Interview with Linda Allen Bryant, Author of I Cannot Tell a Lie: The True Story of George Washington’s African American Descendants

Question: Your family history is already controversial. Why did you choose to present the story as a novel?
Linda Bryant: I wrote I Cannot Tell a Lie as a historical novel for a variety of reasons. Among them was my desire to answer the questions that arise when people first hear my family claim to the Washington bloodline. The novel format allowed me to relay my heritage in the way it was passed down to me at annual family reunions. The book was written in a style that allows the reader the full glimpses into the workings of the minds of my ancestors with all the nuances of their character and the events that shaped the lives of their descendants. I have also added detailed reference material in the book that will interest anyone wanting proof of my family’s claim to the Washington family tree.

Question: George Washington’s role in your family history is obviously important, yet he has only a minor role in your book. What purpose do you think such a story can serve to the reading public?
Linda Bryant: There have been many books written on George Washington. I Cannot Tell a Lie was written to introduce his son, West Ford, and his descendants. The sections of this book depicting George Washington are portions that were integral to the Ford history. Some of the information on George Washington in I Cannot Tell a Lie has not been introduced before in any other bibliography on him. This book is also the first to explore the controversial claim that the blood of George Washington flows through a living African American family.

Question: The contributions of West Ford and others like him, of mixed race heritage, have largely been overlooked as a distinct population in this country. What do you think are the most significant contributions made by West Ford that Americans need to know about?
Linda Bryant I would like the public to know that West Ford was more than a shameful entry in the record of America’s slavery past. He was a man who survived slavery and lived to tell his story to his children and his grandchildren. He was a landowner and a dignitary who rose to prominence despite the onerous burden of his race. My family and I seek to restore West Ford’s visibility and to recover an important part of U. S. history.

Question: Who were the most difficult characters to relate to in writing your book? Who were the ones you were most able to relate to?
Linda Bryant: I didn’t really feel that any of the characters were difficult to relate to, but I felt a close affinity with West’s mother, Venus, and his grandson, George Ford. Writing Cannot Tell a Lie was a deeply personal undertaking and took me six years to complete. Writing about family members, even when most of them have been dead for over 200 years, carried additional challenges. I also took the risk of revealing more about my contemporary family members than they might be comfortable with. Let’s say it makes for many interesting family gatherings.

Question: As a designated chronicler of your family’s history, you have devoted a lifetime to documenting and publicizing the legacy of West Ford. You’ve appeared on numerous television and radio broadcasts, and initiated feature articles in the country’s most prominent publications. You’ve also contributed three of the most comprehensive documents on the Ford story in existence, which include a web site, a bibliography documenting your research, and now your novel. What’s left for you to do?
Linda Bryant: I would like to set up a scholarship fund for the descendants of West Ford and to help establish the West Ford museum in Alexandria, Virginia. I have detailed an area on my web site to help others trace their family trees.

Question: Are there efforts to preserve the DNA of living Ford descendants for future reference and documentation?
Linda BryantCurrently, there are efforts underway to get DNA samples from Ford family members for future DNA testing if and when tests can determine the paternity of West Ford.

Question: How does the younger generation of Ford descendants feel about this story? Is the history as important to them as it is to older family members?
Linda BryantAs with all families, there are certain members of the family who are more interested in the family’s legacy. We make it a point in my family to keep our story alive with the younger ones through active participation in family discussions.

Question: How has the public, in general, responded to your story?
Linda Bryant: The public response to our story has been very positive.

Question: Do you have any advice for others researching their genealogy?
Linda Bryant My advice to others tracing their family trees is to start documenting information from the older relatives in their family. But the most important thing is to start, because everyone has a right to know about their roots.

Question: You are now living the part of the story where I Cannot Tell a Lie leaves off. Can we expect other books from Linda Allen Bryant on this, or any other, subject?
Linda Bryant: Yes. I plan to write other books on this subject and other little known stories about African Americans and people of color who have been rendered invisible by Western Eurocentric history.

For more specific information on the research documentation connecting George Washington and West Ford, visit these links:

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