Hiding in Plain Sight: Hell-Roaring Mike

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-12-22 23:53Z by Steven

Hiding in Plain Sight: Hell-Roaring Mike

We’re History

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

Captain Healy aboard the Revenue Cutter Bear, with his pet parrot, c.1895. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard icebreaker Healy is back in its home port of Seattle after four months at sea. On September 5, 2015, it had become the first United States vessel ever to reach the North Pole unaccompanied. In fact, it was only the fourth American ship ever to make it all the way to 90 degrees north latitude. En route, the 16,000-ton monster with a crew of nearly ninety (together with teams of scientists) sometimes had to plow through more than four feet of ice—it was built to be able to make it through ten—a procedure done by running up onto the ice and allowing its own weight to open the path. With support from the National Science Foundation and working with Geotraces, an international study of the oceans, the ship collected ice, water, and air samples and analyzed them in onboard laboratories, measuring the effects of the warming climate. In completing its mission, the ship did honor to its namesake and predecessor in Arctic waters, Captain Michael Healy (1839-1904) of what was then called the Revenue Cutter Service. His picturesque public career would be remarkable in itself. But his personal story adds to its drama and significance, because he was the Coast Guard’s first African American captain…

Read the entire article here.

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Passing free

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2012-06-15 01:08Z by Steven

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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Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820–1920

Posted in Biography, Books, Family/Parenting, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2010-03-07 02:00Z by Steven

Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820–1920

University of Massachusetts Press
July 2002
296 pages
6 illustrations
Cloth ISBN: 978-1-55849-341-7
Paper ISBN: 978-1-55849-417-6

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

  • An alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club
  • Winner of the New England Historical Association Book Award

The remarkable saga of a mixed-race family in nineteenth-century America

Through the prism of one family’s experience, this book explores questions of racial identity, religious tolerance, and black-white “passing” in America. Spanning the century from 1820 to 1920, it tells the story of Michael Morris Healy, a white Irish immigrant planter in Georgia; his African American slave Eliza Clark Healy, who was also his wife; and their nine children. Legally slaves, these brothers and sisters were smuggled north before the Civil War to be educated.

In spite of the hardships imposed by American society on persons of mixed racial heritage, the Healy children achieved considerable success. Rejecting the convention that defined as black anyone with “one drop of Negro blood,” they were able to transform themselves into white Americans. Their unlikely ally in this transition was the Catholic church, as several of them became priests or nuns. One brother served as a bishop in Maine, another as rector of the Cathedral in Boston, and a third as president of Georgetown University. Of the two sisters who became nuns, one was appointed the superior of convents in the United States and Canada. Another brother served for twenty years as a captain in the U.S. Coast Guard, enforcing law and order in the waters off Alaska.

The Healy children’s transition from black to white should not have been possible according to the prevailing understandings of race, but they accomplished it with apparent ease. Relying on their abilities, and in most cases choosing celibacy, which precluded mixed-race offspring, they forged a place for themselves. They also benefited from the support of people in the church and elsewhere. Even those white Americans who knew the family’s background chose to overlook their African ancestry and thereby help them to “get away” with passing.

By exploring the lifelong struggles of the members of the Healy family to redefine themselves in a racially polarized society, this book makes a distinctive contribution to our understanding of the enduring dilemma of race in America.

View a 58 minute-long discussion from 2002-12-04 with the author here.

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