Beethoven was a black man (?)

I was watching “Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends” this past (not terribly weird) weekend, and it was the episode wherein he visited some black political and religious groups in New York. Some were sensible political action committees; some were downright looney (like the Angry Screaming Black Men you used to see in midtown).

One group—I think it was actually the Angry Screaming Black Men—did claim that Beethoven, George III, Shakespeare and several U.S. presidents were black, with no back-up whatsoever. Whenever Theroux would mention a “bad” man, though, like Columbus, “he was white!”

I wonder if the Beethoven theory is just from the Angry Screaming Black Men? And whatever happened to them, anyway? I haven’t seen them, for awhile in New York. Goodness, I hope they’re OK . . .

Hah, tracing back to Africa is nothing. Like Pooh-Bah, I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule.


Odd, I can find no substatiation for Audubon being black - he was born in Haiti and was illegitimate, but indications I have was his biological mother was a French woman who worked as a servant. He claimed Louisiana as his birthplace:

[relevant section]
Among the legends about himself which Audubon helped to create were that he was the Lost Dauphin (Louis XVII of France) and that he had studied with Jacques Louis David. But he lied about almost everything. He claimed Louisiana as his birthplace in order to facilitate gaining American citizenship when he was really born (to one of his married father’s mistresses) in Haiti. He presented all of “Birds” as “Drawn from Nature by J.J. Audubon” when he relied on skins and specimens sent to him by others when he could not travel while completing his great work, and he hired others to paint backgrounds and even some details of the birds.
[/relevant section]

From my library and papers in the office, I see no references to his mother’s race. Am I missing some documents?

*Originally posted by Boris B *
**I found this one on usenet:

So why would the Klan induct a man who said:


Speculating: There are many examples of people outgrowing, and becoming ashamed of, positions they held as ignorant and impetuous youths, and perhaps Harding was one (his many other personal deficiencies notwithstanding). Hugo Black went from Klan membership as a youth to become a distinguished liberal, pro-integrationist Supreme Court justice, for instance. The entire recent history of the South and much of the rest of the country and the world is replete with people confronting and overcoming their prejudices.

Sorry about the delay, I’ve been away from my computer while you were asking for cites. Here they come:”]Link from Emory

“One civil rights video showed black-and-white footage of Klan rallies.
“It told how white supremacist groups had grown so much in popularity at the turn of the century that even Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black and President Warren G. Harding
were once Klan members.”

“Simmons’’s [sic] final vindication came when the president of the United States, Warren G. Harding,
knelt in the oval office and was sworn in as a member of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc.”

“The Klan even inducted President Warren G. Harding into the organization in a White House ceremony.”

“Harding joined the Klu Klux Klan (KKK).”

But I did find one person who claims Harding was not a member of the Klan.

“President Harding was said to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan which was far from the truth. In reality, he was sent a membership by the local Klan and because he did not send it back, the Klan claimed he was a member.”


As a matter of fact, I usually support Republicans over Democrats, but facts, as you say, are facts. I wasn’t saying Harding was a Klansman out of any partisan feeling, I was saying it because the sources I’ve seen say it was the truth. (Until I read Evers’ words ten minutes ago, I wasn’t aware that anyone had ever denied it).

I certainly agree that Wilson was a worse racist than Harding, even though Wilson was never a Klansman.

As to why Harding spoke up on behalf of black civil rights, I’m damned if I know why. Perhaps he was giving lip service to the idea of equality, as so many Americans then and now do. Or perhaps his Klan membership was mere pandering, rather than heartfelt racism. I’d have to ask him, and he’s dead.

Well actually, this…

…sounds like a backhanded endorsement of literacy requirements for voting, one of the Jim Crow laws that kept black Southerners disenfranchised.

You also have to bear in mind that the Klan was hugely popular in the 20’s. You can find pictures of huge Klan rallies in the streets of Washington DC. The Klan was a national force at that time, having been glamorized by the film Birth of a Nation. IIRC, the state government of Indiana was virtually an arm of the Klan in the 20’s.

So it might be disappointing, but maybe not particularly surprising that Harding would pander to what was then a powerful and popular group.

I dunno, but he looks black in this portrait


I believe Alexander Pushkin, the famous Russian poet-in fact, THE Russian Poet, was descended from an Ethiopean who worked for Peter the Great. If you look at his portrait, you can see probably that he DOES look as if he had some African ancestry…let me look it up…

In reference to “Caucasian,” I’m sure that by “current US PC euphemism” you mean “word that has been in use since 1775, coined by anthropologist Johann Blumenbach to describe the skull shape of the light-skinned ‘races’,” right? I would hate to think anyone at the SD was putting forth incorrect information just because of a political agenda.

Oh, I just got tired of women worshipping him all the time (call it envy) so I decided to expose him for the brutal misogynist that he is. I had vague recollections of him on 60 Minutes saying similar things so I went around the web until I collected the quotes. I also heard plenty of apologists saying Connery only said stuff like that once. I just wanted to make it clear that Mr Never Say Never Again has supported woman-beating over a thirty-year period.

ElvisL1ves speculated,

That’s an excellent point - it certainly true in the cases of Black and Harry S Truman, who allegedly quit the KKK after his first meeting.

What is weird in Harding’s case is him joining the Klan and giving the pro-equality speech (though spoke- raises some interesting doubts here) in the same three-year period. In any case, it’s been well-established that Harding was sort of a simpleton, so maybe he didn’t see the contradiction.

“I don’t believe there’s anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman… If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical … then I do it.” - Sean Connery, Playboy, 1964

“Sometimes there are women who … want a slap.” - Sean Connery, Vanity Fair, 1994

The idea that John J. Audubon was part-black seems to be based on confusion over the meaning of the word “creole” - which is how his Haitian mother is often described. Although the term “creole” is sometimes used today to describe people of mixed black-white ancestry, it has historically been used to describe people of European (usually French, Spanish, or Portuguese) descent born in the Western Hemisphere, as opposed to immigrants from Europe. I know of no comtemporary evidence that Audubon was anything other than white. On the contrary, he was accepted in fairly race-conscious societies as white. Some might argue that he was able to “pass” for white, but without some sort of evidence besides the “creole” thing it seems much more likely that he really was white.

Beethoven was black? Well that makes Halle Berry white, correct? By the apparent use of the “one drop of blood” rule I’m a member of an all-conquering horde of Asian horsemen. Whee!

From Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado:

“I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule. Consequently, my family pride is something inconceivable.”

-Pooh-Bah, I.

There was a mention of the “Beethoven was black” idea in the Peanuts comic strip in the early '70s. After being informed of this factoid, a nonplussed Schroeder remarked, “You mean I’ve been playing ‘soul music’ all this time?”

Aleksandr Pushkin was indeed 1/8th black; his mother’s grandfather was Ibrahim Gannibal, an Ethiopian slave who was ennobled by Peter the Great. Another Alexander, this one famous author Alexandre Dumas, had a black Haitian grandmother. These are both well documented.

I’ve never seen any proof of Beethoven having a recent African ancestor (as opposed to his family line leaving Africa many thousands of years ago, like all Europeans). It all seems to hinge on speculation.


Not true. I would like to see any credible evidence that the Spanish armies of the time had any blacks in them. I am not going to go into details now but that claim makes no sense to me.

It’s not a modern PC euphemism, but it’s not really a credible anthropological term either. It’s just sort of stuck around. Sadly, I may not see my dream of
“Cracker-Americans” after all. Anyway, there’s a Straight Dope column on the subject at

A little preachy, no?

This is back after almost two years?

I don’t find the apparent discrepancies in Harding’s actions all that hard to believe.

Harding was a personally compassionate person, but was not a deep thinker and was rather irresolute. He, himself, noted that he would listen to his advisors argue one policy and agree wholeheartedly, then hear a different set of advisors argue the opposite and find himself immediately changing position.

The original Klan only lasted from 1866 to about 1869 (some factions until 1871). In 1915, inspired by the movie The Clansman (renamed Birth of a Nation, Wlliam Simmons recreated the Klan. The nativist and racist movements that were swelling up in the late teens helped to bring the Klan to unparalleled membership, with their national publicity emphasizing their Americanism rather than the hatred and the anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant actions that were perpetrated on the local levels.

I would not be at all surprised to discover that Harding accepted an honorary membership in the Klan (played out in a publicity stunt in the Oval Office or Green Room), based on a notion that it was simply a good thing to be associated with this rising “American” movement.

(I would also not be too surprised to discover that the event was a fictional claim by Klan supporters and never really happened. Looking over the conflicting claims that are available–that Harding might have had black ancestry, that he definitely had black ancestors on both his mother’s and father’s side and knew it, that he was a Klansman in his youth (at a time when they were actually disbanded!), that he joined the Klan before he was elected president, that he was inducted into the Klan in the Whitehouse (alternatively in either the Oval Office or Green Room), etc.–I would need to see rather specific documentation before I believed any of those stories.)

Regarding the OP: Jomo Mojo’s link is now dead, but it is repeated at

I find its information suggestive, but, unlike its author, I do not find it persuasive. Without hard evidence, I suspect this will be debated for years.

As to the actual bolded line in the OP, I have no trouble believing that Beethoven rejected the appelation “German”, but I would have to see better evidence than a claim by Garret Morris that Beethoven ever objected to being called “white.”

Beethoven’s dad looks sort of black in this picture