J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian had two identities. It took two authors to tell her story.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-20 02:20Z by Steven

J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian had two identities. It took two authors to tell her story.

The Washington Post
2021-06-28

Natachi Onwuamaegbu


“The Personal Librarian” co-authors Heather Terrell, writing as Marie Benedict, and Victoria Christopher Murray. (Phil Atkins)

Historical fiction writer Heather Terrell (who also writes under the name Marie Benedict) was introduced to Belle da Costa Greene between bookshelves at New York’s Morgan Library over 20 years ago. The docent — whom she has tried to find since — told her about a Black woman who passed as White and worked as J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian in the early 1900s. Terrell wasn’t yet writing historical fiction about women — she was a lawyer — but the story lingered in the back of her head.

Once she read Black author Victoria Christopher Murray’s work two years ago, she knew she found the partner she was waiting for to tackle da Costa Greene’s story. To write about a Black woman who passed as non-Black with an author she had never met was a process, especially when the editing coincided with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and a pandemic.

The Washington Post talked to Terrell and Murray about what it was like to work on “The Personal Librarian” when so much of the world was falling apart…

Read the entire interview here.

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J.P. Morgan’s librarian hid her race. A novel imagines the toll on her.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-17 00:53Z by Steven

J.P. Morgan’s librarian hid her race. A novel imagines the toll on her.

The Christian Science Monitor
2021-06-29

Heller McAlpin, Correspondent


Library of Congress
Belle da Costa Greene, shown in 1929, curated rare books for mogul J.P. Morgan. She was the first director of the Morgan Library.

Some books leave you wondering why the author has chosen to tell this particular story, and why now. This is emphatically not the case with “The Personal Librarian,” a novel about the woman who helped shape the Morgan Library’s spectacular collection of rare books and art more than a century ago. It quickly becomes clear why two popular authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, have teamed up to tell this important, inspirational story.

Belle da Costa Greene’s success in the almost exclusively male world of art and rare book dealers was an unusual feat for a woman in the early 20th century. But what makes it even more extraordinary – and such rich material for historical fiction – is the secret she harbored throughout her long career: She hailed from a prominent, light-skinned Black family, many of whose members had chosen to pass as white.

“The Personal Librarian” reminds readers that this decision was not made lightly. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act in 1883 – a ruling that ushered in Jim Crow segregation and gave white supremacy and racial discrimination legal cover, the ramifications of which are felt to this day – few opportunities were open to anyone classified as nonwhite…

Read the entire book review here.

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The Personal Librarian, A Novel

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-17 00:36Z by Steven

The Personal Librarian, A Novel

Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Randomhouse)
2021-06-29
Hardcover ISBN: 9780593101537
Paperback ISBN: 9780593414248
Eboock ISBN: 9780593101551

Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

A remarkable novel about J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white in order to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict, and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

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Radio Diaries: Harry Pace And The Rise And Fall Of Black Swan Records

Posted in Articles, Arts, Audio, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-07-16 18:20Z by Steven

Radio Diaries: Harry Pace And The Rise And Fall Of Black Swan Records

All Things Considered
National Public Radio
2021-07-01

Nellie Gilles, Managing Producer at Radio Diaries at Radio Diaries

Mycah Hazel, Radio Diaries Fellow


Harry Pace started the first major Black-owned record label in the U.S., but his achievements went mostly unnoticed until recently, when his descendants uncovered his secret history.
Courtesy of Peter Pace

A century ago, around the dawn of the Harlem Renaissance, New York City was brimming with music. Black artists like Eubie Blake, Florence Mills and Fats Waller were performing in dance halls and nightclubs including Edmond’s Cellar and The Lincoln Theatre.

“Every block between 110th Street and 155th Street buzzed with creative energy,” says journalist Paul Slade, author of Black Swan Blues: the hard rise and brutal fall of America’s first black-owned record label.

Despite that energy, when it came to recording and selling music by Black artists, the opportunities were limited. White-owned record labels — Columbia, Victor, Aeolian, Edison, Paramount — recorded few Black artists at the time, and when they did, it was often limited to novelty songs and minstrelsy.

“They were making a fortune off these negative portrayals of Black people,” says Bill Doggett, a specialist in early recorded sound.

Okeh Records was one of the first labels to break the mold. Perry “Mule” Bradford, a Black composer, pushed Okeh to record Mamie Smith and her song “Crazy Blues” in 1920. The record was a hit and entrepreneur Harry Pace took notice…

Read the entire story here.

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‘An American riddle’: the black music trailblazer who died a white man

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-07-15 15:14Z by Steven

‘An American riddle’: the black music trailblazer who died a white man

The Guardian
2021-07-14

Ammar Kalia


Harry Pace, lawyer and cultural entrepreneur, thought by his family to have been Italian. Photograph: Courtesy of Peter Pace

A fascinating new podcast delves into the life of Harry Pace, forgotten founder of the first black-owned major record label in the US – and unlocks a shocking and prescient story about race

There are, according to the academic Emmett Price, “six degrees of Harry Pace”. He is referring to the man born in 1884 who founded America’s first black-owned major record label; desegregated part of Chicago; mentored the founder of Ebony and Jet magazines and spearheaded the career of blues singer Ethel Waters. Pace is a figure who is seemingly everywhere at once, yet his name has been suspiciously absent from the history books.

“This story encapsulates how progress comes about in America – and it is never in a straight line,” says Jad Abumrad. “It is often a cycle – one that contains hope and despair, smashed together.”

Best known for their work on Radiolab and its hit spin-off, Dolly Parton’s America, Abumrad and his co-producer Shima Oliaee are speaking from New York about their latest podcast, The Vanishing of Harry Pace. The six-part series examines the life and legacy of its titular character – the founder of Black Swan records, who had a hand in coining the term “rock ‘n’ roll”. Pace was also a civil rights lawyer, a collaborator of WEB Du Bois, and, you might think, a pioneering black American erased from history because of his race…

Read the entire article here.

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To Escape Jim Crow–Era Discrimination and Violence, Some Black Men Passed as White. But How Many?

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Economics, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-07-03 03:24Z by Steven

To Escape Jim Crow–Era Discrimination and Violence, Some Black Men Passed as White. But How Many?

Kellogg Insight
Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois
2021-04-01

Based on the Research of:

Ricardo Dahis, Ph.D. Candidate in Economics
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

Emily Nix, Assistant Professor of Finance and Business Economics
University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Nancy Qian, James J. O’Connor Professor of Managerial Economics & Decision Sciences
Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois


Lisa Röper

Hundreds of thousands, according to a new study of Census data. Doing so provided some economic benefits but came at a great personal cost.

In the 1920s, a doctor named Albert Johnston had trouble finding a medical residency. Johnston was biracial, with Black ancestry, and hospitals at the time often did not permit Black physicians to treat white patients. But when a Maine hospital allowed him to apply without specifying his race, Johnston finally secured a position. He and his wife Thyra, who was one-eighth Black, started a new life as a white couple.

Johnston’s decision was an example of “passing”: identifying as a different race. During the Jim Crow era, when Black people were systematically denied opportunities and lived under the threat of lynching, some who were able to pass chose to do so in order to avoid the economic, physical, and social injustices of the time. And while historians and biographers have documented many instances of passing, researchers have not had a clear idea of how common this behavior was.

“The big question is, can we quantify this?” says Ricardo Dahis, a PhD student in economics at Northwestern University, who coauthored a study on this topic with Nancy Qian, a professor of managerial economics and decision sciences at Kellogg, and Emily Nix at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

To come up with numbers, the researchers searched detailed U.S. census records taken from 1880 to 1940. They were able to thus track specific people through time and note if their race changed from one census to the next. (Women were too difficult to track because they usually changed their last names after marriage.) The team estimated that, on average, at least 1.4 percent of Black men under age 55 started passing as white per decade, adding up to more than 300,000 men over the study period. However, the estimate is very conservative, and the actual rate could be as high as 7–10 percent, the researchers say.

Men who passed often moved to other counties or states. Census records suggest that in some cases, the men passed without their Black wives or children; in others, the entire family may have passed as white.

“Racial discrimination was so extreme that in order to escape it, people redefined themselves,” Qian says. “They changed their own identity.”…

Read the entire article here.

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White Like Me

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-06-22 13:39Z by Steven

White Like Me

The New Yorker
1996-06-10

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


Anatole Broyard, date unknown. Photograph courtesy The New School Archives and Special Collections / The New School

Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer, not a black writer. So he chose to live a lie rather than be trapped by the truth.

In 1982, an investment banker named Richard Grand-Jean took a summer’s lease on an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Fairfield, Connecticut; its owner, Anatole Broyard, spent his summers in Martha’s Vineyard. The house was handsomely furnished with period antiques, and the surrounding acreage included a swimming pool and a pond. But the property had another attraction, too. Grand-Jean, a managing director of Salomon Brothers, was an avid reader, and he took satisfaction in renting from so illustrious a figure. Anatole Broyard had by then been a daily book reviewer for the Times for more than a decade, and that meant that he was one of literary America’s foremost gatekeepers. Grand-Jean might turn to the business pages of the Times first, out of professional obligation, but he turned to the book page next, out of a sense of self. In his Walter Mittyish moments, he sometimes imagined what it might be like to be someone who read and wrote about books for a living—someone to whom millions of readers looked for guidance.

Broyard’s columns were suffused with both worldliness and high culture. Wry, mandarin, even self-amused at times, he wrote like a man about town, but one who just happened to have all of Western literature at his fingertips. Always, he radiated an air of soigné self-confidence: he could be amiable in his opinions or waspish, but he never betrayed a flicker of doubt about what he thought. This was a man who knew that his judgment would never falter and his sentences never fail him.

Grand-Jean knew little about Broyard’s earlier career, but as he rummaged through Broyard’s bookshelves he came across old copies of intellectual journals like Partisan Review and Commentary, to which Broyard had contributed a few pieces in the late forties and early fifties. One day, Grand-Jean found himself leafing through a magazine that contained an early article by Broyard. What caught his eye, though, was the contributor’s note for the article—or, rather, its absence. It had been neatly cut out, as if with a razor…

Read the entire article here.

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Acquanetta

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-06-20 17:10Z by Steven

Acquanetta

Jungle Frolics
2009-10-15

Richard Beland

Acquanetta was born Mildred Davenport on July 17, 1921, and, depending on your source, was of either black or American Indian origin. A few writers have claimed she was Cheyenne Indian; possibly they’re confusing this with reports of her being from Cheyenne, Wyoming, or having been born in Ozone, near Cheyenne. However, by most accounts she was born on an Indian reservation and raised in Norristown, Pennsylvania. These conflicting reports may be due to the possibility that she had both black and Indian blood in her. (Adding to the confusion regarding her ethnic origins, some still report that she was born in Venezuela!)…

...The Arizona Republic for August 22, 2004, reported that Acquanetta’s brother, 85-year old Horace A. Davenport, was present at her funeral. A retired judge, Horace Davenport was, according to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, “the first African-American judge in Montgomery County.” Horace said that he’d never seen any of Acquanetta’s movies.

Bill Feret, in his 1984 book, Lure of the Tropix, said of Acquanetta, “She has never clarified her ambiguous origins, which over the years have varied between being an Arapaho Indian from Wyoming, a Latin from Venezuela, or a black girl from Pennsylvania…” Certainly, her exotic and sultry beauty and the ambiguity of her past added to the mystique.

Perhaps the 1940 United States Census can clear up matters: Mildred Davenport was born in 1921 in Newberry, South Carolina and was residing in Norristown, Norristown Borough, Montgomery, Pennsylvania with her parents, William and Julia, and five siblings, including Horace and Catherine (spelled “Kathryn” in a Jet article). Each member of the family is identified as “Negro” (race) and “African American” (ethnicity)…

Read the entire article here.

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High Yellow (1965, trailer) [Starring Cynthia Hull]

Posted in Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos, Women on 2021-06-19 21:23Z by Steven

High Yellow (1965, trailer) [Starring Cynthia Hull]

YouTube
Department of Afro-American Research Arts Culture
2017-06-29

Cynthia Wood, a light-skinned 17-year-old girl, tries to pass as white after getting hired by wealthy movie magnate Mr. Langley, who has problems with his spoiled wife and promiscuous teenage daughter and son.

Watch the full movie (01:20:11) here.

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One Drop featuring Dr. Yaba Blay and the Mixed Aunties

Posted in Audio, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2021-06-09 18:18Z by Steven

One Drop featuring Dr. Yaba Blay and the Mixed Aunties

Militantly Mixed Podcast
2021-04-27

This is a very special episode of Militantly Mixed. I, along with TaRessa Stovall and Sonia Smith-Kang aka “the Mixed Aunties” sat down to speak with Dr. Yaba Blay, author of One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race about her work on the book and the term “One Drop” as it pertains to Mixed-Black identified people.

Listen to the podcast (01:05:02) here.

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