Tag Archives: Geneology

Justice Served: Joyner Wins Great Uncles Posthumous Pardons

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Tom Joyner’s Falsely Executed Relatives Cleared – 94 Years Later

Syndicated Radio Host Tom Joyner

Syndicated Radio Host Tom Joyner

BlackAmericaWeb.com/Jackie Jones—The South Carolina Parole and Pardons Board has unanimously granted Tom Joyner a posthumous pardon for his great-uncles, Thomas and Meeks Griffin, who were executed in 1915 for a crime they didn’t commit.

Officials believe the men are the first in the state to be posthumously pardoned in a capital murder case.

Joyner, his brother, Albert, and two sons, Thomas and Oscar, were joined by Harvard scholar Henry Louis “Skip” Gates and his legal team in presenting their case. The host of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” called in to the program right after the decision came down shortly after 9:30 a.m. to inform co-hosts Sybil Wilkes and J. Anthony Brown, along with his nationwide listening audience, who’d been texting their well-wishes for the family all morning.

Tom Joyner and Henry Louis Gates (at left) embrace after being granted posthumous pardons for Joyner's great-uncles.

Tom Joyner and Henry Louis Gates (at left) embrace after being granted posthumous pardons for Joyner's great-uncles.

They did give my uncles a posthumous pardon,” Joyner said. “We’re getting ready to go now for the signing of the pardon letter.”

Joyner had been on a quest to clear his uncles’ names after learning of their story when Gates announced the results of genealogy research conducted on Joyner’s family as part of the 2008 PBS special, “African American Lives II.”

Joyner, with help from Gates and South Carolina attorney Stephen K. Benjamin, put together the case petitioning the state to exonerate his maternal great-uncles.

Joyner holds up the signed pardon

Joyner holds up the signed pardon

The brothers were executed with two other black men for the April 1913 shooting death of John Lewis, 73, a wealthy Confederate veteran living in a town 40 miles north of Columbia.

The Griffin brothers were indicted in July 1913 and given just two days to prepare the case. The family was forced to sell 130 acres of land to finance the defense. Their lawyer sought a delay but the request was denied, leaving just one day to get ready. Later, the state Supreme Court said the denial was insignificant to the outcome of the case.

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African-American Lives 2 – Tom Joyner

africanamericanlivesIIdvdThe video clip below is poignant moment from the documentary where Dr. Gates stuns Joyner by telling him that his great-uncles were electrocuted by the State of South Carolina, for a murder they didn’t commit. Historically, of the 47 people who were put to death in South Carolina between 1912 and 1920, 44 were Black.

Albany Law School professor Dr. Paul Finkelman, who helped with the research on the case, says he’s never seen a case in which so many white public officials and sentences came forward to try to help black men who had been convicted.

The Griffin brothers stand for the thousands of people who are unjustly accused, unjustly convicted,“ he said after the pardon was granted. “It’s not just Tom Joyner’s family. This is a much bigger story and there are other stories that need to be told.”

Related Articles

Put Tom Joyner’s life and ancestry in historical context with the PBS Interactive Historical Timeline

Tom Joyner’s Falsely Executed Relatives Cleared – 94 Years Too Late

SC Board Pardons 2 Black Men Executed 94 Years Ago

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In First Lady’s Roots, a Complex Path From Slavery

Posted by Audiegrl

Fraser Robinson III and his wife, Marian, with their children, Craig and Michelle, now the first lady.

Fraser Robinson III and his wife, Marian, with their children, Craig and Michelle, now the first lady.

New York Times/Rachel L. Swarns & Jodi Kantorr—In 1850, the elderly master of a South Carolina estate took pen in hand and painstakingly divided up his possessions. Among the spinning wheels, scythes, tablecloths and cattle that he bequeathed to his far-flung heirs was a 6-year-old slave girl valued soon afterward at $475.

In his will, she is described simply as the “negro girl Melvinia.” After his death, she was torn away from the people and places she knew and shipped to Georgia. While she was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time.

michelle_obama2009-02-10-vogue_cover_2In the annals of American slavery, this painful story would be utterly unremarkable, save for one reason: This union, consummated some two years before the Civil War, represents the origins of a family line that would extend from rural Georgia, to Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago and, finally, to the White House.

Melvinia Shields, the enslaved and illiterate young girl, and the unknown white man who impregnated her are the great-great-great-grandparents of Michelle Obama, the First Lady.

michelle_obama22009-02-10-vogue_Viewed by many as a powerful symbol of black advancement, Mrs. Obama grew up with only a vague sense of her ancestry, aides and relatives said. During the presidential campaign, the family learned about one paternal great-great-grandfather, a former slave from South Carolina, but the rest of Mrs. Obama’s roots were a mystery.

Now the more complete map of Mrs. Obama’s ancestors — including the slave mother, white father and their biracial son, Dolphus T. Shields — for the first time fully connects the first African-American first lady to the history of slavery, tracing their five-generation journey from bondage to a front-row seat to the presidency.

The findings — uncovered by Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, and The New York Times — substantiate what Mrs. Obama has called longstanding family rumors about a white forebear.

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One Paper Trail to the White House

Click here for research

Click here for research

Recent research from Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, and reporting by The New York Times offers previously undisclosed details of First Lady Michelle Obama’s family tree. The findings provide the first link to a white ancestor in Mrs. Obama’s past, and trace the steps her family members took as they journeyed from slavery to the nation’s most storied house in five generations. Click here to view.

The Family Tree of Michelle Obama, the First Lady

Click here for the interactive family tree

Click here for the interactive family tree


Revelations have emerged recently from the research of Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, and from reporting by Rachel L. Swarns and Jodi Kantor of The New York Times. Click here to view.

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One Family’s Roots, a Nation’s History

henry-louis-gatesHenry Louis Gates Jr., Annette Gordon-Reed and others discuss what Michelle Obama’s family tree says about America. Click here for the discussion.
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