My mother spent her life passing as white. Discovering her secret changed my view of race — and myself.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-11-21 03:34Z by Steven

My mother spent her life passing as white. Discovering her secret changed my view of race — and myself.

The Washington Post
2017-11-20

Gail Lukasik


The author’s mother, Alvera Fredric, was born into a black family in New Orleans but spent her life passing as white. (Family photo)

I’d never seen my mother so afraid.

“Promise me,” she pleaded, “you won’t tell anyone until after I die. How will I hold my head up with my friends?”

For two years, I’d waited for the right moment to confront my mother with the shocking discovery I made in 1995 while scrolling through the 1900 Louisiana census records. In the records, my mother’s father, Azemar Frederic of New Orleans, and his entire family were designated black.

The discovery had left me reeling, confused and in need of answers. My sense of white identity had been shattered.

My mother’s visit to my home in Illinois seemed like the right moment. This was not a conversation I wanted to have on the phone.

But my mother’s fearful plea for secrecy only added to my confusion about my racial identity. As did her birth certificate that I obtained from the state of Louisiana, which listed her race as “col” (colored), and a 1940 Louisiana census record, which listed my mother, Alvera Frederic, as Neg/Negro, working in a tea shop in New Orleans. Four years later, she moved north and married my white father…

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I have to tell you, if I hadn’t found that 1900 census record and appeared on Genealogy Roadshow, I would’ve lived my life blissfully ignorant of my black heritage and the family my mother left behind in New Orleans. To me, that would have been a tragic loss.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-11-12 04:41Z by Steven

“I would like to believe that “passing” is an archaic notion,” she [Gail Lukasik] said. “I really would like to believe that, because we no longer have laws like the one drop rule. But I suspect that in America’s racist culture, mixed race people who can pass for white must still wrestle with that choice. I have to tell you, if I hadn’t found that 1900 census record and appeared on Genealogy Roadshow, I would’ve lived my life blissfully ignorant of my black heritage and the family my mother left behind in New Orleans. To me, that would have been a tragic loss.”

Matt Christy, “Secret heritage,” The Herald-Argus, October 26, 2017. http://www.heraldargus.com/news/secret-heritage/article_09c33d4a-b024-5a13-96cf-07394e1200d2.html.

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Secret heritage

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-11-12 04:32Z by Steven

Secret heritage

The Herald-Argus
La Porte, Indiana
2017-10-26

Matt Christy, Staff Writer
Telephone: (219) 326-3870


Secret heritage
White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing” is on book shelves now and available for check-out at the La Porte County Public Library.

Author tells story behind new book

Looks can be deceiving.

To look at a photograph of Alvera Frederic Kalina, you wouldn’t know the secret she was hiding. Hiding from her husband, hiding from her children, hiding from everyone but those she cut all ties to when she left her New Orleans roots far, far behind.

Alvera avoided the sun. She had no photos of her family. She was obsessed with makeup, even wearing it when she slept.

“I can’t even imagine the fear she lived with, which I later understood was why she did (those mysterious things),” said Alvera’s daughter, author Gail Lukasik.

Lukasik is a mystery writer, but her newest book “White Like Her” is a mystery of another sort. Unlike the female driven detective novels Lukasik is known to pen, “White Like Her” tells the story of a true mystery, one Lukasik — not one of her fictional protagonists — unraveled. It was the mystery her mother made her swear to carry to her grave.

It began with Lukasik wanting to know more about her mother’s father, Azemar Frederic. She knew nothing of her grandfather and when asked, her mother would only say her parents divorced when she was young and her father didn’t raise her.

“The one time I asked her if we could visit New Orleans, where she grew up, she said it would depress her to go home, so I let it go. But in the back of my mind I always wondered about Azemar Frederic. What did he look like? What did he do for a living? What kind of man was my grandfather?” she said.

The answers would shock her and would change everything she thought she knew…

Read the entire article here.

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“Those cards have been copied. B means black.” She looked me up and down. “You know the saying, ‘there’s a nigger in every woodshed.’”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-11-11 23:48Z by Steven

As I traced across the grid, I stopped on the letter B, perplexed by its meaning, then I scrolled up to find the category: Race.

My mind didn’t quite take in what I was seeing. Would the census taker use B for black in 1900? It didn’t seem likely. Then what did B mean if not black? And why would the census taker mark my grandfather and his family black? It had to be a mistake. My grandfather’s family was not black.

Aware of the time, I hurriedly searched for Azemar in the 1930 census. When I found him, his race was no longer designated as B, now his racial designation was W. I was familiar with the one-drop rule, a racial classification asserting that any person with even one ancestor of African ancestry was considered to be black no matter how far back in their family tree. But the B perplexed me, as did the W. How could Azemar be black in 1900 and white in 1930?

I glanced back at the gray-haired lady. She was shuffling through index cards, keeping herself busy, and looking bored. I got up from the machine and walked over to her.

“I was wondering about the racial designation B in the 1900 Louisiana census. Can that be right?” I asked reticently, purposely not mentioning that the B was attached to my mother’s family.

“Those cards have been copied. B means black.” She looked me up and down. “You know the saying, ‘there’s a nigger in every woodshed.’”

I was speechless. Struck dumb.

She laughed, a tight pinched laugh full of malice. “Things were different back then. We had those candies, you know, we called them ‘nigger babies.’” She said this with some glee in her voice as if we were sharing the same joke.

The word nigger kept reeling from her mouth like the rolls of microfilm whirling around me. I stood there, stunned, having no idea what the woman was talking about or how to respond. I’d never heard of “nigger babies.” And if I had, I’d never be spewing the term out like a sharp slap.

All I could muster in defense of a family whose race I’d just discovered and was unsure of was a fact that sounded like an excuse. “In Louisiana,” I muttered, “you only had to have one drop of black blood to be considered black.” I felt assaulted with an experience I had no way to relate to and that I wasn’t certain I could even claim.

She finished my thought for me as if confirming what she’d already said about race and blood. “Yes, just one drop was all that was needed. You know the saying, ‘nigger in the woodshed.’”

She seemed to think I agreed with her, that the one-drop rule was correct, leaving no doubt about my race and in her eyes my tainted blood. It was evident to me it would be useless to continue this conversation with this bigoted God-lugging woman.

For a long second she stared through her glasses at me as if she was searching for a physical confirmation of my heritage. “Oh,” she finally said as if a light bulb had gone on in her head, “You’re the one with the slaves in your family.”

Gail Lukasik, ‘“You’re the one with the slaves in your family”’, Salon, October 28, 2017. https://www.salon.com/2017/10/28/you-are-the-one-with-the-slaves-in-your-family/.

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“You’re the one with the slaves in your family”

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-11-11 23:31Z by Steven

“You’re the one with the slaves in your family”

Salon
2017-10-28

Gail Lukasik


(Credit: Salon/Ilana Lidagoster)

I went looking for information on my mother’s side of the family. My experience was eye-opening

Excerpted with permission from “White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing” by Gail Lukasik. Copyright 2017, Skyhorse Publishing.

The windowless basement of the Buffalo Grove Family History Center had the feel of an underground bunker—fluorescent lights, cinder block walls, the musty scent of dampness. At the room’s entrance sat a gray-haired woman, birdlike and benign. With robotic precision, she meted out instructions on how to use the machines, where the microfilms were located and how to order original documents. She appeared as nondescript and gray as the walls.

I’d come to the family history center in search of my grandfather Azemar Frederic. I was between adjunct college teaching jobs, applying for tenure track teaching positions in creative writing, and working part-time as an assistant editor for a medical journal. The year before, I’d been offered a position in creative writing at a liberal arts college in Tennessee. But I turned it down. Uprooting my life at the age of forty-nine for a position that paid in the low five figures seemed foolhardy. My husband would need to obtain a Tennessee dental license to practice dentistry, and we would have to pay out-of-state tuition at the University of Illinois for our daughter Lauren. So I resigned myself to seeking positions in the Chicago area where the competition was especially rigorous and my chances for success slim.

I had time on my hands and an insatiable longing to find Azemar who over the years had become more and more unreal to me as if he never existed, was a figment of my mother’s imagination. Without a photograph of him, I had nothing physical to connect him to me. This need for a physical image of him was primal. It was an aching absence that I needed to fill…

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Visibly white but legally designated as black, my mother did what the 1924 Virginia state law, the Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, was determined to prevent.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-10-08 03:45Z by Steven

Visibly white but legally designated as black, my mother did what the 1924 Virginia state law, the Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, was determined to prevent. In an effort to preserve the “purity” of the white race, this law enshrined the one-drop rule, legally designating anyone with even one drop of African blood as black. A eugenicist at the time expressed the fear emblazoned in the law: “Many thousands of white Negros … were quietly and persistently passing over the line.” My mother was one of them.

Gail Lukasik, “My mother passed for white for most of her life. Here’s what that taught me about racial identity.Mic, September 12, 2017. https://mic.com/articles/184393/my-mother-passed-for-white-for-most-of-her-life-heres-what-that-taught-me-about-racial-identity.

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My mother passed for white for most of her life. Here’s what that taught me about racial identity.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Virginia on 2017-10-07 22:32Z by Steven

My mother passed for white for most of her life. Here’s what that taught me about racial identity.

Mic
2017-09-12

Gail Lukasik


Gail’s grandfather’s family that she never knew
Source: Gail Lukasik

Gail Lukasik, Ph.D. is a professional speaker, mystery novelist, and the author of the upcoming memoir, White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing (Skyhorse; Oct. 17).

For the majority of my life, I believed I was a white woman. I had no reason to question my race or my racial heritage. Why would I? I had only to look in the mirror to know the veracity of my whiteness — or so I thought.

In 1995, while scrolling through the 1900 Louisiana census records looking for my mother’s father, Azemar Frederic of New Orleans, I made a startling discovery. Azemar Frederic and his entire family were classified as black. In that split second, everything I knew about myself changed. When I walked into the Illinois family history center, I was a white woman. When I left I didn’t know who I was. My sense of identity was shattered…

Read the entire article here.

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White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2017-10-07 21:52Z by Steven

White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing

Skyhorse Publishing
2017-10-03
304 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1510724129

Gail Lukasik, Ph.D.

Kenyatta D. Berry (foreword)

White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing is the story of Gail Lukasik’s mother’s “passing,” Gail’s struggle with the shame of her mother’s choice, and her subsequent journey of self-discovery and redemption.

In the historical context of the Jim Crow South, Gail explores her mother’s decision to pass, how she hid her secret even from her own husband, and the price she paid for choosing whiteness. Haunted by her mother’s fear and shame, Gail embarks on a quest to uncover her mother’s racial lineage, tracing her family back to eighteenth-century colonial Louisiana. In coming to terms with her decision to publicly out her mother, Gail changed how she looks at race and heritage.

With a foreword written by Kenyatta Berry, host of PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow, this unique and fascinating story of coming to terms with oneself breaks down barriers.

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Secrets and Lies

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-12-03 00:14Z by Steven

Secrets and Lies

Ms. Magazine blog
Ms. Magazine
2016-05-17

Gail Lukasik

The following is an excerpt from White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Identity.

In 1995 when I discovered my mother’s black heritage, she made me promise never to tell her secret until she died. I kept her secret for 17 years. Nine months after her death in 2015, I appeared on PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow and revealed to 1.5 million people that my mother had passed for white. Three days later the family she never knew found me. “Secrets and Lies” recounts the stories my mother told me about her life in New Orleans before she came north to marry my father. After I uncovered her racial secret, I realized her stories held clues to her racial identity and the hardships she endured as a mixed race woman in Jim Crow south.

Parma, Ohio

When I was a young girl my mother would tell me about her life in New Orleans before she came north to Ohio to marry my father. Each story so carefully fashioned, so artfully told I never questioned their validity. It was one of the rare times I’d be allowed to sit on my parents’ double bed in the cramped downstairs bedroom that faced the street, its north window inches from the neighbor’s driveway where a dog barked sometimes into the night.

The room was pristine with its satiny floral bedspread, crisscrossed white lacy curtains and fringed shades. Area rugs surrounded the bed like islands of color over the amber shag carpet. A large dresser held my mother’s perfumes neatly arranged on a mirrored tray. An assortment of tiny prayer books rested on a side table beside a rosary. Over the bed was a painting of a street scene that could be Paris or New Orleans, colorful and dreamy. A similar painting hung in the living room.

It wasn’t until I married and left home that my father was banished to the other first floor smaller bedroom, even then he was an interloper in this feminine domain. His clothes were exiled to the front hall closet where he kept his rifle. On story days the room was a mother-daughter cove of confidences where my mother came as close as she ever would to telling me who she was, dropping clues like breadcrumbs that would take me decades to decipher. As I grew older, she confided intimacies of her marital life best shared with a mother or a sister. I was the substitute for the family left behind in New Orleans…

Read the entire excerpt here.

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