Friday, February 29, 2008

Rural Arkansas claims kinship link to Obama

My mom recently forwarded me a link to this story, which reports Barack Obama's kinship ties to Madison County, Arkansas. This appeared in the Madison County Record. Madison County (population 14,243; population density 17/square mile; 96% white; .1% African American) is in Northwest Arkansas and sits between Newton County (the least densely populated in the state) and Arkansas's second urban area (after Little Rock): what is now a conurbation running from Bentonville to Fayetteville, home to Wal-Mart, Tyson foods, and the land-grant University of Arkansas.

Since the link is likely to go away, here's the story in its entirety:
by Joy Russell
Madison County Genealogical & Historical Society

The current national newscasts are filled with the names of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the top two Democratic candidates for President of the United States of America.

The Clintons have been well known to Arkansas residents since the mid-1970’s with Hillary Clinton serving as Arkansas’ First Lady from 1979 to 1992 when her husband, Bill, was Governor of the State. The Clintons were married in Fayetteville on Oct. 11, 1975, and their daughter, Chelsea, was born in Little Rock on Feb. 27, 1980.

However, Obama also has roots that run deep in Northwest Arkansas. Obama’s great-great-great-great-great grandparents were Nathaniel and Sarah (Ray) Bunch, who came to Arkansas about 1840 and settled near Dinsmore, about three miles south of Dry Fork. The community of Dinsmore is in the extreme northwest corner of Newton County and is only about a half-mile from both the Carroll and Madison County lines.

Nathaniel Bunch was born on April 23, 1793, in Virginia and served in the War of 1812 under General Andrew Jackson. Family legends say he took part in the Battle of New Orleans. Soldiers who served in the War of 1812 were given “land bounty certificates,” which entitled them to claim 80 acres of land from the government, and it is believed that Nathaniel Bunch used his land bounty certificate to claim the land that he settled in Arkansas.

Anna Bunch, born in 1814, was the daughter of Nathaniel and Sarah. She married Samuel Thompson Allred in Tennessee and they moved their family to Newton County, Arkansas, about 1845. They were the great-great-great-great grandparents of Barack Obama.

Nathaniel and Sarah Bunch, Samuel and Anna (Bunch) Allred, and Samuel’s parents, John and Phoebe (Thompson) Allred, are all buried at Liberty Cemetery near where the Bunch family settled at Dinsmore. There are many graves of the Bunch and Allred families in this cemetery, most of whom are relatives of Barack Obama.
Frances A. Allred, daughter of Samuel and Anna, was born in 1834 and married Joseph Samuel Wright. On Aug. 11, 1869, Margaret Bell Wright was born to Frances and Joseph. Margaret married Thomas C. McCurry in Chautaugua County, Kansas, on March 13, 1885. Margaret and Thomas McCurry were the great-great grandparents of Obama, and their daughter, Leona McCurry, married Rolla Charles Payne in 1922. Both Leona and Rolla were born in Kansas, lived there, and are buried there.

Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Lee Payne, was born to Leona and Rolla in October 1922, and married Stanley Armour Dunham in 1940. Their daughter, Shirley Ann Dunham, married Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., in 1960 but they were divorced in 1963.

Their son, Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., was born on Aug. 4, 1961, and is now an Illinois senator vying for the U.S. Presidency.

Barack Obama still has many cousins in this area, including the Bunch, Holt, Combs, Hargis, Wright, and Stamps families. Further information on the genealogy of Barack Obama can be found at the Madison County Genealogical and Historical Society.
What stunned me about this is that Madison County is claiming Obama so proudly. OK, maybe when you are as obscure and generally insignificant as Madison County, Arkansas, you take fame where you can find it. But I've always associated rural Northwest Arkansas with great bigotry against African Americans. Indeed, Orval Faubus, the Arkansas governor who resisted desegregation of Little Rock's schools in what became the Central High School crisis and ultimately the case of Cooper v. Aaron, was from Madison County.

So, coming from there, this front-page news item was surprising. Maybe things have changed more than I realized in the 19 years since I left Arkansas, although I note that 80% of Madison County voters went for Hillary Clinton in the Super Tuesday primary. Maybe Obama would have improved on his 15% showing if folks there had known just a few weeks earlier that he is one of them.

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