the study] thought the option of being pretty, but not respected, was not an offer for Black women. So their only choice was to be respected,” Williams explains. “If you think about it, that fits…with data that suggests Black women are allowed to behave more dominant, so in a sense they have a little more room. Of course, there’s a sharp limit where, at a certain point, some will say, ‘Oh, you’re an angry Black woman.’ And then God help you.”

One area of discrimination that binds women across class and race is what’s known as the maternity wall. A 1978 amendment to the Civil Rights Act made it illegal for employers to exclude pregnancy and childbirth from sick leave and health benefits. There’s also the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which gives employees 12 weeks per year of paid leave for the birth or foster placement of a child, among other circumstances. But such protections haven’t stopped wage discrimination against mothers.

“The United States is still the only industrialized country that does not guarantee subsidized, job-protected leave for new mothers. As a result, many women are forced to quit or cut back on work when they give birth, creating a lifetime earnings penalty,” Coontz writes. “Even mothers who do not cut back are regarded with suspicion by employers, who are less likely to hire such women, and, if they do, offer them lower wages than other employees.”

Interestingly, new data indicates that men who request or take time to cater to their families face their own professional penalties. One paper suggests that caregiver status may become a new area of anti-discriminatory legislation.

“In government, academia, finances, medicine, law, and many other realms, issues of access and unequal treatment still prevail,” another researcher concludes. “The Civil Rights Act has helped women make many impressive gains, but further changes in policy and attitudes are needed to address these remaining inequalities.”

The issue of inequality affects all women, not just Blacks/

A mid-1960s Gallup poll found that only 55 percent of Americans would vote for a qualified woman president; today, that figure has risen to 95 percent. In 1960, mothers were the breadwinners in just 3.5 percent of homes with children. By 2011, that number had more than quadrupled to 15 percent.

Although women with degrees out earn men without them (which was not the case 50 years ago), women still earn less than their equally qualified male counterparts, despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fact, the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law was an amendment to the Civil Rights Act, which revised the statute of limitations for pay discrimination lawsuits.

Until passage of this law, claimants had 180 days from the initial wage decision to discover the discrimination and file a suit. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act resets that 180 days with each discriminatory paycheck.

“It‘s appropriate that we turn last to how women have fared since passage of the Civil Rights Act, because the addition of the word ‘sex’ was a last minute addition to the bill,” Stephanie Coontz of Research and Public Education writes in one introduction. “Women have also made impressive progress in entering high-status fields formerly dominated by men…. But women have not shattered the glass ceiling.”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

February 27, 2014

LAWT News Service


Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame for her outstanding contributions to the state’s heritage and progress on Monday, February 24, at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in South Carolina.

“I am grateful and humbled to be receiving this great honor from my home state especially with one of my great heroines, the late Septima Clark who fought courageously for equal educational opportunity, teacher pay equity and citizenship rights – especially the votes,” said Edelman.

“I have always felt blessed to be born who I was, where I was, when I was, and with the parents I had. Growing up in Bennettsville, I was richly blessed with parents and a Black community who nurtured me and other children so that we could realize our God-given potential despite many negative messages of the outside segregated world. We were taught that the world had a lot of problems but that we could change them and that those of us who were given much had a responsibility to give back and that service is the rent we pay for living.

“What keeps me going everyday is my belief that we can and will win the fight to make America live up to its ideals in the Declaration of Independence and realize the dream of a level playing field for all. We must confront the structural inequalities of opportunity and outcome that contribute to more than 16 million children living in poverty, almost half of them in extreme poverty. They pose a greater threat to the economic, military and national security of our nation than any outside enemy.

“It is a disgrace that children are the poorest group of Americans and that Black children are the poorest of the poor. Parents, grandparents, youth leaders, women of all races and income levels in our communities must raise an irresistible and persistent voice for new investment priorities of time and resources to rescue voiceless, voteless children from poor and unequal education, ill health, and violence.”

She was honored along with civil rights activist Septima Clark who helped lay the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement and equal educational opportunity in South Carolina and the nation.

“We are pleased to be inducting two strong African American women and civil rights activists —Marian Wright Edelman and Septima Clark — into the official South Carolina Hall of Fame. Marian has been ambassador for disadvantaged people from the Civil Rights Movement until today. She has worked relentlessly to defend children for over forty years and her achievements have helped millions,” said Dr. Leo Twiggs, Chairman of the Trustees of the Official South Carolina Hall of Fame.

The daughter of the late Reverend Arthur Jerome and Maggie Leola Bowen Wright, Wright-Edelman has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. After completing her education at Spelman College and Yale Law School, she became the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar and directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi. In l968, she moved to Washington, D.C., as counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing before his death.

Under her leadership for the last forty years, CDF has become the nation's strongest voice for children and families. The Children’s Defense Fund’s Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

 She has received over a hundred honorary degrees and many awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings which include: Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change; The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours, Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors, I’m Your Child, God: Prayers for Our Children; I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children; and The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation.

She is married to Peter B. Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and they are the parents of three sons and have four grandchildren.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

February 20, 2014

By George J. Bryjak

Special to the NNPA from The Milwaukee Courier


Black Americans have a long and distinguished history of military service.

They participated in every colonial war from 1690 through the French and Indian War (1754-1763) as soldiers, sailors, laborers, scouts, and spies.

Blacks generally served in integrated units and earned the same pay as whites.

Even slaves served in the army and were paid although their enlistment compelled them to surrender some portion of this money to their owners.

In the early Revolutionary War battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, free and enslaved Blacks fought shoulder to shoulder with white patriots.

However, by the summer of 1775, under pressure from Southern plantation owners, General George Washington and the Continental Congress opposed the further enlistment of free blacks and slaves.

Historians James and Lois Horton state that southern planters were “well aware of African- Americans’ desire for freedom, and most feared insurrection should slaves gain access to guns.”

The British were more willing to accept blacks both as soldiers and non combatants.

Historian Kait Picco notes the British saw at least three advantages to channeling the “enthusiasm for rebellion” on the part of slaves: 1) they hoped the very thought of a slave uprising might pacify the colonists; 2) that the desertion of slaves would prove to be a significant economic hardship; and 3) that escaped slaves could be an asset to the British ­military in its campaign to defeat the rebels.

For example, runaway slaves with an intimate knowledge of the back country were invaluable to the British Army.

Historians estimate that during the war between 75,000 and 100,000 slaves sought freedom via going over to the British.

Most came from Virginia (at least 30 from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation), South Caro­lina, and Georgia.

Approximately one thousand of these men and women served in the British military with females typically working as nurses and cooks.

On November 7th, 1775, Governor John Murray of Virginia (whose title was Lord Dunmore) issued a proclamation stating that he would free Black and White “bondsmen” (slaves) who would fight for the British.

A slave owner himself, Dunmore offered freedom only to those slaves belonging to rebel planters.

Within a month approximately 300 men had joined Lord Dunmore’s “Ethiopian Regiment” and wore uniforms inscribed with “Liberty to Slaves.”

By the summer of 1776, the regiment had grown to 800 men, most of whom would die of disease (primarily smallpox) on Gwynn’s Island where they were stationed.

Historian Robert Selig argues the slaves who responded to Dunmore’s offer “were not necessarily pro-British; first and foremost they were problack, prepared to support the side that held out the greatest hope for them to improve their lot.

That side was the British…” No doubt many of the slaves who fought for King George asked themselves the same question the great English writer Samuel Johnson posed: “How is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?”

This contradiction between the goal of political freedom for the colonies and the reality of black slavery was recognized by many individuals, including Abigail Adams.

In 1774 the future First Lady wrote to husband, John: “It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right o freedom as we have.”

George Washington thought Dunmore’s decree encouraging slaves to fight for the British made him “the most dangerous man in America.”

As a consequence of this decree and some early British victories, on December 31st, 1775, Washington partially reversed his stance and stated that he was permitting the enlistment of free blacks but not slaves.

By 1777, most states either as result of specific legislation or the reversal of existing policies, began to enlist both free blacks and slaves.

A 1776 New York law permitted blacks to take the place of whites who had been drafted.

In 1778, Rhode Island was having difficulty meeting its quota of troops set by the Continental Congress.

The state Assembly voted to allow “every ablebodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man slave” to enlist, and “immediately upon discharge from the service of his master or mistress, be absolutely free…” Slave owners would be compensated by the state for the market value of the slave.

Approximately 140 of the 225 men who enlisted in the First Rhode Island Regiment (FRIR) under this statute were black.

This was one of the few racially segregated military units during the Revolutionary War.

In service for five years, the FRIR was part of Continental forces at the battles of Fort Oswego, Red Bank, Saratoga, and Yorktown among others.

At the Battle of Newport in 1778, reinforcements failed to arrive and the Continental Army retreated under a fierce enemy attack.

The FRIR positioned itself between retreating American units and advancing Hessian mercenary forces repelling three enemy charges.

The all black unit inflicted five casualties upon Hessian forces for every one casualty its members suffered.

When the FRIR was demobilized in Saratoga in June, 1783, its commander, Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney praised his troops for their “valor and good conduct.”

Olney stated that he regretted these men for whom he felt “the most affectionate regard and esteem” would leave the military without the pay still owed to them.

After the war Olney fought attempts to reenslave some of his former soldiers.

He also supported claims for the recovery of their back pay and pensions.

Other all black units included two companies from Massachusetts (one called the “Bucks of America”) and one from Connecticut.

These black units were commanded by white officers.

The distinguished African-American historian, John Franklin Hope, notes that by 1778 George Washington had “completely accepted the idea of blacks as soldiers…”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News