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Monday's New York Times article on President Obama's roots in Southern slavery through his mother has reopened the contention that the first Africans brought to Virginia were indentured servants and not slaves. While some observers, such as writer Alondra Nelson, may contend that genealogy studies prove little beyond how closely all members of the human family are related, they are invaluable for understanding the greater past.

Yesterday's news was also about real historical events and the ability to bring the past alive. There was a real John Punch, real laws that defined his status in a racializing America and real descendants who made certain decisions in the evolving marketplace of American race relations. These past decisions have major implications about the way that contemporary Americans view themselves and fellow Americans.

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