Was Jackie Kennedy Really Our First “Black” First Lady?

If you go by the old Southern “One Drop Rule”, she just may have been!

Of course, if you applied the One Drop Rule, meaning even one Black ancestor or one drop of “Black Blood” makes you Black, there would be a lot of Klansmen committing suicide.  Not that that’s a bad thing….

Still, I think of Jackie as more like Ava Gardner in “Show Boat.”  Not really Black, but now being asked to play the part….

But it’s all open to debate.

Oh, by the way, this standard also means Anderson Cooper is Black.

Anyway, this is part of a fascinating article at AlterNet.org about unknown facts for Black History Month.

Jackie O, perhaps America’s most emulated and admired First Lady, descended from a family known as the van Salee’s, who were described as “mulatto” in the 17th century. This family traced its lineage in part to a Dutch mariner named Jan Jensen, who turned Turk (what some Europeans called “going native”), which was more popular than common history reveals.

It is widely believed Jensen fathered two children, Anthony and Abraham van Salee, by a Moorish concubine. Following a dispute with his white wife, Anthony van Salee was exiled to territory across the river, where he became Brooklyn’s first settler. Until a few decades ago, this property adjoining Coney Island was called Turk’s Island after Anthony van Salle — the term “Turk,” in his day being synonymous with Moor (North African). A descendant, John van Salee De Grasse, born in 1825, was the first black American formally educated as a doctor. When Jackie Kennedy was asked about her van Salee roots during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, she called her ancestors “Jewish.” Of course, her socialite father, born in 1891, was nicknamed “Black Jack” Bouvier for his swarthy complexion. In the 1960s, journalists described the First Lady’s features as “French,” earning her the cover page of countless magazines, including film and fan publications. Not only Kennedy Onassis, but well-borns Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Vanderbilt (and thus Anderson Cooper), are van Salee descendants.

MORE:   Michelle Obama Is Not Our First Black First Lady? 10 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About Black History | Alternet.


Filed under Entertainment, Race

4 responses to “Was Jackie Kennedy Really Our First “Black” First Lady?

  1. Kirk

    I didn’t know about Jackie O’s family roots, so this is very interesting. I would think that she would claim to be more Mediterranean , thus why she said Jewish rather than African. Nonetheless, I do know she married well…a second time…it seems like it was destine to be drawn back to that region of the world.


  2. Serena

    It has been asserted that she was a Van Salee descendant, but I’m curious as to how they are making the connection and which ancestor of Jackie’s is related to them. First of all, the original Van Salee was a quite wealthy New Yorker, and her French Bouvier ancestors were from Philadelphia, and not of that class until the late 18th/early 19th Century. The Bouviers didn’t even get to this country until the second quarter of the 19th century, and they didn’t move to New York until a few decades after that. We know that her father’s nickname was Black Jack, but it wasn’t a literal allusion. Jackie’s mother’s family “the Lees”, were also rather late arrivals to the US-and were Irish immigrants. Her maternal grandfather made a fortune very quickly, and not one of them can be tied to Van Salee (and which Van Salee are we talking about?)

    It’s not my intention to negate this, and think it would be marvelous if it were actually true, but I am questioning it because though it has been stated, it has only been done so in the most vague way, and even then, hardly confirmed. That she wrongly identified the Van Salees to be Jewish in an interview seems more like a red herring that obscures how she was related to them in the first place. So-I’m just curious as to where this connection derives from, or if it isn’t merely that another member of her extended family might have married one of the Van Salee descendants, making her related by marriage, but not a member of the family tree. The one member of her family that I am not entirely certain of is her paternal grandmother, and wonder if that is where the connection is based. It wouldn’t be that hard to figure out if there really was a connection–but I’d have to know exactly who this ancestor is before going any further. Because the Van Salees were also very influential early settlers in NY, it seems unlikely that they would have been marrying into French Philadelphian cabinetmaker’s families or coupling with refugees from the potato famine. Since both sides of Jackie’s family came here in 1830s/1840s, it took them at least a generation to assimilate, but it also isn’t very hard to determine their origins.

    One of the things I’ve considered is that much of her heritage (on both sides) was fabricated and this story may have inadvertently been connected to one of those tall tales. The Bouviers claimed nobility, when they were in fact not at all and her grandfather John Vernou Bouvier even went so far as to have someone write a phony manifesto of their lineage which has been completely disproven from within the family. Jackie’s own mother claimed to be descended from “the Lees of Virginia” and then subsequently switched that to “the Lees of Maryland” once Jackie became first lady. She was rightfully afraid of this falsehood being put under scrutiny only to be exposed as being the “Lees of County Cork” while Jackie’s stepfather joked they were the “the Lees of Shanghai.” It’s ironic that the Kennedys were such proud Irish Americans, whereas Jackie’s mother’s side of the family tried to cover up their distinctly Irish roots, and Jackie always emphasized her French Bouvier background over the Irish one. So–where the van Salees come in puzzles me and there simply isn’t enough information to corroborate it. The other familial fabrications and delusions of grandeur have since been refuted and cleared up but if Jackie did in fact have Black ancestry I would like to know how this information has been deduced, and which family member was from that line.


    • Sandra

      Dutch mariner named Jan Jensen, was the ancestor who mated with a woman from the northern portion of Africa. From that union were the ancestors of Jackie. She tried to cover it up by saying the concubine was Jewish. I think it was more of a tongue in cheek than an embarrassed cover up. Anyway, this all seems to be from her father’s side of the lineage. I don’t think anyone can find the truth, since it’s not popular for a white to admit to black heritage. It’s a shame, since the heritage is very rich.


      • Fran

        It has nothing to do with whether the woman Jan Jansen “mated with” was Jewish or North African. Nor does it have anything to do with anybody’s wanting to cover up African descent. There is simply no evidence that either side of Mrs. Onassis’s ancestry descends from Anthony or Abraham van Salee


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