Lisa Marie Presley and Ghosts of the Past

Lisa Marie Presley in 1990, and members of her father's Smith and Mansell family

Lisa Marie Presley in 1990, and members of her father’s Smith and Mansell family


Thinking about the untimely demise of Lisa Marie Presley has brought to mind all of the speculation found online over many years regarding the ethnic origins of her famous father.

Elvis has at various times been said to have had Cherokee, English, Choctaw, Jewish, German, Romani, Scottish, French, Dutch, or Danish roots.

This broad range of purported ethnicities reflects the difficulty in trying to untangle the genealogy of anyone with deep ancestry among the American underclasses.

A few people have pulled me up in the past regarding the use of the term “underclasses”, perhaps believing that the term carries some sort of value judgment.

This is not the case.

“Underclasses” refers to those people who, often through no fault of their own, struggled to gain a foothold in society – whether in terms of education, economic success, social acceptance, or access to the various levers of power.

One thing in American history was always a stone cold fact.

Being seen as anything outside “respectable white Christian” society was a ticket to nowhere.

The climb from “white trash”, “colored”, or “mulatto” into respectability was often a generations-long project.

The very first step in this project always began with religion.

Many evangelical Americans like to believe that America has always been a devout Christian nation, yet large swathes of its “white” underclasses share early roots among communities who practiced a myriad of religious faiths.   We are speaking primarily, but not exclusively, of indigenous and “black” communities here.

Think about it.

For people of color, a profession of Christian faith was the absolute bare minimum required in order to even be considered human.

For dirt-poor “white folks”, a profession of Christian faith cost no money, and instantly elevated a person into a position among “a more decent class of folks”.

The long – and not always successful – journey towards self-respect, education, and economic security could now begin…

The raw charisma and talent of Elvis Presley allowed him to leapfrog the generations it usually took most people of his background to reach “respectability”.

Maybe the jump from poor Mississippi underclass to international stardom was simply too much for a simple man to process.  Maybe trans-generational troubles caught-up with his daughter, too.

This is all just musing, because no one can be inside another person’s head.

But one thing is certain.

Having indigenous American, Romani Gypsy, African-American, Jewish, or any other “non-white” ancestry in early American history was not a good starting point for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

#BeforeWeWereWhite #LisaMariePresley #ElvisPresley #RagsToRiches

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