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…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Always remember: You’re a Madison’

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2017-11-15 01:39Z by Steven

‘Always remember: You’re a Madison’

The Washington Post
2017-11-14

Krissah Thompson, Feature Writer


At Montpelier, four women with ties to the estate pose with the saliva vials they used to test their DNA. From left, Mary Alexander, descended from Madison’s slave Paul Jennings; Bettye Kearse; Conny Graft, descended from Madison’s sister; and Leontyne Peck. (Eduardo Montes-Bradley/Montpelier Foundation)

Oral history said she was descended from a president and an enslaved woman. But what would her DNA say?

ORANGE, Va. — In her mind’s eye, Bettye Kearse could see her ancestor walking the worn path that led from the big house to the slave quarters.

She thought of that path each time she pulled up the long, winding driveway leading to Montpelier, the rural Virginia plantation that was once home to President James Madison.

“The first time I came here was in 1992, and the moment I actually got on the grounds I felt I belonged,” said Kearse, a retired pediatrician who lives in the Boston area.

As an African American descendant of slaves, her feelings about the Founding Father, as a man and a historical figure, are decidedly ambivalent. But she has come to love his home. From the time she was a child, her mother had told her the family’s known history began on Madison’s property — and that they were, in fact, descendants of the president and an enslaved cook named Coreen. During each of her visits to Montpelier, Kearse felt the weight of her mother’s daunting request that she carry their story through oral history, following in the West African tradition of griots, or storytellers…


James Madison, 4th president of the United States created 1835. (Library of Congress)

…In 1834, two years before James Madison died, Betsey was purchased in Tennessee as a “companion” for Emanuel — the first documented reference to Kearse’s fore­father and foremother. In 1848, a slave owner named Jeptha Billingsley brought Emanuel and Betsey to Central Texas. They apparently had the last name Madison before emancipation.

All that Kearse’s generation knows about the couple comes from the bill of sale and details in Billingsley’s will. Betsey was a “light mulatto complexion Negro woman,” born around 1815. Emanuel was “a Negro man of dark complexion,” somewhere between six and 10 years Betsey’s senior. They had at least 11 children. Nine lived to adulthood…

Read the entire article here.

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Gerald and I want Langston to know where he comes from — so that he can take pride in his culture, his people, his identity.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-11-13 00:57Z by Steven

Gerald and I want Langston to know where he comes from — so that he can take pride in his culture, his people, his identity. We want him to appreciate that the history of black people does not begin at slavery and end after the civil rights era. We want his Chinese American influences to be more than just a footnote to a largely white and black narrative, more than a mention of Lunar New Year every winter. Home schooling, we thought, could be the answer to many of these concerns.

Tracy Jan, “Worried about racism’s impact on her biracial son, a mother looks at home schooling,” The Washington Post Magazine, November 9, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/worried-about-racisms-impact-on-her-biracial-son-a-mother-looks-at-homeschooling/2017/11/08/09da0baa-b509-11e7-a908-a3470754bbb9_story.html.

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Worried about racism’s impact on her biracial son, a mother looks at home schooling

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Family/Parenting, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2017-11-12 19:51Z by Steven

Worried about racism’s impact on her biracial son, a mother looks at home schooling

The Washington Post Magazine
2017-11-09

Tracy Jan, Reporter


Tracy Jan, a reporter for The Washington Post, and her husband, Gerald Taylor, a former history teacher, with son Langston. (André Chung/For The Washington Post)

The declaration came emphatically, out of nowhere — dropped between sudsing his hair and rinsing out the shampoo with a plastic yellow duck full of water. “I’m not black,” my then 4-year-old son announced, while playing with his superhero figurines in the tub.

I assured him that not only was he black, because his daddy is black, but that he was also Chinese, like me. He wrinkled his nose and shook his head at this reality check. I was just as confused — where was all this coming from?

“If you’re not black and you’re not Chinese, what are you?” I asked, hoping he would not say “white.”

“I’m just Langston,” he answered…

Read the entire article here.

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I’m black. Robert E. Lee is my ancestor. His statues can’t come down soon enough.

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Justice, United States on 2017-08-17 03:47Z by Steven

I’m black. Robert E. Lee is my ancestor. His statues can’t come down soon enough.

The Washington Post
2017-08-15

Karen Finney

Defenders of Confederate monuments are again trying to rewrite an ugly chapter in our nation’s history. If my family can move on, so can they.

As the biracial daughter of Jim Finney, a black civil rights lawyer descended from enslaved Virginians, and Mildred Lee, a white social worker and the great-great-great niece of Confederate General Robert E. Lee — of whom statues stand in many cities and towns, including, now infamously, Charlottesville — my American story is complicated.

About a year ago, I made a discovery that reminded me of just how complicated both my family’s and our nation’s painful journey on race and equality has been. I found two letters that my maternal grandmother, also named Mildred Lee, had written to my father. In the first, four-page, single-spaced typed letter, she laid out arguments why my dad should leave my mom and not marry her as they’d planned. Not only was marrying illegal in their respective home states of Virginia and North Carolina, in 1967, their forthcoming interracial marriage, she explained, was against the “natural order of things,” in which black and white have their place.”

Quoting the Bible, she argued that their marriage would bring permanent disrepute, shame and irreparable damage not only to my mother’s life but also the lives of the whole family. A month later, my parents were married in a simple ceremony in New York City. In a second letter, sent less than a week before I was born, my grandmother described miscegenation as a sin and a stain that would never be made clean, quoting the Bible and invoking “the way of things.”…

Read the entire article here

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Death of ‘a devil’: The white supremacist got hit by a car. His victims celebrated.

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States, Virginia on 2017-08-03 18:23Z by Steven

Death of ‘a devil’: The white supremacist got hit by a car. His victims celebrated.

The Washington Post
2017-08-02

John Woodrow Cox, Reporter


Walter A. Plecker, an avowed white supremacist who ran Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics for 34 years, in Richmond. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

He built his career on the systematic oppression of blacks and Native Americans, becoming one of the country’s most influential white supremacists. For more than three decades, from 1912 until 1946, Walter Ashby Plecker used his position as head of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics to champion policies designed to protect what he considered a master white race.

He was the father of the state’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which designated every person in the state as either white or “colored” and criminalized interracial marriage. Plecker insisted that any person with a single drop of “Negro” blood couldn’t be classified as white, and he refused to even acknowledge that Native Americans existed in the commonwealth, effectively erasing their legal identities.

Then, on Aug. 2, 1947 — one year after his retirement — Plecker stepped into a road in the Confederacy’s former capital and was hit by a car. Blacks and Indians had good reason to celebrate…


A column on the death of Walter Plecker that appeared in the Richmond Afro-American on Aug. 23, 1947.

Read the entire article here.

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Sally Hemings wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. She was his property.

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2017-07-13 00:09Z by Steven

Sally Hemings wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. She was his property.

The Washington Post
2017-07-07

Britni Danielle


The room at Monticello where Sally Hemings is believed to have lived. (Norm Shafer/For The Washington Post)

Archaeologists at Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation, Monticello, are unearthing the room where Sally Hemings is believed to have lived, allowing for a new way to tell the story of the enslaved people who served our third president. The excavation has once again reminded us that 241 years after the United States was founded, many Americans still don’t know how to reconcile one of our nation’s original sins with the story of its Founding Fathers.

Just before the Fourth of July, NBC News ran a feature on the room, setting off a spate of coverage about the dig. Many of these stories described Hemings, the mother of six children with Jefferson, as the former president’s “mistress.” The Inquisitr, the Daily Mail, AOL and Cox Media Group all used the word (though Cox later updated its wording). So did an NBC News tweet that drew scathing criticism, though its story accurately called her “the enslaved woman who, historians believe, gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children.” The Washington Post also used “mistress” in a headline and a tweet about Hemings’s room in February.

Language like that elides the true nature of their relationship, which is believed to have begun when Hemings, then 14 years old, accompanied Jefferson’s daughter to live with Jefferson, then 44, in Paris. She wasn’t Jefferson’s mistress; she was his property. And he raped her…

Read the entire article here.

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A boy caught between love and race

Posted in Arts, Book/Video Reviews, United States on 2017-06-22 00:28Z by Steven

A boy caught between love and race

Books
The Washington Post
2017-06-15

Ausma Zehanat Khan


Thrity Umrigar, the author (Robert Muller)

Thrity Umrigar, Everybody’s Son, A Novel (New York: HarperCollins, 2017)

The premise of Thrity Umrigar’s new novel, “Everybody’s Son,” is straightforward: a wealthy white family whose son has died adopts a black child from the projects. Through this disturbing yet evocative tale, Umrigar — best known for her books “The Space Between Us” and “The World We Found” — offers a troubling look at race and the conflicting desires of two families.

At the center of the story is Anton Vesper, a little boy whose mother, Juanita, is addicted to crack. She left Anton alone in a hot basement for days before he broke out and is rescued by the local police. Shortly thereafter, Anton meets a judge named David Coleman who happens to be struggling with the loss of his own child. In Anton, Coleman sees a charismatic child. He decides to bring Anton home, almost as a consolation prize for his grieving wife, Delores…

…Though Coleman is treated sympathetically throughout the novel, he is shadowed by his corrupt morality. There is no eluding it: Coleman destroyed a woman’s life by taking her child and using his wealth, power and whiteness against her. He has also robbed a child of his heritage, raising difficult questions for readers to ponder:

Would Coleman have wanted Anton if he were a dark-skinned black child, if he hadn’t been able to blend so effortlessly into his world? We later learn that Anton is bi-racial, perhaps explaining this. Would a black mother view blackness as a curse that a white man’s wealth and status could provide compensation for?…

Read the entire review here.

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The debate over who counts as ‘American’ is nothing new

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Audio, Autobiography, History, Media Archive, United States on 2017-05-06 00:31Z by Steven

The debate over who counts as ‘American’ is nothing new

The Washington Post
2015-05-04

Alex Laughlin


(Illustration by Chris Kindred for The Washington Post))

Virginia Matsuoka was 10 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

She was playing tag football with her older brothers when her mother came outside and told them what had happened.

“And I remember my father came up behind me there,” Matsuoka said. “He put his arm around me and he said, ‘This is so bad, Ginger. This is bad.’”

Matsuoka’s mother was American and white, but her father was Japanese. By April 1942, her family was torn apart. Her father was working in Colorado, spared a stint in the internment camps because he had helpful law enforcement connections. He taught martial arts to police officers there. Two of her brothers were serving in the U.S. Army. And Matsuoka and two of her other brothers were in the Tanforan Assembly Center, an internment camp built around a racetrack near San Francisco.

Despite being displaced and separated, Matsuoka and her family remained patriotic. She recalls asking her father what it was like for her: “He said, ‘You know, Ginger, this was my country. I came here, they gave me the opportunity to make a name for myself, and then the war came along so you do things that you’ve got to do.’”

Hear Matsuoka recall her experiences in Tanforan and talk about what it was like returning to school after being separated from her friends and family…

Listen to the podcast (00:15:59) here.

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The long history and legacy of passing in America

Posted in Articles, Audio, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2017-05-04 22:30Z by Steven

The long history and legacy of passing in America

The Washington Post
2017-05-03

Alex Laughlin


(Illustration by Chris Kindred for The Washington Post)

Anita Hemmings was Vassar College’s first African American graduate. But no one was supposed to know that she was black.

A light-skinned mixed-race woman, Hemmings passed as white for most of her time at Vassar — until her roommate hired a private investigator to find out the truth.

Hemmings graduated college in 1897 and continued passing as white for the rest of her life. Her story fits in with a broader history of African Americans passing in this country for personal safety, economic and social reasons.

In this episode of “Other: Mixed Race in America,” we learn the story of Hemmings, and we also learn about the legacy of passing that is inherited through generations of mixed-race Americans…

Listen to the podcast (00:19:12) here.

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