On Becoming Black, Becoming White and Being Human: Rachel Dolezal and the Fluidity of Race

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-06-05 01:22Z by Steven

On Becoming Black, Becoming White and Being Human: Rachel Dolezal and the Fluidity of Race

Truthdig
2015-06-18

Channing G. Joseph


Library of Congress

For decades, no one knew my cousin Ernest Torregano was black. At least, no one who mattered in his new life.

Not the clients or associates of the prominent bankruptcy law firm with which he had built his reputation and his fortune. Not the other members of the San Francisco Planning Commission, of which he had been president. And certainly not the mayor, Elmer Robinson, with whom Ernest had been close since their days as fresh new lawyers in the city. It is quite likely, I think, that Ernest never admitted, even to Pearl, his second wife of 30 years, that she had married an African-American man.

Few understood the true extent of my cousin’s labyrinth of secrets until he was already dead and buried. By then, he had successfully “passed for white” for more than 40 years.

When his only child, Gladys Stevens, learned that her father had not died in 1915 but had been alive until 1954, she filed suit to claim her share of his estate—worth about $300,000 then, or about $2.6 million today. After a protracted legal battle to prove she really was Ernest’s daughter, she won. Meanwhile, her story—and Ernest’s—made national headlines for nearly seven years. One Oklahoma newspaper announced: “Widow Claims Rich Lawyer Was Really Her Negro Father.” A Connecticut paper proclaimed: “Daughter’s Suit Reveals Double Life of Man Who Passed Over Color Line.” But Newsweek magazine’s headline captured the essence of the story in just three words: “The Second Man.”

Born into a mixed-race family in New Orleans in 1882, the First Man was the fair-skinned son of a white father and a mixed-race mother. And because he so loved to sing and to laugh and to travel, he joined a touring minstrel troupe, performing in blackface makeup for cheering crowds across the South. In that show, he met Viola, who played the guitar, and they married. After their daughter, Gladys, was born, the First Man took a job as a Pullman porter on the Southern Pacific Railroad line from New Orleans to San Francisco—to make a better living for his new family. But at some point along the way—perhaps as he gazed through a train car window at the countryside rolling by or as he wandered along Market Street among white people who did not sneer at him or call him “boy”—he decided he would never return home. (According to one account, his mother, who supported the idea of his passing, convinced him that Viola and Gladys had been killed and that he should forget them forever.)…

Read the entire article here.

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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.

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Faking Black identity: An American tradition

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-07-14 01:24Z by Steven

Faking Black identity: An American tradition

The New Pittsburgh Courier
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
2015-06-27

Robert Fikes Jr., Reference Librarian
San Diego State University, San Diego, California

The recent case of Rachel Dolezal, the White woman who reinvented herself as African American and headed the Spokane, Washington NAACP, is just the latest sensationalized instance of “passing.”  Though reports of Black and mixed-race individuals pretending to be White far outnumber reports of Whites masquerading as Black, curiously, this rare but persistent case has attracted considerable attention.

In the 1800s there were documented cases involving poor Whites kidnapped, declared mulatto, and sold into slavery. In the 1900s the typical scenario presented Whites as intimate partners of Blacks or Whites who lived among them and found it convenient to either manufacture Black ancestry or did nothing to rectify the misconception folks had that they were part Black. A well-researched example, detailed in the acclaimed biography Passing Strange in 2009 by Martha Sandweiss, is that of blue-eyed Clarence King who in the late 1800s was a renowned white scientist by day but by evening resumed his fake identity as James Todd, a Black Pullman porter who lived with his Black wife and their two biracial children in Brooklyn, New York.

More widely publicized was journalist John Howard Griffin who in the late 1950s managed to darken his skin sufficiently to pass as Black in order to report on the ordinary treatment of Blacks in the Deep South.  His experiences resulted in the both a bestselling book and movie of the same title:  John Howard Griffin “Black Like Me.”…

Read the entire article here.

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If race wasn’t determined by biology, why couldn’t a white woman feel black? Why couldn’t she repudiate her own culture to embrace another?

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-09-29 03:11Z by Steven

What was race anyway? That’s the big question Miss Anne’s actions raised. If race was simply a myth or fiction, could one reimagine racial identity as something based on affiliation rather than blood? Some of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance asked much the same thing. In Nella Larsen’s “Passing” and James Weldon Johnson’s “Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” for example, light-skinned protagonists of African-American heritage successfully pass as white, demonstrating that racial identity could hinge on voluntary association and careful self-presentation. Their radical acts blur the color line and expose the absurdity of the one-drop rule. Approaching the color line from the other side, Miss Anne reframed the issues. If race wasn’t determined by biology, why couldn’t a white woman feel black? Why couldn’t she repudiate her own culture to embrace another?

Martha A. Sandweiss, “Uptown Girls,” Sunday Review of Books, The New York Times, (September 22, 2013). http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/books/review/miss-anne-in-harlem-by-carla-kaplan.html.

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Uptown Girls

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-09-25 21:11Z by Steven

Uptown Girls

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
2013-09-22

Martha A. Sandweiss, Professor of History
Princeton University

Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance, by Carla Kaplan Illustrated. 505 pp. Harper.

Time hasn’t been kind to the white women who participated in the Harlem Renaissance. As philanthropists and activists, authors and patrons, they sought a place for themselves in that remarkable outpouring of African-American art during the 1920s and ’30s. Some, constrained by social expectations, effaced the records of their work. Others made it difficult for historians to treat them with much seriousness. What, after all, can we do with someone like Nancy Cunard, a British steamship heiress raised on a remote English estate, who felt no shame in proclaiming “I speak as if I were a Negro myself”?

“Miss Anne” — the dismissive collective name given to white women — makes bit appearances in the literature of the era as a dilettante or imperious patron; later, she’s depicted as a thrill-seeking “slummer.” Always, she lurks in the shadows of her male counterparts in scholarly studies of the movement. But she was there, encouraging writers, underwriting cultural institutions, supporting progressive political causes. And many leading Harlem Renaissance figures — including Langston Hughes, Alain Locke and Nella Larsen — had reason to be grateful to her. At least for a while. Like everything else about Miss Anne, those relationships got complicated…

…The book is full of fresh discoveries. ­Kaplan learns that Lillian Wood, author of the radical 1920s anti-lynching novel “Let My People Go,” was actually white, not black, as other scholars have imagined…

…But the focus of the book remains squarely on the larger issues of racial identity raised by Miss Anne’s deep personal identification with African-American life. Miss Anne wanted to suggest that race was a constructed ideal, yet she stumbled over the internal contradictions of her impulses. She fought against racial essentialism and the perverse logic of America’s one-drop rule, which proclaimed that even a trace of African heritage made one black, but she also celebrated the seeming vitality and distinctiveness of black culture. Josephine Cogdell Schuyler wrote in her diary the night before her wedding: “To my mind, the white race, the Anglo-Saxon especially, is spiritually depleted. America must mate with the Negro to save herself.” In a similar expression of romantic racialism, the philanthropist Charlotte Osgood Mason lauded “the creative impulse throbbing in the African race.” As Kaplan suggests, white men could sometimes get away with ideas like this; a dose of black culture offered a useful inoculation against the debilitating sterility of the industrial world. But white women who sought an intimate connection with African-­American life were seen as traitors to the race, even sexual deviants.

What was race anyway? That’s the big question Miss Anne’s actions raised. If race was simply a myth or fiction, could one reimagine racial identity as something based on affiliation rather than blood? Some of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance asked much the same thing. In Nella Larsen’s “Passing” and James Weldon Johnson’s “Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” for example, light-skinned protagonists of African-American heritage successfully pass as white, demonstrating that racial identity could hinge on voluntary association and careful self-presentation. Their radical acts blur the color line and expose the absurdity of the one-drop rule. Approaching the color line from the other side, Miss Anne reframed the issues. If race wasn’t determined by biology, why couldn’t a white woman feel black? Why couldn’t she repudiate her own culture to embrace another?…

Read the entire article here.

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Love in black and white

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2013-03-13 05:45Z by Steven

Love in black and white

Princeton Alumni Weekly
2009-04-22

Lawrence Otis Graham ’83

Martha Sandweiss examines racial passing in America

Clarence King, a celebrated explorer, geologist, and surveyor in 19th-century America, chose to set that identity aside — and live as a working-class black man during a time of harsh racial segregation in the United States. He did it for love.

King moved back and forth between two sides of the color line: as the very public white, Newport-born, Yale-educated cartographer and researcher of the American West, and at other times as the strangely private man pretending to be a black Pullman train porter and itinerant steelworker (using the alias “James Todd”) who married an African-American woman. Martha Sandweiss, who joined Princeton’s history department this semester, explores King’s double life in her book Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line, published by Penguin Press in February. 

“While racial passing was surely attempted by some light-skinned blacks who wanted to escape the economic disadvantages tied to black life at the time,” explains Sandweiss, “it was virtually unheard-of for whites to voluntarily choose to face social and economic discrimination and live as black people.” But after falling in love with a black nursemaid, Ada Copeland, in 1888, that is what Clarence King did for 13 years. His wife and their five children had no idea that he was, in fact, white, and that he was the famous Clarence King, until he confessed it on his deathbed in 1901…

Read the entire article here.

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Sandweiss unearths a compelling tale of secret racial identity

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Identity Development/Psychology, New Media, Passing, United States on 2010-08-23 16:10Z by Steven

Sandweiss unearths a compelling tale of secret racial identity

News at Princeton
Princeton University
2009-12-17

Jennifer Greenstein Altmann

For three decades, history professor Martha Sandweiss had wondered about a little-noticed detail in the life of Clarence King, a well-known figure in the history of the American West. King, a 19th-century geologist and author, was a leading surveyor who mapped the West after the Civil War.

Back in graduate school, Sandweiss had read a 500-page biography of King that devoted just five pages to a secret, 13-year relationship that King, who was white, had with a black woman.

“Thirteen years, five pages? It just didn’t seem right to me,” said Sandweiss, a historian of the American West who joined the Princeton faculty last year.

A few years ago, Sandweiss decided it was time to investigate. Poring through census documents that were available online, she was able to discover in a matter of minutes that King, who was blond and blue eyed, had been leading a double life as a white man passing as a black man.

“Once I uncovered that, I knew I had to try to unravel the story,” she said.

The result is “Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line,” published earlier this year by The Penguin Press…

…But the most amazing part of King’s story is that someone with fair hair and blue eyes was accepted as a black man. He managed it, Sandweiss said, because of the so-called “one-drop” laws passed in the South during Reconstruction, which declared that someone with one black great-grandparent was considered legally black.

“The laws were meant to make it very difficult to move from one racial category to the other,” Sandweiss said. “Ironically, they made it very possible to do that, because you could claim an ancestry — or more often hide an ancestry — that was invisible in the color of your skin.”…

Read the entire article here.

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American Lives: The ‘Strange’ Tale Of Clarence King

Posted in Articles, Audio, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2010-08-23 02:00Z by Steven

American Lives: The ‘Strange’ Tale Of Clarence King

National Public Radio
2010-08-18

Steve Inskeep, Host
Morning Edition


U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library

Ada Copeland, an African-American woman born in Georgia just months before that state seceded from the Union, moved to New York City in the mid-1880s. There, she met a man named James Todd. He was light-skinned, handsome, had a good job for an African-American man in that time — a Pullman porter.

They hit it off, and eventually married. They had five children and a house in Brooklyn. Their story would be unremarkable if not for one detail: Nothing James had told his future wife was true.

“James Todd was really not black, he was not a Pullman porter, and he was not even James Todd,” author Martha Sandweiss tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “He was in fact Clarence King, a very well-educated white explorer who was truly a famous man in late 19th century America.”…

…Sandweiss’ book, Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line, examines why King chose to live a double life — and how his experience reflects and represents how Americans, both past and present, have thought about race. In the aftermath of the Civil War, particularly, the U.S. had to recast some of the ways it thought about questions of race and identity…

Read and/or listen to the story here.

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Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2010-08-23 01:51Z by Steven

Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line

The Penguin Press
2009-02-05
384 pages
5.98 x 9.01in
Hardcover ISBN 9781594202001

Martha A. Sandweiss, Professor of History
Princeton University

National Book Critics Circle Awards Winner

The secret double life of the man who mapped the American West and the woman he loved

Clarence King is a hero of nineteenth-century western history. Brilliant scientist and witty conversationalist, bestselling author and architect of the great surveys that mapped the West after the Civil War, King was named by John Hay “the best and brightest of his generation.” But King hid a secret from his Gilded Age cohorts and prominent family in Newport: for thirteen years he lived a double life—as the celebrated white explorer, geologist, and writer Clarence King and as a black Pullman porter and steelworker named James Todd. The fair, blue-eyed son of a wealthy China trader passed across the color line, revealing his secret to his black common-law wife, Ada King, only on his deathbed.

Noted historian of the American West Martha Sandweiss is the first writer to uncover the life that King tried so hard to conceal from the public eye. She reveals the complexity of a man who while publicly espousing a personal dream of a uniquely American “race,” an amalgam of white and black, hid his love for his wife and their five biracial children. Passing Strange tells the dramatic tale of a family built along the fault lines of celebrity, class, and race—from the “Todds” wedding in 1888 to the 1964 death of Ada, one of the last surviving Americans born into slavery, to finally the legacy inherited by Clarence King’s granddaughter, who married a white man and adopted a white child in order to spare her family the legacies of racism.

A remarkable feat of research and reporting spanning the Civil War to the civil rights era, Passing Strange tells a uniquely American story of self-invention, love, deception, and race.

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