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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Prove it: The strange history of the “birther” controversy

There is something about the controversy surrounding President Barack Obama’s birth certificate that calls to mind the grandfather clauses under Jim Crow. Before the naysayers start howling that this is just another attempt to “play the race card” in Obama’s favor, hear me out. After the slaves were freed and endowed with the citizenship that Supreme Court justice Taney believed they were ineligible for due to their race; further qualifications began to arise. Below is an excerpt from Alabama’s state constitution including the “grandfather clause”:

The lawful descendants of persons who honorably served in the land or naval forces of the United States in the war of the American Revolution, or in the war of 1812, or in the war with Mexico, or in any war with the Indians or in the war between the States, or in the land or naval forces of the Confederate States, or the State of Alabama in the war between the States.

You can read the full version here

Those who failed to meet the above requirements were subjected to educational tests and property qualifications for voting. Other states followed suit. Clearly the vast majority of freedmen failed that qualification, not to mention a large number of Mexican Americans in Texas and other citizens as well. They then had to prove (despite what the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments granted) that they were, indeed, eligible to vote.

Over a century later, the first President of African descent must prove that he is, indeed, qualified under the Constitution to serve as commander and chief. He has obliged repeatedly, now going so far as to append his long form birth certificate on the White House website to put naysayers to rest. Yet, his detractors—most colorfully represented by Donald Trump—still require verification of that official document.

Perhaps there is a vast conspiracy surrounding Obama’s birth certificate. But, think for a moment, which scenario sounds more plausible:

Senario A: President Obama has forged his official birth certificate and enlisted the help of numerous Hawaiian officials so that he can unlawfully hold office as President….


Scenario B: This whole “birther debate” is really just a modern day “grandfather clause.” A thinly veiled attempt to make the first President of African descent prove that he is truly qualified to serve as President.

You decide.