A family member of historian Jessica Krug, who pretended to have African American and Caribbean roots before revealing she had lied about her heritage for years, said the revelations may explain why the 38-year-old professor purportedly missed her mother’s 2013 funeral and had all but cut ties with other family members.
George Washington University launched an investigation after the history professor admitted to fraudulently pretending to be a Black woman for her entire career, saying Friday she would not be teaching her classes in the current semester.
According to the British tabloid The Daily Mail, Krug skipped her mother Sherry’s funeral after her death from pneumonia at age 65 in October 2013, and family friends, the paper claimed, “now wonder if Krug cruelly snubbed her 65-year-old mom because she was worried about being ‘caught out.'”
“It was a terrible thing to do,” the paper quotes an unnamed “family friend” saying. “She didn’t even offer any sort of excuse. And maybe we now know why. I’m not aware of anyone in the family having had any contact with her ever since.”
In a Thursday blog post, Krug revealed she had been raised in a white, middle-class family in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, but had pretended to be Black for most of her adult life. She blamed “unaddressed mental health demons” dating back to childhood and said she frequently thought of confessing the deception, “but my cowardice was always more powerful than my ethics.”
She had lived “under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness,” she wrote.
The family friend said she had been “extremely smart” as a child. “She was interested from a young age in racial justice and equality, she had a passion for helping the downtrodden. You knew she would go far.
“As for the rest of the family, I would say they were moderates. I would not say there was any racism in the family at all.”
Krug’s parents split when she was a child, the paper said, so much of the family wasn’t in attendance at her father’s funeral when he died in 2017 at age 69. They didn’t know, the friend said, whether Krug had attended.
In a statement released Friday night, George Washington University provost Brian Blake and dean Paul Wahlbeck wrote: “Dr. Krug will not be teaching her classes this semester. We are working on developing a number of options for students in those classes, which will be communicated to affected students as soon as possible.”
Krug’s biography on the GW website lists imperialism and colonialism and African-American history among her areas of expertise. Her writings center heavily on issues of African culture and diaspora.
The post caused an immediate furor on social media, with Black academics, writers and activists recalling their interactions with Krug.
Hari Ziyad, editor of the online publication RaceBatr, which had published Krug’s writings, wrote on Twitter that Krug had confirmed the details of the blog post to him in a phone call Thursday morning. He described Krug as “someone I called a friend up until this morning when she gave me a call admitting to everything written here.”
Ziyad wrote that Krug claimed to be Afro-Caribbean from the Bronx. He said he had defended Krug in the past against suspicious colleagues. In retrospect, he recalls clues to the deception including her “clearly inexpert salsa dancing” and “awful New York accent.”
Krug’s public persona comes across in a video testimony to a New York City Council hearing on gentrification from June. Referring to herself as Jess La Bombalera, Krug refers to “my Black and brown siblings” in the anti-gentrification movement and criticizes “all these white New Yorkers” who “did not yield their time to Black and brown indigenous New Yorkers.”
In their letter Friday night, addressed to the “GW Community,” Blake and Wahlbeck said: “We want to acknowledge the pain this situation has caused for many in our community and recognize that many students, faculty, staff and alumni are hurting. … Please know that we are taking this situation seriously and are here to support our community.”