Saturday, March 14, 2009

America's Five Black Presidents-You Mean Obama Is Not the First?

I find this interesting and I wanted to talk about it. It all started yesterday, when someone posted to a history listserve that I am on offering up their list of the greatest historians. I offered up DuBois, J.A. Rogers, and Jacqueline Jones...who all hold my very highest esteem...of course I knew that that wouldnt sit welll with many (DuBois might fly, but J.A. Rogers--some won't hear it because he wasn't formally educated....J.A. Rogers wrote a very very important series of books entitled Sex and Race, everyone should pick them up and read them. He didn't go to Harvard like Dubois, but DuBois was in Massachusetts, J.A. Rogers had to come from Jamaica first...and it was the late 19th/early 20th century....and he still had to deal with white people. His is a very important voice. So, anyway, I was reviewing all of the books written by Rogers and his title The Five Negro Presidents peaked my interest. I did a google search on it and found some very interesting stuff. Firstly, did you know that Warren G. Harding was colored? I dug up this recent New York Times article on the subject. Apparently, Warren came from a mulatto family and crossed the color line in order to better his opportunities. This is not uncommon, especially at that time.

DuBois noted that approximately a half a million mulattoes may have crossed the color line in the late 19th and early 20th centuries--with a major impact on the U.S. Census. DuBois discusses this issue at length. Read his collected essays in David Levering Lewis' reader. In regards to Harding, one of his relatives apparently wrote a book on the subject of her family and her shared blood with Warren G. Harding. Also, I found this interesting-to-read- power point that was done on the Five Black U.S. Presidents.

Of course, the idea of passing and/or discovering hidden Black or otherwise colored ancestry is something that is quite familiar and current in this day and time. With Carol Channing telling the world that her father was Black and the very thoughtful book One Drop, written by Bliss Broyard concerning her father Anatole Broyard, this is a topic that has been broken wide open. However, there is a lot that must be uncovered and discovered about our American past before this is all over. I had a conversation with the social historian, Noel Ignatiev once and he gave me an astounding figure for the number of so-called whites in the United States (and in particular the southern United States) that carry ancestry that would prove them to be otherwise. We know that 85% of all Black people in this country descended from slaves are mixed.I have long held that the term white is a misnomer and is really nothing more than an old attempt by those men who founded this country and set up the establishment that is now falling to distinguish between their legitimate (i.e. white) children and their bastard (i.e. Black) children. Rooted in patriarchy, I believe all of this must be eliminated. This is definitely an interesting topic, one which I have studied and done work around for a long time and one which is definitely not going away any time soon.

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