Sunday, February 21, 2016

Washington: The "Blackest Last Name" In The United States (article excerpts)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part series on the last name (surname) "Washington" in the United States.

Part I presents excerpts from several online articles about the last name "Washington". Part I also includes excerpts from a 2002 research project that I commissioned on surnames in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II presents information about the African American vocalist Dinah Washington and showcases an example of her singing "What A Difference A Day Makes".

Click for Part III. Part III presents information about the African American musician Grover Washington, Jr and showcases an example of his rendition of "Inner City Blues". A post on the tune "Soulful Strut" that features a version by Grover Washington will be published ASAP.

The content of this post is presented for sociocultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

These articles are presented in no particular order.
"Washington is a male given name and a surname. It most frequently refers to George Washington (1732–1799), the first President of the United States of America.

Origin and dissemination
The name itself is a name of origin and refers to place names in England, such as Washington, Tyne and Wear, from which the ancestors of George Washington are said to have come[citation needed].

The word became a surname in 1183 when William de Hertburn took the name William de Wassyngtona.[1] In 1657 the name came to Virginia; from 1789 to 1797 George Washington was president. Since this time the given name spread throughout the USA as patriotic. In addition to a genealogical origin of the name, it is also (as with Abraham Lincoln and other persons associated with abolition of slavery in America) a favored assumed name of freed slaves and thus a widely spread surname of their progeny in the black population of the USA...
This page includes a hyperlinked list of famous people with the last name Washington. I believe all of the people in this list are from the United States.

From Washington: The 'Blackest Name' In America, By Jesse Washington, 02/21/2011 09:04 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
"George Washington's name is inseparable from America, and not only from the nation's history. It identifies countless streets, buildings, mountains, bridges, monuments, cities – and people.
In a puzzling twist, most of these people are black. The 2000 U.S. Census counted 163,036 people with the surname Washington. Ninety percent of them were African-American, a far higher black percentage than for any other common name.

The story of how Washington became the "blackest name" begins with slavery and takes a sharp turn after the Civil War, when all blacks were allowed the dignity of a surname.

Even before Emancipation, many enslaved black people chose their own surnames to establish their identities. Afterward, some historians theorize, large numbers of blacks chose the name Washington in the process of asserting their freedom.

Today there are black Washingtons, like this writer, who are often identified as African-American by people they have never met. There are white Washingtons who are sometimes misidentified and have felt discrimination. There are Washingtons of both races who view the name as a special – if complicated – gift.

And there remains the presence of George, born 279 years ago on Feb. 22, whose complex relationship with slavery echoes in the blackness of his name today.

...[George] "Washington was leading this schizoid life," [Ron Chernow, author of the biography "Washington: A Life"] said in the interview. "In theory and on paper he was opposed to slavery, but he was still zealously tracking and seeking to recover his slaves who escaped."

In his final years on his Mount Vernon plantation, Washington said that "nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union."...

Twelve American presidents were slaveowners. Of the eight presidents who owned slaves while in office, Washington is the only one who set all of them free.

It's a myth that most enslaved blacks bore the last name of their owner. Only a handful of George Washington's hundreds of slaves did, for example, and he recorded most as having just a first name, says Mary Thompson, the historian at Mount Vernon.

Still, historian Henry Wiencek says many enslaved blacks had surnames that went unrecorded or were kept secret. Some chose names as a mark of community identity, he says, and that community could be the plantation of a current or recent owner.

Sometimes blacks used the surname of the owner of their oldest known ancestor as a way to maintain their identity….Last names also could have been plucked out of thin air. Booker T. Washington, one of the most famous blacks of the post-slavery period, apparently had two of those….

Did enslaved people feel inspired by Washington and take his name in tribute, or were they seeking some benefits from the association? Did newly freed people take the name as a mark of devotion to their country?

"We just don't know," Weincek says.

But the connection is too strong for some to ignore….
Many present-day Washingtons are surprised to learn their name is not 100 percent black."...

From How Did Washington Become ‘The Blackest Name in America? By Claire Suddath February 21, 2011
"According to the U.S. Census, the ‘blackest’ surname in America is Washington. Of all the 163,036 people with the last name Washington on the 2000 census, 90% were black....

Half of the non-black Washingtons are white. Thirty percent are mixed-race. The rest are either Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander....

The next “blackest” names were Jefferson and Williams....

The surname Black is 68% white. White is 19% black.

The statistical information is from the 2000 U. S. Census, of course. Did anything change for the 2010 Census? We don’t know—the practice of cross-referencing racial data with last names wasn’t repeated this time around."

From results of a research project that is published in this pancocojams' post 50 Most Common African American Surnames (Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (1992-2001)
"In 2003 I requested information on surnames in Allegheny County from the Allegheny County Health Department. During that time, I was a member of that Department's Board of Directors. Upon receiving this information in 2003, I posted it for educational and research purposes in a section of my website that was devoted to names and nicknames. Unfortunately (and ironically), I can't find the name of the man who voluntarily compiled this material. Regardless, I thank him for his efforts.

I'm posting this information on this pancocojams page because it might be of interest to others, and because it might be beneficial to those engaged in research on the differences in surnames between African Americans and Non-African Americans within a given period of time.

The surnames listed here are those that were given to children born in Allegheny County during that period of time."
Note: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is located in Allegheny County and is the largest city in that county.

In that post I explained that for the purposes of that research project "African American" meant a baby who had at least one Black biological parent. I also explained that I was aware (and I am still aware) that some people who lived in Allegheny County during that period of time (and some people who live in Allegheny County now) are Black but aren't African American, since "Black" is a broader referent than "African American".

The surname "Washington" ranked #11 in the list of surnames of African American babies who were born in that county (1992-2001). Here's the list of the first eleven names from that list, and the first eleven names from the "Non-African American" list for that same period of time:

From 50 MOST COMMON AFRICAN AMERICAN SURNAMES (Based on Births among Allegheny County, Pennsylvania Residents) During 1992-2001

Rank/ Surname/ Birth Counts
1. Johnson (684)
2. Williams (620)
3. Jones (518)
4. Smith (507)
5. Brown (468)
6. Jackson (334)
7. Davis (301)
8. Thomas (296)
9. Robinson (259)
10. Harris (233)
11. Washington (197)

50 MOST COMMON NON-AFRICAN AMERICAN SURNAMES (Based on Births among Allegheny County Pennsylvania Residents During 1992-2001)

Rank/ Surname/ Birth Counts
1. Smith (806)
2. Miller (671)
3. Brown (357)
4. Williams (345)
5. Jones (329)
6. Johnson (294)
7. Davis (280)
8. Kelly (280)
9. Martin (252)
10. White (251)
11. Wilson (240)
The surname "Washington" was not included in this list.

As a means of providing some context to this data on surnames, I've provided excerpted data from Census reports for Allegheny County Pennsylvania for 1990 and 2000...




American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut

Asian or Pacific Islander

Other race

This concludes Part I of this series.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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