Michelle Obama Not Our First Black First Lady? 10 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About Black History

8. The college president who ushered Georgetown University into the modern era was Black.

Dr Clifton Wharton
Dr. Clifton Wharton

Many Americans believe that when Dr. Clifton Wharton was named president of Michigan State University in 1970, he was the first Black president of a major American university. Yet Wharton’s perceived milestone had a century-old precedent. Born into slavery in Macon, Georgia in 1830, Patrick Healy became president of Georgetown University in 1874. Healy is credited with modernizing the science curriculum at Georgetown, and expanding and improving both the schools of medicine and law. Healy also created the university’s alumni association. In 1901, the medical school added a dental school. President Clinton, and 11 other current or former heads of state graduated from Georgetown. Healy is often cited as Georgetown’s second founder, after Archbishop John Carroll. The campus’ most prominent building, the administrative center Healy Hall, bears his name.

9. America’s first Secretary of the Treasury was Black.

Alexander Hamilton, the man on the front of your $10 bill, was born on Nevis in either 1755 or 1757. His mother, Rachel Fawcett Lavain, was said to be of “mixed blood” and his father was James Hamilton Sr., the fourth son of a Scottish Duke. Rachel and James never married, so Alexander Hamilton was denied admission to schools run by the Anglican Church. James Sr. eventually abandoned Rachel and their two sons. Alexander’s older brother, James Jr., by the same mother and father, was dark-skinned. James Hamilton Jr. migrated to the American colonies, where he was treated as a Black man, including once being refused a seat on a Broadway coach because of his race. Alexander Hamilton went on to establish the first national bank in the American colonies, founded the U.S. Mint, and wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers. His is the only “Black” face on U.S. currency.

Also considered Black, by U.S. standards, were Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, whose paternal grandmother was a slave in what is now Haiti; Saint Augustine, the great Christian theologian born in 354 in modern-day Souk Ahras, Algeria; and that Whitest of White actresses, Carol Channing, whose father was Black.

The lawman who sought to suppress the Black freedom movement, from the days of Marcus Garvey to the dawn of the Black Panther Party, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, was rumored in some Washington circles to have been Black. Writer Gore Vidal, who grew up in Washington DC, once said, “It was always said in my family and around the city that Hoover was mulatto. And that he came from a family that passed.” Millie McGhee, author of Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar Hoover Passing For White, said, “In the late 1950’s, I was a young girl growing up in rural McComb, Mississippi. A story had been passed down through several generations that the land we lived on was owned by the Hoover family. My grandfather told me that this powerful man, Edgar, was his second cousin, and was passing for White. If we talked about this, he was so powerful he could have us all killed. I grew up terrified about all this.”

10. In the 19th century, St. Louis served as a musical Tin Pan Alley.

The song “Frankie and Johnny” originated in a red-light section of St. Louis, and was about feuding Black lovers. Who knew? Much of America’s introduction to ragtime and blues may be traced to a bordello owned by a Black woman named “Babe” Connors (1856-1918). How many music or theater majors realize that Babe’s place was where the song “Ta Ra Ra Boom-De-Ay” was first heard, and not Gay Paree? It is thought composer Theodore Metz also first heard “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” at Babe’s brothel on 210 South Street. The Library of Congress once wrote that 80 percent of what passes for pure American folklore comes out of 17 square blocks of the Black Chestnut Valley community.

 

By; Bijan C. Bayne