The “Real” Mrs. William Travilla – Dona Drake

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2020-03-28 01:34Z by Steven

The “Real” Mrs. William Travilla – Dona Drake

Travilla’s Legacy: Keeping True Fashion Alive
2013-11-07

In 1944, [William] Travilla met and married starlet Dona Drake, who at the time was more famous than he was having been in the entertainment industry for eleven years under several different names. Dona Drake, born Eunice Westmoreland, on November 5, 1914 to Joseph and Novella Westmoreland in Jacksonville, Florida. Jacksonville was a major port on the East Coast shipping lanes and due to it’s balmy weather, a vacation destination for Northerners seeking to escape the cold winters.

From 1907 until 1918, it also thirty permanent film studios. Known as “The Winter Film Capital of the World” and where Oliver Hardy got his start and until politicians, plus other factors forced the film makers to California, was a leading industry in the city. Life was good for most of Jacksonville’s residents, but not for the Westmorelands, as segregation was strictly enforced and though Dona claimed Latin heritage throughout her personal and professional career, Eunice Westmoreland was negro. Referred to as such in both 1920 and 1930 census records. Both parents were interchangeably referred to as negro and mulatto in the early 1900 censuses.

By 1930, Eunice’s family has relocated to Philadelphia with her father working in a chili parlor and her older brother enrolled in college. Eunice helped at the restaurant, but soon quit to pursue her life long dream of singing and dancing. By 1933 she had moved to New York City with her mother and another waitress named Rene Villion. Changing her name to Una, she and Rene formed a “sister act” and the pair found work at the Paradise Club on Broadway. Earl Carroll spotted her on stage one night and cast her in his production of Murder at The Vanities. When that ended, the girls toured until Rene left to get married and Una continued solo, performing in packaged tours headed by Rudy Vallée and Harry Richman. Returning to New York City, Una began dating a local Brooklyn mobster named [Louis] “Pretty” Amburg. In October of 1934, Amburg’s nude body was found in the trunk of a burning car. At the time, Una was in Hollywood, with a new name, Rita Rio, and filming her first movie, Strike Me Pink with Eddie Cantor

Read the entire article here.

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Palmer Patton recognized as earliest identified African American graduate, faculty member at Oregon State

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-03-07 03:06Z by Steven

Palmer Patton recognized as earliest identified African American graduate, faculty member at Oregon State

OSU Today
Oregon State University
2020-02-20

Theresa Hogue, Public Info Representative


Palmer Patton

Oregon State University archivist Larry Landis was leafing through a 1919 Beaver Yearbook in 2018 as he did research on representations of blackface in old university publications. As he looked for examples, he came across a yearbook photo of a student who appeared to be African American.

As the director of the Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Landis knew that officially, Carrie Halsell was considered the earliest identified African American graduate of Oregon State (at that time Oregon Agricultural College) in 1926. But the man in the photos, Palmer Patton, graduated from OAC with his bachelor’s degree in 1918 and a master’s degree in 1920. Landis investigated further.. He combed the university archives, online historic newspapers, and even accessed information through his personal Ancestry.com account. He also made inquiries with archives at other universities – Montana State University, UC Davis and the University of Chicago – all of which provided or confirmed information on Patton. He spent part of an afternoon in the archives at Montana State while in Bozeman for a conference.

“Over the course of several months I pieced together Palmer Patton’s story,” Landis said. “The end result is a story of someone who was most likely bi-racial, who identified as white at times, and who was able to navigate through places and spaces that were predominantly white.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Escaping Blackness

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, United States on 2020-03-07 02:03Z by Steven

Escaping Blackness

New York Review of Books
2020-03-26

Darryl Pinckney


Thomas Chatterton Williams, New York City, 2019
Dominique Nabokov

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race
by Thomas Chatterton Williams
Norton, 174 pp., $25.95

The black individual passing for white in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American fiction by white writers is usually a woman, and usually when the truth emerges, the purity of the white race is saved. However, in An Imperative Duty (1891) by William Dean Howells, a Boston girl is ashamed to find out that legally she is colored, but her white suitor marries her anyway and takes her off to a life in Italy. In the beginning of Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900), a “high-bred” black man in North Carolina returns to his hometown to ask his sister to take his dead white wife’s place and bring up his son. A young aristocrat she meets in her new white life proposes marriage, but soon learns the truth of her origins. Literary convention, in the form of a fever, kills her. The white suitor realizes too late that love conquers all. He promises to keep the brother’s secret.

The secret was as radical as Chesnutt could get. From a North Carolina family of “free issue” blacks—meaning emancipated since colonial times—Chesnutt had blond hair and blue eyes. He wouldn’t pass for white, because if he became famous then he chanced someone appearing from his past. He preferred to pursue reputation as a black man. Chesnutt had cousins who crossed the color line and he never told on them, viewing passing as an act of “self-preservation,” a private solution to the race problem. The big escape from being black was an American tradition. Three of Sally Hemings’s six children ended up living as white people.

The nameless narrator of James Weldon Johnson’s novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), a widower and a father, says little about his life as a white man. He is interested instead in his past as a black person, his life with different classes of black people, his wanderings around Europe as a young musician. When he returned to the United States and went on a folk song–collecting tour of the South, he witnessed a lynching—a black man being burned alive. Terrified, he got himself across the color line. He didn’t want to belong to a racial group so utterly without power…

Thomas Chatterton Williams, who belongs to the hip-hop generation of multiculturalism and diversity, is willing to risk being a throwback in his memoir/essay Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race. To speculate on the racial future, he goes back to the days when the black individual who could do so took the side exit from segregated life to personal freedom. He deals with passing for white, class privilege, and his hopes for the possibilities of race transcendence, knowing perfectly well that because he is light-skinned he can contemplate racial identity as being provisional, voluntary, situational, and fluid…

Read the entire review here.

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‘Passing’ led to new lives and safety

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-03-07 00:46Z by Steven

‘Passing’ led to new lives and safety

The Daily Progress
Charlottesville, Virginia
2020-02-08

Bryan McKenzie, News Reporter


Bryan McKenzie/The Daily Progress File
Catherine Kerrison explains to moderator Clarence Page and participant Lisa Page the mystery of what happened to Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Harriet after she ‘passed’ into white society. The three participated in a Monticello program on ‘passing’ on Saturday.

For more than two centuries, many African Americans left their families and identities behind, crossing into white society as a way of securing freedom, self-preservation and economic advancement, two university professors who have researched the phenomenon told a Monticello audience on Saturday.

Known as “passing,” many African Americans and Americans of mixed race chose to present themselves as white in order to attain privileges, freedoms and security. Passing often meant turning their backs on family, friends and hometowns, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Lisa Page, co-editor of “We Wear The Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America,” joined Catherine Kerrison, author of “Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America” in the program. The panel is part of a slate of events and exhibitions by Monticello during Black History Month

Read the entire article here.

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My Daughter Passes for White

Posted in Articles, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-03-06 16:08Z by Steven

My Daughter Passes for White

The New York Times
2020-02-29

Seema Jilani, Pediatrician and Humanitarian Aid Worker
Washington, D.C.


Sally Deng

She belongs in a way I never could. I’m comforted — and worried.

I stand in the aisle of the school bus while the other seventh graders snicker and block me from sitting next to them, as they have for the entire school year. Taking my seat next to the bus driver, I look out to the road with resignation. My great-aunt, adorned in a colorful sari, waves goodbye to me while the entire school bus looks on. I want to disappear into the dingy brown vinyl bus seats. With the newfound cruelty of adolescence, I scoff and loudly tell my classmates, “That crazy lady is just my maid.”

I am still ashamed of how I treated my great-aunt. I also know it was a form of preteen self-preservation. I desperately wanted what so many other children that age do: to be as bland and vanilla as possible, just so that I could get through the day without being ostracized.

I now find myself in a mixed marriage, mother to a 3-year-old mixed-race girl who easily passes for white. Her fair skin, auburn hair and light brown eyes do not even hint at her Pakistani background. When I tell people at gatherings that I speak Urdu at home, some are very concerned about whether my daughter will be confused. Yet some are the same families clamoring for their children to get accepted into French-immersion kindergartens. Strangers have asked me whether I am her real mother or have assumed that I’m her nanny. It’s not their belief about my profession that’s disturbing — it’s their certainty that my daughter and I can’t be related because of the colors of our skin…

Read the entire article here.

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Passing for White: Merle Oberon (Make Me Over, Episode 4)

Posted in Arts, Audio, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2020-02-20 22:14Z by Steven

Passing for White: Merle Oberon (Make Me Over, Episode 4)

You Must Remember This
2020-02-10

Halley Bondy

In 1935, Merle Oberon became the first biracial actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, an incredible achievement in then-segregated Hollywood—except that nobody in Hollywood knew Oberon was biracial. Born in Bombay into abject poverty in 1911, Oberon’s fate seemed sealed in her racist colonial society. But a series of events, lies, men, and an obsession with controlling her own image—even if it meant bleaching her own skin—changed Oberon’s path forever.

This episode was written and performed by Halley Bondy, a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in NBC, The Outline, Eater NY, Paste Magazine, Scary Mommy, Bustle, Vice, and more. She’s an author of five young adult books, a handful of plays, an is a writer/producer for the podcast “Masters of Scale.” She lives in Brooklyn with husband/cheerleader Tim, and her amazing toddler Robin.

Listen to the podcast (00:44:57) here.

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White supremacy rhetoric lectures – Bella da Costa Greene’s symbolic legacy

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2020-01-31 21:05Z by Steven

White supremacy rhetoric lectures – Bella da Costa Greene’s symbolic legacy

University News: UMKC’s Independent Student Newspaper
2019-02-20

Chelsea Engstrom

UMKC’s Medieval and Early Modern Studies program held the first of four lectures last week in a series that aims to help dismantle white supremacist rhetoric while making academia more accessible and diverse.

Each of the four lectures covers a different topic, but the underlying purpose remains the same. Dr. Sierra Lomuto, the first lecture’s speaker, focused on Belle da Costa Greene and her symbolic legacy as a medievalist and woman of color.

Lomuto, an English professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, is one of the founding members of the Medievalists of Color (MoC) organization.

MoC is “an international professional organization that advocates for the advancement of racial minority scholars working in Medieval Studies.”

Bella da Costa Greene, born Belle Marion Greener in 1883, spent her life passing as a white woman.

According to Lomuto, Greene’s parents separated when she was around 5 years old, and that was when her mother changed all her children’s surname to Greene in an effort to distance themselves from her estranged husband and the black community as a whole.

Greene, with her “white-sounding” surname and light skin, would explain away her olive-toned complexion by claiming to be of Portuguese descent…

Read the entire article here.

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Throwing Rocks: An Interview with John Vercher

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-01-31 19:00Z by Steven

Throwing Rocks: An Interview with John Vercher

Los Angeles Review of Books
2020-01-29

Alex Segura interviews John Vercher

JOHN VERCHER’S TAUT, impressive debut crime novel, Three-Fifths, follows Bobby Saraceno — a mixed-race man living a lie. Saraceno has spent his life passing as a white man, raised by his racist maternal grandfather in Pittsburgh. Bobby’s kept his true self hidden from everyone, even his fellow comic book fan/best friend, Aaron, who’s just returned home after a prison stint. Aaron not only comes back as a more hardened man, but also as a radical white supremacist. When Bobby witnesses Aaron commit a hateful, race-based crime, his world begins to pull apart. Not only must Bobby keep his mixed race a secret from his militant friend, but he must also make sure he doesn’t land on the police’s radar as an accomplice to Aaron’s vicious crime. But an unexpected return threatens to destroy Bobby’s tricky balancing act.

Three-Fifths is a tale of lost histories, identity, dangerous secrets, and deadly obsessions. It’s a confident, thoughtful novel that doesn’t hesitate to show the brutality of violence and the complexities of race relations, without pumping the brakes for the faint of heart. It’s a confident, mannered debut that feels carefully seasoned — like the work of an author leveling up after a string of starter novels, as opposed to a newcomer. I talked to Vercher about his motivations and influences.

ALEX SEGURA: John, can you talk a bit about why Three-Fifths was the story you wanted to tell now? It feels remarkably urgent, but pensive at the same time, if that makes sense.

JOHN VERCHER: It’s a story I always wanted to tell, in the sense that little to nothing has changed in our country in regards to race between 1995 when the story takes place to now. Similarly, little was different from the same 24-year time span from 1971 to 1995, and even further back. Having said that, I was fortunate that Three-Fifths found a home when it did, because there does seem to be, as a function of our increased access to all forms of media, more talk than ever about race and identity. It would be better if we were having conversations about it rather than talking at each other, and as always, books are some of the best means to spark those kinds of conversations. It was my hope that Three-Fifths could do that, even for the smallest of audiences…

Read the entire interview here.

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Mary Ellen Pleasant Becomes a Rich, Black Abolitionist (feat. Lisa Bonet) – Drunk History

Posted in Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States, Women on 2020-01-28 19:18Z by Steven

Mary Ellen Pleasant Becomes a Rich, Black Abolitionist (feat. Lisa Bonet) – Drunk History

Drunk History
Comedy Central
2019-06-16

Mary Ellen Pleasant was a former slave who posed as a white woman in San Francisco, amassed a fortune and fought for the rights of black people.

Based on the popular web series, Drunk History is the liquored-up narration of our nation’s history. Host Derek Waters, along with an ever-changing cast of actors and comedians, travels across the country to present the rich tales that every city in this land has to offer. Booze helps bring out the truth. It’s just that sometimes the truth is a little incoherent.

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Choosing Racial Identity in the United States, 1880-1940

Posted in Economics, History, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations, Passing, United States on 2020-01-22 01:56Z by Steven

Choosing Racial Identity in the United States, 1880-1940

National Bureau of Economic Research
NBER Working Paper No. 26465
November 2019
76 pages
DOI: 10.3386/w26465

Ricardo Dahis, Ph.D. Candidate in Economics
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

Emily Nix, Assistant Professor of Finance and Business Economics
University of Southern California

Nancy Qian, James J. O’Connor Professor of Managerial Economics & Decision Sciences
Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

This paper documents that many black males experienced a change in racial classification to white in the United States, 1880–1940, while changes in racial classification were negligible for other races. We provide a rich set of descriptive evidence on the lives of black men “passing” for white, such as marriage, children, the passing of spouses and children, migration and income.

Read the entire paper here.

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