The Legacy of Monticello’s Black First Family

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2018-07-06 03:13Z by Steven

The Legacy of Monticello’s Black First Family

The New York Times
2018-07-04

Brent Staples
Photographs by Damon Winter


A view of Thomas Jefferson’s home from the main avenue where enslaved people were quartered at Monticello.

A recently opened exhibit at Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia estate gives new recognition to Sally Hemings and the role of slavery in the home — and in his family.

Plantation wives in the slave-era South resorted to willful blindness when their husbands conscripted black women as sexual servants and filled the household with mixed-race children who inevitably resembled the master. Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha, was several years dead when he set off on this path, fathering at least six children with Martha’s enslaved black half sister, Sally Hemings. The task of dissembling fell to the remaining white Jeffersons, who aided in a cover-up that held sway for two centuries and feigned ignorance of a relationship between Jefferson and Hemings that lasted nearly four decades.

The foundation that owns Monticello, Jefferson’s mountaintop home near Charlottesville, Va., broke with this long-running deception last month when it unveiled several new exhibits that underscore the centrality of slavery on the founder’s estate. The most important — in the South Wing, where Sally Hemings once lived — explores the legacy of the enslaved woman whom some historians view as the president’s second wife and who skillfully prevailed on him to free from slavery the four Jefferson-Hemings children who lived into adulthood.

The exhibit underscores the fact that the Jefferson estate was an epicenter of racial mixing in early Virginia, making it impossible to draw clear lines between black and white. It reminds contemporary Americans that slave owners like the Jeffersons often held their own black children, aunts, uncles and cousins in bondage. And it illustrates how enslaved near-white relations used proximity to privilege to demystify whiteness while taking critical measure of the relatives who owned them…

Read the entire article here.

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What if the Court in the Loving Case Had Declared Race a False Idea?

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States, Virginia on 2017-03-06 19:17Z by Steven

What if the Court in the Loving Case Had Declared Race a False Idea?

The New York Times
2017-03-06

Brent Staples


Mildred Loving greeting her husband Richard on their front porch in Virginia.
Credit Estate of Grey Villet

Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia struck a resonant historical note last year when he proclaimed June 12 “Loving Day,” in commemoration of Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court decision that invalidated state laws across the country that restricted interracial marriage.

That Virginia would celebrate the decision was symbolically rich, given that Richmond had been the capital of the Confederacy under Jefferson Davis and the seat of a virulently racist legislature that diligently translated white supremacist aspirations into law.

The Loving decision turns 50 this summer, which will give the annual festivals, picnics and house parties held in its honor a special gravity. But the recent re-emergence of white supremacist ideology in political discourse lends an inescapably political cast to this celebration of interracialism.

As this drama unfolds, historians and legal scholars are criticizing aspects of the Loving decision, including the court’s failure to repudiate the myth of white racial “purity” upon which Virginia’s statute was based…

Read the entire article here.

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Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer—and not just a “Negro writer” consigned to the back of the literary bus. He followed the trail blazed by tens of thousands of light-skinned black Americans.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-06-19 02:16Z by Steven

Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer—and not just a “Negro writer” consigned to the back of the literary bus. He followed the trail blazed by tens of thousands of light-skinned black Americans. He methodically cut ties with his family (including a mother and two sisters) and took up life as a white man with a white wife in white Connecticut. By the late 1980’s, he had been“white” for 40 years, with two adult children who were unaware that they were part of a large black family that included an aunt who lived an hour away in Manhattan.

Brent Staples, “Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White,” The New York Times, September 7, 2003. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/opinion/editorial-observer-back-when-skin-color-was-destiny-unless-you-passed-for-white.html.

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Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-06-19 01:49Z by Steven

Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White

The New York Times
2003-09-07

Brent Staples

The New Yorker was trying not to speak ill of the dead when it described Anatole Broyard as the ”famously prickly critic for the Times, a man who demanded so much from books that it seemed he could never be satisfied.” From his early reviews for The Times in the 1960’s up to his death in 1990, Mr. Broyard was often gratuitously cruel and clever at the author’s expense.

The novelist Philip Roth was one of the favored few. Mr. Broyard praised him in the column ”About Books” and seemed to see his life through Mr. Roth’s work. When Mr. Broyard was diagnosed with cancer, for example, he compared his symptoms to those of Portnoy, Mr. Roth’s fictional alter ego in ”Portnoy’s Complaint.”

The comparison made perfect sense. Mr. Roth’s great theme was his own struggle to preserve selfhood against the smothering pressures of ethnic identity. That, in a nutshell, was Mr. Broyard’s life. He was a light-skinned black man born in New Orleans in 1920 into a family whose members sometimes passed as white to work at jobs from which black people were barred. The largest private employer of black labor at the time was the Pullman Company, which sought college-educated black men to work essentially as servants on train cars that accommodated white travelers only…

Read the entire article here.

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Mr. Obama Considers the Nationwide Protests From Three Points of View

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2014-12-14 17:43Z by Steven

Mr. Obama Considers the Nationwide Protests From Three Points of View

The New York Times
2014-12-12

Brent Staples, Editorial Writer

Barack Obama understood when he sought the presidency that a black candidate who spoke candidly about racism would never attract enough white support to win. He avoided using race as a platform for grievance, kept his distance from people who did and presented his life and career as an example of racial progress.

His optimism appealed to white voters; it asked nothing of them and implied a hopeful end to the racial hostilities that have dogged the country since its founding. But the easy-listening approach to racism was received skeptically by young African-Americans who live in communities that bear the brunt of unemployment, economic segregation and police harassment.

Anger over the police problem coalesced into a national movement after a grand jury in St. Louis County, Mo., declined to indict the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and a grand jury in New York took the same stance on the white officer who applied the chokehold that killed Eric Garner, who was also black and also unarmed.

As the demonstrations spread, Mr. Obama must have recognized that it would be wise to make contact with the young leaders of this movement.

When he met with them last week at the White House, he had three roles to play: as the president of the United States, who must refrain from putting his thumb on the scales of justice in cases like the ones that have sparked the recent demonstrations; as an African-American man who knows the experience of being presumed a criminal by police officers who once harassed him because of his skin color; and as a former community organizer who recognizes that the demonstrations could focus the country’s attention on abusive police practices that have long been a national problem…

Read the entire article here.

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Medical Racism

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, United States on 2014-10-14 00:37Z by Steven

Medical Racism

The New York Times
2014-10-13

Brent Staples

The worst racial atrocities that took place in the Jim Crow South were carried out by the medical establishment, not by night riders cloaked in sheets. Indeed, many more African-Americans were killed by racist medical policies than by all the lynch mobs that ever existed. Until the late 1960s, the American Medical Association tacitly endorsed rules that denied membership to black physicians in the South, thus depressing their numbers in specialties such as surgery and ensuring that black patients would continue to receive dangerously substandard care — or no care at all.

This subject is rarely discussed in film or on television. The director Steven Soderbergh deserves praise for taking it up in “The Knick,” an absorbing, visually lush medical drama on Cinemax set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. The show centers on the self-obsessed, drug-addicted Dr. Thackery — compellingly played by Clive Owen — who leads a surgical team at the Knickerbocker, a hospital whose wards are awash in the immigrant poor. Known to his comrades as Thack, the junkie surgeon plans to carve his way to immortality, one bloody patient at a time, while lecturing to the rapt audience of doctors who crowd in to view his handiwork in the operating theater.

A racist, he is repulsed when a wealthy hospital patron forces him to accept the services of a talented black surgeon, Dr. Algernon Edwards — AndrĂ© Holland — even though Edwards has trained abroad and mastered techniques that his white betters have yet to learn…

…Critics who wonder about the real-world antecedents of the Dr. Edwards character should look to Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950). A towering figure in medical history, Dr. Drew helped to make blood banks possible by developing efficient ways to process and store vast amounts of blood plasma. He began his career in the 1930s when surgical residencies at white hospitals in New York — even those that treated black patients — were officially closed to black physicians. Charming and urbane, Dr. Drew wrangled what a contemporary later described as a “bootleg” residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, thanks to a white doctor who took an interest in him. The fact that he was light-skinned enough to be mistaken for white was clearly an asset; it made it easier for him to find acceptance with white colleagues and patients…

Read the entire article here.

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When Family Trees Are Gnarled by Race

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2012-09-09 20:31Z by Steven

When Family Trees Are Gnarled by Race

The New York Times
2012-09-08

Brent Staples

My paternal grandfather, Marshall Staples (1898-1969), was one of the millions of black Southerners who moved north in the Great Migration. Those of us in the family who were born Yankees in the years just after World War II were given an earful about our place in 19th-century Virginia — and specifically about Marshall’s white grandfather, a member of a slaveholding family who fathered at least one child with my great-great-grandmother, Somerville Staples.

Stories like this are typical among African-Americans who have roots in the slave-era South and who have always spoken candidly about themselves and their relationships with slaveholding forebears. In some cases, the Negro second families carried the names of their masters/fathers into Emancipation and settled in the same areas.

This was inconvenient for the white progenitors and their families, who feared the taint of blackness so much that they often declined to acknowledge or speak to their darker relatives on the street. In nullifying these family connections, they embraced the fiction of racial purity that has dominated how white Americans see themselves for hundreds of years…

Read the entire article here.

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Complexity of Race In America

Posted in History, Interviews, Law, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2012-06-22 17:02Z by Steven

Complexity of Race In America

C-SPAN Video Library
Program ID: 305676-1
First Aired: 2012-06-03
New York Historical Society
New York, New York
2012-04-12

Brent Staples, Host
New York Times

Daniel J. Sharfstein, Professor of Law
Vanderbilt University

Daniel Sharfstein, author of The Invisible Line [:Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White], discusses the complexity of race in America and one family’s perceived transformation from black to white. The New York Historical Society hosted this event.

Watch the video (00:53:19) here.

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The Real American Love Story: Why America is a lot less white than it looks

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-02-15 05:00Z by Steven

The Real American Love Story: Why America is a lot less white than it looks

Slate
1999-10-05

Brent Staples

The PBS broadcast last month of An American Love Story—a 10-hour film about an interracial family—spawned a great deal of chatter to the effect that mixed-race couplings were the wave of the future. In fact, they are the wave of the past. Interracial marriages accounted for only 2.2 percent of all marriages in the Current Population Survey of 1992, a gain of only two-tenths of a percent over 1980, and the number of mixed couplings actually decreased slightly in 1991. The census pattern suggests that slightly more interracial couples will fall into each other’s arms in the coming years but that there will be nothing resembling a dramatic acceleration of marriage across the color line.

But America already has almost 400 years of race mixing behind it, beginning with that first slave ship that sailed into Jamestown harbor carrying slaves who were already pregnant by members of the crew. Americans have grudgingly accepted the fact that sex between masters and slaves such as Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings was frequent, leading to a many-hued race of people who do not look African at all, even though they call themselves “African-American.” Outside of recent African immigrants to the United States, there are virtually no black Americans of purely African descent, which is to say no black people who lack white ancestry, left in this country.

Four centuries of race mixing have had a similar impact on Americans who define themselves as white. Convincing estimates show that by 1950 about one in five white Americans had some African ancestry. This inheritance most often arrived at the bedroom door in the form of a fair-skinned black person who had slipped over the color line to live as white. Put another way, most Americans with African blood in their veins think of themselves as white and conduct themselves as such—and check “white” when they fill out census forms…

Read the entire article here.

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The Politics of Race

Posted in Barack Obama, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Videos on 2012-01-29 21:38Z by Steven

The Politics of Race

The New York Times
2008-11-04

The editorial writers Lawrence Downes and Brent Staples discuss how Senator Obama’s mixed-race identity has shaped his persona and his candidacy.

View the video here (00:05:13).

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