A Conversation With Adele Logan Alexander

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Interviews, Passing, United States, Women on 2019-05-20 15:30Z by Steven

A Conversation With Adele Logan Alexander

Yale University Press
Fall/Winter 2019
page 18


Photo by Jossyan Musumeci.

What was your inspiration for writing this book [Princess of the Hither Isles: A Black Suffragist’s Story from the Jim Crow South]?

Since I was named for her, Adella Hunt Logan has intrigued and inspired me for decades, but she was always a mystery presence in my life. I only learned as an adult that she’d been a fierce suffrage advocate. Admirable, I thought, since my mother, my aunts, and I were also African American feminists.

How do you perceive Adella’s racial heritage?

Adella was a black woman who looked white, but I don’t believe that she felt ambiguous or hesitant about her identity as an African American. Virtually all of Adella’s male progenitors were white. Sometimes those relationships were coercive, but not always. Her maternal grandmother, whom I portray as the most important influence on her early life, was black, white, and Cherokee.

How did Adella’s racial ambiguity impact her life in the Jim Crow South?

She deliberately or inadvertently “passed” as white on many occasions, primarily to obtain medical care or to attend all-white, segregated suffrage conventions. Mostly her goal in “passing” was to learn and to bring back what she learned to her own African American community.

What sources did you use to reconstruct Adella’s story?

Years ago, I wrote about some of the rare free women of color in the Old South. At that time, I accessed myriad traditional sources—maps; school, church, and census records; letters; previous scholarship, and the like—but for this book, I’ve also tapped into the passions, lore, traditions, and memorabilia that I inherited, especially through oral history.

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Princess of the Hither Isles: A Black Suffragist’s Story from the Jim Crow South

Posted in Biography, Books, Forthcoming Media, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States, Women on 2019-05-20 15:12Z by Steven

Princess of the Hither Isles: A Black Suffragist’s Story from the Jim Crow South

Yale University Press
2019-09-24
352 pages
6 1/8 x 9ÂĽ
9 b/w illus.
Hardcover ISBN: 9780300242607

Adele Logan Alexander, Emeritus Professor of History
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Born in the late nineteenth century into an affluent family of mixed race—black, white, and Cherokee—Adella Hunt Logan (1863–1915) was a key figure in the fight to obtain voting rights for women of color. A professor at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and a close friend of Booker T. Washington, Adella was in contact with luminaries such as Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Despite her self-identification as an African American, she looked white and would often pass for white at segregated suffrage conferences, gaining access to information and political tactics used in the “white world” that might benefit her African American community.

Written by Adella’s granddaughter Adele Logan Alexander, this long-overdue consideration of Adella’s pioneering work as a black suffragist is woven into a riveting multigenerational family saga and shines new light on the unresolved relationships between race, class, gender, and power in American society.

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Marriage, Melanin, and American Racialism

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Law, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2013-06-12 03:32Z by Steven

Marriage, Melanin, and American Racialism

Reviews in American History
Volume 41, Number 2, June 2013
pages 282-291
DOI: 10.1353/rah.2013.0048

Heidi Ardizzone, Assistant Professor of American Studies
St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri

Adele Logan Alexander, Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010. 375 pages. Photographs, notes, bibliography, and index.

Fay Botham, Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, and American Law. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. 288 pages. Notes, bibliography, and index.

Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, and index.

The development of the multidisciplinary field of Mixed Race Studies over the last few decades has focused new attention on patterns of cross-racial unions and the experiences of people of mixed ancestry in the U.S. and elsewhere. Historians bring to this endeavor a rich understanding of the long history of racial mixing, documenting the tremendous variety of contexts for consensual and nonconsensual interracial sex, the diversity of cultural attitudes and policies towards such relationships, and the resulting spectrums of identity and social standing available to the children, families, and communities that resulted from these unions. While pundits and intellectuals debate the significance of the emergence of multiracial families and identities in the U.S., historians can attest that there is little new here. As George Sánchez has put it from the vantage point of Latino and Latin American history, “Welcome to the Americas!”€  The American past is full of examples of cross-cultural unions, people and communities of mixed ancestry, and marked shifts in racial and ethnic categories in response to demographic, economic, and political changes. So, too, new U.S. scholarship is providing rich contributions to ongoing debates of the meaning of race, racial identity, and racial mixing in the twentieth century and beyond.

The three scholars considered here span this latest surge in U.S. historical studies of racial mixing and mixedness. Adele Logan Alexander is a pioneer in the field. Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In) significance of Melanin joins her previous books in focusing on communities and families of mixed—€”primarily black and white—€”ancestry. In her latest offering, Alexander rescues to historical memory the fascinating political careers of Ida Gibbs (1862-1957) and William Henry Hunt (1863-1951), whose activist and diplomatic work, respectively, brought them into close, if sometimes ambivalent, connection with African American and Pan-African communities in the late nineteenth through the early twentieth century. Like Alexander’s earlier works, Parallel Worlds spans multiple methodologies, this time offering a rich entre into an international world of shifting racial identities and political loyalties. Faye Botham’s Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, and American Law, on the other hand, is her first academic book, reworking a religious studies dissertation. Botham identifies a large and significant gap in historians’€™ collective approach to interracial marriage and its accompanying concerns with racial identity and categorization; social constructions of gender, race, and sexuality; and civil rights. Her work models a new direction of inquiry into the role of religious ideology and influence on what Peggy Pascoe calls miscegenation law, particularly the distinctive Catholic doctrine on marriage as a sacrament. In turn, Pascoe’€™s research for her recent publication spans this new age of historical scholarship. Begun in the early 1990s with a few pieces published as articles, the long-awaited and much celebrated What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America is a multilayered cultural, social, and legal history of post-Civil War legal prohibitions against interracial marriages and the enduring significance of the laws.

The books by Botham and Pascoe share an interest in legal and cultural sanctions against interracial marriage, but each author comes to the subject from vastly different training and experience. (Pascoe was a member of Botham’s dissertation committee, and that difference in academic maturity is evident in their works as well.) Botham’€™s analysis of the impact of American Catholic and Protestant theology on race and interracial marriage is strongest in her treatment of the Perez v. Lippold case (better known as Perez v. Sharp), which ultimately overturned California’s anti-intermarriage laws. Botham is especially interested in the longer history of Catholic influence on both Perez and the later Loving v. Virginia case, which respectively offer evidence of American Catholics’€™ support for and opposition to interracial marriage. The prominence of Catholics in bringing and opposing these legal challenges to laws against interracial marriage is most central to her analysis. But she returns to a focused treatment of the Perez case several…

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Author and scholar Adele Logan Alexander appears at the 2010 National Book Festival

Posted in History, Media Archive, United States, Videos, Women on 2011-03-04 19:57Z by Steven

Author and scholar Adele Logan Alexander appears at the 2010 National Book Festival

2010 National Book Festival
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C.
2010-09-25
Running Time: 00:32:45

Adele Logan Alexander, Professor of History
George Washington University

Speaker Biography: Adele Logan Alexander’s research and teaching incorporate the black Atlantic world, African-American history, family history, gender issues and military and social history. Her first book examined the lives and significance of nonenslaved women of color in the rural antebellum South. Her second explored the Americanization and evolving citizenship of an African- (and Anglo-) American family in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 2003 the African American Historical and Genealogical Society recognized her contributions to the study of family history with an award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution. She is an adjunct professor of history at George Washington University. Her books include “Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family, 1846-1926” and “Ambiguous Lives: Free Women of Color in Rural Georgia.” Her latest book is “Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)Significance of Race” (University of Virginia Press).

Read the Questions and Answers transcript here.

Audience question: In your significant study of African-American families and I guess particularly mixed families, how often did you come across the use of skin products–skin lighteners or whiteners or even darkeners; or was that something that you were able to research or was that something that was talked about at all or written about?

Adele Alexander: Certainly I don’t write about it because I never found it in any of the people that I happen to write about. However, I’ve done a lot of work with a woman you may know about whose name is A’lelia Bundles whose great grandmother was Madame C.J. Walker who developed hair straightening–she called them hair health products, skin health products that also served to create a more–a whiter appearance. But I guess that one of the things is that it almost seems remarkable to me not that so many people did these things, but that so many did not. Because in our culture there was so much of a premium that has been placed on whiteness–day to day inconveniences, legal restrictions and everything else. It’s easy for me to understand why a number of black people wanted to be part of the majority in this country because they were so discriminated against and any steps in that direction I think were understandable.

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“Remarkable” Mixed-Race Family in 20th Century Is Subject of Book Discussion [with Book Signing by the Author]

Posted in History, Live Events, New Media, Social Science, United States on 2010-02-26 00:15Z by Steven

“Remarkable” Mixed-Race Family in 20th Century Is Subject of Book Discussion [with Book Signing by the Author]

James Madison Building
Dining Room A, Sixth Floor, J
101 Independence Aveune, SE
Washington, DC
2010-03-03, 12:30 EST (Local Time)
Webcast Time: 00:59:24

Adele Logan Alexander, Professor of History
George Washington University

“Parallel Worlds” Focuses on “the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin”

When William Henry Hunt married Ida Alexander Gibbs in the spring of 1904, their wedding was a glittering Washington social event that joined an Oberlin-educated diplomat’s daughter and a Wall Street veteran who could trace his lineage to Jamestown. Their union took place in a world of refinement and privilege, but both William and Ida had mixed-race backgrounds, and their country therefore placed severe restrictions on their lives because, at that time, “one drop of colored blood” classified anyone as a Negro…

Adele Logan Alexander has written a fascinating account of this couple in “Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin” (University of Virginia Press, 2010). Alexander will discuss and sign her book on Wednesday, March 3, at 12:30 p.m. in Dining Room A, sixth floor, James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E. The event, part of the Books and Beyond author series of the Center for the Book, is free and open to the public; no tickets are required…

..The Center for the Book was established by Congress in 1977 “to use the resources and prestige of the Library of Congress to promote books, reading, literacy and libraries.” With its many educational programs that reach readers of all ages, through its support of the National Book Festival and through its dynamic state centers in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Center for the Book has developed a nationwide network of organizational partners dedicated to promoting the wonders and benefits of reading. The Center also oversees the new Read.gov website, with its exclusive “Exquisite Corpse Adventure” serialized story.

View the entire webcast here.

Listen to National Public Radio‘s Michel Martin interview Adele Logan Alexander about the book on Tell Me More (on  2010-02-10) here.

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Ambiguous Lives: Free Women of Color in Rural Georgia, 1789-1879

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States, Women on 2010-02-25 15:36Z by Steven

Ambiguous Lives: Free Women of Color in Rural Georgia, 1789-1879

University of Arkansas Press
1992
304 pages
ISBN Cloth: 1-55728-214-5
ISBN Paper: 1-55728-215-3
Out of Print

Adele Logan Alexander, Professor of History
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

1992 Winner, Gustavus Myers award as one of the year’s outstanding books promoting racial understanding.

Historians have produced scores of studies on white men, extraordinary white women, and even the often anonymous mass of enslaved Black people in the United States. But in this innovative work, Adele Logan Alexander chronicles there heretofore undocumented dilemmas of one of nineteenth-century America’s most marginalized groups—free women of color in the rural South.

Ambiguous Lives focuses on the women of Alexander’s own family as representative of this subcaste of the African-American community. Their forbears, in fact, included Africans, Native Americans, and whites. Neither black nor white, affluent nor impoverished, enslaved nor truly free, these women of color lived and died in a shadowy realm situated somewhere between the legal, social, and economic extremes of empowered whites and subjugated blacks. Yet, as Alexander persuasively argues, these lives are worthy of attention precisely because of these ambiguities—because the intricacies, gradations, and subtleties of their anomalous experience became part of the tangled skein of American history and exemplify our country’s endless diversity, complexity, and self-contradictions.

Written as a “reclamation” of a long-ignored substratum of our society, Ambiguous Lives is more than the story of one family—it is a well-researched and fascinating profile of America, its race and gender relations, and its complex cultural weave.

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Husband And Wife Duo Paved The Way For Blacks In Diplomacy [Interview with Adele Logan Alexander]

Posted in Biography, History, Interviews, Live Events, Media Archive, Social Science, United States, Women on 2010-02-22 04:53Z by Steven

Husband And Wife Duo Paved The Way For Blacks In Diplomacy [Interview with Adele Logan Alexander]

Tell Me More
National Public Radio
2010-02-10

Michel Martin, Host of Tell Me More

with

Adele Logan Alexander, Professor of History
George Washington University

Tell Me More continues its Black History Month series with a conversation with Adele Logan Alexander. Alexander is professor of history at George Washington University and a member of the National Council on the Humanities. She’s also author of “Parallel Worlds,” a new book that details the lives of married couple William Henry Hunt and Ida Gibbs Hunt. William Henry Hunt was the first African-American to have a complete career in U.S. diplomacy; Ida Gibbs Hunt was an intellectual on world issues.

…MARTIN: And I have to ask you a question, which might be a delicate one for some people, which is these were both very light-skinned people.

Prof. ALEXANDER: Yes.

MARTIN: And, you know, this is an issue which has kind of newly surfaced because of, you know, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s comments about Senator Obama, or rather President Obama’s complexion. But I do want to ask whether these two people moved in the world as African-Americans, or were they seen as white? Were they passing?

Prof. ALEXANDER: I am convinced, and many other sources that I quote in this book are convinced that one of the reasons he lasted so long with the State Department was that they really weren’t quite 100 percent sure. But one of the tricky points with this comes when what do you do when people simply assume in a world where you don’t think in the middle of France, where certainly the local people didn’t run into African-Americans all of that time – here is this sophisticated man, here is this consul who likes to do sporting things and ride horses and eat fine food and wine. He is not part of their image of what a black man is supposed to be. And, of course, in France a lot of the things that black people were pictured as had to do with their colonial visions, and they didn’t fit this picture…

 Listen to the interview and/or read the transcript here.

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Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family, 1846-1926

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2010-02-22 04:41Z by Steven

Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family, 1846-1926

Vintage Press an imprint of Random House
1999
720 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-679-75871-6 (0-679-75871-2)

Adele Logan Alexander, Professor of History
George Washington University

Winner for the top non-fiction prize of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association

This monumental history traces the rise of a resolute African American family (the author’s own) from privation to the middle class. In doing so, it explodes the stereotypes that have shaped and distorted our thinking about African Americans–both in slavery and in freedom.

Beginning with John Robert Bond, who emigrated from England to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War and married a recently freed slave, Alexander shows three generations of Bonds as they take chances and break new ground.

From Victorian England to antebellum Virginia, from Herman Melville‘s New England to the Jim Crow South, from urban race riots to the battlefields of World War I, this fascinating chronicle sheds new light on eighty crucial years in our nation’s troubled history. The Bond family’s rise from slavery, their interaction with prominent figures such as W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, and their eventual, uneasy realization of the American dream shed a great deal of light on our nation’s troubled heritage.

See Adele Logan Alexander of speak about tracing her racial identity through her family roots in her book “Homelands and Waterways” in an interview on the Charlie Rose Show from 1999-10-26 here.

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Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2010-02-21 15:21Z by Steven

Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin

University of Virginia Press
February 2010
384 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4
40 b&w illustrations
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8139-2887

Adele Logan Alexander, Professor of History
George Washington University

When William Henry Hunt married Ida Alexander Gibbs in the spring of 1904, their wedding was a glittering Washington social event that joined an Oberlin-educated diplomat’s daughter and a Wall Street veteran who could trace his lineage to Jamestown. Their union took place in a world of refinement and privilege, but both William and Ida had mixed-race backgrounds, and their country therefore placed severe restrictions on their lives because at that time, “one drop of colored blood” classified anyone as a Negro. This “stain” of melanin pushed the couple’s achievements to the margins of American society. Nonetheless, as William followed a career in the foreign service, Ida (whose grandfather was probably Richard Malcolm Johnson, a vice president of the United States) moved in intellectual and political circles that included the likes of Frederick Douglass, J. Pierpont Morgan, Booker T. Washington, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Mary Church Terrell.

Born into slavery, William had an adventurous youth, including a brief career as a jockey and an interlude at Williams College; ultimately he succeeded Ida’s father as consul. The diplomat’s “expatriate” life provided him with a distinguished career and a stage on which to showcase his talents throughout the world, as well as an escape from racial stigmas back home. Free of the diplomatic hindrances her husband faced, Ida advocated openly against race and gender inequities, and was a major participant in W. E. B. Du Bois‘s post-World-War I Pan-African Congresses which took her to stimulating European capitals that were largely free of racial oppression.

In this, William and Ida’s unique dual biography, Adele Logan Alexander gracefully traces an extraordinary partnership with a historian’s skills and insights. She also presents a nuanced account of the complex impact of race in the early twentieth-century world.

Listen to National Public Radio‘s Michel Martin interview Adele Logan Alexander about the book on Tell Me More (on  2010-02-10) here.

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