December 13, 2007

Famous people who actually were significantly black

It's easy to forget that two of the most famous European authors of the 19th Century were significantly black:

- Alexandre Dumas the Father, the colossally popular author of "The Three Musketeers" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" was the grandson of a Haitian slave woman. Here's a picture. (His not quite as famous, but still well-remembered illegitimate son of the same name, the author of "Camille," the inspiration for Verdi's "La Traviata," was therefore the great-grandson of a slave. Here's a picture.)

- Alexander Pushkin, the national poet of Russian, the first great writer in the Russian language, isn't that well-known in the West because he was a poet whose genius is notoriously lost in translation, but to Russians, he's The Man. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, are all very fine, but Russians venerate Pushkin with an unparalleled passion. Pushkin was the great-grandson of an Ethiopian (or perhaps Cameroonian or Chadian -- it's all kind of murky) slave renamed Abram Petrovich Gannibal, who became, apparently, a godson of Peter the Great, then a general in the Czarist army, a military engineer, and the governor of a Russian province. (It's a wild story. Somebody ought to make a movie about this guy's life!) Voltaire supposedly called Gannibal "the dark star of the Enlightenment," although it's hard to nail down the facts about him. What we do know is that Pushkin identified closely with his African ancestor, and began a book about him called "The Blackamoor of Petersburg." Pushkin often played up his African ancestry, which just made him even more exotic and charismatic to Russians. Pushkin said, "The black African who had become a Russian noble lived out his life like a French philosophe."

By the way, a village on the Russian Black Sea coast was found in Czarist times to consist of 500 African-looking people, who became known as the "Batumi Negroes."

For a quick review of the charmingly comic opera-ish relations between Czarist Russia and Africa, including Russia's aid to Christian Ethiopia in fighting off Italian invasion in 1896 and the Cossack attempt to conquer Ethiopia in 1898, see here.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

"which just made him even more exotic and charismatic to Russians."

As a white from Africa I cannot understand that statement. I don't find anything exotic or charismatic about Africans. Just lots of tears and frustration.

Anonymous said...

Well, it sounds like Dumas was around 25% African (Haitian), and from the B&W photo, he indeed seem to look a lot like Cornel West.

On the other hand, I'm not sure whether too many people would suspect him of being James Watson's long-lost brother...or even James Watson's long-lost paternal or maternal uncle.

And it's really not too surprising that "eye-balling" is pretty good means of determining crude ancestry. After all, it's a human-evolved trait with pretty obvious selective advantages.

Anonymous said...

I was actually gunna post something similar in the Watson thread: "Famous people who were actually significantly black - and whose black parent abandoned them."

That list would include Halle Barry, Barack Obama, and (I think) Vin Diesel. I'm sure it would go on a lot longer.

Speaking of anyone who is part black, if you look at part-blacks (or part anything else) you notice something different about them, but you may not be sure what. Looking at pictures of Broyard or Wentworth Miller you think, "He ain't WASP," although you may not be sure what race is mixed in. The hair, the nose, the skin tone, the facial structure - something will give it away.

A good example is my own family: until my grandmother's funeral, I never knew I had Indian ancestry. Then I found out that she was 1/16th Cherokee. She looked more of it when she was younger (olive skin, dark hair), but in old age she didn't. But 2 of her brothers did. Whenever I saw them I always thought *something.* Same goes for my great-grandfather, who was 1/8th. I never actually knew him, but seeing pictures of him I felt the same way. Was he naturally that dark-skinned, or was it because he worked outside so much? I just assumed it was the latter.

Maybe Watson actually is part black/Asian, but looking at pictures of him I don't get that impression at all. He looks white. If he were any whiter he'd be clear.

Anonymous said...

Uh, Steve, you mean "somebody needs to make a HOLLYWOOD movie about Pushkin", because, what a surprise, the Rissian did few already ;-)
"Somebody" just needs to translate them and show them here.

Anonymous said...

because, what a surprise, the Rissian did few already ;-)
yep - - some good old soviet comedy where the "Arap", the black protagonist - was played by another great russian poet/songmeister Vladimir Vysotsky in blackface.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting category would be: "Famous black people who are significantly white". From their relatively light skin tones, I would guess this list might include, among many others, Jimi Hendrix and Richard Pryor.

Anonymous said...

You guys are all beginning to sounds just a little bit....tetched.

Anonymous said...

Early American chess genius Paul Morphy was apparently Creole on his mother's side, though, in appearance, he made an albino look bronzed.

Anonymous said...

Then I found out that she was 1/16th Cherokee.

You know what black folks say, don't you? All these white people claiming "Cherokee" heritage are actually hiding black ancestors.

Thursday said...

I included Charles Johnston's translation of Eugene Onegin as one of my favourite translatables of the untranslatable. My own view is stated there as follows:

From the evidence below, I am rather sceptical that any author is truly untranslatable. Certainly some authors require more from their translators. (It seems like just about any idiot can come up with a passable version of Tolstoy.) Still, it seems to me that those we call untranslatable are often not so much truly untranslatable as they are writers who have not yet found their translator.

(Here is a review of a highly regarde new translation that I haven't read.)

Other important part black people include Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis and the great Portuguese fado singer Mariza.

Anonymous said...

Machado de Assis was part black? Cool. He's one of my faves.

Anonymous said...

You know what black folks say, don't you? All these white people claiming "Cherokee" heritage are actually hiding black ancestors.

Then maybe I'm part black. Am I supposed to be offended?

But no, from the particular features in question I can tell you that it's not any blackness my relatives have in the bloodline.

Thursday said...

Famous black people with significant white ancestry might include:

Jelly Roll Morton
Bob Marley
Smokey Robinson
Etta James
Lester Young
Charles Mingus (also significantly Chinese)

Writers and Speakers:
Charles Chestnut
Jean Toomer
Malcolm X
August Wilson
Derek Wolcott

Muhammad Ali

Anonymous said...

I suppose a re-testing of that stain would reveal whether Slick Willie was partly black.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought the "one drop" rule was both nonsensical (except of course to help in enforcing the former white taboo against miscegenation, particularly by white women) and offensive. So too is any notion that someone say 1/4 black is Black. Of course these days it's mainly blacks, and not (independently) other races/ethnicities that seek to uphold this viewpoint. Hispanics do not, and most Asians do not.

To me if you're 3/4 or more of some race you are that race, or anyway mostly it genetically. Culturally is of course another question but I've got generally the same parameters. In between 1/4 and 3/4 to me you're mixed black/white, or whatever it is.

Anonymous said...

"Well, it sounds like Dumas was around 25% African (Haitian), and from the B&W photo, he indeed seem to look a lot like Cornel West."

You got it! Proved without any doubt that West is 25% African.

"On the other hand, I'm not sure whether too many people would suspect him of being James Watson's long-lost brother..."

Which of course, is solid evidence about Watson's ancestry.

"And it's really not too surprising that "eye-balling" is pretty good means of determining crude ancestry."

If by 'crude' you mean as often wrong as right, you're right on target.

Anonymous said...

Old'n'Grumpy said...

Uh, Steve, you mean "somebody needs to make a HOLLYWOOD movie about Pushkin", because, what a surprise, the Rissian did few already ;-)
"Somebody" just needs to translate them and show them here.

I think Steve is referring to Pushkin's great-grand daddy.

Anonymous said...

Bill Clinton as far as anyone knows isn't part black, but a genetic test would reveal some interesting strands from the Indian subcontinent. His birth father was one of the Blythes, a famous family of Scottish Gypsies.

Anonymous said...

Half-black and very successful American novelist Frank Yerby (1916-1991) lived the last four decades of his life in Spain because he got so tired of Americans insisting that he "represent" the "negro race."

I wish I could think that some of Yerby's work would pass the Murray longevity test ("Seriously?"). Some of it was as good as Walter Scott's (read Yerby's "The Saracen Blade"). Much of it sold very well. Yet his work has all but vanished from consciousness. I blame the public more than the work: his stuff is too recent to be "canonical," too popular to satisfy the pseudo-intellectual snobbishness of English teachers, and puts off the MTV generation by using too many three-syllable words.

I think the only thing that could save Yerby's work would be rediscovery by people pushing "black achievements." Of course, the writer himself did not wish to be pigeonholed in that way. Still, he's dead and his work isn't, yet. I wish schoolteachers would assign Yerby rather than Sister Souljah or Richard Wright. Yerby was an educated, cultivated writer of popular exciting historical fiction with a good deal of research behind it. Students might actually learn something from him.

Anonymous said...

Early American chess genius Paul Morphy was apparently Creole on his mother's side, though, in appearance, he made an albino look bronzed.

Before anyone starts spreading rumours: "Creole" was/is a word for a European born in a Romance-speaking colony (e.g., New Orleans-born French). Don't ask me how "Creoles of color" ended up appropriating the term. As far as I know, no one has ever suggest Morphy had African ancestry.


Instead of revelling in your superiority over the less "progressive", maybe you should stop and ask yourself why others don't see the world the same way you do. Dawkins managed to overcome his politics enough to write some intelligent words on the topic:

People who are universally agreed by all Americans to be 'black' may draw
less than one-eighth of their ancestry from Africa, and often have a light skin
colour well within the normal range for people universally agreed to be 'white'.
In this picture of four American politicians, two are described in all newspapers
as black: the other two as white. Wouldn't a Martian, unschooled in our conventions
but able to see skin shades, be more likely to split them three against one?
Surely yes. But in our culture, almost everybody will immediately 'see' Mr Powell
as 'black', even in this particular photograph which happens to show him with
possibly lighter skin than either Bush or Rumsfeld.
[. . .]
Why do people so readily swallow the apparent contradiction — and there are
numerous similar examples — between the verbal statement, 'he is black',
and the picture it accompanies. What is going on here? Various things. First,
we are curiously eager to embrace racial classification, even when talking
about individuals whose mixed parentage seems to make a nonsense of it
, and
even where (as here) it is irrelevant to anything that matters.

Second, we tend not to describe people as of mixed race. [. . .]

Third, in the particular case of'African-Americans', there is something culturally
equivalent to genetic dominance in our use of language. [. . .] When an Englishman
marries an African, the progeny are intermediate in colour and in most
other characteristics. This is unlike the situation in peas. But we all know how
society will call such children: "black" every time. Blackness is not a true genetic
dominant like smoothness in peas. But social perception of blackness behaves like a dominant. [. . .]

Fourth, there is high inter-observer agreement in our racial categorisations.
A man such as Colin Powell, of mixed race and intermediate physical characteristics,
is not described as white by some observers and black by others. A small
minority will describe him as mixed. All others will without fail describe Mr
Powell as black — and the same goes for anybody who shows the slightest trace of
African ancestry
, even if their percentage of European ancestors is overwhelming.
Nobody describes Colin Powell as white, unless they are trying to make a
political point by the very fact that the word jars against the audience's

There is a useful technique called 'inter-observer correlation'. It is a measure
that is often used in science to establish that there really is a reliable basis for a
judgement, even if nobody can pin down what that basis is. The rationale, in the
present case, is this. We may not know how people decide whether somebody is
'black' or 'white' (and I hope I have just demonstrated that it isn't because they
are black or white!) but there must be some sort of reliable criterion lurking
there because any two randomly chosen judges will come to the same decision.
The fact that the inter-observer correlation remains high, even over a huge
spectrum of inter-races, is impressive testimony to something fairly deep-seated
in human psychology
. If it holds up cross-culturally, it will be reminiscent of the
anthropologists' finding about perception of hue. Physicists tell us that the
rainbow, from red through orange, yellow, green and blue to violet is a simple
continuum of wavelength. It is biology and/or psychology, not physics, that
singles out particular landmark wavelengths along the physical spectrum for
special treatment and naming
. Blue has a name. Green has a name. Blue-green
does not. The interesting finding of anthropologists' experiments (as opposed to
some influential anthropological theories, by the way) is that there is substantial
agreement over such namings across different cultures. We seem to have
the same kind of agreement over judgements of race. It may prove to be even
stronger and clearer than for the rainbow.

As I said, zoologists define a species as a group whose members breed with
each other under natural conditions — in the wild. It doesn't count if they breed
only in zoos, or if we have to use artificial insemination, or if we fool female
grasshoppers with caged singing males, even if the offspring produced are fertile.
We might dispute whether this is the only sensible definition of a species,
but it is the definition that most biologists use.

If we wished to apply this definition to humans, however, there is a peculiar
difficulty: how do we distinguish natural from artificial conditions for interbreeding?
It is not an easy question to answer. Today, all surviving humans are
firmly placed in the same species, and they do indeed happily interbreed. But
the criterion, remember, is whether they choose to do so under natural conditions.
What are natural conditions for humans? Do they even exist any more?
If, in ancestral times, as sometimes today, two neighbouring tribes had different
religions, different languages, different dietary customs, different cultural
traditions and were continually at war with one another; if the members of
each tribe were brought up to believe that the other tribe were subhuman 'animals'
(as happens even today); if their religions taught that would-be sexual
partners from the other tribe were taboo, 'shiksas', or unclean, there could well
be no interbreeding between them.
Yet anatomically, and genetically, they
could be completely the same as each other. And it would take only a change of
religious or other customs to break down the barriers to interbreeding. How,
then, might somebody try to apply the interbreeding criterion to humans? If
Chorthippus brunneus and C. biguttulus are separated as two distinct species of
grasshoppers because they prefer not to interbreed although they physically
could, might humans, at least in ancient times of tribal exclusivity, once have
been separable in the same kind of way? Chorthippus brunneus and C. biguttulus,
remember, in all detectable respects except their song, are identical, and when
they are (easily) persuaded to hybridise their offspring are fully fertile.

[Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale]

Hypodescent rules make perfect sense from the standpoint of evolution.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is the Pushkin black descent was rumored (in part because his features supported it) but isn't really firmly established: Pushkin himself may have encouraged those rumors for the cachet.

WIth regard to Dumas, I heard a funny story -- he overheard a fellow scorning him for his ancestry, he said something like, "It's true. My father was a mulatto, his father was black, and his father was an ape. You see, my family started out where yours left off" which is a pretty good zinger, rilly.

Theodore Breehn said...

Well, this is not much after cshw and Dawkins, but Joseph de Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a mulatto composer and all around interesting personage. He had more of a life than most other composers and is still played

lloyd1927 said...

Polish Mulatto General

LEAD: POLAND'S CARIBBEAN TRAGEDY A Study of Polish Legions in the Haitian War of Independence 1802-1803. By Jan Pachonski and Reuel K. Wilson. Illustrated. 386 pp. New York: East European Monographs/ Columbia University Press. $35.

POLAND'S CARIBBEAN TRAGEDY A Study of Polish Legions in the Haitian War of Independence 1802-1803. By Jan Pachonski and Reuel K. Wilson. Illustrated. 386 pp. New York: East European Monographs/ Columbia University Press. $35.

EARLY on in their study of history Haitian students learn that in the last two years of their country's 13-year war of independence (1791-1804), the Poles became embroiled in a dirty guerrilla war about which they knew nothing and for which they didn't train.

Actually, the Poles were tricked into action. The cunning Napoleon Bonaparte had devised a plan to have his generals, including a half-black Polish general, conscript these ''white negroes of Europe'' into this war intended to reintroduce slavery into Saint-Domingue, then the wealthiest colony of France. The United States played a duplicitous role, supplying both the French and the insurgents, and eventually obtained the biggest prize - the Louisiana Territory, which the French could no longer have held without their military headquarters in Haiti.

Of the approximately 5,300 Polish legionnaires who went to fight ''under duress for an alien and unjust cause,'' some 4,000 were fatalities, the great majority victims of yellow fever. Others were killed in action, some drowned at sea and a good number died in prisons in Jamaica and England.

Wadysaw Franciszek Jabonowski 1769 -1802, was a Polish and French general. He fought during Tadeusz Kosciuszko's uprising in 1794. He participated in battles at Szczekociny, Warsaw, Maciejowice, and at Praga. In 1799 he was made general of brigade of the Polish legions. From 1801 he was the leader of Legia naddunajska. He was sent on his own request to Haiti in May 1802 (before the decision to send the rest of the Polish legions); he worked to put down revolts in the north in August. Jabonowski died from yellow fever on September 29, 1802 in Jérémie , Haiti.

It is noted that his ancestry was part African.

lloyd1927 said...

White descendants of Vice President and Slave

David Mills

The Vice President and the Mulatto
Posted April 26, 2007

Half-hidden in the pages of history is a fascinating story of race, sex
and politics in 19th-Century America.

Let's begin in the present with Brenda Gene Gordon, a 67-year-old
*white* woman in Chandler, Ariz., who has been researching her family's history.

Mrs. Gordon is a direct descendant of a U.S. vice president. But she
only discovered that fact in recent years. Her ancestor is Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, the ninth vice president of the United States (1837-1841). He served under Martin Van Buren.

How on earth could Brenda Gordon not have known that her
great-great-great-grandfather was Vice President Richard M. Johnson?
Wasn't this fact passed proudly from generation to generation inside her family?

No, it was not.

Why not? Because the woman who bore Johnson's two children -- a woman named Julia Chinn -- was, by law, a Negro. And in Johnson's time (not to mention since), this was scandalous.

"I grew up never hearing the names Richard M. Johnson (even in Kentucky history classes) or Julia Chinn," Mrs. Gordon wrote to me during a recent email exchange.

How much of a "Negro" was Julia Chinn? Well, she was a slave... a slave Richard Johnson inherited from his father. She was "Negro" enough that Johnson couldn't have married her legally.

Yet she was, in effect, his common-law wife.

"She was the hostess at his Kentucky home when [French aristocrat] the
Marquis de Lafayette visited," wrote Lindsey Apple, a retired Georgetown
College history professor, in answer to questions from me.

Evidently Julia Chinn was one-eighths black (i.e., she had one black
great-grandparent). She was described as a "mulatto" but she was, more
precisely, an "octoroon."

No paintings of Julia are known to exist, but she must've been very
light-skinned. *Her two daughters by Richard M. Johnson -- Imogene Chinn
Johnson and Adaline Chinn Johnson -- both married white men.*

*Which means that Imogene and Adaline became bona fide, fully vested
white people. And well-off ones, because Richard Johnson gave some of
his farmland to each of them and their husbands.*

Extraordinary. Especially when you consider that Richard Mentor Johnson
was a politician.

His public career
included terms in the Kentucky state legislature (1804-1806; 1819), the
U.S. House of Representatives (1807-1819; 1829-1837) and the U.S. Senate
(1819-1829) prior to his becoming vice president.

I still can't figure out how he managed to get elected and re-elected
(in Kentucky!) when his love life with a Negro slave was pretty much an
open secret.

Johnson's political enemies sure did their best to spread the word about
his babies' mama.

Duff Green, a partisan journalist of the era, is said to have described
Julia Chinn as "a jet-black, thick-lipped, odiferous negro wench." Duff
declared it to be "astonishing" that Richard Johnson had "reared a
family of children whom he endeavored to force upon society as equals."

Prof. Apple, in his email, told me: "Some of the propaganda, i.e.
mudslinging said he tried to introduce his wife and daughters into
Washington society. I have found no evidence to substantiate that."

But Johnson did dote on his daughters, and he saw to it that Imogene and
Adaline were well-educated.

It's indicative of the historical fog surrounding Julia Chinn that
author Roger G. Kennedy stated incorrectly, in his 1990 book
Rediscovering America, that Julia "served as the vice president's
official hostess in Washington."

As Prof. Apple points out, "Julia died in the cholera epidemic of 1833,"
several years before Johnson took office as vice president. And during
Johnson's years in Congress, Julia stayed behind in Kentucky, overseeing
his large farm.

At least Roger Kennedy knows there's a story here. He described Julia Chinn as a "deliberately forgotten woman."

lloyd1927 said...

Years ago the magazine Soviet Life carried an article on Soviet "black" citizens native to the Black Sea area. The author was a mulatto Russian (American Negro father)named Slava Tynes. The few dark-skinned people interviewed were dark mulattoes, and their children and grandchildren were all white.


The Negro in Imperial Russia: A Preliminary Sketch, by Allison Blakely
The Journal of Negro History © 1976Association for the Study of
African-American Life and History, Inc.

lloyd1927 said...


Many Southern whites are descended from people labeled "free people of color" during the antebellum period:

Anonymous said...

WIth regard to Dumas, I heard a funny story -- he overheard a fellow scorning him for his ancestry, he said something like, "It's true. My father was a mulatto, his father was black, and his father was an ape. You see, my family started out where yours left off" which is a pretty good zinger, rilly.

I like that. It reminds me of an exchange Mark Twain had with a Frenchman who sniffed, "Most Americans do not even know who their grandfathers were."

Twain replied, "Most Frenchmen do not know who their fathers were."

As a white from Africa I cannot understand that statement. I don't find anything exotic or charismatic about Africans.

Well, Russians aren't whites from Africa. Pushkin's grandfather was probably the only one most of them had ever seen in their lives. The fact that he was such a colorful personality must have added to the fascination.

I remember when I was in England in the early '80's and a Brit asked me about my unusual (for Britain) last name. I replied that my paternal grandfather had been born in Prague. "I thought there very something very exotic looking about you," said the Brit.

Well, he was obviously making the moves, but I was amused because I grew up in a neighborhood in Milwaukee where Czech and Polish (and Italian and Irish) last names were no more "exotic" than dandelions. The Smiths and the Joneses were the exotics in my book. I recall being shocked when I discovered at age 11 or so that America was predominately Protestant. Where were these Protestants? I didn't know any.

Now that immigrants from Eastern Europe have been moving to the UK, I doubt anyone there thinks of Czechs as "exotic" these days.

Anonymous said...

Famous black people with significant white ancestry might include:

In America, just about every black person alive. Lots of slavemaster genes in the black bloodline. 15-20% by most estimates.

That's the delicious irony of it - blacks may yap about the horrors of slavery, but they have more slavemasters in their family trees than most white people do.

[Bill CLinton's] birth father was one of the Blythes, a famous family of Scottish Gypsies.

Yeah, and Bill Clinton's birth father had at least two other wives besides Bill's mother (at the same time), and at least two other kids besides Bill.

When Clinton was first elected president, a lady came forward saying "that was my father, too." Bill pretended to be happy. Then a guy came forward saying "that guy was my father, too." Then Bill stopped saying anything.

lloyd1927 said...

More black genes in White Americans than you know:

"Miscegenation and the Free Negro (sic) in Antebellum 'Anglo'
Alabama: A Reexamination of Southern Race Relations" by Gary B.
Mills in The Journal of American History, Vol. 6, No. 1, June
1981. Pp. 16-34.

Check pages 27 through 31 of this long articles and you will see where Mills shows that families of known racially mixed ancestry moved from "colored" to "white" status within a generation or two with the knowledge and consent of the white community. This information totally contradicts the myth of "passing."

"Race and Kinship in a Midwestern Town: The Black (sic) Experience in Monroe, Michigan, 1900-1915" by James E. DeVries
University of Illinois Press.

DeVries plainly states that the white community of Monroe, Michigan accepted the mobility of part-black whites into the white community. This again contradicts the "passing" myth.

A quote from the book: "Crossing over was not the silent mechanism that some historians have indicated. It involved not only racial heritage but, ironically, family and personal identity. Could an individual known
to have an African ancestry be regarded and defined as white? Yes, the interracial backgrounds and unions off the Fosters and Duncansons were matters of public knowledge. Each of the families had a long, continuous heritage in Monroe, and descendants residing in the community today beat
no stigma of race and are generally viewed as Caucasian." (P. 150)

lloyd1927 said...

"Pocahontas: The Evolution of An American Narrative" by Robert
S. Tilton -- Cambridge University Press.

Tilton explores the role of Pocahontas and the "Indian Princess" legend in creating white elite identity and legitimizing the stealing of Indian lands. The claim of descent from an Indian Princess is very popular among many whites. Tilton argues that is a way of saying that we didn't
steal the land but inherited it.

Here's another interesting quote from Tilton:

"...for many base wretches amongst us take up with negro women, by which means the country swarms with mulatto bastards, and these mulattoes, if but three generations removed from the black father or mother, may, by
the indulgence of the laws of the country, intermarry with the white
people, and actually do every day so marry. Now, if instead of this
abominable practice which hath polluted the blood of many amongst us, we had taken Indian wives in the first place, it would have made them some compensation for their lands. ...We should become rightful heirs to their lands and should not have smutted our blood..."

The Rev. Peter Fontaine of Virginia, 1757.

By Ira Berlin (Vintage Books, 1974).

This book SHOULD be called "THE FREE MULATTO OR MULTIRACIAL..." However, Berlin would never have won the National Historical Society Book Award if he had been that honest. Most of the "free colored" caste could be called multiracial as opposed to "black." The best thing about Berlin's
book is how he details the antebellum laws that acknowledged varying admixtures of black ancestry in the white population (as opposed to the "one drop" rule that really had its origins in the 20th century). Here's an interesting passage:

"Fearful of pushing too many persons of both colors to the wrong sides of the color line, the South Carolina legislature never legally defined the Negro and left the problem of distinguishing between mixed-bloods and whites up to the courts. South Carolina jurists generally drew the
line between white and black at somewhere between a quarter and an
eighth Negro ancestry, but they also made legal passing contingent on social acceptability as well. .. Allowing the question of whiteness to turn on public acceptance as well as genealogy enabled many well-placed whites to free their mulatto children from their proscribed status."

Francis Russell. McGraw-Hill, 1968).

This book is interesting to students of racial classification because of the racist smear campaign conducted during Harding's presidential
campaign in 1920 - that he was part Negro. Russell provides fascinating detail on this campaign, an issue that the Harding family is still
sensitive about. Harding won anyway.

THE LIVES OF JEAN TOOMER: A HUNGER FOR WHOLENESS. By Cynthia Earl Kerman and Richard Eldridge.. (Louisiana State niversity, Press, 1987)

Falsely labeled as a "black" author because of his book of poetry and short stories, CANE (which deals almost exclusively with multiracial people), Toomer fought a life-long battle to be recognized for what he
truly was. His theories of a "universal man" beyond racial demarcation makes him an important dissenting voice against the hypodescent status quo.

His neighbors considered him white and his daughter identified as white. Toomer was NOT BLACK.

by J. David Smith. (George Mason University Press, 1993).

Smith shows the 20th century link between anti-miscegenation laws and the eugenics movement. Forced sterilization of the institutionalized,
racial registration and restricting miscegenation were all linked to the idea of "improving" the [white] gene pool. The best part of the book is the hidden history of the minority of fanatical racial purists who
wanted to ban all non-caucasian ancestry (with the exception of small amounts of American Indian ancestry possessed by white elites such as the descendants of Pocahontas) from the white "race." Special emphasis is placed on Virginia and the men whose names are unknown but should go
down in infamy: Walter Plecker (who headed Virginia's bureau of vital statistics and delighted in hunting down "impure" whites and Indians) and Virginia aristocrat John Powell of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs. Showing the link between black nationalism and white racism, Smith details the
friendship between John Powell and Marcus Garvey (both believed in
promoting racial purity).

Most of the people Walter Plecker tried to turn into "Negroes" have white descendants. "Passing" is easy, Steve, when you're already of European phenotype (the way most people define "white").

1789-1879. By Adele Logan Alexander. (University of Arkansas
Press, 1991).

While the author slavishly subscribes to hypodescent, she provides good historical detail on how the privileged social and educational opportunities of Southern multiracials were due to their often close ties with whites fathers and other relatives (as opposed to the myth of the callous white rapist lavemaster "breeding" more slaves). These privileges created the myth that mulattoes and mixed-whites were the
"flower of the colored race." These "mulatto elites" filled the "Negro" colleges and universities and reinforced the idea that intelligence
comes from "white blood." When you recognize this history, you can see why the NAACP makes the ridiculous claim that losing non-blacks to a "multiracial" category will somehow destroy all the progress that "blacks" have made. Many of them probably still have the tacit belief that intelligence comes from "white blood."

lloyd1927 said...

Excerpts from Personal Observations on Bliss Broyard’s One Drop by Frank W. Sweet

Any molecular anthropologist can explain that as many as 30 percent of White Americans have detectable sub-Saharan DNA markers from slave ancestors who crossed the color line. (See Afro-European Genetic Admixture in the United States.) And it is easy enough to compute that about 35,000 European-looking Americans every year switch from calling themselves “Black” to “White” when they leave high school. (See The Rate of Black-to-White “Passing”.) The good news is that this book will educate readers at a personal family level just how this happens. The bad news is that its author inadvertently reifies Americans’ false dichotomy because she is apparently still struggling with the realization that mixed Afro-Euro-Native American ancestry is the norm in this hemisphere, and that the obviously counterfactual U.S. myth of White “racial” purity is the strange pathological exception.

Anonymous said...

"But in our culture, almost everybody will immediately 'see' Mr Powell as 'black'"

I'm not sure about his use of 'our culture' there. In Britain we traditionally were happy to classify people as 'mixed race'. If that is changing it is because of assimilation to Anglo-American 'one drop' norms, but my impression is that such a process has a long way to go.

Generally speaking, I think British commentators when talking about race of eg foreign politicians use the classification system of the relevant country. So black-skinned Muslim residents of Khartoum are 'Arab', because that's what they call themselves, while Barack Obama or Colin Powell are 'black' because that's how they're classified in American culture. Personally I get some cognitive dissonance with the idea that a mostly-white mixed race Brit like Malcolm Gladwell is 'black' - that's how he self-identifies, and it fits American norms, but in Britain he'd be seen as, if not white, then 'mixed', 'Londatto' (Londoners of mixed black-white ancestry, a very common & rapidly growing group), or simply undefined - Brits traditionally haven't been nearly as sensitive to race as Americans. As a Brit I still have some trouble seeing many American 3/4-whites as 'black', but I'm getting more used to it.

A couple of weeks back I was at a talk by a white, somewhat tanned Australian woman about Aboriginal rights, who announced that she was an Australian Aboriginal. She had an Anglo name, she looked Anglo. I had a lot of trouble not querying this self-classification, which she clearly had a lot of her self-formulated identity bound up in.

Anonymous said...

J Edgar Hoover looked as if he had some black ancestry.

Anonymous said...

The use of words that imply "mixed race" (such as mulatto, half-caste, and so on) seems to have been under political attack for a couple of generations. Presumably this is because they are unwelcome to the Race Relations Industry.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and Bill Clinton's birth father had at least two other wives besides Bill's mother (at the same time), and at least two other kids besides Bill.

Except that unless Bill Clinton was born severely premature (by 1946 standards), William Blythe could not have been his father. Records came to light showing that Blythe was still in the Army and stationed in Italy at least through the end of December 1945, and probably for some weeks into 1946. Bill was born on 11 August, some three months after Blythe was killed in a car wreck in Missouri. Did Bill's birth certificate record his birth weight?

Anonymous said...

J Edgar Hoover looked as if he had some black ancestry.

Some people think it was proof of this, rather than evidence of homosexuality, that the Mob had on him to hold over his head. Others think the gay/cross-dressing rumors were subtly encouraged by Hoover himself to decoy speculation away from his ancestry.

A few years ago an African-American woman named McGhee published a book:
the thesis of which was summarized (in the UK!) at:,3604,335802,00.html
According to McGee's research, "Hoover's grandfather and great-grandfather lived in a segregated black area of Washington and were classified in a census as "coloured".

I haven't seen the book, but in speaking to one who has, says it does contain photocopies of census documents and birth records that are pretty surprising.

Anonymous said...

"Bill was born on 11 August, some three months after Blythe was killed in a car wreck in Missouri. "

I've always thought of Bill Clinton as the product of incest myself. Now there's a topic you'll have trouble finding documented either by birth records or anecdotal evidence.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought of Bill Clinton as the product of incest myself.
With the brother, uncle or father?

Anonymous said...

Peter Ustinov's great-grandmother was from the Ethiopian royal family. According to Wikipedia, that could make him "the first man of known African descent to have won an Academy Award".

Anonymous said...

"With the brother, uncle or father?"

I hadn't thought that much about the details. Let's just say the man is from Arkansas and something's not quite right about him. Ok, many things aren't quite right - sex addiction, pathological lying, inability to fake a higher standard of behavior while being president for all our sakes, inability to retire from public life in order to have his foibles fade from public memory as quickly as possible.

I'm still working on an explanation for Hillary but don't want to insult the nice people who happen to have Asperger's by claiming Hillary is one of them. Any votes for a childhood frontal lobotomy leaving her unable to react emotionally yet able to plot revenge?

Psychotherapeutic political commentary by Fifi

Half Sigma said...

Post above alludes to Warren Harding being part black. Was it ever disproven?

Anonymous said...

There are many "famous people who actually were significantly black."

Everybody on BET, for starters.

Also OJ Simpson, Rodney King, Michael Jackson, Oprah, Colin Ferguson, and the rest.

Anonymous said...

How about Bob Ross?

Although his paintings are pretty lame, he was one of the best performance artists I've ever seen on TV.

From the looks of his 'fro, the guy's got to be part black.

Bob's a legend. Did you know he's almost as popular in Germany as David Hasselhoff?

Anonymous said...


The nub of your Mark Twain story is
all that's correct. But Twain never said it to a Frenchman or to anyone, for that matter.

That nub is just part of the complicated story of a hoax perpetrated by Twain to show up and embarrass eastern "establishment" literati, who'd portrayed him as a backwoods boor devoid of refinement. If you're interested, the matter is the subject of his "A Note to M. Paul Bourget" (himself a product of Twain's fertile imagination).

It's over 50 years since I read it but I'd recommend it highly (along with almost anything else the man wrote).

Anonymous said...

I think it's more likely the white blood in modern American blacks being attributed to slaveholders actually derived from the lower classes, overseers in particular.

Anonymous said...

I've also wondered about Bob Ross.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite artists was George Herriman, the author of the comic strip Krazy Kat. He was a creole born in New Orleans. His father moved his family to Los Angeles near the end of the 19th century, perhaps to avoid the increasingly draconian race laws of the American south.

Herriman and his wife and daughters passed as white in LA, but he couldn't resist poking fun at the social mores of his time. From the wikipedia article on Herriman;

In another strip published in 1931, an art critic visits and describes Krazy and Ignatz as "a study in black & white". Krazy responds saying "he means us: Me bleck, You white" and suggests that the two "fool him. You be bleck and I'll be white" and in the next panel Krazy is white while Ignatz is black. The critic responds by declaring the transformation "another study in black & white".

I've never seen a photograph of Herriman without his fedora; he never drew a picture of himself without it. Allegedly his hair was the only giveaway to his African ancestry.

Anonymous said...

There are other famous people are part black:
Judy Canova is part black due to Emmanuel Driggers and other white ancestors.
Johnny Depp (an actor), Kristen Allen (an actor), and Laurence Herman "Gus" Versluis (a crime victim of the McDonald's incident), is part black due to William Grinstead (a Caucasian) and Elizabeth Key (an African-Caucasian woman.)

Anonymous said...

Kristen Allen should have been Krista Allen. Kristen Allen is pure white, while Krista Allen is part African-American. I apologize for the inconvience of information.

Anonymous said...

Here is an explanation of the several descendants of Grinsteads:

Krista Allen:
William Grinstead marriage to Elizabeth Kay (Key), an African-European American-William Grinstead II-William Grinstead III-John Grinstead-Richard Grinstead-Richard Grinstead II-Elizabeth Grinstead-Elizabeth Jane King-Bertha Blanche Simmons-Mary Elizabeth Nolan-Katherine Mary Raposa-Krista Allen

Johnny Depp:
William Grinstead marriage to Elizabeth Kay (Key), an African-European American.-William Grinstead II-William Grinstead III-John Grinstead-Philip Grinstead-Philip Wade Grinstead-Christopher Tompkins Grinstead-Roy Grinstead-Violet Grinstead-John Christopher Depp-John Christopher Depp II

Laurence Herman "Gus" Versluis:
William Grinstead marriage to Elizabeth Kay (Key), an African-European American.-William Grinstead II-William Grinstead III-John Grinstead-Jesse Boles Grinstead-Jesse Boles Grinstead II-Jesse Boles Grinstead III-John Thomas Grinstead-Clara May Grinstead-Bonnie Bell Martin-Laurence Herman "Gus" Versluis

Unknown said...

You bring out some interesting stuff. I am rather interested in your comments about black inhabitants of the south of Russia.

That was where the wife of Peter the Great was from, a servant girl who, in the book "Peter the Great" black eyed, dark skinned and blond, with a most stunning figure. She had been a Turkish slave at one time, I believe.

After she bore Peter several, I think 6, kids, she dyed her hair black. In surviving paintings of her, she is black haired with rather fair complexion. Anyway, I have wondered if she might have been part African.

One of histories most fascinating women, born a slave to rise to possibly the most powerful woman in History, after Peter's death.


Anonymous said...

There most certainly is a Soviet film about Pushkin's illustrious African ancestor. It is called "How Tsar Peter the Great Married Off His Moor" and stars the iconic Russian musician/poet/actor Vladimir Vysotsky in blackface. It was made in the mid-70's I think.

Anonymous said...

You are a racist fool