March 17th, 2009
08:50 AM ET

How green was my surname; via Ireland, a chapter in the story of Black America

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S. Lee Jamison
The New York Times

Happy St. Patrick's Day, Shaquille O'Neal!

So many African-Americans have Irish-sounding last names - Eddie Murphy, Isaac Hayes, Mariah Carey, Dizzy Gillespie, Toni Morrison, H. Carl McCall - that you would think that the long story of blacks and Irish coming together would be well documented. You would be wrong.

Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School and the author of "Interracial Intimacies; Sex, Marriage, Identity and Adoption," said that when it comes to written historical exploration of black-Irish sexual encounters, "there are little mentions, but not much."

And most African-Americans do not know a lot about their family names.

"Quite frankly, I always thought my name was Scotch, not Irish." said Mr. McCall, the former New York State comptroller.

But the Irish names almost certainly do not come from Southern slaveholders with names like Scarlett O'Hara. Most Irish were too poor to own land. And some blacks, even before the Civil War, were not slaves.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Black in America • Race in America
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. kim

    It is an historical fact that there were a group of people refered as 'the black irish'. People of color were known to habitate in Europe: the Hottentot, for example. The great -great- great grandmother was of the Queen of England of mixed race documented by AJ Rogers.

    March 17, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  2. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    It is a day when we can all raise our glasses---and be Irish!

    March 17, 2009 at 12:10 pm |