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6 American Presidents Who Were Black

Updated on October 13, 2015
US President, Barrack Obama
US President, Barrack Obama | Source

Introduction

The United States of America (USA) made history when Barack Obama was duly elected leader a country deep racial history. He became the first African-American to become Commander in Chief and hold the mantle of leadership in the country. However, some historian, albeit controversial, believe he may not have been the first with President with African lineage but the first to openly acknowledge his ancestry.

There have been a number of USA Presidents who have been associated with an African lineage, and despite being honoured as the ‘first black president’ by the Congressional Black Caucus in 2001, it definitely wasn’t Bill Clinton.

A far a historians are concerned, there have been five (5) US Presidents who had ‘black blood’ in their genealogy before Obama. They were John Hanson, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826)
Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826) | Source

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was the 3rd President of the US and held the leadership from 1801 – 1809. He was described in a book called the ‘The Johnny Cake Papers’ by Thomas Hazard as the ‘son of a half breed Indian squaw and a Virginia mulatto father’. Mulatto was the term then used to describe what we would called mixed race. Interestingly, Jefferson would destroy all effects relating to his mother when she died in 1776.

According to Samuel Sloan in his book, ‘The Slave Children of Thomas Jefferson’, the president destroyed all documents and effects relating to his mother when she passed. He also went to the extent of asking all those who had correspondence with his mother to return her letters which he allegedly destroyed.

The account is rather strange considering he saved more than 18, 000 copies of his own letters and documents for posterity.

Andrew Jackson

The seventh President from 1829 - 1837, Andrew Jackson, was according to Virginia Magazine of History Volume 29 the son of an Irish woman who married a black man. It further said his eldest brother was sold into slavery in Carolina.

According to a newsletter titled ‘Why Obama Will Not Be the First Black President’, Jackson Snr had died years before and Jackson Jnr’s father was an African-American. It also said further evidence of his brother’s sale into slavery can be found the book Ordeal of a Presidency (1960) by David Coyle.

Andrew Jackson (1767 - 1845)
Andrew Jackson (1767 - 1845)
An iconic photograph of Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)
An iconic photograph of Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

Abraham Lincoln

The 16th President, Abraham Lincoln whose greatest accomplishment is abolishing slavery was also said to have been fathered by a black man.

According to historical records, Abraham was the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. However, Joel Augustus Rogers claims his mother quoting him as the illegitimate son of an African-American, a claim backed by William Herndon.

In his book, ‘The Hidden Lincoln’, Herdon describes Lincoln as dark skinned and coursed hair, and that his mother was from an Ethiopian tribe. He also said that Thomas Lincoln; Abraham's father, was sterile after having contracted the mumps in his childhood and was later castrated.

Abraham Lincoln’s heritage drew so much controversy in a then highly racial society that it earned him death threats and attacks. There is even a cartoon depicting him as black with the caption, ‘Abraham Africanus the First.’

A sketch mocking Abraham Lincoln
A sketch mocking Abraham Lincoln
Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding was the 29th President from 1921 – 1923 and probably the only President who did not deny his African heritage. When asked by Republican leaders to deny his ‘negro’ history, he replied by saying:

“How should I know whether or not one my ancestors might have jumped the fence?”

Harding’s African genealogy was traced by a Professor William Chancellor at Wooster College in Ohio and published in a book about Harding family genealogy and identified African ancestry in both of Harding’s parents. However, it is alleged that all copies of the publication were bought and destroyed by the US Department of Justice.

Chancellor also indicated evidence of Harding’s academic credentials as proof of his lineage. He alleged that the former President’s only academic credentials included Iberia College, currently known as Ohio Central College; was founded to educated fugitive slaves.

Dwight E. Eisenhower (1890 - 1969)
Dwight E. Eisenhower (1890 - 1969)

Dwight E. Eisenhower

The 34th President, Dwight E. Eisenhower, had black genes. His mother, Ida Stover Eisenhower, was the only daughter of Elizabeth Ida Judah Link; supposedly a woman of colour, and Simon P. Stover.

Eisenhower’s grandmother’s genealogical history is short – too short. However, the name ‘Judah’ and a wedding photograph indicate non-European features. Africaresource.com suggests that this fact was used to launch political attacks against him.

Source
Calvin Coolidge (1872 - 1933)
Calvin Coolidge (1872 - 1933)

Calvin Coolidge

Coolidge succeeded Harding to become the 39th President from 1923 – 1929 and proudly admitted his mother, Victoria Josephine Moor, had Indian heritage. However, Dr Auset Bakhufu argues that by the 1800s, the New England Indians were no longer pure because they have often mixed with the African-Americans.

Dr Bakhufu further argued that Coolidge’s mother’s name was also an indicator of her heritage. He said the name Moor was a derogatory term used to described coloured people in Europe; much the same as the N word was and is still used in the US.

Senator John Hanson (d.c. 1860) from Liberia
Senator John Hanson (d.c. 1860) from Liberia

A Clarification on John Hanson

According to some articles there may have been as many as seven US Presidents who had an African lineage including John Hanson who has been the subject of confusion. There are two Hansons in American political history, one from Maryland and the other Liberia.

The former was a merchant and public office holder who would in 1781 become President of the Continental Congress; a convention made up of delegates from the 13 colonies which became the governing body of the US during the American Revolution. He was the son of a planter

The later, was an African-American Senator in Grand Bassa County in Liberia who sought to have the free born African-Americans relocated there.

Liberia (Land of the Free), situated in West Africa, was then a colony of the American Colonization Society (ACS); a society that had support from both sides of slavery issue but not for the same motives. On one hand, there were people supporting it to have free born blacks relocated to a country without slavery. On the other; slave owners pushed for it so that the presence of free African-Americans would not be seen a ‘perpetual excitement’ to the enslaved.

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Conclusion

The slave era is a dark part of American history. It was a time when the maltreatment of the African-American and other coloured races was common among the whites.

This often resulted in the rape and impregnation of female slaves which at the time was not considered a crime. We can safely assume many white men and women may have taken advantage of this, thus it is surprising that only a handful of prominent Americans have black lineage.

It is also not surprising that many of these Presidents would have tried to keep their black lineage hidden. However, with the election of Barrack Obama paving a new road in the United States’ political history and the nomination of Hilary Clinton as a presidential candidate, we can assume a more liberal and open representation in coming elections.

Who knows? Maybe, we could see a female African-American President soon.

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Geri Besa 

    21 months ago

    I have never considered Barack Hussein Obama to be our first black president. It is impossible since he has a white mother who raised him and a black father who abandoned him. How than does he qualify to be our first black president???????

  • Mel Carriere profile image

    Mel Carriere 

    2 years ago from San Diego California

    I don't doubt that many, if not all of especially the Southern Presidents had negro blood to some degree, but to me only the case for Eisenhower and Harding seem credible. I'm basing this on the photographs alone, of course. This does raise some fascinating food for thought, and I enjoyed reading your fascinating hub.

  • bradmasterOCcal profile image

    bradmasterOCcal 

    2 years ago from Orange County California

    Well then after all that, calling president Obama black is racist. He is half white, as the other presidents you mention, so why isn't he just another white president/

    To say color trumps genetics is racist.

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