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Friday, February 15, 2008

Bush, Slaves,and just why George Bush Don't Like Black People

Was their dynasty built on slavery?

The image most people have of slavery involves a cotton plantation with a big white house, a black village where 300 people live in cabins and a cruel overseer in the wings. This was not the model followed by the ancestors of President George W. Bush when, 175 years ago, they enslaved about 30 people on the shores of the upper Chesapeake.

It is an apt time to contemplate the link between slavery and the White House. This week President Bush is in the midst of a six-day trip to Africa, his second tour of the continent. He will visit several countries – including Benin, Ghana, and Liberia – from which the United States once drew slaves. That the trip falls on either side of President's Day, which honors statesmanship in the White House, makes the occasion all the more fitting. The moment is mature for the president to speak about slavery, especially given his personal connection to slavery's legacy.

A new book by Jacob Weisberg, The Bush Tragedy, mentions in passing that at one time some of the president's family owned slaves. Weisberg doesn't dwell on the links between the White House and the antebellum past except to say the Bush clan's story is a long-held "family secret." The Bush Tragedy, a revealing book about family dynamics in the Bush political dynasty, treats the slavery matter only briefly, focusing instead on the "spectacular, avoidable flame-out" of the receding administration. But the story that joins the 43rd president to predecessors who held title to dozens of people bears retelling in detail.

The skeletal facts surfaced in April 2007, when an amateur historian named Robert HughesIllinois Times, a small paper out of Springfield. Hughes found census records showing that during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, in Cecil County, Maryland, five households of the Walker family, the president's ancestors via his father's mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, had been slaveholding farmers. The evidence is simple but persuasive: genealogies of the Bush family match up with census data that counted farmers who used enslaved workers. With this, the president joins perhaps fifteen million living white Americans who trace their roots to the long-gone master class. published his research in the

It's not as though the president is the only politician whose family owned slaves. Of the first eighteen presidents, from George Washington to Ulysses Grant, twelve owned people, eight of them while in office. At one time, Andrew Jackson was even a slave trader. Since Emancipation in 1865, a number of presidents have come from families that once contained slave masters. Even the current presidential hopefuls are likely to have slave owners among their ancestors. The descendants of slaveholders do not wear special tattoos or announce themselves in secret handshakes, but most know who they are. : http://www.theroot.com/id/44844

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