Long Way Home: The Loving Story

Posted in Forthcoming Media, History, Law, Videos on 2011-01-04 20:31Z by Steven

Long Way Home: The Loving Story

Augusta Films
2010

Director and Producer: Nancy Buirski
Producer and Editor: Elisabeth Haviland James


Richard and Mildred Loving, Circa 1967

This documentary feature film, currently in production, tells the dramatic story of Mildred and Richard Loving, a black and Cherokee woman married to a white man (against the law in 1958-Virginia) and of their famous anti-miscegenation case argued in the Supreme Court in 1967. Thrown into rat-infested jails and exiled from their hometown for 25 years, the Lovings fought back and changed history. Using rare archival footage, home movies, photographs, interviews with witnesses, friends and family, and poetic visual and narrative sequences, the documentary will build a complex portrait of the couple at the heart of marriage equality in this country. It will also do something rare in storytelling—look at the story itself as it has mutated over the years, with the understanding that history is only as reliable as those who tell it.

Both of the attorneys, Bernie Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, who represented Mildred and Richard Loving in the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia have agreed to participate in the project as consultants and as on-camera interviews.  In addition, Peggy Loving Fortune and Sidney Jeter Loving, the surviving children of Mildred and Richard have agreed to be on-camera participants. This is notable because, like their mother, they have guarded their privacy and avoided media attention for most of their lives.

For more information, click here. To donate to the project, click here.

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The Secret History of Race in the United States

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2011-01-04 05:05Z by Steven

The Secret History of Race in the United States

The Yale Law Journal
Volume 112, Issue 6 (March 2003)
pages 1473-1509

Daniel J. Sharfstein, Associate Professor of Law
Vanderbilt University

In the beginning, there was a man named Looney. George Looney’s world was Buchanan County, Virginia, a pocket of Appalachian hills and hollows that juts into Kentucky and West Virginia. In 1911, his place in this world was secure. Where lumber was the only industry in town, Looney owned a mill and a store. He had a thriving family. His home was near Looney’s Creek.

But Looney’s world was changing. Outsiders were moving to Appalachia to chop, saw, dynamite, and chisel the countryside. Among them were black people, never a common sight in Buchanan, “one of the whitest counties, not only in Virginia, but in the entire South.” The locals proved hostile to the newcomers. Although southwestern Virginia had an extremely small African-American population, more lynchings occurred there between 1880 and 1930 than in any other part of the state. The violence was most common in the more industrialized counties immediately to the east. Even so, in early 1893, after mobs lynched five blacks in neighboring Tazewell, vigilantes and rioters rode through Buchanan, declaring it “altogether a white county.”

About five years after the mob violence in Buchanan, a young man named George Spencer crossed the Kentucky line into Virginia. Over the next decade, he married a local woman, had six children, and settled near the Looneys. Spencer, a farmer, worked for Looney at times, and the families often ate together, stayed over at each other’s houses, and sent their children to the same schools. Their community was small; the local teacher was a third cousin to the Looneys and kin by marriage to the Spencers.

However, when Spencer’s brother was accused of killing Looney’s brother, the families stopped talking. And then Looney started talking, to just about anyone who would listen: “[The Spencers] are nothing but God damned negroes, and I can prove they are God damned negroes.” Adopting these words as a mantra, Looney—”thoroughly addicted to the abominable habit” of profanity—uttered them at the mill, at his store, at home, and in town. In the summer of 1911, his words flowed down the branches and forks and creeks wrinkling through Buchanan. Before the local school opened for the fall term, Looney approached his cousin, the teacher, told him to tell the Spencers that he called them “damned niggers,” and declared that he would take his children out of school. “They shan’t go with negroes,” he said.

Then Looney sharpened his attack. He traveled to nearby Johnson County, Kentucky. “[T]hrough strenuous efforts, involving costs and expenses,” Looney found men who knew Spencer’s grandfather—old men, on either side of eighty, who lived in places with names like Paintsville, Jennies Creek, Burnt Cabin, and Lick Fork, and knew Jordan Spencer, Sr., “[e]ver since the war, and before too.” These men remembered his thin lips, blue eyes, and “tolerably straight,” long red hair, quite possibly “painted,” with “a kind of a slick rim where his hat went.” One recalled that “a wild, drinking kind of a dissipated man” named Letcher Davis used to tell the Johnson County locals that Spencer had mixed blood, and others talked about nagging rumors that would pop up every now and then. Looney paid for a school official to accompany him on his expeditions. With affidavits in hand, Looney convinced the Rock Lick School District to expel Melvin Spencer from the third grade. George Spencer then sued Looney for slander, seeking damages of ten thousand dollars.

Spencer v. Looney was one of dozens of cases decided in the eras of slavery and segregation that hinged on the question of whether a plaintiff or defendant was white or black. During the past decade, legal historians have begun to excavate these bygone disputes, which involved wills, marriage and divorce, transportation, immigration and naturalization, and libel and slander. With few exceptions, two goals have motivated recent scholarship: proving that race is a social construction and showing how courts in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries helped build America’s racial infrastructure.

This Essay presents a more complex picture of race in the post-Reconstruction South in an attempt to develop a richer understanding of how the law of race worked. Cases that required a determination of a plaintiff’s or defendant’s racial identity provide rare glimpses into the private lives and worldviews of real people. Although contained within the conventions of briefs, legal opinions, and direct and cross examination, their voices vividly express a largely unexplored degree of self-consciousness about what race does and does not mean. Making sense of the private beliefs aired in courtrooms is an essential task of the legal history of race. Cases like Spencer v. Looney show people who exercised a surprising degree of tolerance in their everyday lives at a time of massive racial hysteria and who had a basic awareness that racial identity was something that could be disputed and creatively argued, at least in the courtroom.

After surveying the legal historiography, I explore what current scholars, with a few notable exceptions, have missed: that many of the historical actors understood that race is a social construction. For most legal historians, the actors in cases such as Spencer v. Looney—parties, lawyers, witnesses, judges, spectators, and contemporaneous commentators—have been useful only to the extent that their doings, presumably unconscious or unintentional, reveal inconsistencies about, and thus the socially constructed nature of, race. In fact, at the turn of the twentieth century, there was widespread discussion of the artificiality of the color line, in courtrooms, legal commentary, social science literature, journalism, and fiction. It is no exaggeration to say that at the height of Jim Crow, people—even and perhaps especially the most rabid of racists—understood what a legal fiction was.

At the root of at least some of this self-consciousness is a phenomenon in American social history that the law, as a forum where family secrets were uttered aloud, is uniquely positioned to reveal. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the United States shifted from an identity regime that recognized “mulattoes” as a distinct racial category to one that divided the world strictly into black and white. Although this transition has been generally regarded as a time when mulattoes were absorbed into a black world, it was also a time when many established themselves as white. That is to say, across the South at the turn of the twentieth century, ostensibly white people who were socially accepted as white had African ancestry.This racially porous status quo was at odds with the extreme and often violent politics of segregation. While the most paranoid ideologies of “racial integrity” sought to classify every person with any African ancestry as black, this “one-drop rule” had the broad potential to be destabilizing for the white South. If no one’s racial status was secure without an exhaustive genealogy, the governmental apparatus of segregation and white supremacy would be perpetually threatening to whites. Instead, statutory definitions of race reflected the status quo, defining as white those people who had as much as one-fourth or one-eighth “Negro blood.” Formalistic judicial enforcement of the color line preserved this status quo, making it difficult to prove that people who were accepted as white were in fact black and encouraging actions for damages such as Spencer v. Looney.

As a result, extreme segregationists sought to push the color line toward a one-drop rule by arguing that the more generous statutory definitions of race were absurd, illogical, and socially constructed—an ironic contrast to quite similar observations made by progressive scholars today. This complicated picture of race in the turn-of-the-century South has been absent from legal scholarship. At the heart of this Essay is an attempt to take race beyond conventional legal history and view cases about the color line as portals into a world of secret histories—whispered gossip, unstated understandings, and stories purposely forgotten.  

Read the entire article here.

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American Triracial Isolates: Their Status and Pertinence to Genetic Research

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2011-01-04 04:40Z by Steven

American Triracial Isolates: Their Status and Pertinence to Genetic Research

Eugenics Quarterly
Volume 4, Issue 4 (December 1957)
pages 187-196
(Curteousy of The Melungeon Heritage Assoication)

Calvin L. Beale (1923-2008)
United States Department of Agriculture

In the 1950 Census of Population, 50,000 American Indians are listed as living in states east of the Mississippi River. These people do not constitute the sole biological legacy of the aboriginal population once found in the East, of course. The remnants of many tribes were removed west of the Mississippi where they retain their tribal identity today. Nor is it uncommon to meet Easterners, thoroughly Caucasian in appearance and racial status, who boast of an Indian ancestor in the dim past. Other intfusio9ns of Indian blood were absorbed into the Negro population, and in this context may also be referred to with pride even if they afford no differential social status.

It is another class of people, however, that engages the attention of this article—a class more numerous than the Indians remaining in the East, more obscure than those in the West, less assured than the white man or the Negro who regards his link of Indian descent as a touch of the heroic or romantic. The reference is to population groups of presumed triracial descent. Such isolates, bequeathed of intermingled Indian, white, and Negro ancestry, are as old as the nation itself and include not less than 77,000 persons. They live today in more than 100 counties of at least 17 Eastern States with settlements ranging in size from less than 50 persons to more than 20,000. Their existence has furnished material for the writings of local historians, folklorists, journalists, and novelists. Occasionally, they have come to the attention of cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and—here and there—a geographer or educator. Attention to the triracial isolates by geneticists is largely confined to the last three years, however. It is the object of this discussion to describe the nature, location, and status of such Indian-white-Negro groups in Eastern States and to indicate the potential interest they hold for the field of human genetics.

Although the precise origin of these groups is unknown in most instances, they seem to have formed through miscegenation between Indians, whites, and Negroes—slave or free—in the Colonial and early Federal periods. In places the offspring of such unions—many of which were illegitimate under the law—tended to marry among themselves. Within a generation or so this practice created a distinctly new racial element in society, living apart from other races. The forces tending to perpetuate such groups, and die strength of these forces, differed from place to place. Some groups subsequently dispersed or were assimilated during the 19th century. Some waxed in numbers; others waned. Most have persisted to the present day. A majority of the triracial isolates originated in the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Their members were among the early pioneers in the Appalachian Plateaus and the Tennessee River Valley. Many left the South and moved to Northern States such as Ohio and…

Read the entire article here.

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Telling Our Own Stories: Lumbee History and the Federal Acknowledgment Process

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2011-01-04 04:19Z by Steven

Telling Our Own Stories: Lumbee History and the Federal Acknowledgment Process

The American Indian Quarterly
Volume 33, Number 4, Fall 2009
pages 499-522
E-ISSN: 1534-1828, Print ISSN: 0095-182X

Malinda Maynor Lowery, Assistant Professor of History
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Being part of and writing about the Lumbee community means that history always emerges into the present, offering both opportunities and challenges for my scholarship and my sense of belonging. I was born in Robeson County, North Carolina, a place that Lumbees refer to as “the Holy Land,” “God’s Country,” or, mostly, “home,” regardless of where they actually reside. My parents raised me two hours away in the city of Durham, making me an “urban Indian” (or as my cousins used to say, a “Durham rat”). I have a Lumbee family; both of my parents are Lumbees, and all of my relatives are Lumbees—I’m just a Lum, I’m Indian. This is how I talk about myself, using terms and categories of knowledge (like “home” and “Lum”) that have specific meanings to me and to other Lumbees but may mean nothing special to anyone else. Stories and places spring from these categories and become history.

I was drawn to researching and writing about my People’s history in part because the opportunity to tell our own story was too rare for me to pass up. Outsiders, people who do not belong to the group, have told our stories for us, often characterizing us as a “tri-racial isolate,” “black Indians,” or “multi-somethings.” Lumbees seem to have a particular reputation for multiracial ancestry. Perhaps our seemingly anomalous position in the South raises the question—as nonwhites, the argument goes, whites must have classed Lumbees socially with African Americans; therefore, Lumbees must have married African Americans extensively because they could not have married anyone who was white. At the heart of these arguments are two converging assumptions: one, that ancestry and cultural identity are consanguineous rather than subject to the changing contexts of human relations, and two, that white supremacy is a timeless norm rather than a social structure designed to ensure the dominance of a certain group. Race has been linked to blood and ancestry…

Read or purchase the article here.

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“What Ain’t Called Melungeons is Called Hillbillies”: Southern Appalachia’s In-Between People

Posted in Anthropology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2011-01-04 03:15Z by Steven

“What Ain’t Called Melungeons is Called Hillbillies”: Southern Appalachia’s In-Between People

Forum for Modern Language Studies
Volume 40, Issue 3 (2004)
page 259-278
DOI: 10.1093/fmls/40.3.259

Rachel Rubin, Professor of American Studies
University of Massachusetts, Boston

The essay investigates literary evocations of Appalachia’s “in-between” people, the Melungeons. Melungeons are deployed by some as mystery (no one has conclusively traced their origins) and by others as solid fact (they are non-white) to shore up their own contingent sense of white privilege. The construction of Melungeon identity by outsiders has facilitated a process of “re-centring” whereby those poor white people so frequently scorned as “hillbillies” place themselves at the heart of a racialised mountain landscape.

Read the entire article here.

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A Free Man of Color [Theater Review]

Posted in Arts, History, Live Events, New Media, Slavery, United States on 2011-01-04 01:45Z by Steven

A Free Man of Color [Theater Review]

The Faster Times
2010-11-18

Johnathon Mandell

Opening Date: 2010-11-18
Closing Date: 2011-01-09

Written by John Guare
Directed by George C. Wolfe

As “A Free Man of Color” begins, its hero, an ex-slave, is a bewigged, bejeweled fop who is the wealthiest and most sexually desirable man in New Orleans. Like the character, the play seems to have everything going for it: deeply talented creators, an exciting cast, splendid costumes, a fascinating period in American history. By the end of the play, the character has been destroyed, in a harrowing half hour that is the dramatic and theatrical highlight of the piece. Long before that end, however, the average theatergoer is likely to feel let down by John Guare’s new play. If it frustrates our expectations, “A Free Man of Color”—ambitious, inventive, daring, sprawling—is an honorable failure with much to recommend it, even while it is difficult to sit through.

Set largely in New Orleans between 1801 and 1806, but wandering around the world, the play, which has now opened at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, presents the complex intrigue surrounding the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States, and imagines the effects of these actual historical events on fictitious characters.

The historical tidbits sprinkled throughout the play are tantalizing, especially those with contemporary parallels. To pick one of the more obscure examples: If the 21st century has civil unions for gay people, early 19th century New Orleans had plaçage, an arrangement between a white man and a woman of color…

Read the entire review here.

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