Posts Tagged ‘Sally Hennings’

African American Is a Segregationist Term

February 24, 2012

Jesse Washington recently reported that many dark skinned Americans recognize that they are not “African” Americans in spite of what some racists say.

The term “African-American” perpetuates the principle tenet of Southern racism: “part black, all black” under the “one drop rule”.

Those who use the term are in effect segregating Americans with dark complexions from the rest of the population they may be related to. Those who use the term believe that those with dark complexions should Jesse Washington recently reported that many dark skinned Americans recognize that they are not “African” Americans in spite of what some racists say.

The term “African-American” perpetuates the principle tenet of Southern racism: “part black, all black” under the “one drop rule”.

Those who use the term are in effect segregating Americans with dark complexions from the rest of the population they may be related to. Those who use the term believe that those with dark complexions should only be able to claim their African ancestors and should forget about ancestors who came from Europe, North America or Asia even if most of a person’s ancestors came from places other than Africa.

The media in particular apply the term indiscriminately to any American with a dark complexion. For example, they call golfer Tiger Woods “African American” even though his ancestry is predominately Asian. His mother is Asian and his father had Asian as well as African and American Indian ancestors.

Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of a day in which color would not be important. Unfortunately, the media along with many politicians and black leaders are still preoccupied with skin color.

Members of the media still falsely claim that differences in skin color among Americans indicate a racial difference. Perhaps there is an European “race” that is white and an African “race” that is black, but if there is an American race it is red and yellow, black and white. We Americans are a mixture of peoples from all parts of the world.

As the Lakota say, Aho Mitakuye Oyasin (We Are All Related) regardless of the color of our skin.

The fact that a person has dark skin doesn’t mean a majority of ancestors came from Africa. Dark skin only means a person received one or more of the half dozen skin color related genes that produce “black” skin from an African ancestor. Some of the genes associated with dark complexion are also present in persons from other parts of the world, especially India and Australia. The versions of the skin color genes that cause dark skin are dominant genes which means if a person has a dark version of the gene, complexion will be dark even if the other gene is associated with light skin. Incidentally, the African gene pool includes the albino gene which means some residents of Africa have pale skin.

Calling black Americans African-Americans denies them the opportunity to claim their European (especially Irish) and North American ancestry. The first Africans in the English colonies worked with the Irish in the fields and occasionally became sexually involved with them. In some cases planters deliberately forced Irish women to have children by African men to produce children of a desired complexion. Later, Irish overseers and plantation owners sometimes offered favors for sex or just raped slaves.

Until the 1960’s Southern white men could rape black women without fearing punishment. Some black women voluntarily had sex with white employers or their sons. Former Sen. Strom Thurman fathered a daughter by his parent’s 16-year-old housekeeper when he was a young man. Young southern women were told that if their good night kisses were too passionate, their boyfriends might seek sexual satisfaction in the black community.

Some black Americans can trace their ancestry back to President Thomas Jefferson and his virtual wife Sally Hennings. DNA tests confirmed the claim that Sally Hennings descendants were also descendants of Thomas Jefferson. The tests examined the “Y” chromosome which is passed from father to son.

A test of the “Y” chromosome of Martin Luther King III indicates that he and his civil rights leader father Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a north European male ancestor like about 33% of black American males.

The Spanish who established colonies in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia in the 16th Century using African slaves were less likely than the British to bring wives and instead used their slaves for sexual satisfaction. The French in Louisiana also had a shortage of white women. The French, unlike the English, even used terms indicating the proportion of African and European ancestry.

African slaves of the Spanish started a long association with the original inhabitants of North America that continued in the British colonies. The Africans left behind when Spain withdrew from Florida joined with the Seminoles. In the English colonies the Cherokees and some other tribes socialized with the Africans, gave refuge to runaway slaves or had African slaves of their own.

Many white Americans, including former President Warren G. Harding, have African ancestors. Some believe as many as four other white presidents had African ancestors. After the “Roots Miniseries” many whites who researched their family histories were surprised to find ancestors who served in the military who had a “C” after their names for “colored”.

Most whites with African ancestors probably don’t even know it because their African ancestors whose skin was light enough to pass for white covered up their past. It would only take a few generations of people with mixed parentage to have descendants with skin light enough to pass for white. If only one gene were involved, the math of inheritance would indicate that if two parents each had one black parent and one white parent approximately 25% of their children would have white skin. The math is more complicated with the involvement of multiple genes, but the probability of some light skinned children increases with each generation.

Racists sometimes suggest that black males have a greater propensity for violence especially against women and falsely ascribe that characteristic to their African ancestors. If some black men actually have a genetic tendency to commit rape and murder it would be far more likely that they inherited the gene from a white male ancestor who raped one of their black female ancestors than that they inherited it from an African male ancestor.

Another popular stereotype is that blacks have “rhythm” which they are supposed to have inherited from their African ancestors. Although the slaves’ African heritage would have influenced their music, it seems more likely that the social and biological association with the musically oriented Irish would be more responsible for the black emphasis on music.

The Irish responded to the repressive treatment by the English through musical expression. They would have passed that tradition along to the Africans whom they initially worked with as “indentured servants” and later supervised after black slavery was established. The slaves blended their Irish and African traditions with their own situation. They concentrated on expressing themselves through music because their oppressors didn’t allow other ways to “fight” their situation. Watch Irish groups like Riverdance and Celtic Woman and then say that black Americans could only have gotten “rhythm” from African ancestors.

The first African “servants” arrived in Jamestown in 1619 only 14 years after the founding of the settlement. During the two centuries of the Atlantic slave trade only about 500,000 additional Africans were imported into North America. Britain led the way to ending the Atlantic slave trade in 1807 and the United States quickly followed to outlaw the importation of slaves without prohibiting the internal slave trade. Thus, the vast majority of the 4.5 million blacks living in the U.S. in 1860 were born here to parents and grandparents who were born here. A substantial portion had at least some ancestors who were living in North America at the time of the American Revolution.

It’s time we recognize that the only African ancestors of the descendants of slaves arrived here centuries ago. We need to recognize that those dark skinned Americans whose ancestors were slaves are just as deserving of being called regular Americans as those of us with light skins without any modifier that segregates them from the rest of us.

Americans with dark skins should be allowed to claim all of their ancestors, not just those who provided the genes responsible for their skin color. Those of us with light skins need to accept the possibility that many of those with dark skins are our distant cousins. Those of us whose ancestors arrived here a couple of centuries ago or came from the British Isles, especially Ireland, likely had relatives who had sexual relations with the descendants of Africans. We could also have ancestors who came from Africa. Those whose ancestors have lived in the south for several generations, especially if they have dark naturally curly hair, could easily have an ancestor who passed for white at some time in the past.

Americans need to recognize that color is only skin deep. It doesn’t totally define us.

Seven African Ancestry Presidents?

March 9, 2010

The media refer to Barack Obama as the first African ancestry president, but as many as six other presidents may have had African ancestors. Like many other white Americans, they may or may not have known about African ancestors.

Skin color depends on only about seven genes which means if sex occurs across the color line frequently enough, the dark pigment genes could be lost in some children in a few generations.

After the broadcast of the Roots miniseries, many Americans decided to research their ancestry. Many whites were surprised to find ancestors who had served in the military in the 19th Century who had the letter “C” after their names meaning “colored”.

President Warren G. Harding had black cousins and admitted that some of his ancestors might have “jumped the fence” as he put it.

Many believe that President Dwight Eisenhower’s mother appears to have African features in her wedding photo. I’ve seen the enlarged photo at the Eisenhower museum. If I were to see an actor with a similar appearance in an old black and white movie about the pre-Civil War South, I wouldn’t be surprised if her character was a slave.

Some have suggested that 19th Century Presidents Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln might have had African ancestry fathers. President Calvin Coolidge is another with possible African ancestors.

Those who argue that genealogical records fail to indicate these men had African ancestors, ignore the fact that birth records for much of the nation’s history depended on the honor system. Many records come from family Bibles and it would have been easy to “steal an ID” particularly in families who moved from generation to generation. Families could have neglected to mention an ancestor with a questionable past, such as being a runaway slave or a criminal.

I don’t know if any of these presidents had African ancestors, but I recognize it would have been possible for them, or the rest of us, to have had such ancestors without leaving a record of that ancestry.

The only people likely to question a politician’s ancestry in the 19th Century would have been political opponents who would likely have been ignored by many because of the name calling that characterized American politics beginning with the administration of George Washington. Supporters of these politicians might have invented stories to make these presidents look better such as the story about George Washington cutting down his father’s cherry tree..

The first African “servants” in the British colonies arrived in Jamestown in 1619 and Africans and poor whites initially worked together equally in the fields as indentured servants. This practice would have led to sex across the color line. Some Africans became free and had their own farms. Antonio the Negro arrived in Virginia in 1621. He later became free, changed his name to Anthony Johnson and eventually had his own farm with indentured servants. (Note: the Spanish had imported African slaves into Florida and Georgia in the 16th Century.)

White servitude was abandoned in part because it was too easy for escaped white servants to blend in on the frontier. Lighter skinned descendent’s of Africans would have been able to do the same thing long before the American Revolution.

The frontier early became a place people could run to to escape their past which could include knowledge about their ancestors. Some of my ancestors moved to the frontier from New York City after the Revolution because they had supported the losing side.

Those on the frontier spent much of their time outside and would have had sun darkened skin. The small frontier populations could have led to marrying whomever was available, as my ancestors did, without much concern about a spouse’s ancestry.

Members of religious groups who opposed slavery might have allowed light skinned runaway slaves to take the ID of a relative who died as a child or have made up a relative to make it easier for an escaped slave to “pass for white”..

It would have been much easier to cover up unpopular ancestry in the 19th Century than today. Some people believe Jefferson, who saved many of his own documents, attempted to destroy his mother’s documents, including letters sent to others, to cover up his ancestry. His virtual marriage to slave Sally Hennings indicates he didn’t consider color important which could indicate he had mixed ancestry himself.

Most blacks lived on plantations and what happened on the plantation likely stayed on the plantation. Many plantation wives might have tired of having babies early and encouraged their husbands to have mistresses.

Light skinned offspring might have been claimed by their fathers as children of their wives. It would have been easy to cover up who the mother was because the midwife who delivered it was probably a slave. Plantation wives might have used slaves as surrogate moms like Jacob’s wives did in the Bible.

Even today a woman may lie about who fathered her child. Some have suggested Lincoln’s mother may have done this because of accounts that the man listed as his father might have been sterile.

People looked down on women who didn’t have children through the 19th Century. Some women might have arranged to quietly adopt the light skinned babies of slaves to cover up their inability to have children or to replace a child who was stillborn or died in infancy. Slave mothers might have welcomed the opportunity to have their babies escape slavery.

Ida Elizabeth Stover, Eisenhower’s mother, could have been such a baby because she was born in 1862 in Virginia to a 40 year old woman. Even with today’s medical knowledge there is a greater potential for problems at that age. Information about some of her ancestors is missing from the family tree on the Eisenhower Museum website so their origin is unknown. Considering her fair complexion, she would likely have been separated from any African ancestor by three or more generations.

I don’t know if these presidents had any African ancestors, but I realize it would be possible . It would also be possible for the rest of us who think of ourselves as white to have had one or more African ancestors. The number of our ancestors increases rapidly when we go back more than a few generations. At 10 generations in the past, we potentially have 1,024 ancestors, provided there is no duplication.

See my next post for a discussion of why skin color isn’t important.