Every day, we keep hearing that Barack Obama has made history by becoming the first Black person to win the presidential nomination of a major political party. But according to some historians, Barack Obama, if elected, will become the sixth or seventh president to possibly come from Black ancestry. Although many Black Americans were truly convinced Bill Clinton was their “brother from another mother” who was even honored at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner in 2001 as the “First Black President,” his ethnic origins are not as historically significant as many Americans believe.
It is said by some historians, both Black and White, that presidents Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge all had African ancestors they kept under wraps for years.
While biographies of individual presidents had raised the question of their racial heritage, perhaps the first to put forth the case for numerous non-White U.S. leaders was J.A. Rogers. The self-taught author, journalist and historian published the 19-page pamphlet Five Negro Presidents: According to What White People Said They Were in 1965.
History has proved that Thomas Jefferson was not averse to having relationships with Black women, especially after the scandal surrounding the love affair between him and his slave Sally Hemings was revealed.
During his presidential terms from 1801 to 1809, Jefferson was said to have been described as the son of a “half breed Indian and mulatto father,” according to historian Leroy Vaughn, author of Black People and Their Place in World History.
Vaughn also mentions in his findings that Jefferson destroyed any possible documentation leading to the identification of his mother.
Seventh U.S. President Andrew Jackson is said by Vaughn to be the son of an Irish woman who married a Black man. Vaughn cites an article written in the Virginia Magazine of History that says Jackson’s oldest brother was sold as a slave.
One of the most famous and influential presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was said to have dark skin and coarse hair that always made him the object of speculation that he was of African descent.
An author from the Topix Web site claims that Lincoln’s mother had an affair with a Black plantation worker. The site also mentions love letters revealed in 2003 that Lincoln’s mother indeed had been involved with a slave named Lewis.
DNA evidence taken from a lock of Lincoln’s hair proved that he his chromosomes’ genetic make-up contained West African DNA. According to anthropologist Alan Holdsworth’s findings, “Lincoln’s real father was indeed of African descent.”
Presidents Harding and Coolidge were different from the rest of the group by supposedly being proud of their heritage and never denying their ancestry. Vaughn claims that William Chancellor, a White former professor of economics and politics at Wooster College, wrote a book on the Harding family genealogy.
The book revealed that Harding had Black ancestors on both sides of the family. Also, according to an article written in The New York Times by Beverly Gage, Harding was the great-grandson of a Black woman.
Coolidge, who served in the 1920s, claimed his mother was dark because of mixed Indian ancestry and later concluded that he was part Black. His mother’s maiden name (Moor) was a name given only to Blacks in Europe, much as “negro” was used in the states.
Dr. Auset BaKhufu suggests that at least one other president had African ancestry. His 1993 book The Six Black Presidents: Black Blood, White Masks adds Dwight Eisenhower to the list. The author says one of Eisenhower’s uncles questioned the biological birth of the future president’s maternal grandmother in a 1951 book titled Family of Links. BaKhufu says numerous references describe Eisenhower’s mother as having full lips and looking “very ethnic” during her youth.
For many years, the identities of these former U.S. presidents were kept in closets. The only difference between now and then is that Barack Obama has a family history that happens to be one of the first characteristics to be identified about him. Although he is biracial, he strongly resembles his late Kenyan father.
So is America ready to accept a president who is verifiably African-American? A bigger question might be: Is America even ready to accept that he would not be the first?