Michael Jackson, Rosa Parks: 10 Black icons you didn't know had Native ancestry

In this February 29, 1984 file photo, pop superstar Michael Jackson, right, is joined by his sisters, from left, Maureen “Rebie”, Janet and LaToya on stage during the 26th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, as he receives an award for Best Male Pop Vocal. Jackson received a total of eight Grammy awards, a new record. Jackson, 50, died at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Thursday, June 25, 2009.

In honor of #BlackHistoryMonth, here are 10 history-making Black Indians

Being that February is #BlackHistoryMonth, we thought it was appropriate to honor black celebrities, musicians and history makers who share some Native American ancestry. According to William Loren Katz, the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage, speculates that a “vast majority” of African Americans today also share Native Ancestry.

Though not all of the specific tribes are known, the Native heritage of these historic notables has been documented, researched or claimed by them in their lifetime in some way or another.

In appreciation of these notables who have contributed to society in some way or another, here are 10 African Americans you may not have known have some Native ancestry.

Jimi Hendrix

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame calls him the greatest instrumentalist of all time, Jimi Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942. Hendrix was of African, European, Cherokee and Mexican descent and spent many of his early years with his grandmother, a "Cherokee Indian." After a short career, Hendrix died in 1970 from barbiturate-related asphyxia at the age of 27.

Press Association via AP Images File photo dated August 20, 1970 of Jimi Hendrix on stage.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (and his wife Coretta Scott King)

In William Loren Katz’s book Black Indians, he cites that Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 had mobilized a Poor People’s March and had invited whites, African Americans, Native Americans and all other races. In his book Katz writes, “King whose own ancestors included Native Americans as well as Africans, was assassinated in Memphis before the March reached Washington.” It was also known that Coretta was of African American and Creek ancestry.

AP Photo/Joe Holloway Jr. Coretta Scott King poses before a photo painting of her late husband, Martin Luther King Jr., January 1972. The painting hangs behind her office desk and is one of her favorites.

Lena Horne

Known as an influential African American actress, dancer, singer and civil rights activist, Lena Horne was also Native American from both of her parents, Edwin Frank Horne Jr. and Edna Louise Scottron. Horne joined the famous Cotton Club chorus at age 16 and performed in the movie and performing industry for decades, born in 1917, Lena Horne passed away in 2010 at age 92.

AP Photo Miss Lena Horne, a 30-year-old singer, is seen rehearsing in London, England, October 30, 1947 for a performance at the London Casino.

Michael Jackson (and all the Jacksons)

In an interview with Joe Jackson in the book, The Jacksons he tells the readers that he has Choctaw in his family history. There are also unconfirmed accounts that Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, has Blackfeet Nation ancestry.

James Earl Jones

Yes Luke, you might have had a Native American father—at least as far as the voice of Darth Vader is concerned. According to James Earl Jones in an interview with the BBC, he said his grandmother had Cherokee, Choctaw and African American roots.

Rex Features via AP Images. Photo by Steve Meddle/Rex Features 1470594bf. James Earl Jones ‘The Alan Titchmarsh Show’ TV Programme, London, Britain. – 14 Oct 2011


Well, some of you might know that Beyonce’ is part Native American after she did that L’Oréal commercial. According to Ms. Knowles the Native American comes from her mother’s Creole heritage, which includes Native American.

Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images. Singer Beyonce' performs on her “Mrs. Carter Show World Tour 2013”, on Saturday June 29, 2013, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks rocked the civil rights world when she refused to give up her seat to a white male passenger on a segregated bus. Called the “First Lady of Civil Rights” by the U.S. Congress, Rosa Parks was also of Cherokee and Creek descent.

National Archives and Records Administration Records of the U.S. Information Agency Record Group 306/Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (ca. 1955)

James Brown

The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, with such blazing hits as “Sex Machine” and “I Feel Good” is Apache as well as African American. In a 2004 interview, Brown credited his Apache roots to living a healthier lifestyle without cigarettes and alcohol. He said, “I guess the Indian temper is there. That’s why I don’t drink liquor… I smoke very little. If I smoke, I smoke what the Indians smoke. Whatever that is, ha ha ha!”

P Photo/Eugene Hoshiko. James Brown performs during a concert in Shanghai, China, in this February 22, 2006, file photo.

The dynamic “Godfather of Soul,” whose rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco as well, died December 25, 2006 of heart failure brought on by pneumonia. He was 73.

LL Cool J.

Just as William Loren Katz proclaims on his website regarding Africans and Indians, “Though often unmentioned except in family circles, this biological legacy has been shared by such figures as Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, Lena Horne, Alice Walker, Jesse Jackson, Michael Jackson and LL Cool J.”

In Katz’ book, LL Cool J. is holding a copy of Black Indians and claims Cherokee descent… enough said.

Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP. LL Cool J arrives at the 56th annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on Sunday, January 26, 2014, in Los Angeles.

Worth mentioning category

Oprah Winfrey

Though not proof of Native heritage, Oprah Winfrey went the DNA testing route on a documentary called African American Lives in 2006 and discovered she was part Native American along with Chris Tucker. During the program, Oprah said that to many African-Americans in her generation, being “a little Indian” was desirable.

Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP. Oprah Winfrey speaks on stage at the 45th NAACP Image Awards at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Saturday, February 22, 2014, in Pasadena, California.

This article originally was published in February of 2014.

Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

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Its clear you dont understand the limitations of DNA genealogy. Its basically junk science. Most "blacks", "African Americans" or whatever they are calling us now, had that identity imposed on us by colonial laws, the census bureau, and brainwashing via education. Our family traditions and oral history points to one place, here, not Africa. So, its ironic that yoi take offense to the assertion that we are "mixed" with "native American", when in reality, if we are mixed at all, it's the African portion of our blood that is marginal. Don't take my word for it though. Do some research. You'll find that hardly any Africans ever touched the North American shores. Certainly nowhere near enough to produce all of us "negroes".


James Brown Apache!!?? LMAO!! The man was born in South Carolina for F@#$ sake! he had no Native American ancestry, in fact none of these people do! Why is an Indian News Site propagating false claims? In fact you rarely find any African American families from the south who DO NOT have a family myth of Indian Blood, just like you have all these White families from the South who claim the same myths, the Indian blood myth. The South is the place where the white population has the most Negro admixture, and where the African Americans have the most White Euro admixture. DNA studies alone put this myth in the dust bin of history. in fact, the ethnic removal of the East Coast Natives from their ancestral homelands guaranteed that Native American DNA did not flow back into the larger White/Black population, but into the Native American population, and removed to Indian territory. The tribes with the most admixture that stayed in their homelands, have genealogical continuity and are still apart of their lands and nation. These people are documented though, they have no vague generic "Cherokee Princess" blood myths, unlike regular Black and White Americans who for the most part are the descendants of the same people who invaded Native lands and had them removed. Just because they live there now, and appropriate the identities of the genocided, ethnically cleansed Natives who once populated the land, doesnt make them Native. The real Natives are gone, or where they always lived. White and Black Americans are NOT them!! No Blood, No Documentation, No culture, Not them!!