Warren G. Harding Still Not Very Black


From the NYT, a follow-up article expanding upon a point I made last week that recent genetic ancestry tests upon descendants of Warren Harding didn’t find any support for the rumor spread by Democrats in 1920 that the GOP nominee was part black:

DNA Shows Warren Harding Wasn’t America’s First Black President

By PETER BAKER

The tests found “no detectable genetic signatures of sub-Saharan African heritage in any of the three cousins,” said Julie Granka, a population geneticist at AncestryDNA. As a result, she said, “it is very unlikely,” meaning less than a 5 percent chance, that Harding had a black ancestor within four generations, meaning great-great-grandparents.

“However,” she added, “the analysis does not rule out the possibility that Harding still could have a more distant ancestor from sub-Saharan Africa.”

You have 16 great-great-grandparents and 32 great-great-great-grandparents. So I think what they are saying is that it’s highly unlikely that one of Harding’s 16 great-great-grandparents was 100% sub-Saharan. Further back than that, well, there’s no evidence of any black ancestry, but the odds against any currently measurable trace of black ancestry being lost due to genetic reshuffling of the deck is less overwhelming.

Harding’s 32 great-great-great-grandparents were probably mostly born in the early to mid-18th Century, largely on the East Coast or abroad rather than in the future state of Ohio.

My rule of thumb is that where there is smoke, maybe there is a possibility of fire. If a bunch of people go to the trouble of telling you a rumor, maybe you shouldn’t dismiss it completely.

On the other hand, political bias and a lot of other reasons can cause people to get off track, as we saw with Donald Trump’s obsession a few years ago with Barack Obama’s birth certificate. It was always pretty obvious that if Obama’s mother was in Hawaii in late 1960, she probably wasn’t in some foreign country when he was born in 1961, especially not Kenya which is a long, long way from Hawaii.

With Harding, it’s worth noting that a lot of our customary political biases, such as that Warren G. Harding was the Worst President Ever, are inherited unwittingly from now unfashionable historians affiliated with the Democratic Party, such as the Schlesingers and Samuel Eliot Morison, who tried to combine what now seem like discordant views, such as Progressivism and a desire to keep Southern whites happy and in the Democratic Party.

In retrospect, the country appears to have undergone a whole series of nervous breakdowns during the second term of Woodrow Wilson (1917-1921). Objectively, Harding’s brief term before his sudden death (1921-1923) appears to have, indeed, put the country on the road to “normalcy” just like promised, but the important thing, as we’ve all been taught, is that “normalcy” isn’t a real word. So who cares about peace and prosperity, what matter is spelling.

Also, “Gamaliel” is a funny middle name.