Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of “Race” in Twentieth-Century America

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2014-04-09 22:33Z by Steven

Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of “Race” in Twentieth-Century America

The Journal of American History
Volume 83, Number 1 (June, 1996)
pages 44-69

Peggy Pascoe (1954-2010), Beekman Professor of Northwest and Pacific History
University of Oregon

On March 21, 1921, Joe Kirby took his wife, Mayellen, to court. The Kirbys had been married for seven years, and Joe wanted out. Ignoring the usual option of divorce, he asked for an annulment, charging that his marriage had been invalid from its very beginning because Arizona law prohibited marriages between “persons of Caucasian blood, or their descendants” and “negroes, Mongolians or Indians, and their descendants.” Joe Kirby claimed that while he was “a person of the Caucasian blood,” his wife, Mayellen, was “a person of negro blood.”

Although Joe Kirby’s charges were rooted in a well-established—and tragic—tradition of American miscegenation law, his court case quickly disintegrated into a definitional dispute that bordered on the ridiculous. The first witness in the case was Joe’s mother, Tula Kirby, who gave her testimony in Spanish through an interpreter. Joe’s lawyer laid out the case by asking Tula Kirby a few seemingly simple questions:

Joe’s lawyer: To what race do you belong?
Tula Kirby: Mexican.
Joe’s lawyer: Are you white or have you Indian blood?
Kirby: I have no Indian blood.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Joe’s lawyer: Do you know the defendant [Mayellen] Kirby?
Kirby: Yes.

Joe’s lawyer: To what race does she belong?
Kirby: Negro.

Then the cross-examination began.

Mayelien’s lawyer: Who was your father?
Kirby: Jose Romero.
Mayelien’s lawyer: Was he a Spaniard?
Kirby: Yes, a Mexican.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Was he born in Spain?
Kirby: No, he was born in Sonora.
Mayellen’s lawyer: And who was your mother?
Kirby: Also in Sonora.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Was she a Spaniard?
Kirby: She was on her fathers side.
Mayelien’s lawyer: And what on her mother’s side?
Kirby: Mexican.
Mayellen’s lawyer: What do you mean by Mexican, Indian, a native [?]
Kirby: I don’t know what is meant by Mexican.
Mayellen’s lawyer: A native of Mexico?
Kirby: Yes, Sonora, all of us.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Who was your grandfather on your father’s side?
Kirby: He was a Spaniard.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Who was he?
Kirby: His name was Ignacio Quevas.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Where was he born?
Kirby: That I don’t know. He was my grandfather.
Mayellen’s lawyer: How do you know he was a [S]paniard then?
Kirby: Because he told me ever since I had knowledge that he was a Spaniard.

Next the questioning turned to Tula’s opinion about Mayellen Kirby’s racial identity.

Mayellen’s lawyer: You said Mrs. [Mayellen] Kirby was a negress. What do you know about Mrs. Kirby’s family?
Kirby: I distinguish her by her color and the hair; that is all I do know.

The second witness in the trial was Joe Kirby, and by the time he took the stand, the people in the courtroom knew they were in murky waters. When Joe’s lawyer opened with the question “What race do you belong to?,” Joe answered “Well . . . ,” and paused, while Mayellen’s lawyer objected to the question on the ground that it called for a conclusion by the witness. “Oh, no,” said the judge, “it is a matter of pedigree.” Eventually allowed to answer the question, Joe said, “I belong to the white race I suppose.” Under cross-examination, he described his father as having been of the “Irish race,” although he admitted, “I never knew any one of his people.”

Stopping at the brink of this morass, Joe’s lawyer rested his case. He told the judge he had established that Joe was “Caucasian.” Mayellen’s lawyer scoffed, claiming that Joe had “failed utterly to prove his case” and arguing that “[Joe’s] mother has admitted that. She has [testified] that she only claims a quarter Spanish blood; the rest of it is native blood.” At this point the court intervened. “I know,” said the judge, “but that does not signify anything.”

From the Decline and Fall of Scientific Racism to an Understanding of Modernist Racial Ideology

The Kirbys’ case offers a fine illustration of Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s observation that, although most Americans are sure they know “race” when they see it, very few can offer a definition of the term. Partly for this reason, the questions of what “race” signifies and what signifies “race” are as important for scholars today as they were for the participants in Kirby v. Kirby seventy-five years ago. Historians have a long—and recently a distinguished—record of exploring this question. Beginning in the 1960s, one notable group charted the rise and fall of scientific racism among American intellectuals. Today, their successors, more likely to be schooled in social than intellectual history, trace the social construction of racial ideologies, including the idea of “whiteness,” in a steadily expanding range of contexts.

Their work has taught us a great deal about racial thinking in American history.  We can trace the growth of racism among antebellum immigrant workers and free-soil northern Republicans; we can measure its breadth in late-nineteenth-century segregation and the immigration policies of the 1920s. We can follow the rise of Anglo-Saxonism from Manifest Destiny through the Spanish-American War and expose the appeals to white supremacy in woman suffrage speeches. We can relate all these developments (and more) to the growth and elaboration of scientific racist attempts to use biological characteristics to scout for racial hierarchies in social life, levels of civilization, even language.

Yet the range and richness of these studies all but end with the 1920s. In contrast to historians of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century United States, historians of the nation in the mid- to late-twentieth century seem to focus on racial ideologies only when they are advanced by the far Right (as in the Ku Klux Klan) or by racialized groups themselves (as in the Harlem Renaissance or black nationalist movements). To the extent that there is a framework for surveying mainstream twentieth-century American racial ideologies, it is inherited from the classic histories that tell of the post-1920s decline and fall of scientific racism. Their final pages link the demise of scientific racism to the rise of a vanguard of social scientists led by the cultural anthropologist Franz Boas: when modern social science emerges, racism runs out of intellectual steam. In the absence of any other narrative, this forms the basis for a commonly held but rarely examined intellectual trickle-down theory in which the attack on scientific racism emerges in universities in the 1920s and eventually, if belatedly, spreads to courts in the 1940s and 1950s and to government policy in the 1960s and 1970s.

A close look at such incidents as the Kirby case, however, suggests a rather different historical trajectory, one that recognizes that the legal system does more than just reflect social or scientific ideas about race; it also produces and reproduces them. By following a trail marked by four miscegenation cases —the seemingly ordinary Kirby v. Kirby (1922) and Estate of Monks (1941) and the path breaking Perez v. Lippold (1948) and Loving v. Virginia (1967)—this article will examine the relation between modern social science, miscegenation law, and twentieth-century American racial ideologies, focusing less on the decline of scientific racism and more on the emergence of new racial ideologies.

In exploring these issues, it helps to understand that the range of nineteenth- century racial ideologies was much broader than scientific racism. Accordingly, I have chosen to use the term racialism to designate an ideological complex that other historians often describe with the terms “race” or “racist.” I intend the term racialism to be broad enough to cover a wide range of nineteenth-century ideas, from the biologically marked categories scientific racists employed to the more amorphous ideas George M. Fredrickson has so aptly called ‘romantic racialism.” Used in this way, “racialism” helps counter the tendency of twentieth-century observers to perceive nineteenth-century ideas as biologically “determinist” in some simple sense. To racialists (including scientific racists), the important point was not that biology determined culture (indeed, the split between the two was only dimly perceived), but that race, understood as an indivisible essence that included not only biology but also culture, morality, and intelligence, was a compellingly significant factor in history and society.

My argument is this: During the 1920s, American racialism was challenged by several emerging ideologies, all of which depended on a modern split between biology and culture. Between the 1920s and the 1960s, those competing ideologies were winnowed down to the single, powerfully persuasive belief that the eradication of racism depends on the deliberate non-recognition of race. I will call that belief modernist racial ideology to echo the self-conscious “modernism” of social scientists, writers, artists, and cultural rebels of the early twentieth century. When historians mention this phenomenon, they usually label it “antiracist” or “egalitarian” and describe it as in stark contrast to the “racism” of its predecessors. But in the new legal scholarship called critical race theory, this same ideology, usually referred to as “color blindness,” is criticized by those who recognize that it, like other racial ideologies, can be turned to the service of oppression.

Modernist racial ideology has been widely accepted; indeed, it compels nearly as much adherence in the late-twentieth-century United States as racialism did in the late nineteenth century. It is therefore important to see it not as what it claims to be—the non-ideological end of racism—but as a racial ideology of its own, whose history shapes many of today’s arguments about the meaning of race in American society…

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The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880–1930; and Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans [Smithers Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2014-03-08 06:33Z by Steven

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880–1930; and Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans [Smithers Review]

The Journal of American History
Volume 100, Issue 4 (March 2014)
pages 1222-1224
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jau065

Gregory D. Smithers, Associate Professor of History
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia

Jolie A. Sheffer, The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2013. xiv, 233 pp. Cloth, $72.00. Paper, $24.95.) Emily Epstein Landau, Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013. xviii, 310 pp. $39.95.)

Since the global financial crisis in 2008 there has been a lot of discussion in newspapers and among historians about the resurgence of economic history. Major university presses have initiated book series devoted to the history of capitalism, while college classrooms across the country reportedly fill with students eager to learn about the past heroics and/or misdeeds of bankers, entrepreneurs, and Wall Street insiders. This turn in historical scholarship has productive potential, for while history is often written about the deceased, it is written for the living so they might better understand the world in which they live. At the same time, the renewed prominence that economic histories now enjoy also has the potential to sideline (and silence) the histories of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and the working classes.

In this context, Jolie A. Sheffer’s The Romance of Race and Emily Epstein Landau’s Spectacular Wickedness are welcome interventions in historical scholarship. Sheffer, whose focus is on the intersecting literary categories of incest and miscegenation, and Landau, who provides a detailed historical examination of the New Orleans vice district of Storyville, demonstrate how understanding the complex and interconnected histories of race, gender, and sexuality remains critical to comprehending the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. In an era dominated by corrupt politicians and…

Read or purchase the review of both books here.

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The House on Bayou Road: Atlantic Creole Networks in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2013-06-04 18:18Z by Steven

The House on Bayou Road: Atlantic Creole Networks in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The Journal of American History
Volume 100, Issue 1 (June 2013)
pages 21-45
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jat082

Pierre Force, Professor of French and History
Columbia University

n 1813 a free man of color named Charles Decoudreau living in New Orleans went to court to repossess a house on the edge of town he had sold two years before to Charles Lamerenx, a white man from Saint Domingue. Despite being on opposite sides of a racial divide, the men and their families had much in common as “Atlantic creoles.” In this study, I test the meaning and explanatory power of Ira Berlin’s concept of “Atlantic creole” by telling the story of two families, one “black” and one “white,” whose paths briefly crossed in New Orleans in 1811.

Berlin’s work on “Atlantic creoles” is a powerful intervention in this field because it begins by telling a familiar story and proceeds with a much less familiar one. The familiar story is that of Africans being forcibly taken to America and stripped of their African identities, and developing a new creole or African American culture that was the product of their experience as slaves working in the plantations. Important as this story is, it captures “only a portion of the history of black life in colonial North America, and that imperfectly.” The story as usually told begins with an unadulterated “African” identity that was somehow erased or transformed by the experience of slavery and gave way to a creole identity that was a mix of various African, European, and Native American components. Inverting this story of origins, Berlin shows that the Africans of the charter generations were always already creole: their experiences and attitudes “were more akin to that of confident, sophisticated natives than of vulnerable newcomers.” Atlantic creoles originated in the encounters between Europeans and Africans on the western coast of Africa, starting in the fifteenth century, well before Christopher Columbus sailed to America. In a few coastal enclaves, …

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Shifting Boundaries of Race and Ethnicity: Indian-Black Intermarriage in Southern New England, 1760-1880

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2013-03-07 20:11Z by Steven

Shifting Boundaries of Race and Ethnicity: Indian-Black Intermarriage in Southern New England, 1760-1880

The Journal of American History
Volume 85, Number 2 (September, 1998)
pages 466-501

Daniel R. Mandell, Professor of History
Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri

In the century following the American Revolution, Indians in southern New England struggled to survive as communities, families, and individuals, in the face of prejudice and the region’s rapidly shifting social and economic landscape. Their struggle was shaped by intermarriage with “foreigners & strangers,” mostly African American men. The persistence, adaptation, and acculturation of particular ethnic groups, and the assimilation of members of those groups, are not unusual topics of study for historians, sociologists, and anthropologists. But the story of New England Indians in the early republic is unusual because it took place on the side of America’s racial line where few studies of ethnicity have gone. Examining relations between Indians and blacks in southern New England illuminates the fundamental flaws of a bichromatic view of racial relations in American history, and it offers new insight into the complexity and uncertainty of ethnic identity and assimilation…

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Miscegenation and the Free Negro in Antebellum “Anglo” Alabama: A Reexamination of Southern Race Relations

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2012-01-29 02:42Z by Steven

Miscegenation and the Free Negro in Antebellum “Anglo” Alabama: A Reexamination of Southern Race Relations

The Journal of American History
Volume 68, Number 1 (June 1981)
pages 16-34

Gary B. Mills (1944-2002), Associate Professor of History
University of Alabama, Gadsden

More than a quarter-century ago, the southern historian Frank L. Owsley predicted: “If the history of every county, or even smaller community in every Southern State would be written from the basic sources, a history of the South would emerge vastly different from any previously written.” A new generation of historians has accepted this challenge, returning to those long-neglected basic sources. While their approach has been more topical than geographical (as Owsley suggested), the results have definitely called into question many of the standard interpretations of the antebellum South.

The southern free Negro—and the miscegenation that is credited with producing him—may serve as an excellent case at point. Traditional interpretations of his genesis and evolution generally have followed a monolithic pattern As a class, by and large, he owed his existence to libidinous, but conscience-stricken, white planters—male planters, necessarily, since the unwritten double-standard of southern white society winked at white male exploitation of Negro women but tolerated no sexual relations that hinted of racial equality, such as white female relations with Negro males or legal interracial marriages Within free Negro society, allegedly, the family unit was unstable, due as much to the pattern of sexual incontinency that slavery forced upon blacks as to the desire of free black women to breed lighter offspring who might pass into white society. As a class, the free black is believed to have been a threat to the institution of slavery. Thus his contacts with slaves were limited, he was ostracized by white society (with the occasional exception of white immigrants and urban working-class whites), and he was all but legis lated out of existence.

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Racial, Religious, and Civic Creole Identity in Colonial Spanish America

Posted in Articles, Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Mexico, Religion on 2011-11-30 03:17Z by Steven

Racial, Religious, and Civic Creole Identity in Colonial Spanish America

The Journal of American History
Volume 17, Issue 3 (Fall 2005)
pages 420-437
DOI: 10.1093/alh/aji024

Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professor of History
University of Texas, Austin

Patrocinio de la Virgen de Guadalupe sobre el Reino de Nueva España (“Auspices of Our Lady of Guadalupe over the Kingdom of New Spain”) (Fig. 1) is an eighteenth-century canvass by an anonymous Mexican painter that rather vividly captures Creole discourses in colonial Mexico. A garlanded Our Lady of Guadalupe stands on top of a fountain from which four kneeling nobles, two indigenous, two Hispanic, drink.

Fountains had long been associated with salvation and purity in Christian discourse. For example, in their 1596 Ghent altarpiece, Fountain of Life and Mercy, Gerard Horenbout (1467–1540) and his son Lucas Horenbout (d. 1544) have the community of the pious drink of a fountain whose source is the body of Christ (Fig. 2). Believers eucharistically partake of the blood of Christ, whose wounds refill the well. Some princes and clerics, including a turbaned potentate and a tonsured friar, who stand for the Turks and Luther, respectively, turn their backs on the fountain as they gather to worship Dame World. To reinforce the Counter-Reformation message, the Flemish Horenbouts have angels hovering over the pious and demons over the infidels and heretics.

The same theological and compositional principles organize the Mexican painting, but the fountain’s spring is Our Lady of Guadalupe and both natives and Hispanics kneel to drink from the well. Using this virgin as the source of the “fountain of life and mercy” came naturally to those who thought of Our Lady of Guadalupe as an immaculate conception, for some of the imagery underlying the belief in the immaculate conception came from the Song of Songs, one of the strangest books of the Old Testament. According to Christian theology, the Song of Songs prefigures the mystery of St. Mary’s conception by describing a woman, the lover of God, as a walled garden (hortus conclusus) and a fountain (“You are like a private garden, my treasure, my bride! You are like a spring that no one can drink from, a fountain of my own” [Song of Solomon 4.12]). The most striking difference between the Mexican painting and Horenbout’s is that in the former no party turns its back on the fountain: both Indians and Europeans belong in the same community of the pious…

…I have chosen the painting Patrocinio de la Virgen de Guadalupe sobre el Reino deNueva España to introduce this essay because it summarizes much of what I believe to be distinct about Creole discourse in colonial Spanish America: Creoles saw their lands to be equally rooted in the indigenous and Hispanic pasts. In their imagination, colonial Spanish American societies were kingdoms, ancien regime societies made up of social estates and corporate privileges, with deep, ancient dynastic roots in both the New World and Spain. For heuristic purposes, I have divided this essay to coincide with the compositional elements of the painting: Creoles and Indians; Creoles and religion, particularly Our Lady of Guadalupe: and Creoles and Spain. But before turning to my tripartite analysis, we need first to clarify who the Creoles were.

1. Criollos

The self-styled Criollos or Creoles were local elites who presided over racially mixed colonial societies of Indians, blacks, Spaniards, and castas (mixed bloods). Creoles felt entitled to rule over these racially and culturally heterogeneous societies, as part of a loosely held Catholic composite monarchy whose center was back in Madrid. By and large they succeeded in their efforts to obtain autonomy vis-a-vis Spain, but their rule over these local “kingdoms” was always precarious and negotiated. Although Peninsular newcomers, including representatives of the sprawling lay and religious bureaucracies that the crown created in Spanish America, were usually marshaled into serving Creole interests either through bribes or marriage, Creoles felt voiceless and discriminated against. To be sure, they were right to complain. Back in Spain, the Indies were seen as corrupting, degenerating environments: frontier societies where one could get rich but sorely lacking in sophistication and culture. Upon arrival in the Indies. Peninsulares felt naturally entitled to hold political, religious, and economic power, and Creoles resented such pretensions…

2. Creole and Indians

How could an ancien regime society where social and racial estates overlapped produce a painting like Patrocinio de la Virgen de Guadalupe sobre el Reino de Nueva España, in which both Indians and Hispanic nobilities are held to be equal participants in the ideal Christian commonwealth? The answer lies precisely in the very nature of the ancien regime the Creole elites envisioned. Creoles saw themselves as the product of the biological, racial amalgamation of Indian and Spanish elites that took place during the first years of colonization.

Clerical writers considered the miscegenation of Spaniards and Indians appropriate only when it brought elites together. The initial colonial sexual embrace of Indian elites and Spanish conquerors was. therefore, welcomed and praised. The type of “vulgar” miscegenation that brought later commoners of different races together was another matter. The vulgar mestizaje was seen as a threat to the existence of idealized hierarchical polities. Mestizos were consistently portrayed as evil, out-of-control individuals responsible for bringing sinful lifestyles, including a culture of lies and deception, into Indian communities that the clergy sought to keep unsoiled…

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The Cosmic Race in Texas: Racial Fusion, White Supremacy, and Civil Rights Politics

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science, Texas, United States on 2011-09-25 22:06Z by Steven

The Cosmic Race in Texas: Racial Fusion, White Supremacy, and Civil Rights Politics

The Journal of American History
Volume 98, Issue 2 (September 2011)
pages 404-419
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jar338

Benjamin H. Johnson, Associate Professor of Global Studies and History
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

In the early twentieth century, a number of Latin American intellectuals embraced racial fusion and predicted that it would one day undo the white supremacy represented by the United States. These ideas influenced Mexican American civil rights advocates in Texas in the 1930s and 1940s, who found the embrace of hybridity to be a realistic description of their own racial backgrounds and an effective rejoinder to Jim Crow’s emphasis on racial purity. Attacking the consensus that an aspiration for whiteness drove these civil rights claims, Benjamin H. Johnson finds deep ties between Mexican American and Mexican political cultures and concludes that borderlands histories can take a transnational approach without obscuring the influence of nation-states or denying the emancipatory potential of claims to national belonging.

“The days of the pure whites, the victors of today,” proclaimed José Vasconcelos in 1925, “are as numbered as were the days of their predecessors. Having fulfilled their destiny of mechanizing the world, they themselves have set, without knowing it, the basis for a new period: the period of the fusion and mixing of all peoples.” Vasconcelos wrote these words in Mexico as his four-year tenure as the secretary of the nation’s public education system came to a close and as his quest for an elected position (first the governorship of the state of Oaxaca and then the presidency) began. They appeared in La raza cósmica, an enormously influential work that circulated across the hemisphere. Whereas the U.S. intellectual and civil rights crusader W. E. B. Du Bois had prophesied that the color line would be the problem of the twentieth century, Vasconcelos confidently predicted its erasure. The struggles of a country such as Mexico, which had just emerged from a decade of revolution and civil war, were for Vasconcelos at the center of global dynamics, as they heralded the rise of the cosmic race of his title, first in Latin America and then across the globe.

Although Vasconcelos was not well known in the United States, where his predictions would have surely struck both the architects and victims of a particularly brutal phase of white supremacy as ludicrous, he did have a profound influence there. His ideas, and the postrevolutionary political and social order of which they were a part, provided Mexican American civil rights leaders in Texas in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly those involved with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a reflection of their own racial self-conception and a set of arguments with which to critique white supremacy.

This article examines the connections…

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The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family [Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2011-06-09 20:42Z by Steven

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family [Review]

The Journal of American History
Volume 98, Issue 1 (2011)
Pages 154-155
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jar004

Brenda E. Stevenson, Professor of History
University of California, Los Angeles

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. By Annette Gordon-Reed. (New York: Norton, 2008. 802 pp. Cloth, ISBN 978-0-393-06477-3. Paper, ISBN 978-0-393-33776-1.)

Annette Gordon-Reed’s much-lauded book (it has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and was a national best seller) is an ambitious attempt to re-create the lives of several generations of one slave family in the American South. Gordon-Reed traces this family from one of their original African ancestors, who arrived in Virginia during the colonial era, through the antebellum decades. This is not just any extended enslaved family, however. Her black and mixed-race subjects are the Hemingses—the founding father Thomas Jefferson’s slaves and family, by marriage and blood.

Building on the research and analysis of her book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997), Gordon-Reed, a legal scholar by training, adds admirably to her primary- and secondary-source research base for this work, carefully synthesizing the historiography descriptive of the social relationships in American slavery and drawing on the rich data and analysis supplied by historians and archeologists at Monticello. Gordon-Reed treats readers to a journey of no short distance (the book is almost seven hundred pages in length!) in which she explores several avenues of possibility that might shed light on the social lives, relationships, and family ties…

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The Hidden History of Mestizo America

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United Kingdom, United States on 2011-06-08 16:12Z by Steven

The Hidden History of Mestizo America

The Journal of American History
Volume 82, Number 3 (December, 1995)
pages 941-964
5 illustrations

Gary B. Nash, Professor Emeritus of History
University of California, Los Angeles

This essay was delivered as the presidential address at the national meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Washington, March 31, 1995.

La Nature aime les croisements (Nature loves cross-breedings).
Ralph Waldo Emerson

On a dank January evening in London in 1617, the audience was distracted from a performance of Ben Johnson’s The Vision of Delight by the persons sitting next to King James I and Queen Anne: a dashing adventurer who had just returned from the outer edge of the fledgling English empire and his new wife, ten years his junior. The king’s guests were John Rolfe and his wife Rebecca—a name newly invented to anglicize the daughter of another king who ruled over a domain as big and populous as a north English county. She was Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan. The first recorded interracial marriage in American history had taken place because Rebecca’s father and the English leaders in the colony of Virginia were eager to bring about a detente after a decade of abrasive and sometimes bloody European-Algonkian contact on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Rolfe-Pocahontas marriage might have become the embryo of a mestizo United States. I use the term mestizo in the original sense—referring to racial intermixture of all kinds. In the early seventeenth century, negative ideas about miscegenation had hardly formed; indeed, the word itself did not appear for another two and a half centuries. King James was not worried about interracial marriage. He fretted only about whether a commoner such as Rolfe was entitled to wed the daughter of a king. Nearly a century later, Robert Beverley’s History and Present State of Virginia (1705) described Indian women as “generally beautiful, possessing uncommon delicacy of shape and features,” and he regretted that Rolfe’s intermarriage was not followed by many more.

William Byrd, writing at the same time, was still commending what he called the “modern policy” of racial intermarriage employed in French Canada and Louisiana by which alliances rather than warfare were effected. Byrd confessed his preference for light-skinned women (a woman’s skin color, however, rarely curbed his sexual appetite), but he was sure that English “false delicacy” blocked a “prudent alliance” that might have saved Virginians much tragedy. Most colonies saw no reason to ban intermarriage with Native Americans (North Carolina was the exception).

In 1784, Patrick Henry nearly pushed through the Virginia legislature a law offering bounties for white-Indian marriages and free public education for interracial children. In the third year of his presidency, Thomas Jefferson pleaded “to let our settlements and theirs [Indians] meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people.” Six years later, just before returning to Monticello, Jefferson promised a group of western Indian chiefs, “you will unite yourselves with us,… and we shall all be Americans; you will mix with us by marriage, your blood will run in our veins, and will spread with us over this great island.”

In 1809, almost two hundred years after Pocahontas sat in the theater with James I, the sixteen-year-old Sam Houston, taking a page from the book of Benjamin Franklin, ran away from his autocratic older brothers. The teenage Franklin fled south from Boston to Philadelphia, but Houston made his way west from Virginia to Hiwassee Island in western Tennessee. There he took up life among the Cherokees and was soon adopted by Ooleteka, who would become the Cherokee chief in 1820. Reappearing in white society in 1818, Houston launched a tumultuous, alcohol-laced, violent, and roller-coaster political career, but he retained his yen for the Cherokee life. After his disastrous first marriage at age thirty-six, he rejoined the Cherokee, became the ambassador of the Cherokee nation to Washington (in which office he wore Indian regalia) in 1829, and married Ooleteka’s niece, the widowed, mixed-blood Cherokee woman Tiana Rogers Gentry.

…This brings us to a consideration of the virulent racial ideology that arose among the dominant Euro-Americans and that profoundly affected people of color. How most Americans came to believe that character and culture are literally carried in the blood, and how the idea of racial mixture was almost banished officially, has its own history. How would it come to happen, as Barbara Fields has expressed it, that a white woman can give birth to a Black child but a Black woman can never give birth to a white child? How would it come to be that the children of Indian-white marriages would contemptuously be referred to by whites as half- breeds?

The sequence of legal definitions of Blacks in Virginia demonstrates this progression. In 1785, the revolutionary generation defined a Black person as anyone with a Black parent or grandparent, thus conferring whiteness on whomever was less than one-quarter Black. Virginia changed the law 125 years later to define as “Negro,” as the term then was used, anyone who was at least one-sixteenth Black. In 1930, Virginia adopted the notorious “one-drop” law—defining as Black anyone with one drop of African blood, however that might have been determined…

There is nothing new about crossing racial boundaries; what is new is the frequency of border crossings and boundary hoppings and the refusal to bow to the thorn-filled American concept, perhaps unknown outside the United States, that each person has a race but only one. Racial blending is undermining the master idea that race is an irreducible marker among diverse peoples—an idea in any case that always has been socially constructed and has no scientific validity. (In this century, revivals of purportedly scientifically provable racial categories have surfaced every generation or so. Ideas die hard, especially when they are socially and politically useful.) Twenty-five years ago, it would have been unthinkable for Time-Life to publish a computer-created chart of racial synthesizing; seventy-five years ago, an issue on “The New Face of America” might have put Time out of business for promoting racial impurity…

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Sex, Segregation, and the Sacred after Brown

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Religion, Social Science, United States on 2009-11-24 18:05Z by Steven

Sex, Segregation, and the Sacred after Brown

The Journal of American History
Volume 91, Number 1 (June 2004)
pages 119-144
DOI: 10.2307/3659617

Jane Dailey, Associate Professor of American History
University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

The religious history of the civil rights movement is strangely one-sided. “God was on our side,” the activists have said, and scholars have tended to agree. But the opponents of civil rights also used religion in their cause. Jane Dailey argues that historians have underestimated the role of religion in supporting segregation as well as in dismantling it. Viewing the civil rights movement as a contest over Christian orthodoxy helps explain the arguments made by both sides and the strategic actions they took. Dailey examines the connections among antimiscegenation anxiety, politics, and religion to reveal how deeply interwoven Christian theology was in the segregation ideology that supported the discriminatory world of Jim Crow.

…This article explores how religion served as a vessel for one particular language crucial to racial segregation in the South: the language of miscegenation. It was through sex that racial segregation in the South moved from being a local social practice to a part of the divine plan for the world. It was thus through sex that segregation assumed, for the believing Christian, cosmological significance. Focusing on the theological arguments wielded by segregation’s champions reveals how deeply interwoven Christian theology was in the segregationist ideology that supported the discriminatory world of Jim Crow. It also demonstrates that religion played a central role in articulating not only the challenge that the civil rights movement offered Jim Crow but the resistance to that challenge…

…Although rebutted at the time and later, Ariel’s argument remained current through the middle of the twentieth century, buttressed along the way by such widely read books as Charles Carroll’s The Negro a Beast (1900) and The Tempter of Eve (1902), both of which considered miscegenation the greatest of sins. Denounced for its acceptance of separate creations, The Negro a Beast was nonetheless enormously influential. Recalling the door-to-door sales campaign that brought the book to the notice of whites across the South, a historian of religion lamented in 1909 that “during the opening years of the twentieth century it has become the Scripture of tens of thousands of poor whites, and its doctrine is maintained with an appalling stubbornness and persistence.” In this tradition, miscegenation—or, more commonly, amalgamation or mongrelization—was the original sin, the root of all corruption in humankind.

The expulsion from Paradise did not solve the problem of miscegenation. By the time of Noah race mixing was so prevalent that, in the words of one civil rights–era pamphleteer, “God destroyed ‘all flesh’ in that part of the world for that one sin. Only Noah was ‘perfect in his generation’ … so God saved him and his family to rebuild the Adamic Race.” That perfection did not last long, however; according to some traditions, the cursed son of Ham, already doomed to a life of servitude, mixed his blood with “pre-Adamite negroes” in the Land of Nod. Again and again God’s wrath is aroused by the sin of miscegenation, and the people feel the awful weight of his punishment: Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for this sin, as was the Tower of Babel, where, in a failed effort to protect racial purity, God dispersed the peoples across the globe. King Solomon, “reputed to be the wisest of men, with a kingdom of matchless splendor and wealth was ruined as a direct result of his marrying women of many different races,” and the “physical mixing of races” that occurred between the Israelites and the Egyptians who accompanied Moses into the wilderness “resulted in social and spiritual weakness,” leading God to sentence the Exodus generation to die before reaching the Promised Land. For evidence that the God of Noah remained as adamantly opposed to racial mixing as ever, white southern believers could look back a mere fifteen years to the Holocaust. The liquidation of six million people was caused, D. B. Red explained in his pamphlet Race Mixing a Religious Fraud (c. 1959), by the sexual “mingling” of the Jews, who suffered what Red represents as God’s final solution to the miscegenation problem: “Totally destroy the people involved.” Here, surely, was proof that segregation was “divine law, enacted for the defense of society and civilization…

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