The Mestizos of South Carolina

The Mestizos of South Carolina

The American Journal of Sociology
Volume 51, Number 1 (July 1945)
pages 34-41

Brewton Berry

There are several communities of white-Indian-Negro hybrids in South Carolina, the members of which do not fit into the biracial caste system upon which the state’s whole social structure is built. Similar groups are found in other states. Some of these are amalgamating with the Negroes, while others have won an intermediate status as “Inidans.” Those in South Carolina have resisted both of these accommodations and have persistently fought for white status. Their present position in etiquette and is local institutions, such as churches and schools, is a particular one, being the status of neither Negroes nor whites.

There are in South Carolina today fully five thousand people—perhaps even ten thousand—who do not fit into the biracial caste system upon which the state’s whole social structure is built. These out-castes insist that they are white, and they claim the privileges and courtesies of white people. Some of them, if pressed, will not deny a strain of Indian, though they take no pride in the fact; and most of them are offended even at that suggestion. The dominant whites, on the other hand, are convinced that there is a trace of Negro blood in them and, on the theory that “one drop of Negro blood makes one a Negro,” are reluctant to accept them and regard their claim to white status with various and mixed emotions, ranging from amusement to horror.

This failure of a sizable group of people to fit into the social system creates many problems. It is, in fact, a threat to the whole structure, undermining the popular faith that the system functions adequately and will continue to function forever. “We simply cannot admit them to the white schools,” confessed one trustee, “because, if we did, pretty soon the Negroes would want to come in, and then where would we be?” The same question arises with respect to churches, hospitals, political parties, parks, playgrounds, moving pictures, hotels, restaurants, clubs, and cemeteries. These institutions, in all of which rigid racial segregation is the rule, are operated upon the assumption that every person is either white or black and that there are absolute criteria to determine in which group one belongs. It is so with regard to the etiquette of race relations. “I wish you would tell me what these Brass Ankles are,” said a bank teller, “so I would know whether to ‘mister’ them or not.” Most disturbing of all is the threat to the assumed purity of the white race; for if these doubtful ones are being absorbed without dire consequences, as seems to be the case, what is to prevent an inundation of Negro blood?

These outcastes, whom I call “mestizos,” are designated by a wide variety of names, none of them flattering. In Richland County they are known as “Red Bones.” In one section of Orangeburg County they are “Red Legs”; in another, “Brass Ankles.” The degrading name “Brass Ankle” is also commonly used in Dorchester, Colleton, Berkeley, and Charleston counties. In Sumter they arc called “Turks”; in Bamberg, “Buckheads”; while in Marlboro, Dillon, Marion, and Horry they are “Croatans,” a name that is sometimes shortened to the even more unflattering “Cro.” In Chesterfield they are known as “Marlboro Blues,”a slur on the adjoining county, whence they came. In some localities…

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