Love in black and white

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2013-03-13 05:45Z by Steven

Love in black and white

Princeton Alumni Weekly

Lawrence Otis Graham ’83

Martha Sandweiss examines racial passing in America

Clarence King, a celebrated explorer, geologist, and surveyor in 19th-century America, chose to set that identity aside — and live as a working-class black man during a time of harsh racial segregation in the United States. He did it for love.

King moved back and forth between two sides of the color line: as the very public white, Newport-born, Yale-educated cartographer and researcher of the American West, and at other times as the strangely private man pretending to be a black Pullman train porter and itinerant steelworker (using the alias “James Todd”) who married an African-American woman. Martha Sandweiss, who joined Princeton’s history department this semester, explores King’s double life in her book Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line, published by Penguin Press in February. 

“While racial passing was surely attempted by some light-skinned blacks who wanted to escape the economic disadvantages tied to black life at the time,” explains Sandweiss, “it was virtually unheard-of for whites to voluntarily choose to face social and economic discrimination and live as black people.” But after falling in love with a black nursemaid, Ada Copeland, in 1888, that is what Clarence King did for 13 years. His wife and their five children had no idea that he was, in fact, white, and that he was the famous Clarence King, until he confessed it on his deathbed in 1901…

Read the entire article here.

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