Daily News/James Gordon Meek—He didn’t introduce himself. He didn’t have to.
President Obama simply stuck out his hand and asked for my name as he stepped toward me amid a bone-chilling drizzle in the Gardens of Stone.
This was Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. I wasn’t there as a reporter, but to visit some friends and family buried there when Obama made an unscheduled stop – a rare presidential walk among what Lincoln called America’s “honored dead” – after laying a Veterans Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.What I got was an unexpected look into the eyes of a man who intertwined his roles as commander in chief and consoler in chief on a solemn day filled with remembrance and respect for sacrifices made – and sacrifices yet to be made.
I’m sure the cynics will assume this was just another Obama photoop.
If they’d been standing in my boots looking him in the eye, they would have surely choked on their bile.
His presence in Section 60 convinced me that he now carries the heavy burden of command.
I had stopped at Arlington to see the resting place of Ken Taylor, Ed Lenard and Dave Sharrett. Ken and Ed survived their service, in World War II and Korea, and died as old men. Dave did not leave Iraq alive. He was 27.
Obama arrived just before noon at the serene Section 60, where many of the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried together – and where many more heroes will undoubtedly be laid to rest before this President leaves office.
It’s a section typically bustling with those visiting loved ones. Every time I go there, more and more graves have been dug into the earth.
The President and First Lady Michelle Obama emerged from their armored limousine hatless in the frigid downpour and took a slow stroll into the soggy rows of white marble headstones.
They stopped first at the grave of Medal of Honor recipient Ross McGinnis, an Army private who threw himself on a grenade in Iraq three years ago to save four buddies.
A sad-faced woman reached for Obama’s hand and pointed him to a nearby plot.
The face of another woman – who had grimly sat in a folding chair for hours next to a headstone she’d arranged flowers around – suddenly broadened into a smile as she stood to embrace Obama and thank him for paying his respects.
She was so overcome with emotion that a soldier from the Army’s Old Guard had to console her afterward.The President patted backs of a dozen other Gold Star relatives and troops visiting buddies now in the ground.
He gave hugs. He shook wet, chilly hands. He wanted to know something about each fallen warrior.
He began to slowly trudge back toward the motorcade – and to another White House huddle with his war council, which is advising him whether to send up to 40,000 additional troops into harm’s way in Afghanistan.
And then Obama noticed a tall, bearded figure. He probably didn’t see the mud-caked combat boots I trudged around Afghanistan in a few years ago.
“What’s your name?” a somber President asked as he extended his hand.
“James Meek, sir,” I replied, struggling to pull off my wool glove and pull my hood back from my head. “I’m here visiting a friend, Pfc. David H. Sharrett II, who was killed in Iraq last year.”
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Tom Joyner’s Falsely Executed Relatives Cleared – 94 Years Later
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.
“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.
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
The 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.”
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