Color Lines: Racial Passing in America

Posted in Arts, Audio, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-01-17 03:03Z by Steven

Color Lines: Racial Passing in America

BackStory with the American History Guys (A program of the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities)
Charlottesville, Virginia
2016-01-15



M. H. Kimball portrait of Isaac White and Rosina Downs, two New Orleans slave children, c. 1863. (Library of Congress).

On this episode of BackStory, the Guys will consider how and why Americans throughout the centuries have crossed the lines of racial identity, and find out what the history of passing has to say about race, identity, and privilege in America. We’ll look at stories of African-Americans who passed as white to escape slavery or Jim Crow and find out how the “one-drop rule” enabled one blonde-haired, blue-eyed American to live a double life without ever arousing suspicion. We’ll also explore the story of an African-American musician who pioneered a genre of exotic music with a bejeweled turban and an invented biography, and examine the hidden costs of crossing over.

Guests Include:

Segments

  • The Spark of Recognition
    • Historian Carol Wilson tells the story of a New Orleans slave named Sally Miller, who sued for her freedom after a German woman became convinced that Sally was really a long-lost German girl named SalomĂ© MĂĽller.
  • Double Image
    • Historian Martha Sandweiss explains how the one-drop rule enabled a blue-eyed, blonde-haired geologist named Clarence King to lead a second life as a Black Pullman porter, without ever drawing suspicion.
  • “Code-Switching”
    • Listener Johanna Lanner-Cusin, who identifies as black, talks about people’s assumptions about her race, not having experiences similar to darker African Americans, and “qualifying her blackness.”
  • Blood Brothers
    • Historian Annette Gordon-Reed illustrates the fluidity of race with the stories of two sons of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, one of whom passed into white society while the other lived his life as an African-American.
  • High Stakes
    • Sociologist Eva Garroutte tells the story of Sylvester Long, a multiracial man who rose to silent film stardom in the 1920s after adopting the persona of an “authentic” Native American—until it all came crashing down.
  • Passing In, Passing Out
    • Brian Balogh talks with historian Allyson Hobbs about an enormous but overlooked cost of racial passing: leaving one’s family, community, and heritage behind.
  • “Guess Your Ethnicity”
    • Listener Vasanth Subramanian wishes society allowed him to choose his identity. He talks in detail about the prejudices children of immigrants face.
  • Drawing the Line
    • The Guys explain how American slavery practices created racial boundaries, and, at the same time, complicated them.
  • Playing Indian
    • Producer Nina Earnest explores the boundary between passing and performance with the story of John Roland Redd, an African-American organist who donned a bejeweled turban and rewrote his life story to become “Godfather of Exotica” Korla Pandit.

CORRECTION: This show includes a story about Sylvester Long, a man of mixed descent who styled himself as a pure-blooded Native American named Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance. We refer to him as a movie star who published a famous autobiography. In fact, Long Lance published his autobiography first—the popularity of the book catapulted him into movie stardom.

Listen to the podcast (01:05:14) here. Download the podcast here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Plaçage and the Performance of Whiteness: The Trial of Eulalie Mandeville, Free Colored Woman, of Antebellum New Orleans

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2015-01-15 22:11Z by Steven

Plaçage and the Performance of Whiteness: The Trial of Eulalie Mandeville, Free Colored Woman, of Antebellum New Orleans

American Nineteenth Century History
Volume 15, Issue 2, 2014
pages 187-209
DOI: 10.1080/14664658.2014.959818

Carol Wilson, Arthur A. and Elizabeth R. Knapp Professor of American History
Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland

Depictions of plaçage, a type of concubinage found in pre-Civil War New Orleans, have tended toward the romantic. A group of scholars have shown recently that, contrary to popular perception, many plaçage unions were no different from common-law marriages. This article takes a case-study approach to examine one such relationship in detail – one that was the subject of a legal challenge involving the fortune of perhaps the wealthiest free black woman in Louisiana. I apply Ariela J. Gross’s theory of “performance of whiteness” to demonstrate why free woman of color Eulalie Mandeville won her case over her white partner’s numerous white relatives at a time when free blacks in Louisiana and the rest of the nation were losing rights.

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , , ,

The Two Lives of Sally Miller: A Case of Mistaken Racial Identity in Antebellum New Orleans

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2009-12-05 17:28Z by Steven

The Two Lives of Sally Miller: A Case of Mistaken Racial Identity in Antebellum New Orleans

Rutgers University Press
2007-03-28
168 pages
9 b&w illustrations
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8135-4058-0
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8135-4057-3

Carol Wilson, Arthur A. and Elizabeth R. Knapp Professor of American History
Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland

In 1843, the Louisiana Supreme Court heard the case of a slave named Sally Miller, who claimed to have been born a free white person in Germany. Sally, a very light-skinned slave girl working in a New Orleans cafe, might not have known she had a case were it not for a woman who recognized her as Salom Muller, with whom she had emigrated from Germany over twenty years earlier. Sally decided to sue for her freedom, and was ultimately freed, despite strong evidence contrary to her claim.

In The Two Lives of Sally Miller, Carol Wilson explores this fascinating legal case and its reflection on broader questions about race, society, and law in the antebellum South. Why did a court system known for its extreme bias against African Americans help to free a woman who was believed by many to be a black slave? Wilson explains that while the notion of white enslavement was shocking, it was easier for society to acknowledge that possibility than the alternative-an African slave who deceived whites and triumphed over the system.

Comments by Carol Wilson from her website:

…My book on the case of Sally Miller looks at a similar issue of status. As a society we have recently begun openly acknowledging that many people in the United States are of mixed racial background. The restrictive categorization of people as either white or black has begun to collapse. Many people assume, however, that this is the result of relaxing of racial barriers over the last few decades. Scholars of pre-Civil War American history, however, are well aware of the extensiveness of racial mixing in our nation’s past, albeit a practice usually illegal and denied. Because of the not uncommon existence of enslaved mulattoes, antebellum Americans were not unused to seeing slaves who looked “white.” With racial identity a feature imposed by those in power in society, it was only a matter of time before “whites” (people of European ancestry) found themselves illegally enslaved. Because white status was impossible to prove, some whites did find themselves in slavery…

Tags: , , ,