Passing free

Passing free

Boston College Magazine
Summer 2003

Black in the South, Irish in the North, The Healys Slipped the Bonds of Race in Civil War America

James M. O’Toole, Associate Professor of History
Boston College

When Michael Morris Healy and Eliza Clark entered into a common-law union in 1829, they violated perhaps the most powerful taboo of 19th-century America: marriage between persons of different races. Healy was a white planter in Jones County, Georgia; Clark was an African-American slave. American society was horrified by a union such as theirs, and by the attendant prospect of offspring, because of clear, even scientific definition: Race depended, literally, on blood. What came to be called the “one-drop rule” specified that a single drop of ancestral African blood was sufficient to define a Negro. Blood might be diluted over time, but its essence could not be altered.

Under this rule, the children of Michael and Eliza Healy, no matter how fair their skin or European their features, could expect to lead hobbled lives, consigned to the most menial work and subjected to discrimination and violence. But that is not what happened…

Read the entire article here.

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