Sunday, April 06, 2008

Warren Harding the first black President?

If you're not up on your presidential history Warren G. Harding was the 29th President of the United States serving from March 4, 1921 to August 2, 1923. He would die in office and was succeeded by his Vice-President Calvin Coolidge. His presidency marked the "Roaring 20s". This is something you should have read or heard about if you either took a history class or read a history book.

Anyway found an article from the NY Times via InstaPundit...
Will Americans vote for a black president? If the notorious historian William Estabrook Chancellor was right, we already did. In the early 1920s, Chancellor helped assemble a controversial biographical portrait accusing President Warren Harding of covering up his family’s “colored” past. According to the family tree Chancellor created, Harding was actually the great-grandson of a black woman. Under the one-drop rule of American race relations, Chancellor claimed, the country had inadvertently elected its “first Negro president.”

In today’s presidential landscape, many Americans view the prospect of a black man in the Oval Office as a sign of progress — evidence of a “postracial” national consciousness. In the white-supremacist heyday of the 1920s (the Ku Klux Klan had a major revival during the Harding years), the taint of “Negro blood” was political death. The Harding forces hit back hard against Chancellor, driving him out of his job and destroying all but a handful of published copies of his book.

In the decades since, many biographers have dismissed the rumors of Harding’s mixed-race family as little more than a political scandal and Chancellor himself as a Democratic mudslinger and racist ideologue. But as with the long-denied and now all-but-proved allegations of Thomas Jefferson’s affair with his slave Sally Hemings, there is reason to question the denials. From the perspective of 2008, when interracial sex is seen as a historical fact of life instead of an abomination, the circumstantial case for Harding’s mixed-race ancestry is intriguing though not definitive.

To anyone who tracks it down today, Chancellor’s book comes across as a laughable partisan screed, an amalgam of bizarre racial theories, outlandish stereotypes and cheap political insults. But it also contains a remarkable trove of social knowledge — the kind of community gossip and oral tradition that rarely appears in official records but often provides clues to richer truths. When he toured Ohio in 1920, Chancellor claimed to find dozens of acquaintances and neighbors willing to swear that the Hardings had been considered black for generations. Among the persuaded, according to rumor, was Harding’s father-in-law, Amos Kling, one of the richest men in Harding’s adopted hometown of Marion. When Harding married his daughter, Florence, in 1891, Kling supposedly denounced her for polluting the family line.
The man looks so stern doesn't he. From what I read about the man he seems a bit freewheeling, the way people seemed to have been in the 1920s. He liked to drink and smoke and play poker. He would even admit that he doesn't even belong in the Presidency realizing his short comings. He also liked to fool around on his wife. If I understood that coupling correctly it wasn't the best marriage and she chased him around not the other way around.

Anyway he's not so well known today. Some of it is probably nothing of great consequence came out of his administration. If you do know anything about him it's the Teapot dome scandal. The unfortunate thing about him is that even if he himself wasn't corrupt some of the people surrounding him were. A few were indicted and sent to prison.

And to be sure, I've heard of the rumors that he might have some black ancestry. As to whether they're true or not this article isn't enough for me.

This part was interesting...
Harding’s hometown, Marion, Ohio, provides a case in point. The town gained national fame in 1920 as the site of Harding’s “front-porch campaign”; for weeks, he delivered stump speeches from his well-tended home. Far less well known, as the historian Phillip Payne has noted, is what happened the year before, when a mob of armed white Marion residents drove more than 200 black families out of town, one of a wave of postwar race riots that served to segregate the industrialized north.
Oh my!

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