Start Looking
Showing posts with label African Americans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label African Americans. Show all posts

Monday, March 09, 2009

Haley's Highland Roots

DNA testing shows that the paternal ancestors of Chris Haley (and of his famous uncle Alex) came from Africa by way of Scotland.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Sorry, Jesse, the Afterlife is Integrated

Like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Monroe and Eva Gabor, Senator Jesse Helms has died on the Fourth of July. I have to say that I was shocked and saddened to learn that he hadn't died years ago.

From Wikipedia:

Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker noted in his memoirs that Helms had "the 'humorous habit'" of calling all black people "Fred".
A MeFi commenter compares this to the demeaning practice of calling all Pullman porters "George":
In 1916 the Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping Car Porters “George” (SPCSCPG) was founded by a wealthy Chicagoan, George William Dulany, Jr. Over the following two decades the society’s ranks swelled to over 30,000 people, all named George and including French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, George Herman “Babe” Ruth, and King George II of Greece. The SPCSCPG was partly a half-joking expression of the annoyance the Georges felt at sharing a nickname with the African-Americans who staffed the Pullman Company’s sleeping cars. However, there were those among the society’s Georges who saw and objected to the racism involved in the practice; in the antebellum South slaves were often called by their masters’ first names, and the Pullman Porters were viewed as something like the slaves of George Pullman. [Link]
Me, I call all the bigots I meet "A**hole."

Monday, April 07, 2008

David Wilson? Meet David Wilson

Meeting David Wilson premieres April 11 on MSNBC.

David Wilson, a 28-year-old African-American journalist, journeys into his family’s past to find answers to America’s racial divide. Along the way he meets another David Wilson, the descendant of his family’s slave master. This discovery leads to a momentous encounter between these two men of the same name but whose ancestors were on the opposite sides of freedom. Through DNA testing, David determines his African roots and returns to his native land. [Link]

Friday, February 15, 2008

Forbidden Love in the Cemetery

The first installment of a new Roots Television series, Down Under, tells the story of an unlikely love affair. A love affair even more unlikely than mine and Gwyneth's.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Found Photos

Get warmed up for Wednesday's premiere of African American Lives 2 by checking out this amazing collection of snapshots and home movies at Square America. Some of my favorites.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Man Killed by Own Obit

Warning: Reading your own obituary can be hazardous to your health.

After suffering a stroke in 1940, black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey became incapacitated. Rumors began to circulate that he had died, and before Garvey could quell them, he ran across a premature obituary for himself in the Chicago Defender which described him as a man who died “broke, alone and unpopular.” According to people close to Garvey, upon reading it he let out a loud moan and collapsed to the floor, where he suffered a second stroke. By the following morning, he was dead at fifty-three. [Link]

Monday, January 28, 2008

NYT Gets to the Problem of The Root

The Washington Post has just launched an online magazine called The Root that aims to be a "Slate for black readers." One section of the site is devoted to helping African Americans trace their ancestry. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is editor in chief, and (the New York Times snidely notes) has a financial interest in getting readers to give up their DNA.

[The site] will also urge people to have DNA testing, which can help them trace their backgrounds to specific ethnic groups and parts of the world. It will offer links to companies that do the testing.

One such company the site will direct people to,, is co-owned by Mr. Gates, a relationship that would be prohibited at some publications.

“I don’t see a conflict of interest,” he said, because The Root will fully disclose his roles and will link to every company that does the DNA testing. [Link]

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Surprise in Jim's Genes

James Watson—who helped discover the structure of DNA, and suggested recently that black people are genetically inferior to whites—has had his own genome sequenced.

An analysis of his genome shows that 16% of his genes are likely to have come from a black ancestor of African descent. By contrast, most people of European descent would have no more than 1%.

The study was made possible when he allowed his genome - the map of all his genes - to be published on the internet in the interests of science.

“This level is what you would expect in someone who had a great-grandparent who was African,” said Kari Stefansson of deCODE Genetics, whose company carried out the analysis. “It was very surprising to get this result for Jim.” [Link]
Based on Watson's own arguments, this means that he is 16 times more likely to say stupid things about race and intelligence than the average person of European descent.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Genealogue Challenge #97

Is this the World War I draft registration card of gospel blues pioneer Blind Willie Johnson? Michael Corcoran thinks it's possible.

Johnson’s widow, Angeline Johnson, said that Johnson had been blinded at about age 7 when a girlfriend of Blind Willie’s father threw lye in his face to avenge a beating. In the 1918 document, when Johnson was 21, he says he’d been blind for 13 years.
The death certificate, with information provided by Angeline Johnson, has Blind Willie’s birthdate at Jan 22, 1897; draft card puts it at Jan. 25, 1897. Considering record-keeping of the time, especially among itinerant African Americans, that’s close enough. Death certificate says he was born in Independence, near Brenham; draft card puts his birth at Pendleton, near Temple, which has long been thought of as Blind Willie’s birthplace. Could it be that Angeline said “Pendleton” and the doctor heard “Independence?”
What additional evidence (circumstantial or otherwise) can you find that this document indeed refers to Blind Willie?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

News of Emancipation Came Late

Cain Wall's family in Mississippi was allegedly held in slavery until 1961. It wasn't until 2001 that his daughter discovered that their bondage was illegal.

The Wall family had no idea that they were free even though Black families in nearby Liberty, Miss., owned businesses and attended school.

Cain Wall Sr. was born in 1902 into peonage in St. Helena Parish, La. He worked the fields and milked cows for white families while believing he had no rights as a man. Peonage is a system where one is bound to service for payment of a debt. It was an illegal system that flourished in the rural South after slavery was abolished. Mr. Cain was born into this system believing that he was bound to these people that held him and his relatives captive. [Link, via]
Cain (who was probably about 104 at the time) made an appearance on Nightline last year.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In Tune With Her Ancestors

Forget genetealogy. Jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater found a way to trace her African ancestry without swabbing her cheek or spitting in a cup.

A genealogical search for ancestors led back only 150 years, then the trail went cold. Bridgewater found a way to bridge the gap: “I’m a very intuitive person. I decided to just listen to music. I thought when I heard the music of the country my ancestors are from, I would recognize it. When I heard the music of Mali, it struck a very deep chord, and I just knew.” [Link]
The same thing happened to me! I wasn't sure of my Finnish heritage until I heard this.
[Photo credit: Dee Dee Bridgewater (ii) by Bruno Bollaert]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Genealogue Challenge #44

This challenge comes from Genealogue reader Debbie Atchley. It concerns American civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks, who was executive head of the NAACP from 1977 to 1992. His paternal grandmother was the second black woman in the U.S. to graduate from college.

When did she marry his paternal grandfather?

An extra credit challenge from me: When did she marry her previous husband?

Friday, September 07, 2007

His Uncle Was Fearless

Supreme Court Justice and civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall's forename has an interesting history.

In honor of his paternal grandfather, Thurgood was given two first names, Thorneygood and Thoroughgood, when he was born. When Thurgood's grandfather, a former slave, had joined the U.S. Army, he hadn't been sure what to call himself. So he signed up under both names and later wound up getting two sets of retirement checks. In time, grandson Marshall would decide he preferred the name Thoroughgood. In the second or third grade, he would shorten it to Thurgood. [Link]
His mother's family had its share of unusual names as well.
His maternal grandfather, Isaiah O. B. (for Olive Branch, he said) Williams, also went to sea, came home with money and a taste for opera and Shakespeare. He opened a grocery on Baltimore's Den-meade Street, and sired six children. The first was Avonia Delicia and the second Avon (both for the bard's river), the third was Denmedia Marketa (for the store), another was Norma Arica (he heard Norma in Arica, a Chilean port) and the remaining two, for reasons lost to history, were Fearless Mentor and Ravine Silestria. [Link]

Monday, July 16, 2007

'Dat turn the world upside down'

Danette Holmes Burnette discovered that her great-great-grandfather, a slave named Cornelius Holmes, was owned by U.S. Congressman Preston Brooks.

The same Preston Brooks who beat a senator unconscious on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856 after that senator denounced slavery.

The incident sparked a national furor, prompting Brooks' resignation and return to office, shortly before the Civil War.
Burnette even found an interview with Cornelius among the Slave Narratives on the Library of Congress website.
"Dat turn the world upside down," is what Cornelius Holmes told the interviewer of what Preston Brooks did. [Link]

Sunday, July 15, 2007

One Dunham Danced

Tim Agazio has the coolest name origin (even if it is just speculative). By way of comparison, my surname is an old English place name meaning "homestead by the hill," "estate on a hill," or "settlement on a hill." Tim's ancestors were named for holy warriors, mine for prime real estate.

The spelling is usually "Dunham," though the "Donham" spelling was sometimes used in the 18th century when my forebears lived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and adjacent towns. When my ancestor, Moses Dunham, moved to Hartford, Maine, he took with him the "Dunham" spelling. When his brothers Thomas and James Thomas migrated to the nearby town of Hebron, they were denominated "Donham." It's hard to tell whether this was a deliberate choice (doubtful stories abound of men who changed the spelling of their surnames to distinguish themselves from siblings). Bill West of West in New England descends from a son of James Thomas Donham who readopted the "Dunham" spelling.

The Dunham name is neither rare nor common in the U.S. It became more common when a shady character named Jonathan Singletary began using it as an alias. Before absconding to New Jersey, he raised some hell in Plymouth.

Wheras Jonathan Dunham, alias Shingleterry, hath long absented himselfe from his wife and family, tho advised and warned by authoritie to repaire to them, and for some considerable time hath bine wandering about from place to place as a vagabond in this collonie, alsoe deseminating his corrupt principles, and drawing away another mans wife, following him vp and down against her husbands consent; and att last hee meeting with and accompanying a younge woman called Mary Rosse, led by inthewiasticall power, hee said hee must doo whatt shee bad him, and according did, both of them, on her motion, att the house of John Irish, att Little Compton, kill his dogg, against the declared will of the said Irish; and although hee put them out of his house, yett they would goe in againe; and according to theire antick trickes and foolish powers, made a fier in the said house, and threw the dogg vpon it, and shott of a gun seuerall times, and burnt some other thinges in the house, to the hazard of burning of his house and younge children, keeping the dores and not opening them to the said John Irish when he come with some of his naighbors to rescue the same; to the disturbance of his maties peace commaunded, and against the laws. [Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England (1856), 6:113f]
He was sentenced to be "publickly whipt att the post" and was booted from the colony. Among his descendants was Ann Dunham, the mother of Barack Obama.

The most famous person to bear my surname was a remarkable woman named Katherine Dunham. A pioneer of modern dance, she was the daughter of Albert M. Dunham, a dry-cleaner in Joliet, Illinois, and the granddaughter of John Dunham, a former slave who settled in Memphis after emancipation. If our paternal lines intersected, it was probably in some millennium long past. Katherine died last year, but her legacy lives on at the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities.

I should also mention Dunham Bootmakers, a company founded by three brothers from North Paris, Maine—just a stone's throw from my hometown of Greenwood. They were distant cousins of mine, but neglected to mention me in their wills.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Genealogy Blogger to Appear on PBS

Genealogy blogger George Geder is featured in an article in today's Santa Fe New Mexican, and will appear on next week's episode of History Detectives.

George Geder said the story began when a total stranger, Angelo Scarloto of Etters, Pa., bought a vintage photograph at an antique shop.

It depicts 26 men in their 50s or older, wearing medals from the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal association of Union soldiers. Two men are black; the other 24 are white.

Civil War buff Scarloto “was curious about that because, given the tenor of the times, he thought it unusual for these two African Americans to be in this photograph,” Geder said. [Link]
If I ever appear on PBS, I hope it's on This Old House. I'm going to name my first child Norm, even if it's a girl.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Cream of Wheat Man Has a Name

Frank L. White—thought to have been the model for the "Cream of Wheat man"—finally has a proper marker on his grave in Leslie, Michigan.

On Wednesday, a granite gravestone was placed at his burial site. It bears his name and an etching taken from the man depicted on the Cream of Wheat box.
Researcher Jesse Lasorda started the campaign to secure a marker. He discovered that White was a naturalized citizen, born in Barbados in about 1867.
The chef was photographed about 1900 while working in a Chicago restaurant. His name was not recorded. White was a chef, traveled a lot, was about the right age and told neighbors that he was the Cream of Wheat model, the Jackson Citizen Patriot said. [Link]

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Roots a Risky Venture

I remember Roots as an amazing television event. But Fred Silverman and other ABC executives had serious reservations about broadcasting the miniseries back in 1977.

Convinced that "Roots" would be a ratings disaster at best and, at worst, might inflame blacks and start riots across the country, the ABC chieftain decided to run off the entire program over one week ... to get it out of the way before sweeps began.

"We were terrified when we put it on the air," says Brandon Stoddard, then the ABC executive most directly involved in the miniseries. Stoddard says some Southern states would not even show the program for fear of inciting riots. [Link]

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Did She Mention Chicken George?

Dr. Tony Martin wrote a biography of Amy Ashwood Garvey, the first wife of Back-to-Africa proponent Marcus Garvey, in which he revealed her interest in genealogy.

"In 1946, she was able to trace her ancestry back to Asante in Ghana, similar to Alex Haley in Roots. The similarities to Haley are so great that if she had done it after Haley, I would have thought she plagiarised him," Martin said. [Link]
Hmm, I wonder if there could be a more logical explanation for the similarities...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Dick Cheney's Black Son

Bob Ray Sanders explains in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram how his father, James McKinley Sanders, came to be known as "Dick Cheney."

Dad's mother died when he was 12, and he was raised by his maternal grandparents, Major and Malinda Cheney. He was one of the heirs to their estate.
So it's easy to see how he was referred to as a "Cheney" boy, having been raised on what many in the Riverside area and other parts of the county referred to as "the Cheney ranch." But where does the "Dick" come from? [Link]
The "Dick" comes from Major Cheney's father, Richard.

When asked by his niece, "Do you really suppose we're related to the vice president?" Sanders responded, "Let's not go there."

   Older Posts »
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...