Woman finds out famous relative was black

Woman finds out famous relative was black

The Toronto Star

Megan Ogilvie, Health Reporter

Growing up in Georgetown, Catherine Slaney knew her great-grandfather had an important and interesting past.

She knew he was a respected doctor and a surgeon in the American Civil War. She knew he was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and had received a gift — the shawl Lincoln wore to his first inauguration — from his widow after the president was killed. She knew he was a coroner in Kent County, Ont., and that he was involved in politics.

But Slaney did not know Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott was black…

…The uncle — Slaney’s mother’s brother — knew Abbott was black. His youngest sister, however, had no idea previous generations of her family had passed as white. Or that some family members still kept the secret.

“The family my mother and father knew was white-haired and pale-skinned,” Slaney says. “The question of race just never came up.”

Slaney says finding out Abbott was black cast a new importance on the pieces of history she did know about him. Abbott wasn’t just a doctor — he was the first black Canadian to be a licensed physician. He wasn’t just a coroner — he was the first the first black Canadian to hold the office…

..Slaney turned her research and personal experience into a book, Family Secrets: Crossing the Colour Line, which was published in 2000. She also completed a PhD at the University of Toronto, focusing on racial identity and the practice of passing.

By exploring her past, and finding her black heritage, Slaney says her outlook on the world has expanded…

Read the entire article here.

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