Book Excerpt: I Cannot Tell a Lie:
The True Story of George Washington’s
African American Descendants
by Linda Allen Bryant
A critic advises not to write on controversial subjects like freedom or murder, but to treat universal themes and timeless symbols like the white unicorn.
Author Linda Allen Bryant
For most of her adult life, my mother, Elise Ford Allen, was the Ford family’s official chronicler, passing on the legacy of West Ford within our extended family at annual reunions. The responsibility of transmitting our centuries-old family secret – that we were the descendants of George Washington – weighed profoundly on her heart.
In 1994, she decided that the American people might be ready to accept our story. To me she handed over the task of being the next official chronicler, and of “carrying the charge” beyond our immediate family. With a great deal of help from my sister, Janet, and our cousin, Dr. Judith Saunders-Burton, I have developed a website, made multiple appearances on television, and am publishing our family legacy as a novel. “I Cannot Tell a Lie” brings to life the extraordinary story that we have carried within my family for the past 200 years.
The novel begins with the birth of West Ford and traces his lineage through his children to subsequent generations of Fords; each faced with the emotional and political challenges of their shared secret identity and respective eras in which they lived. The book traces our ironic tale from its beginnings in post-colonial Virginia, to its current status as a piece of modern-day revisionist history. In essence, the story covers factual incidents supported by personal anecdotes and excerpts from numerous historical records and archival documents. However, some of the names of the people cited in this work have been changed to protect their privacy.
I have attempted to present “I Cannot Tell A Lie” in an accessible format through which our family history might be considered, while offering a compelling exposure to the many sociopolitical issues surrounding our claim. It is also my intention to provide readers with a better understanding of American history and the role West Ford and other African Americans played in the making of this great country.
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Most of the facts about lineage in this novel can be documented, except for the most critical one – who was West Ford’s father? No living person can testify to the act that conceived West Ford, but the testimony of Venus, the woman who contributed one half of his genes, is available to the public for the first time in my book. Venus revealed the identity of the father to the son, who in turn told his son. Thus, the Ford family’s origins were preserved in an oral document that has endured for over two centuries. The Ford descendants have carried on the traditions of patriotism and family pride, despite being unable to lay claim to a famous grandfather known for those selfsame traits.
The Washingtons never openly claimed a blood relationship to West Ford. And alas, many historians wish to place the onus of West Ford’s birth on his nephews, Bushrod or Corbin Washington. But we, the African American heirs of West Ford, know of our heritage. There are no “Bushrods or Corbins” in the Ford family tree of names.
I am fully aware that a book depicting George Washington as anything but honorable will elicit some controversy, causing debates among historians and pundits for many years to come. But American history must be recounted, challenged, and kept accessible. The portions of the book pertaining to George Washington are based on facts and research compiled by his many biographers. I have also dissected and digested Washington’s personal diaries and letters with the intent to share a certain intimacy with him, to better understand him as one of my great grandfathers.
The Ford family wants to claim its legacy and this novel serves as documentation of our heritage. The descendants of West Ford by no means wish to denigrate George Washington, but merely want the validation and vindication of who we are in American history for our children and our children’s children.
As you turn the pages of this book, you will gain a closer understanding about the descendants of George Washington, his African American heirs…his blood heirs. Let us share our story with you because our story must be told.
Linda Allen Bryant