What’s DNA Got to Do with It

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2019-02-17 18:09Z by Steven

What’s DNA Got to Do with It

The Progressive: A voice for peace, social justice, and the common good
2019-01-11

Starita Smith
Denton, Texas

genetic_dna.png

I see similarities between Elizabeth Warren’s situation and that of many black people.

As U. S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., campaigns for a possible 2020 presidential run, she reminds me of some long-standing issues about racial identification.

Warren, whom President Donald Trump has pejoratively labeledPocahontas” for claiming she has American Indian heritage, took a DNA test to prove it. When the results showed she has hardly any, she was criticized for falsely claiming native ancestry. Some speculate this may hurt her presidential aspirations.

Warren’s predicament points up the historical, legal and cultural arbitrariness of racial categories. For example, if Warren had proclaimed she had even one African ancestor, she would be defined as black legally and socially in most of the U.S. That’s because our nation uses the one-drop rule, or hypodescent, as the definition of who is black…

…The rule has been used in court repeatedly. One of the most famous cases involved Susie Guillory Phipps, a Louisiana woman, who presumed she and all her ancestors were white, yet when she tried to get a passport, she discovered that she was listed as black on her birth certificate. According to The New York Times, because she had a black ancestor – an enslaved woman, 222 years back in her family history – she was black…

Read the entire article here.

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Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in ‘Free State of Jones’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-24 14:57Z by Steven

Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in ‘Free State of Jones’

The New York Times
2016-06-23

A. O. Scott, Film Critic


Matthew McConaughey, left, and Jacob Lofland in “Free State of Jones.” Credit Murray Close/STX Entertainment

Free State of Jones” begins on the battlefield, with a flurry of the kind of immersive combat action that has long been a staple of American movies. The setting is familiar in other ways, too. As a line of Confederate troops marches across a field into Union rifle and artillery fire, a haze of myth starts to gather over the action, a mist of sentiment about the tragedy of the Civil War and the symmetrical valor of the soldiers on both sides of it. But this is a sly piece of misdirection: The rest of the movie will be devoted to blowing that fog away, using the tools of Hollywood spectacle to restore a measure of clarity to our understanding of the war and its aftermath.

Directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) with blunt authority and unusual respect for historical truth, “Free State of Jones” explores a neglected and fascinating chapter in American history. Mr. Ross consulted some of the leading experts in the era — including Eric Foner of Columbia University, whose “Reconstruction” is the definitive study, and Martha Hodes of New York University, author of a prizewinning study of interracial sexuality in the 19th-century South — and has done a good job of balancing the factual record with the demands of dramatic storytelling. The result is a riveting visual history lesson, whose occasional didacticism is integral to its power.

The hero of this tale is Newton Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County, Miss., who led a guerrilla army of white deserters and escaped slaves against the Confederacy during the war. Afterward, he tried to hold this coalition together as a political force in the face of Ku Klux Klan terror. As played by Matthew McConaughey, Newton is an ordinary man radicalized by circumstances. His hollow cheeks and wild whiskers suggest a zealous temperament, but the kindness in his eyes conveys the decency and compassion that lie at the heart of his moral commitment…

…“Free State of Jones” is careful not to suggest that the conditions endured by disenfranchised white and enslaved black Mississippians were identical. The system may be rigged against both, but in different ways. Especially after the war, the alliance proves fragile, as white supremacy reasserts itself with renewed brutality. Its persistence is emphasized by a subplot that takes place 85 years after the war in a Mississippi courtroom, where Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin), a descendant of Newton’s, is on trial for breaking the state’s law against interracial marriage…

Read the entire review here.

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The Life and Death of Davis Knight after State vs. Knight (1948)

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Law, Media Archive, Mississippi, Passing, United States on 2015-02-01 23:40Z by Steven

The Life and Death of Davis Knight after State vs. Knight (1948)

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners
2009-04-08

Victoria E. Bynum, Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

Davis Knight, the great-grandson of the infamous “Free State of Jones” guerrilla, Newt Knight, became the centerpiece of his own drama some 25 years after the death of his notorious ancestor. Although Davis was descended from Newt and his wife, Serena, both of whom were white, he was also the great-grandson of Rachel Knight, a former slave of Newt’s grandfather. And although Davis was white in appearance, because of his descent from Rachel, he was defined as black by his white neighbors. Some of those neighbors did not take kindly to Davis Knight’s marriage in 1946 to Junie Lee Spradley, a local white woman. In 1948, Davis ended up in court, accused of having married across the color line (a crime in several states until 1967). Despite a vigorous defense by Attorney Quitman Ross, a jury pronounced Davis guilty. Convicted of miscegenation, the Ellisville Court sentenced him to five years in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman prison.

Attorney Ross immediately appealed the decision on grounds the court had failed to prove that Davis had 1/8th or more African ancestry, and won his case. The Mississippi State Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision and remanded Davis’s case for retrial–a retrial that never took place. In legal terms, the High Court ruled in this important case, the “one drop rule” did not determine one’s racial identity, regardless of social custom. Davis Knight thus escaped going to prison and, for the rest of his life, lived as a white man…

Read the entire article here.

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Veteran Served as a White, Convicted of Miscegenation

Posted in Articles, Law, Media Archive, Mississippi, Passing, United States on 2014-01-03 22:09Z by Steven

Veteran Served as a White, Convicted of Miscegenation

The Milwaukee Journal
Monday, 1948-12-20
page 20, columns 2 & 3


Davis Knight —AP Wirephoto

Ellisville, Miss.—(AP)—A young veteran who served in the navy as a white man and later married a white woman has been convicted of miscegenation and sentenced to five years in prison.

Dist. Atty Paul Swartzfager said the conviction Saturday of 23 year old Davis Knight was believed to be the first under the state’s miscegenation law, in force since reconstruction days. The law forbids marriage or cohabitation between white persons and those with at least one-eighth Negro or Mongolian blood. Conviction automatically cancels the marriage.

Knight whose marriage was performed in April, 1946, by the mayor of this south Mississippi town of 3,000, filed notice of appeal. Knight was arrested when “people started talking” and told his employer in Laurel that he was a Negro. Quitman Ross, his attorney, explained.

The main issue in the trial was the ancestry of Knight’s great-grand-mother, who was known as Rachel and who lived on the plantation of Capt. Newt Knight a picturesque character in Mississippi history. Rachel the state contended, was a Negro, and witnesses were introduced who testified that she and her children were known as Negroes. Among these witnesses was Tom Knight, 89 year old son of Capt. Knight who said that the young navy veteran’s grandfather was a son of Rachel.

Defense witnesses testified that they believed Rachel was a Cherokee Indian.

Swartzfager said no charges were planned against the white woman who married Knight under the impression that he was of all white blood.

Knight was drafted as a white, man at Camp Shelby in 1943 and his discharge papers. Swartzfager said, listed him as white.

Note from Steven F. Riley: For more about the Knight family, please read Victoria E. Bynum’s superb monograph, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War.

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The “One Drop Rule” revisited: Mary Ann McQueen of Montgomery County, North Carolina

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Passing, United States on 2011-01-02 20:02Z by Steven

The “One Drop Rule” revisited: Mary Ann McQueen of Montgomery County, North Carolina

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners
2010-12-21

Victoria E. Bynum, Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

Many people, perhaps most, think of “race” as an objective reality. Historically, however, racial categorization has been unstable, contradictory, and arbitrary. Consider the term “passing.” Most of us immediately picture a light-skinned person who is “hiding” their African ancestry. Many would go further and accuse that person of denying their “real” racial identity. Yet few people would accuse a dark-skinned person who has an Anglo ancestor of trying to pass for “black,” and thereby denying their “true” Anglo roots!

So why is a white person with an African ancestor presumed to be “really” black? In fact, in this day of DNA testing, it’s become increasingly clear that many more white-identified people have a “drop” or two of African ancestry than most ever imagined. Are lots of white folks (or are they black?) “passing,” then, without even knowing it?

Having said all that, I’d like to provide some historical examples of the shifting and arbitrary nature of racial categorization. Those familiar with Newt Knight already know about the 1948 miscegenation trial of his great-grandson, Davis Knight. According to the “one drop rule” of race, Davis was a black man by virtue of having a multiracial great-grandmother (Rachel Knight). Yet, social custom and the law differed. One was legally “white” in Mississippi if one had one-eighth or less African ancestry, and Davis eventually went free on that legal ground…

…In 1884, Mary Ann McQueen, a young white woman about 33 years old, was suspected of having “black” blood. So strong were these suspicions that her mother, who had always been accepted as white, swore out a deed in the Montgomery County Court that “solemnly” proclaimed her daughter to be “purely white and clear of an African blood whatsoever.” But why did suspicions about the “purity” of Mary Ann McQueen’s “blood” arise in the first place?…

Read the entire essay here.

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“White Negroes” in Segregated Mississippi: Miscegenation, Racial Identity, and the Law

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2010-11-27 02:08Z by Steven

“White Negroes” in Segregated Mississippi: Miscegenation, Racial Identity, and the Law

The Journal of Southern History
Volume 64, Number 2 (May, 1998)
pages 247-276

Victoria E. Bynum, Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

Not until David L. Cohn returned to his native Mississippi after an absence of two decades did he understand the complexities of the racial system in which he, a white man, had been reared during the first decades of the twentieth century. “I began to discover that this apparently simple society was highly complex,” he wrote in the 1948 foreword to his memoir of Delta life. “It was marked by strange paradoxes and hopelessly irreconcilable contradictions. It possessed elaborate behavior codes written, unwritten, and unwritable.”

In the same year that Cohn’s words were published, Davis Knight, a twenty-three-year-old Mississippi man, collided with this system of paradoxes, contradictions, and codes. On June 21, 1948, the Jones County Circuit Court in Ellisville indicted Knight, who claimed to be—and certainly looked—white, for the crime of miscegenation. Two years earlier, on April 18, 1946, he had married Junie Lee Spradley, a white woman. The state claimed that, even though Knight appeared to be white, he was in fact black…

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