What is Racial Passing?

Posted in Economics, History, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, Slavery, United States, Videos on 2019-03-03 03:59Z by Steven

What is Racial Passing?

Digital Studios: Origin of Everything
PBS Digital Studios
Public Broadcasting Service
Season 2, Episode 13 (First Aired: 2019-02-27)

Danielle Bainbridge, Host, Writer, and Postdoctoral Fellow
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

What motivates someone to disguise their race, gender, religion, etc.? Today Danielle explores the complicated history of passing in the United States.

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Pink and the Fancy Gal: White Slavery, the Abolitionists’ Crusade, and the Painter’s Canvas

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Slavery, United States on 2016-11-29 01:35Z by Steven

Pink and the Fancy Gal: White Slavery, the Abolitionists’ Crusade, and the Painter’s Canvas

Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: a journal of nineteenth-century visual culture
Volume 15, Issue 3, Autumn 2016

Naurice Frank Woods Jr., Assistant Professor of African American Art History; Director of Undergraduate Studies in the African American and African Diaspora Studies Program
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Fig. 1, George Fuller, The Quadroon, 1880. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of George A. Hearn, 1910.

This article examines two paintings from the antebellum period, The Slave Market (ca. 1859) by an unidentified artist and The Freedom Ring (1860) by Eastman Johnson, which involve the purchase of nearly white slaves, and attempts to delineate the motivation for presenting these images before the public. These paintings functioned much as slave narratives, and abolitionists used them to provide visual evidence of an insidious, often sexually depraved side of “the peculiar institution.”

In late 1849, Massachusetts native George Fuller (1822–84) traveled throughout the Deep South in pursuit of portrait commissions.[1] Like many of his northern contemporaries, Fuller sought a receptive and less competitive climate below the Mason-Dixon Line. The artist’s journey placed him directly in the midst of a region addicted to the institution of slavery, and while it may not have been his intention to observe astutely the lives of human chattel, Fuller was increasingly aware of their plight and recorded his observations in a sketch diary. Fuller’s drawings and subsequent commentary revealed neither his political inclinations about the “great divide” that was gripping the nation nor his moral position on the subject. This was, however, his third trip to the region, and while his sketches remained dignified depictions of black plantation life, his words reflected growing concern over certain “rituals” conducted in the South.

One of these rituals, a slave auction involving a beautiful quadroon, affected him profoundly. Fuller had witnessed slave auctions before, but the sight of men bidding over a nearly white slave like a farm animal caused him to write:

Who is this girl with eyes large and black? The blood of the white and dark races is at enmity in her veins—the former predominated. About ¾ white says one dealer. Three fourths blessed, a fraction accursed. She is under thy feet, white man. . . . Is she not your sister? . . . She impresses me with sadness! The pensive expression of her finely formed mouth and her drooping eyes seemed to ask for sympathy. . . . Now she looks up, now her eyes fall before the gaze of those who are but calculating her charms or serviceable qualities. . . . Oh, is beauty so cheap?…

Read the entire article here.

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On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2014-08-22 20:05Z by Steven

On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

The New York Times

John Strausbaugh

LAST month the City of New York gave Duffield Street in downtown Brooklyn an alternate name: Abolitionist Place. It’s an acknowledgment that long before Brooklyn was veined with subway lines, it was a hub of the Underground Railroad: the network of sympathizers and safe houses throughout the North that helped as many as 100,000 slaves flee the South before the Civil War.

With its extensive waterfront, its relatively large population of African-American freemen — slavery ended in New York in 1827 — and its many antislavery churches and activists, Brooklyn was an important nexus on the “freedom trail.” Some runaways stayed and risked being captured and returned to their owners, but most traveled on to the greater safety of Canada.

Because aiding fugitives from the South remained illegal even after New York abolished slavery — and because there was plenty of pro-slavery sentiment among Brooklyn merchants who did business with the South — Underground Railroad activities were clandestine and frequently recorded only in stories passed down within families. Corroborating documentation is scarce.

Still, it’s possible to follow some likely freedom routes through Brooklyn. You begin in Brooklyn Heights, where the Promenade offers sweeping views of the East River waterfront. In the decades before the Civil War, this waterfront bristled with the masts of sailing ships. Many were cargo vessels bringing cotton and other goods from the South. Sometimes they brought secret passengers: slaves fleeing to freedom. The fugitives slipped ashore and filtered into Brooklyn, where they were hidden and helped along on their journeys. Acquiring its railroad imagery by the 1830s, this antislavery network had its own “stationmasters” and “conductors,” who helped organize runaways’ passages north, and its own “stations” and “depots,” where they hid. Several Brooklyn churches participated. Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, a few blocks from the Promenade on Orange Street, between Hicks and Henry Streets, was called its “Grand Central Depot.”…

[Henry Ward] Beecher’s most successful tactic for arousing what he called “a panic of sympathy” for slaves was to stage mock slave auctions in the church, with the congregation bidding furiously to buy the captives’ freedom. The 1914 bronze statues of Beecher and two girls in the church’s courtyard by Gutzon Borglum, who later sculptured Mount Rushmore, depicts the first such auction, in 1848.

The most famous auction occurred in 1860, when Beecher urged his congregation to buy the freedom of a pretty 9-year-old from Washington, Sally Maria Diggs, called Pinky for her light complexion.

“After the service he called her to the platform and told the congregation her story,” Ms. Rosebrooks said. “He said, ‘No child should be in slavery, let alone a child like this.’ I’m sure he played on this. She could be your niece. She could be your sister. Your next door neighbor. So they passed the collection plate and raised $900, which is about $10,000 in today’s dollars.”

Congregants gave jewelry as well as cash. In a theatrical flourish Beecher fetched a ring from the collection plate, slipped it onto Pinky’s finger and declared, “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom.”

In 1927 when Plymouth Church celebrated the 80th anniversary of Beecher’s first sermon there, one who attended was Mrs. James Hunt, a stately woman of 76. She was Pinky and had grown up to marry a lawyer in Washington. According to Plymouth Church lore, she brought the ring with her; Ms. Rosebrooks showed me a simple gold band set with a small amethyst. (A Brooklyn Eagle article from 1927, however, quotes Mrs. Hunt as saying the ring had been lost.)…

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Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2014-08-22 17:26Z by Steven


The New York Times

…AN INTERESTING SCENE IN PLYMOUTH CHURCH — PURCHASE OF A SLAVE BY THE CONGREGATION. — Another case of the ransom of a slave occurred yesterday in Plymouth Church. The circumstances were of touching interest. A good-looking and intelligent little girl named PINK, about nine years of age, having in her veins only one-sixteenth part African blood, (although that was more than enough to make her a slave,) was brought from Washington City to Brooklyn on Saturday last, with a view to the purchase of her freedom. Her father is at present one of the leading physicians in Washington. The mother was sold a few years ago to a Southern trader. At different times, five of her six children were sold to various parts of the South, until only little PINK remained. The child was taken care of by her grandmother, who had received oft-repeated assurances from the owner that PINK, should never be parted from her. But during the last holidays, arrangements were made to sell the child for $800. It was thought that when she grew up to womanhood she would be worth $3,000. Mr. BLAKE, a young clergyman recently from Alexandria Episcopal Seminary, hearing of the circumstances, interested himself to save the child. For this purpose, he procured permission to bring her to the North, leaving behind him satisfactory security for the return, either of the child or of the price of her ransom. The girl was, yesterday morning, introduced to the Sunday School by the Superintendent, Mr. THEODORE TILTON. Some interesting incidents of the child’s history were related by Mr. BLAKE, and the children determined to undertake, with the assistance of the Church, the purchase of the child — the classes contributing $5 each. At the close of the morning sermon, the pastor, Rev. HENRY WARD BEECHER, took the child into the pulpit, stated the case to the congregation, and made an eloquent plea for her liberty, which drew tears from many eyes. The collection plates were then passed, and returned well laden with bank notes. The money was not counted before the close of the service, but a lady in the audience sent word to the pastor that she would make up the deficiency, if any should be found. This announcement was received with an irrepressible demonstration of applause. Many persons crowded around the platform to congratulate the little girl on her new-found freedom, which she is now too young fully to appreciate…

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“May she read liberty in your eyes?” Beecher, Boucicault and the Representation and Display of Antebellum Women’s Racially Indeterminate Bodies

Posted in Articles, Religion, Slavery, United States, Women on 2012-07-17 04:39Z by Steven

“May she read liberty in your eyes?” Beecher, Boucicault and the Representation and Display of Antebellum Women’s Racially Indeterminate Bodies

Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism
Volume 26, Number 2, Spring 2012
pages. 127-144
DOI: 10.1353/dtc.2012.0007

Lisa Merrill, Professor of Speech Communication, Rhetoric, Performance Studies
Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York


In 1856 Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, an avid abolitionist, first used the pulpit of his Brooklyn church as the site from which he staged mock slave auctions of young biracial enslaved girls. Beecher enacted several such performances in the lead-up to the Civil War. Appealing to his congregation at Plymouth Church (the basement of which functioned as the “Grand Central Depot” of the Underground Railroad), Beecher banked on his congregation’s empathy, and enacted what his wife later described as “an object lesson in Southern slavery . . . so that everybody could see what slave-dealing really meant, and might be stirred to help pay for the liberation of the victims of a system that was sanctioned by American law, but condemned by the law of God.”

At the same time that Beecher staged his “mock slave auctions” of actual enslaved girls, however, images of enslaved and fugitive African Americans occupied different places in the social imaginary of mid-nineteenth-century Americans and Britons. Audiences encountered representations of the plight of enslaved Black Americans in the contexts of the popular theatre (where they were portrayed by white actors), or the abolition platform where fugitive and free African Americans shared narratives of their escape. While crafting their appeals explicitly to provoke the emotional response of their audiences, abolitionists like Beecher often expressed ambivalent relationships to theatricality and those tools of performance deemed appropriate to the stage venues, rather than speakers’ platforms.

In the first section of this essay I examine Beecher’s staging of “mock auctions,” his use of his church for their setting, his embodiment of the role of the minister as both liberator and “salesman” (of faith, of redemption, of human beings), and the problematics of framing appeals to audience empathy through the performative display of enslaved young women, despite Beecher’s avowed abolitionist intentions. In the second section I explore a conflict that I have discovered was played out in the New York press between the fervidly antitheatre Beecher and playwright Dion Boucicault—a conflict in which sympathy for actors and slaves vied for advocacy and in which the feelings aroused in the actual and conceptual spaces of the pulpit and the stage were laid bare for scrutiny. In the third section I examine Boucicault’s play The Octoroon and disparate responses to this play and to its racially-indeterminate enslaved heroine by theatre audiences.

Henry Ward Beecher: Staging and Seeing Mock Slave Auctions

In an article published in 1896, nine years after Beecher’s death, Beecher’s widow Eunice recounted the first mock slave auction her husband staged in Plymouth Church. As Eunice Beecher recalled, “on Sunday morning of June 1, 1856 . . . at eight o’clock people began gathering by the hundreds in front of the church . . . every available foot of space was occupied, and thousands were outside, unable to gain admission.” At the conclusion of the sermon, Beecher announced to his congregation that two weeks earlier he learned “that a young woman had been sold by her father to be sent South—for what purpose you can imagine when you see her.” As Beecher enjoined his audience to contemplate the horrors to which “Sarah” would be subject, he informed them that the slave trader who bought Sarah for twelve hundred dollars “has offered you the opportunity of purchasing her freedom.”

At this point, Beecher invited Sarah up to the pulpit, “so that all may see you.” Thus, the largely white, pro-abolitionist congregation was presented with the opportunity to observe for themselves the actual body and plight of a young enslaved girl whose fate they might have a personal hand in alleviating. Yet, as I will explore further, Beecher’s invitation to his congregation that they “see” Sarah for themselves, as well as “bid” on her, illustrated what Saidiya Hartman has described as “the precariousness of empathy and the uncertain line between the…

Read or purchase the article here.

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5 Shades of Pink: A Coerced Identity

Posted in Arts, Census/Demographics, History, Live Events, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2009-10-04 23:52Z by Steven

5 Shades of Pink: A Coerced Identity

In cooperation with The Graduate Association of Rhetoric and Performance Studies.
A Graduate Thesis Performance Exploring Biracial Identity in the 19th Century.

Monroe Lecture Center Theater
California Avenue, South Campus
Hofstra University
2009-03-19 19:30 (Local Time)

by Melissa J. Edwards
Hofstra University

This performance explores the influences of the 1859 play The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault, miscegenation laws, and the U.S. Census on biracial identity.  All these factors are used in the analysis of the racial identity of [“Pinky”] Sally Maria Diggs, a 9-year-old girl whose freedom was purchased by the congregation [for $900 USD on 1860-02-05] of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, through the efforts of the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher and his associates.  The performance is intended to educate and present the theories of social impact on racial identity while providing historical fact and content.

“Freedom Ring” by Eastman Johnson, from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1934-03-21, p. 1
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library

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