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Concubines in the Woodpile -- The Way We See It

The Way I See It

Special Guest Editorial by James Davis

Concubines in the Woodpile

It has always been somewhat bothersome for me as a so-called "high-yellow" black American when people approach me about my ancestry because I do not look like my fully pigmented friends and family. I am one of seven siblings and the only one in the family, mother and father included, that is lightskinned with straight hair. I look exactly like a slightly darker version of my maternal grandfather whose father was a white slave owner who mated with my full-blooded, straight-from-Africa, Yoruba great grandmother, his concubine. People who know my family never questioned my mother's fidelity when I was born. They just said, "that boy is a spittin' image of Grandpa Nicko [Nicodemus]." Strangers to my family always looked at me with the jaundiced eye when they first met my parents or siblings. They probably let our difference in color cause an assumption that I was adopted.

I wonder how white people feel now that the truth about Thomas Jefferson's descendants has reached the front pages of the press. Any person with a minimal knowledge of the situation knew that Sally belonged to Thomas Jefferson in more ways than as an ordinary house servant. The situation was too typical of the behavior of most white plantation owners. After all, why is it that nearly 100% of African-Americans have European ancestors if these slave owners were indeed so virtuous? Why are there so many of us "black folk," like me, that wear the sins of 400 years of rape, abuse and voluntary miscegenation, on their brown, tan and yellow faces. While I don't dislike white people I do vehemently hate the arrogance and hypocrisy of those who distort reality for the convenience of their point of view. It seems that many American historians deny that which is obvious just by saying it does not exist. And then the ignorant majority follow suit. The so-called "Monticello Mafia" branch of the Jefferson family denied the Thomas-Sally relationship for 200 years. They found many excuses to dismiss the considerable mountain of evidence that supported what we always knew was real:

  1. Thomas Jefferson's wife was Sally Hemmings half-sister. Yes, his father-in-law was also screwing one of his slaves who bore Sally. Since Sally was a "quadroon," meaning she was only one-quarter African, her mother was also the product of a white-black relationship.
  2. Thomas Jefferson promised his wife that he would never again marry after her death. Sally, her half-sister, lived with them and looked very much like the wife Jefferson lost.
  3. All of Sally's children were conceived when Thomas Jefferson was conveniently available. Circumstantial evidence? None were conceived when Jefferson was not available.
  4. The children looked like Jefferson.
  5. Sally said Jefferson was the father,
  6. Jefferson treated Sally's children differently. Some were allowed to "run away" and disappear into Washington's upper-class white society. Unlike the other slaves, Sally was provided for in Jefferson's will and her children were among the few slaves from the Jefferson estate that were freed.

What more do you need? If Jefferson himself had admitted the relationship he would have been severely embarrassed during his presidency and surely he would have been handled differently by historians. So he just never publicly addressed the issue and let others deny it for him. Gross hypocrisy? Absolutely. Unusual? Absolutely not.

So now it is time for American whites to shed themselves of their myths of racial purity and truly face the past. I remember my grandfather's face. He looked very much like a white man although he always identified, as do I, with black people. However, there are millions of people just like my grandfather who crossed the line and joined with whites. The descendants of those people have no idea who they are. I'm sure it was pretty scary to look at the descendants of Sally and Thomas and see "white" people they would readily accept at their family table, country club or Klan meeting. Any so-called son or daughter of the American Revolution with old roots in America needs to examine his or her family "woodpile."

Remember your history: Africans have been in this hemisphere for over 500 years. Any "white" folk with old western hemispheric roots, especially from the pre-Revolutionary War period, has a high probability of having African ancestors. So when you whites out there sit around the table at family gatherings and notice your brother, sister or cousin that has wavy hair or unusually attractive (thicker) lips or a broader nose, remember you might share one of my African ancestors. According to stories which many history scholars believe to be true you'll be in good company. Several U.S. presidents are alleged to have African ancestors. So did Alexander Hamilton. So take pride in your African blood. I do!!

Editor's note: James Davis is an old friend to Mobilization 2/21. He is a consultant to major companies on diversity issues.

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