Is Barack Obama descended from slaves?

From Japanese lawmaker apologizes for Obama 'black slave' remark, Japanese politician Kazuya Maruyama claims that he's descended from slaves:

"In America, a black man became president. I mean, he's in a bloodline of black people who were slaves," Kazuya Maruyama, a lawmaker from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said Wednesday, during a meeting of the Upper House constitutional panel.

Meanwhile, the CNN article claims that that is not the case:

A lawmaker from Japan's ruling political party has apologized for inaccurately stating that U.S. President Barack Obama is a descendant of slaves.


Obama, the first African American U.S. president, is not a descendant of slaves. He's the son of black father from Kenya and white mother from Kansas.

  • 1
    I'm not entirely sure why this matters. Are they suggesting that slaves are somehow inherently inferior to non-slaves? Feb 19, 2016 at 14:29
  • 4
    The fact that his father was from Kenya does not eliminate the possibility that some of his Kenyan ancestors were slaves, since slavery was pretty much universal in pre-industrial civilizations.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 19, 2016 at 18:06
  • @PointlessSpike Maruyama has received a lot of criticism for his statement.
    – Golden Cuy
    Feb 19, 2016 at 22:04
  • I would think most people have had slave and/or serf ancestors, if you go far enough back. Not that it matters.
    – Gnudiff
    Aug 6, 2018 at 8:10

1 Answer 1


Obama is probably descended from a black slave - but from his white mother.

From the Wikipedia article Family of Barack Obama:

News sources reported in July 2012 that according to Ancestry.com, through research in a combination of historical documents and yDNA analysis, John Punch, the first documented African slave in the American British colonies, has been documented as likely an eleventh great-grandfather of Obama through his mother, Ann Dunham, and her Bunch ancestors

  • 1
    From the text of John Punch's 9 July 1640 sentencing, it seems to me that he was a servant who was given a life sentence for escaping with two other servants (a "dutchman" and a "Scotchman"), a servant who got a harsher sentence than the other two servants, probably on account of his race, but not a slave. books.google.com/…
    – DavePhD
    Feb 19, 2016 at 18:12
  • 6
    @DavePhd Whether or not it was called slavery then, a servant who gets punished for escaping is clearly a slave
    – eigensheep
    Feb 20, 2016 at 8:40
  • 2
    @DavePhD: He started out as an indentured servant. English is a bit weird because such a position is called "servant" but in many cultures and/or languages at the time indentured servants and slaves are all called slaves. The difference being that an indentured servant is a time-limited slave. Imagine if someone sold you as a slave for two years - that's an indentured servant. For running away he was punished to be a servant for the remainder of his life. Which by definition is no longer an indentured servant since the time limit is lifted. By definition that's slavery.
    – slebetman
    Feb 20, 2016 at 11:10
  • 2
    @eigensheep one of my great-grandmothers was an indentured servant and I never thought of her as a slave, because indentured servants would agree to serve as loan repayment of money to come to America.
    – DavePhD
    Feb 20, 2016 at 14:26
  • 5
    @DavePhD: He wasn't sentenced to a chain gang or to work for the state. He was sentenced to be his employer's property for life - by that definition he was a slave. Most consider him to be the first legal slave in North America.
    – slebetman
    Feb 22, 2016 at 1:48

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