At least a pair of famous Americans has been in the spotlight recently because of their ancestors. First, Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and potential presidential candidate, learned recently of connections to the family of the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond. Sharpton learned that his grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was once owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was once owned by Strom Thurmond’s great-great grandfather.

Thurmond, who ran for president himself in 1948 on the so-called “Dixiecrat” ticket, was recognized as a segregationist for most of his life, a man who believed in the separation of races. Sharpton, on the other hand, has become a prominent figure in the Democrat party, and has already had a turn as a unsuccessful candidate for president in ’04. He said he was “numb” when he first learned of the connection between his and Thurmond’s family, later touring a Carolina site near the Georgia state line where his ancestors lived.

Thomas Jefferson was not only an American President, writer of the Declaration of Independence, and possible father of a child with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings, but may also have been (at least partially) the nation’s first “Jewish” leader.

Reporters Nick Summers and Marc Bain recently reported that researchers from the University of Leicester have uncovered genetic links to Jefferson and Judaism. Jefferson’s Y chromosome strand is reportedly part of a line known as K2, which is some 20,000 years old.

There is still conclusive proof but many prominent Jewish figures, including David A. Harris of the American Jewish Committee, are excited about the prospect. Jefferson has been pointed to as “brilliant, complex, imperfect – like the great Biblical models”.

A man who knew Sharpton personally and Jefferson intellectually, noted historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., passed away a few days ago, taking with him an immense knowledge of not only the 20th century but also of overall American history.

Schlesinger was known for wearing bowties and interesting facts equally well. He was born the year American entered World War I (1917) and passed away with the country in conflict in Iraq. In between, he managed to be close to the action in nearly every other U.S. involvement around the world.

Schlesinger was known for those bowties in part because two of his own heroes, Sir Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, favored them. Like them, he was an intellectual. He and Roosevelt were both Harvard-schooled but while FDR turned to politics as a profession, Schlesinger followed it as a hobby. He said that history, like politics, was an argument without end and that was why he enjoyed it so much.

Locally, a pair of well-known history buffs and talented writers, Louise Leslie and Dr. Terry Mullins, have produced another Tazewell book. It is worth noting that Ms. Leslie’s “other” Tazewell book has been in print for a generation and many schools, libraries, and citizens already have it.

That has been noted by Dr. Mullins, who has been told several times that people already have “the Tazewell book”. Well, they do – only it is the first one, not the newest one. For a real treat, the new version is now available. It updates and pictures many county events over the past few years. Dr. Mullins, who freely admits he will research just about anything relating to Tazewell County, has just completed a new project on the old street car which used to travel through town. The car started on the west end of Main Street, traveled around the big horseshoe curve, traversed the length of Tazewell Avenue, and ended up at the North Tazewell railroad station. For a time, Tazewell was the smallest town in America with such a street car. It also gave the name “Carline” to a section of the community where the tracks were located, passing today under Rt. 19-460 in that particular area.

Schlesinger would have understood the fascination – he wrote that history is to a nation as memory is to a person – a way of recalling where we have been and perhaps, where we should go.

Larry Hypes is a Tazewell High School teacher and Daily Telegraph columnist.

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