Tales of African-American History Found in DNA
The history of African-Americans has been shaped in part by two great journeys.
The first brought hundreds of thousands of Africans to the southern United States as slaves. The second, the Great Migration, began around 1910 and sent six million African-Americans from the South to New York, Chicago and other cities across the country.
(Note from co-editor Trace Hentz: The Hentz and Pressley clans, my husband’s mixed family, migrated from Columbia and Saluda, South Carolina to NYC.)
In a study published on Friday, a team of geneticists sought evidence for this history in the DNA of living African-Americans. The findings, published in PLOS Genetics, provide a map of African-American genetic diversity, shedding light on both their history and their health.
Buried in DNA, the researchers found the marks of slavery’s cruelties, including further evidence that white slave owners routinely fathered children with women held as slaves.
And there are signs of the migration that led their descendants away from such oppression: Genetically related African-Americans are distributed closely along the routes they took to leave the South, the scientists discovered.
The importance of that finding is not just historical, said Dr. Esteban G. Burchard, a physician and scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study.
A detailed map of genetic variations in African-Americans will help show how genes influence their risk for various diseases. “This has tremendous medical relevance,” he said.
Until recently, most research into the link between genes and disease has focused on people of European descent. “We’re missing out on a lot of biology and diversity,” said Simon Gravel, a geneticist at McGill University in Montreal. SOURCE
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Alondra Nelson, the dean of social science at Columbia University and the author of “The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome” said she did not think that result contributed much to understanding who left the South or why.
In the study, she noted, the researchers found just 1 percent more European ancestry in the African Americans who left the South.
Dr. Nelson noted that historians are increasingly collaborating on genetic studies like these. But the new study does not include a historian among its authors.
“The human intentions around escaping racial terror can’t possibly be reduced to genotype,” she said. “If you’re interested in understanding the Great Migration, it’s a tremendous lost opportunity.”
******READ The Genetic Ancestry of African Americans, Latinos, and European Americans across the United States, Bryc, Katarzyna et al. The American Journal of Human Genetics , Volume 96 , Issue 1 , 37 – 53
Our results provide empirical support that, over recent centuries, many individuals with partial African and Native American ancestry have “passed” into the white community,79, 80 with multiple lines of evidence establishing African and Native American ancestry in self-reported European Americans (see Subjects and Methods).
Some Native American tribes in the South, such as the Cherokee and Choctaw, kept African slaves. When they were expelled to Oklahoma in the 1830s, they brought the slaves with them. In some tribes, Native Americans and African slaves intermarried, and their descendants continue to live in Oklahoma today.
The Changing American Family
American households have never been more diverse, more surprising, more baffling. In this special issue of Science Times, NATALIE ANGIER takes stock of our changing definition of family.
Researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years, the transformations often exceeding or capsizing those same experts’ predictions of just a few journal articles ago.
The nation’s birthrate today is half what it was in 1960, and last year hit its lowest point ever. At the end of the baby boom, in 1964, 36 percent of all Americans were under 18 years old; last year, children accounted for just 23.5 percent of the population, and the proportion is dropping, to a projected 21 percent by 2050. Fewer women are becoming mothers — about 80 percent of those of childbearing age today versus 90 percent in the 1970s — and those who reproduce do so more sparingly, averaging two children apiece now, compared with three in the 1970s.
|Yaa Gyasi, Author of Homegoing (via Powell’s Books)|
|I come from a family of people who love to tell a good story. I think in a lot of non-Western literature, in a lot of African literature, the voice of storytelling — that kind of oracular nature of a story — is more privileged than it sometimes is here…|
W. Kamau Bell: Why I’m getting emails from the KKK (WATCH)