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Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition

   Shared Heritage

James McGowan, author of two books and a leading scholar on Harriet Tubman, has been honored many times, including two Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards, the Pennsylvania Governor's Distinguished Service Award. Jim contacted us shortly after we began our research and has been an ongoing contributor to Tangled Roots.

His own shared heritage was his initial reason for contacting us. Here's what he wrote:

I'm a "Black American" with an Irish paternal grandfather. I've been tracing my Irish roots. The results are shaping up to be one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences of my life. I've been in contact with a family of McGowans in Ireland and we believe their great uncle, Thomas McGowan, and my grandfather is one and the same person. There are resemblances (in spite of different skin colors). They want me to visit Ireland next year. I think the Irish-Black connection is not only beautiful but also a very positive move toward bringing a better understanding and kinship between racial differences in the 21st century.

Being born and raised in the racial "salad bowl" of Brooklyn, New York from the 30's to the 50's, there were white people around me all of my life. Many of my friends, like myself, were multiracial. So I was never the object of direct discrimination until I was 14 years old: I was with my father, a truck driver who, because his father was Irish, looked as if he was anything but a "Negro". One day while on the truck with him, we stopped in a restaurant to eat. They wanted to serve him but not me—and this was right outside of Atlantic City.

As a writer, reader and amateur historian, I appreciate your looking back into the shared history of Irish and African Americans. — Two of the most reactive groups in America—in my opinion—and I'm proud to be of both. But as you know, history is of human beings and human beings have their dark side as well as their heroic side. These acts may not be pleasant but if we Irish/African Americans are unwilling to acknowledge them, somebody else will and it may be somebody who dies not have our best interests at heart.

I believe as I'm sure you do, that the shared history of Irish and African Americans is filled with bright spots but it is a history that should be built on solid ground. I would not want to see us suffer from the Thomas Jefferson syndrome, glorious on the outside, flawed within. Future generations should know the truth—to set us all free.

   Shared History Web Sites

Five Points

A 19th century working class neighborhood in New York City, where African and Irish Americans lived worked and intermarried. Archaeologists are rediscovering the area and its history.

Seneca Village

A 19th century neighborhood of African, Irish and German Americans. Seneca Village, Harsenville, the Piggery District, and the Convent of the Sisters of Charity were in the area. Archaeologists are uncovering the history of the area.

The Healy Family : A question of Racial Identity

An Irish immigrant and a mixed-race domestic slave raised children who became priests, including the fist African-American Bishop in the United States, a President of Georgetown University, a religious sister and a Coast Guard officer. These site documents the family history and consider the question of their racial identity.

Prologue: Racial Identity and the Case of Capt. Michael Healy

James A CastleTown Press Home Page

United States Coast Guard Cutter Healy

Interview with Stephanie Bryant
Stephanie Bryant is a direct descendant of Harriet Tubman through Tubman’s brother, James. Stephanie’s father, William Henry Stewart, was the son of Tubman’s nephew, Elijah Stewart.

The Stewart family heritage is African American and Irish American. In her conversation with the interviewer, Stephanie spoke about her illustrious heritage and the reality of growing up as a child of shared African American and Irish American heritage.