Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: Secret Negro Presidents Edition

With Obama as the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, this November could bring about the election of the first African American president in history.

Unless you're of the opinion of John McLaughlin.

You make it sound as though this was the first time we've had a black president. ... Warren G. Harding was a negro!

McLaughlin is hardly alone in believing that Warren "Awesome Middle Name" Harding was black (or rather, that his great-great-grandfather was). This rumor surrounded Harding and his siblings throughout his life, and was published in newspapers nationwide just a few days before the 1920 presidential election. Douglas Daniel wrote in his essay "Ohio Newspapers and the 'Whispering Campaign' of the 1920 Presidential Election" (citations omitted):
Francis Russell reported in his Harding biography that a spiteful neighbor began the rumor after Harding's great-great-grandfather caught him stealing from his corn crib. Historian Robert K. Murray noted Hardings' ancestors lived near blacks after migrating in 1826 to central Ohio from Pennsylvania, which might have generated stories of intermarriage. Regardless of its validity, the rumor followed Harding throughout his life. As children growing up in the Ohio hamlet of Blooming Grove a few years after the Civil War, Harding and his brothers and sisters were taunted at times about being black.

The racist jeers continued even after he reached adulthood and began publishing the Marion Daily Star. A rival editor blasted Harding in print in May 1887: "We have no desire to draw the color line on the kink-haired youth that sees fit to use his smut machine only as a receptacle for a low order of adjectives--as nature did it for him." An editor at another Marion newspaper reportedly published the allegation of mixed blood while Harding was courting Florence De Wolfe, the daughter of a prominent Marion businessman. Nonetheless, they were married in 1891.

Harding's political career began in 1898 when he was elected to the first of two terms in the Ohio Senate. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1902 and later defeated for governor in 1910. He was concluding his first term in the United States Senate when he won the presidential nomination on the tenth ballot. The allegation that the Harding family was part black had surfaced in every Harding campaign for public office. However, Daugherty, his political ally, contended it had no impact, with the possible exception of the gubernatorial race that he lost in 1910, because voters considered it a lie. Harding rarely talked about the rumor, once telling a friend: "How do I know, Jim? One of my ancestors might have jumped the fence."

Several of the circulars that appeared during the 1920 campaign were linked to William Estabrook Chancellor. Once a superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C., he taught economics, politics, and social science at the College of Wooster, which is located about fifty miles south of Cleveland. In favor of Wilson and the League of Nations and against blacks and Jews, Chancellor wrote and distributed circulars and posters about Harding's genealogy. One circular stated that Harding's father was a mulatto and his grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-grandmother were black. Harding biographer Samuel Hopkins Adams contended Chancellor printed the circulars because he "had an obsession on the Negro question."

So there you have it. If you're a senile old loon like McLaughlin, you may believe that Obama will be our second black president, not our first.

Of course, if you're like J.A. Rogers or Auset Bakhufu, you might even believe that Obama'd be our sixth or seventh black president. And that's not even bringing Clinton into it.