Mixed-race History: Some Hidden Information

‘White,”Mixed’ or’Other?’

Some Books and Articles Your Librarian Didn’t Tell you About!

“White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana” by Virginia R Dominguez, 1986 — Rutgers University Press.

Dominguez is one of the few serious researchers in the area of racial mixture and white racial identity. She shows the importance of individual choice in overcoming the legal manipulations and bogus statutes of the power elite. She is also one of the few scholars honest enough to see the connection between the Hispanics and non-Hispanics of interracial ancestry. Indeed, she notes that the use of the term “Hispanic” as a racial category is designed to help government avoid dealing with the reality of racial intermixture.

“The Forgotten People: Cane River’s Creoles of Color” by Gary B. Mills — Louisiana State University Press, 1977.

Mills shows the higher than expected status that mixed-blood Creoles had in antebellum Louisiana (as does Dominguez in White by Definition). Remember that whenever you hear references to “black” plantation owners in the antebellum South, someone is trying to steal history from racially mixed people (mulattoes, quadroons, etc.) and give it to blacks.

“Miscegenation and the Free Negro (sic) in Antebellum ‘Anglo’ Alabama: A Reexamination of Southern Race Relations” by Gary B. Mills in The Journal of American History, Vol. 6, No. 1, June 1981. Pp. 16-34.

Check pages 27 through 31 of this long articles and you will see where Mills shows that families of known racially mixed ancestry moved from “colored” to “white” status within a generation or two with the knowledge and consent of the white community. This information totally contradicts the myth of “passing.”

“Race and Kinship in a Midwestern Town: The Black (sic) Experience in Monroe, Michigan, 1900-1915” by James E. DeVries — University of Illinois Press.

DeVries plainly states that the white community of Monroe, Michigan accepted the mobility of part-black whites into the white community. This again contradicts the “passing” myth. DeVries, however, is too much of a “liberal” racist to admit that and offend black elites. He even goes so far as to suggest that the white community of Monroe was “racist” for accepting part- black whites into the white community. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t!

A quote from the book: “Crossing over was not the silent mechanism that some historians have indicated. It involved not only racial heritage but, ironically, family and personal identity. Could an individual known to have an African ancestry be regarded and defined as white? Yes, the interracial backgrounds and unions off the Fosters and Duncansons were matters of public knowledge. Each of the families had a long, continuous heritage in Monroe, and descendants residing in the community today beat no stigma of race and are generally viewed as Caucasian.” (P. 150)

“Black (sic) Masters: A Free Family of Color in the Old South” by Michael P. Johnson and James L. Roark — W W. Norton and Company.

Johnson and Roark found that a “white mulatto” member of a “free colored” plantation-owning family served in the Confederate Army with the full knowledge and acceptance of the white community. “White” status seemed to be more closely related to loyalty issues rather the strict “purity.” (p. 307).


“Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986” by David Montejano — University of Texas Press, Austin.

Montejano describes the great inconsistencies in defining Mexicans as either “white” or a separate “race.” Mexican-Americans faced segregation similar to a Jim Crow system. The recent PBS series Chicano! also illustrates this fact. The existence of a racially mixed ethnic group with numerous racial phenotypes and class distinctions confounds the efforts of white elites to establish clear racial boundaries. Mexicans are a mixture of Indian (predominately), Spanish and black (from the slaves brought to colonial Mexico by the Spanish). Though they usually fail to mention the third element in their ancestry, many Mexicans have clearly Negroid facial feature and hair texture.

“Colored and Catholic: The Lebanese in Birmingham, Alabama” by Nancy Faires Conklin and Nora Faires. In “Crossing the Waters: Arabic -Speaking Immigrants to the United States Before 1940” edited by Eric J. Hooglund — Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

This article relates the efforts of Lebanese immigrants in Alabama to establish “white” status and make themselves an exception to the Jim Crow laws. The Lebanese were too dark for their claim to “white” status to go unquestioned. You might say they were unknowing victims of the degradation of “Anglo” mulattoes.

“Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans” by Ronald Takaki — Little, Brown and Company.

Takaki states that “In 1909 federal authorities classified Armenians as “Asiatic” and denied naturalized citizenship to Armenian immigrants.” Armenians had to go to court to have themselves declared “white.” South Asians also were also denied “white”status due to their dark skin colors (despite the efforts of Anthropologists who claimed that skin color in “Caucasians” range from very pale to very dark brown or almost black).

“Pocahontas: The Evolution of An American Narrative” by Robert S. Tilton — Cambridge University Press.

Tilton explores the role of Pocahontas and the “Indian Princess” legend in creating white elite identity and legitimizing the stealing of Indian lands. The claim of descent from an Indian Princess is very popular among many whites. Tilton argues that is a way of saying that we didn’t steal the land but inherited it.

Here’s another interesting quote from Tilton:

“…for many base wretches amongst us take up with negro women, by which means the country swarms with mulatto bastards, and these mulattoes, if but three generations removed from the black father or mother, may, by the indulgence of the laws of the country, intermarry with the white people, and actually do every day so marry. Now, if instead of this abominable practice which hath polluted the blood of many amongst us, we had taken Indian wives in the first place, it would have made them some compensation for their lands. …We should become rightful heirs to their lands and should not have smutted our blood…”

The Rev. Peter Fontaine of Virginia, 1757.

“Mixed-Bloods and Tribal Dissolution: Charles Curtis and the Quest for Indian Identity” by William E. Unrau — University Press of Kansas.

Unrau relates how mixed blood or “white Indians” were promoted by government as a “civilizing” influence on real or full-blood Indians. Charles Curtis is often listed as an “Indian” (1/8) Vice President of the U.S., but he was fully “white” in every caste or social sense. We should ask what is the difference, if any, between a “mixed blood Indian” and a part-Indian “white?” What is the role of a “mixed” elite (for either Indians or blacks) in reinforcing ideas of white superiority and institutions of white supremacy? Indeed, whenever blacks insist on claiming people who aren’t of Negroid phenotype for their “race” aren’t they really expressing an inferiority complex and a tacit belief that their genetic stock needs to be improved with the blood of their hatred but adored white “enemy?”

WHEN JESUS CAME, THE CORN MOTHERS WENT AWAY: MARRIAGE, SEXUALITY AND POWER IN NEW MEXICO, 1500-1846. By Ramon A. Gutierrez (Stanford University Press, 1991),

This is an excellent study of racial intermixture in New Mexico under colonial Spanish rule and the early days of the Mexican republic. Check out this passage regarding the origin of the word “mulatto”:

“Professor John Nitti of the University of Wisconsin’s Medieval Spanish Dictionary Project informs me that the word `mulato’ initially meant a racial mixture of any sort. Offspring of Spaniards and Moors were known as `mulatos’ in medieval Iberia, as were later mixtures between blacks and Indians, and between Frenchmen and Indians. Eventually `mulato’ came to mean specifically a mixture between a black and a white. `Mulato’ appears in New Mexican church records, though there is no evidence that the individuals classed as such had any black African ancestry”

Here’s a passage that reminds us of many of today’s Latino leaders:

“Don Pedro Pino, New Mexico’s representative to the 1812 Cortes at Cadiz, reported to that assembly that `In New Mexico there has never been any caste of people of African origin. My province is probably the only one in Spanish America to enjoy such distinction.’ Don Pedro was patently wrong, but advanced the claim to validate a myth he wished to perpetuate, namely that New Mexico’s nobility had preserved their honor and racial purity over the centuries.”


This book SHOULD be called “THE FREE MULATTO OR MULTIRACIAL…” However, Berlin would never have won the National Historical Society Book Award if he had been that honest. Most of the “free colored” caste could be called multiracial as opposed to “black.” The best thing about Berlin’s book is how he details the antebellum laws that acknowledged varying admixtures of black ancestry in the white population (as opposed to the “one drop” rule that really had its origins in the 20th century). Here’s an interesting passage:

“Fearful of pushing too many persons of both colors to the wrong sides of the color line, the South Carolina legislature never legally defined the Negro and left the problem of distinguishing between mixed-bloods and whites up to the courts. South Carolina jurists generally drew the line between white and black at somewhere between a quarter and an eighth Negro ancestry, but they also made legal passing contingent on social acceptability as well. .. Allowing the question of whiteness to turn on public acceptance as well as genealogy enabled many well-placed whites to free their mulatto children from their proscribed status.”

MEXICAN AMERICANS: LEADERSHIP, IDEOLOGY, & IDENTITY, 1930-1960. By Mario T. Garcia. (Yale University Press, 1989).

A really interesting history of Mexican American political leadership and its quest to fight racial discrimination against Mexican-Americans while pretending to be a pure “white” ethnic group. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) constantly went to court arguing that position. However, you’ll never see them denounced for “passing” by black or liberal elites.

SLAVES OF THE WHITE GOD: BLACKS IN MEXICO, 1570-1650. By Colin A. Palmer (Harvard University Press, 1976).

The author details the black slavery in Mexico and the ancestry that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans pretend doesn’t exist.

BETWEEN RACE AND ETHNICITY: CAPE VERDEAN AMERICAN IMMIGRANTS, 1860- 1965. By Marilyn Halter (University of Illinois Press, 1993).

Struggle of Cape Verdean (Portuguese/African) Americans to establish their identity in the United States and their relationship with “white” (still pretty dark) Portuguese.


The origins, persecution and re-emergence of a Southern multiracial ethnic group. Kennedy provides fascinating accounts of the politics of racial classification.

CREOLES OF COLOR OF THE GULF SOUTH. Edited by James H. Dormon. (University of Tennessee Press, 1996).

How multiracial Creoles have maintained their ethnic identity despite oppression.


This book is interesting to students of racial classification because of the racist smear campaign conducted during Harding’s presidential campaign in 1920 – that he was part Negro. Russell provides fascinating detail on this campaign, an issue that the Harding family is still sensitive about. Harding won anyway.

THE SWEETER THE JUICE: A FAMILY MEMOIR IN BLACK AND WHITE. By Shirley Taylor Haizlip. (Simon and Schuster, 1994).

Haizlip starts out as a devoted believer in the “one drop” myth who wonders why she and her mother are the only “white” members of her “black” family. She decides to trace her mother’s missing relatives, imaging them to be “blacks” who are “passing” as white. She’s forced to change her mind as she encounters white relatives who remain “white” despite the revelation of their partial black ancestry. Haizlip herself moves more toward a multiracial as opposed to a purely “black” identity.

THE LIVES OF JEAN TOOMER: A HUNGER FOR WHOLENESS. By Cynthia Earl Kerman and Richard Eldridge.. (Louisiana State University Press, 1987 — 1-800-861- 3477).

Falsely labeled as a “black” author because of his book of poetry and short stories, CANE (which deals almost exclusively with multiracial people), Toomer fought a life-long battle to be recognized for what he truly was. His theories of a “universal man” beyond racial demarcation makes him an important dissenting voice against the hypodescent status quo.
Also see The Jean Toomer Pages

DESEGREGATING THE ALTAR: THE JOSEPHITES AND THE STRUGGLE FOR BLACK PRIESTS, 1871-1960. By Stephen J. Ochs. (Louisiana State University Pres, 1990).

Readers should know that there is a movement among black and liberal American Catholics to create a “black Catholic” history that rightfully belongs to multiracial Americans. Louisiana Creoles are the victims of this attempt to create “black” Catholics, but the most prominent victims are three brothers born to an Irish-American father and a mulatto mother in antebellum Georgia. James Augustine Healy was bishop of the diocese of Portland, Maine from 1875 until his death in 1900. Patrick Francis Healy served successively as professor, prefect of studies, vice-rector, and, from 1874 to 1882, as rector of Georgetown University. Alexander Sherwood Healy served as rector of Holy Cross Cathedral and, for a few months before his death in 1875, as pastor of St. James Parish in Boston. Ochs admits that the Healys did not identify with blacks but with their Irish heritage and were not considered “black” by others. Indeed, not only were the Healy brothers only one-quarter “black” and of caucasian phenotype, but it was their Irish father who reared them as Catholics and paid for the educations that allowed them to rise to such high positions in their Church. Nevertheless, hypodecent fanatics like Ochs claim that “blacks” deserve all the credit.

THE MISSISSIPPI CHINESE: BETWEEN WHITE AND BLACK by James W. Loewen. (Waveland Press, 1988).

Loewen describes how the Chinese moved from “colored” to “white” in Mississippi by agreeing to the demands of the white elite that they cut all ties with part-black Chinese and those married to “colored” wives. You’ll never see the Chinese denounced for “passing” in black or liberal publications.

CHINESE IN THE POST-CIVIL WAR SOUTH: A PEOPLE WITHOUT A HISTORY. By Lucy M. Cohen. (Louisiana State University Press, 1984).

How the Chinese used their in-between status to intermarry with both whites and “colored” in the South.

WHITE BY LAW: THE LEGAL CONSTRUCTION OF RACE. By Ian F. Haney Lopez. (New York University Press, 1996).

How is “white” defined in the U.S.? The definition varies tremendously. Lopez concerns himself mainly with immigration issues and how East Asians, South Asians, Latinos, Armenians, Arabs and others made legal efforts to prove themselves “white” in order to gain U.S. citizenship.

MAKING ETHNIC CHOICES: CALIFORNIA’S PUNJABI MEXICAN AMERICANS. By Karen Isaksen Leonard. (Temple University Press, 1992).

When men from India’s Punjab province were not allowed to bring women with them from India due to racist immigration laws, they intermarried with Mexican women. A multiracial Punjabi-Mexican American ethnic group was the result.


The author describes how her multiracial Chinese and European American family thrived in Los Angeles, California despite anti-miscegenation laws. Marriages between family members of Chinese ancestry and “whites” were conducted in nearby Mexico and then the couples moved back to California. California obviously did not prosecute couples who evaded its anti-miscegenation laws the way Southern states did.

THE TEMPLE BOMBING by Melissa Fay Greene (Addison-Wesley Publishing Compnay, 1996).

The title refers to the infamous bombing of Atlanta’s oldest and most prominent synagogue on October 12, 1958 by white supremacists. However, the books is also a social history of Southern Jews, their marginal position in Southern race relations, and their constant fear that their “whiteness” (the “passing” theme) could be challenged.

SCENES IN RED, WHITE AND BLACK: THE EUGENIC ASSAULT ON AMERICA by J. David Smith. (George Mason University Press, 1993).

Smith shows the 20th century link between anti-miscegenation laws and the eugenics movement. Forced sterilization of the institutionalized, racial registration and restricting miscegenation were all linked to the idea of “improving” the [white] gene pool. The best part of the book is the hidden history of the minority of fanatical racial purists who wanted to ban all non-caucasian ancestry (with the exception of small amounts of American Indian ancestry possessed by white elites such as the descendants of Pocahontas) from the white “race.” Special emphasis is placed on Virginia and the men whose names are unknown but should go down in infamy: Walter Plecker (who headed Virginia’s bureau of vital statistics and delighted in hunting down “impure” whites and Indians) and Virginia aristocrat John Powell of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs. Showing the link between black nationalism and white racism, Smith details the friendship between John Powell and Marcus Garvey (both believed in promoting racial purity).

THE RAMAPO MOUNTAIN PEOPLE. By David Stephen Cohen. (Rutgers University Press, 1974).

Also called “Jackson Whites,” this is the story of a multiracial community of Dutch, Indian and black ancestry that has existed since colonial times.

AMBIGUOUS LIVES: FREE WOMEN OF COLOR IN RURAL GEORGIA, 1789-1879. By Adele Logan Alexander. (University of Arkansas Press, 1991).

While the author slavishly subscribes to hypodescent, she provides good historical detail on how the privileged social and educational opportunities of Southern multiracials were due to their often close ties with whites fathers and other relatives (as opposed to the myth of the callous white rapist slavemaster “breeding” more slaves). These privileges created the myth that mulattoes and mixed-whites were the “flower of the colored race.” These “mulatto elites” filled the “Negro” colleges and universities and reinforced the idea that intelligence comes from “white blood.” When you recognize this history, you can see why the NAACP makes the ridiculous claim that losing non-blacks to a “multiracial” category will somehow destroy all the progress that “blacks” have made. Many of them probably still have the tacit belief that intelligence comes from “white blood.”

WOMEN OF COLOR, DAUGHTER OF PRIVILEGE: AMANDA AMERICA DICKSON, 1949-1893. By Kent Anderson Leslie. (University of Georgia Press, 1995).

This book should be read with AMBIGUOUS LIVES. The biography of an “elite mulatto lady” who inherited her white father’s plantation and became the richest “colored” woman in the U.S.

INDIAN SLAVERY IN COLONIAL TIMES WITHIN THE PRESENT LIMITS OF THE UNITED STATES by Almon Wheeler Lauber (reprinted 1970 by Corner House Publishers).

This work, originally published in 1913, proves that extensive Indian slavery existed side-by-side with Negro slavery in colonial America in virtually all the colonies.


The history of the Lumbee Indian tribe of North Carolina (now officially the largest Indian tribe east of the Mississippi) should be required reading for the study of racial intermixture in the United States. Listed as “free colored” (a generic term for “non-white”) during the antebellum period, they fought a long and constant battle against the state of North Carolina for the right to call themselves “Indians” instead of “Negroes.”

POWHATAN’S MANTLE: INDIANS IN THE COLONIAL SOUTHEAST. Edited by Peter H. Wood, et. al. (University of Nebraska Press, 1989).

This book also deals with Indian slavery. Important mention is made of uneven sex ratios among Indian and early black slaves, with women predominating among the former and men among the latter. Black and Indian intermixture probably far outnumbers black-white intermixture. Colonial merchants waged slave-raids against Indian tribes and “An inestimable number of Indains from many tribes found themselves either being shipped away as slaves from colonial ports or working as slaves in and around them.”


Emphasis on Indian slavery and intermixture with whites and blacks.

SOUTHEASTERN INDIANS SINCE THE REMOVAL ERA. Edited by Walter L. Williams (University of Georgia Press, 1979).

Good essays on the history of the Lumbees of North Carolina, the Houma of Louisiana, the Catawba of South Carolina and the Indians of Virginia in their struggle for ethnic survival and dignity within a white/black Jim Crow dichotomy.

SLAVERY AND THE EVOLUTION OF CHEROKEE SOCIETY, 1540-1866. By Theda Perdue (University of Tennessee Press, 1979).

THE CHEROKEES: A POPULATION HISTORY. by Russell Thornton (University of Nebraska Press, 1990).

CREEKS AND SEMINOLES. By J. Leitch Wright, Jr. (University of Nebraska Press, 1986).

The three books listed above contain important information on the social and legal implications of Cherokee intermixture with whites and blacks.

THE DEATHS OF SYBIL BOLTON: AN AMERICAN HISTORY by Dennis McAuliffe, Jr. (Times Books, 1994).

This book provides valuable information regarding the legal status and psychology of mixed-blood “white” members of Indian tribes. The author, a journalist, started out by investigating the death of his maternal grandmother, who was part-Osage Indian and an enrolled member of the tribe. Concentrate on the history and ignore the author’s attempt to impose a “one drop of Indian blood” rule on himself and his family – using the “one drop of black blood” myth to justify it. I note that in the many book reviews that appeared when the book was first published, McAuliffe’s historical research was praised but no one took his claim of being a white “Indian” seriously – quite the opposite of what happens when whites claim to be “black” (e.g., Gregory Howard Williams).

THE LIFE OF OKAH TUBBEE. Edited by Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr. (University of Nebraska Press, 1988).

This book is an introduction to the autobiography of a Choctaw Indian who was enslaved as a child. The book is marred by Littlefield’s racist introduction, in which he insists on referring to Tubbee as a “black” passing for “Indian.” Littlefield claims that Tubbee was born to a black slave mother and a white father who emancipated the mother and two older children (who later became prosperous members of the “free colored” community but kept Okah Tubee (then called Warner McCary) as the slave of his own mother and siblings. Littlefield, in his devotion to hypodescent, does not want to consider that Tubbee was most likely a Choctaw slave trying to claim his lost heritage.

LONG LACE; THE TRUE STORY OF AN IMPOSTER. By Donald B. Smith. (University of Nebraska Press, 1982).

This story is fascinating history as long as you ignore the racist (“black” passing for Indian) remarks of the author. Long Lance (born Sylvester Long) was born in North Carolina of Indian, white and black ancestry. If his ancestry had been Indian and white only, Smith would praise him to the skies for seeking out his Indian heritage. Smith, however, insists throughout the book that Long was only good enough for his small amount of black ancestry. Long Lance launched a career as a journalist and gained fame as a provocative writer and eloquent speaker for the cause of the North American Indian.

THE LUMBEE PROBLEM: THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN INDIAN PEOPLE by Karen I. Blu. (Cambridge University Press, 1980.)

How the multiracial people now called the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County, North Carolina fought the state’s attempts to classify them as “Negroes” and finally achieved recognition as Indians. Fascinating details on how Robeson County depends upon associations and social ties to “define” people since phenotype and “black blood” cannot be depended upon to determine racial classification in the county.


Forbes, a prominent scholar of Native American studies, explores the evolution of racial terminology and the changing meanings of racial terms such as “black,” “mulatto,” and “mestizo.” Forbes emphasizes the constant racial mixing that has occurred throughout the centuries between Native Americans, Africans and Europeans.


What is especially interesting to students of racial classification is how Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (its infamous “one drop” law) was used to persecute Native Americans.

MANY TENDER TIES: WOMEN IN FUR-TRADE SOCIETY, 1670-1870. By Sylvia van Kirk. (University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).

THE NEW PEOPLES; BEING AND BECOMING METIS IN NORTH AMERICA. Edited by Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S.H. Brown. (University of Nebraska Press, 1985).

The two books listed above are excellent histories of the origins, flowering, persecution and resilience of Metis (European and Native American) society in both Canada and the northwestern U.S.

ROBERT STAFFORD OF CUMBERLAND ISLAND: GROWTH OF A PLANTER by Mary R. Bullard (University of Georgia Press, 1995).

Robert Stafford was a wealthy Georgia planter who had several children by mulatto women and provided handsomely for them. The book provides fascinating information on how wealth could socially “whiten” people of known multiracial ancestry.

POOR RELATIONS; THE MAKING OF A EURASIAN COMMUNITY IN BRITISH INDIA 1773-1833 by Christopher Hawes (Curzon Press, 1996; may be purchased from University of Hawaii Press).

The Anglo-Indians were created by intermarriage and mating between British soldiers and Indian women. As early as the 1830s, Eurasians (later called Anglo-Indians) already exceeded the number of British civilians in colonial India. At the time of India’s independence, they outnumbered ALL British residents. Yet, there has been little historical attention to the development of this mixed-race community, the problems which it faced (social, economic and attitudinal) nor to the questions which its rise posed to British authority.

Hawes describes how the mixed-race experience in India is typical of the “European colonial adventure” worldwide. The social and legal experiences of mixed-race people is influenced by class status (especially the father’s status), birth within marriage versus the stigma of bastardy (British discrimination against people born outside of wedlock was especially harsh), and the conflict between the law and family ties.

Hawes’ research shows that the British as individuals had no real qualms about interracial marriage and, contrary to the hypodescent rule, wanted their biracial offspring to be British. The problem lay with British elites whose devotion to the new “scientific” racist doctrines resulted in oppression typical of the mixed-race experience:

a) The mixed-race communities are utilized to maintain colonial authority but denied the highest offices reserved for “pure” whites (with a few exceptions for multiracial persons of great wealth).

b) The colonial power fears that the mixed-race community will present a challenge to “white” authority and blur the lines between the “superior” European and the “inferior” non-European.

c) The mixed-race community (especially its educated elites) maintains its ambition to be treated as part of the European caste, but is subject to laws that prevent a full identification with the ruling nation to which it is bound by blood and culture.

“Eurasian populations…undermined, in the most public manner possible, concepts of colonial rule which depended ultimately on maintaining the illusion of the racial superiority of white European males. The consequent dilemma for Eurasian populations was how they might identify fully with their parent colonial societies, on which they were economically dependent and to which they were culturally bound. They shared in what has been termed the `imagined community’ of nationalism as fully as their European fathers and forefathers, but were denied participation on equal terms. In turn the predicament of colonial authority was how far should it go in acknowledging its children of mixed race. In practice it seems that there was an uneasy compromise in colonial societies between disavowal and acceptance. Parental responsibility and considerations of Eurasian utility to the regime were in tension with concepts of Eurasian political unreliability and the damage which full acceptance might do to perceptions of white prestige.”


Benfey spends less time on the famous French painter Edgar Degas and the alleged influence that New Orleans and his Creole relatives had on his work than he does in relating the story of one of Degas’ relatives: a brilliant “quadroon” engineer named Norbert Rillieux who invented an efficient steam-driven apparatus for refining sugar.

When you ignore Benfey’s racist use of the term “black” to describe people who are far from it, you find important information about the privileges and oppressions experienced by mixed-race Creoles in 19th century New Orleans. Rillieux (who is often falsely listed as a “black” inventor) was a highly respected professional whose predominate white ancestry allowed him to utilize his talents in a way that would not have been possible if he had been black.

One of Rillieux’s close friends and major supporter in Louisiana sugar circles was Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate luminary who later served as Jefferson Davis’s Secretary of State. In a nice touch of irony, Benfey compares the image of the “mulatto” in American literature with than of the “Jew” in European literature:

“Almost white, almost free, `oriental,’ and effeminate, at once wealthy and a social pariah, the free man of color in his literary depictions occupies much the same place as the Jew in literary Europe. (The first article of the eighteenth-century `Code Noir,’ or Black Code demanded the expulsion of the Jews from New Orleans.) Jews and free men of color were difficult to detect; they often LOOKED like white citizens, and passed for such. It was against the radical `otherness’ of Jews and free people of color that the proper Englishmen and proper Louisiana Creoles respectively sought to define their own uneasy identity.”

A Brief History of the Color Line By Frank W. Sweet

A Brief History of the Color Line
By Frank W. Sweet


(Originally published in “Interracial Voice”)

Most of us unwittingly suffer from a fallacy which historians call “presentism.” We assume that folks in other places or other times shared our beliefs. We imagine that America’s odd racial attitude is global. We suppose that the “race” notion has persisted for thousands of years. In fact, North America is unique and the very concept of “race” was invented around 1676. How did Americans manage to paint ourselves into such a strange corner?

To illuminate the past, scholars define “the race notion” as the existence of a color line — an endogamous, impermeable social boundary. Endogamous means that folks do not marry across the line. Whether this is enforced by law (as in most of the United States before the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia, 1967) or by social pressure from family and peers (as in all of the United States today) is irrelevant; the Black community is endogamous. Impermeable means you cannot switch sides. You are expected to die on the side of the color line where you were born. Again, whether fair-complexioned Americans of part-African descent are dissuaded from re-labeling ourselves White by law or by social pressure is unimportant; Americans seldom change caste.

Three features of the U.S. color line are historically important: how strong it has been, where it has been located along the complexion spectrum, and whether there was one line or two. This article sketches the history of these features. It uses the past to shed light on the present. It concludes by plugging the author’s books. Fair warning: it advocates no ethical or political position regarding the “race” notion; it is purely informative. So if you seek solutions, stop reading now. But if you are curious how we got into this predicament, read on.

How Strong Was The Color Line?

Consider endogamy. Today, about 60 percent of U.S. Hispanics marry non-Hispanics. The exogamy rate (the opposite of endogamy) of Native Americans is 54 percent. Irish-, German-, and Polish-American exogamy is at 50 percent. About 45 percent of Italian- and Japanese-Americans out-marry, and 40 per cent of Jews marry Christians. In contrast, African-American exogamy is a tiny 3.5 percent as of the 1990 census, and even this negligible rate is a recent historical maximum. From 1880 through 1970, Black exogamy languished below one percent.

Or consider impermeability. Today, the number of U.S. citizens born into Jewish, Hispanic, Native American, Irish-, German-, Polish-, Italian-, or Japanese-American families who switch to census-reporting themselves as vanilla non-ethnic adults also ranges from 40 to 60 percent. But only 2.1 percent of Black Americans switch to labeling themselves White in adulthood.

These numbers come from easily available census data. For references, see this article’s last paragraph. What’s more, since the census is constitutionally mandated, similar numbers are available from 1790 and state-collected data go back even further.

Looking into the past, we find that endogamy and permeability moved in precise lockstep over the years. They rose and fell together because they quantify the same social phenomenon — the strength of the color line. They measure how fiercely Americans believe in our odd “race” notion.

The first surprise is that the color line was weaker before the Civil War. Intermarriage was higher, and fair-complexioned biracials were knowingly accepted as White at a higher rate than ever again. (Census numbers apply to free U.S. citizens of part-African descent — about 400,000 in 1860 — and not to slaves because slave marriages were illegal. But then, slavery per se is ancient and tangential to the modern “race” notion.)

The second surprise is that the color line was nonexistent before 1670, it peaked in the 1720s, fell to a minimum in the 1790s, rose again to near-Jim Crow level in the 1820s, fell to a minimum around the Civil War, rose to its most extreme manifestation in the 1920s, and recently fell to a 1990 minimum. In other words, since its invention, the “race” notion has waxed and waned regularly in a hundred-year cycle.

Tracking the strength of the color line is not mere ivory-towerism. Other race-inspired phenomena like genocide, lynching, and Black/White ratios of segregation, crime, income, education, even intelligence precisely follow the rise and fall of color line endogamy and impermeability. For example, the Black/White ratio of wealth in 1666 Virginia — before the color line was deliberately invented — was closer to parity than today’s national figure.

Social historians study the color line as well as its consequences for two reasons. First, with a little instruction anyone can measure it from publicly available census data. Second, it avoids the focus-blurring plaint that, “cruelty, injustice, oppression, and hatred have always been endemic,” by answering, “true but irrelevant; we are concerned only with damage caused by the race notion.” For example, as defined above (endogamy, impermeability), the Muslim world and Latin America lack color lines. Indeed, dozens of nations in both hemispheres imported millions of African slaves. All but one totally absorbed their former slaves by intermarriage soon after freeing them. Yet no one would claim that those places are Eden today.

Today, “race” enthusiasts of every shade and party demand a government-enforced label in order to detect incidents of bigotry. One may examine their logic under the historical lamp that it is precisely by teaching our children to recognize and shun the Other that we bequeath such incidents into each new generation.

Where Was The Color Line Along The Complexion Spectrum?

The one-drop rule is not global. It is unique to North America. For example, England’s highest social level welcomed Afro-European intermarriage as late as 1761. King George III’s wife of more than 50 years, Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, whom he wed that year, was openly biracial, a dark-complexioned noblewoman descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, of the Afro-European branch of the Portuguese Royal House. Her biracial features are clear in contemporary portraits, the most famous being the one by Sir Allan Ramsay. Queen Victoria was her granddaughter. Two centuries later, during Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 coronation, the Royal Household referred to the present queen’s African bloodline in a white paper it published defending her position as head of the Commonwealth. Every knowledgeable Briton knows of the present Queen’s African ancestry. Yet none considers her (or her ancestors Queen Victoria or Queen Charlotte, for that matter) to be “Black.”

For that matter, every Spaniard and Portuguese alive today carries eight-to-ten percent African genes from the approximately 100,000 sub-Saharan slaves who were imported between 1490 and 1590, and who were promptly assimilated into the Iberian melting pot. Yet most upper-class Latins consider themselves lily white nonetheless. In short, outside North America, even in countries that have a form of “race” notion, you are what you appear to be.

The one-drop rule is not old. It was not invented to support slavery. It spread across the United States after 1880. Slavery was 30 years dead when Southerners learned it from Yankees.

For example, antebellum South Carolina had a sharp color line. Passing and miscegenation were serious social transgressions. But the color line was shifted far to the dark end of the complexion spectrum. You were accepted as legally White in every way if you were reasonably pale and had “good hair,” no matter your parents’ appearance. Indeed, it was the upper-crust Brown Fellowship Society of Charleston who, in the 1760s, invented the grocery-bag rule of today’s Black elite (to be admitted, the skin of your forearm must be lighter than Kraft paper). As of 1830, 474 South Carolina biracials owned 2,794 slaves, about one South Carolina slave in a hundred. These legally White but genetically mixed slaveowners fought to preserve their way of life. Some were Confederate officers in the Civil War. Their sons and nephews served in the ranks.

One of history’s ironies happened in 1895, when South Carolina’s post-Reconstruction Constitutional Convention adopted the Jim Crow one-drop rule. Then, a hundred wealthy families were ripped apart by being re-labeled Black overnight when the color line shifted. Amid tears, knowing they would never see each other again, light complexioned former slaveowners passed into the White world. Their darker brothers, sisters, and cousins merged into today’s African-American community. One does not know whether to weep at their calamity or consider it just retribution. Either way, one suspects that opponents of a “multiracial” census “race” today may fear another family-destroying color line shift (but in the opposite direction).

Was There One Line or Two?

The United States is unique among former British or French colonies in having just one color line. Like the Spanish and Portuguese, British and French colonies were unable to periodically repopulate their European slaves as often as they could acquire new Africans. But neither France nor England had Iberia’s tradition of assimilation. So planters were encouraged to marry slave women, expand the growing biracial population, and select their own children as yeomen. They thus created the three-caste societies common to most colonial empires — White rulers, Coloured or biracial yeomen, and Black peasants.

For example, contrast the single U.S. color line with the two lines of apartheid South Africa. There, everyone had to carry identification papers indicating “race” as officially determined by the local Race Classification Board. Although the bureaucracy was cumbersome and inconsistent, it enabled change. Different members of a family were often classified differently and some people changed more than once. South Africans often requested reclassification and could appeal local decisions to the national Population Registration Board, thence to the Supreme Court. Like U.S. draft boards of the 1970s, South Africa’s local Race Classification Boards reflected local public opinion and often found it helpful to cooperate with those wanting to upgrade from Negro to Coloured or from Coloured to White. For example, school principals of White schools could keep up enrollments (and funding) by getting some Coloured children reclassified as White. But if they pushed too hard, they risked having the whole school reclassified as Coloured.

Antebellum Louisiana also had three “races” separated by two lines. A typical colonial system had emerged in Louisiana by 1780: a few White Europeans, a large majority of biracial Creoles, and a population of Black former slaves. It superficially resembled Haiti or Jamaica. Like South Africa a century later, but in contrast to the West Indies, Louisiana’s castes were relatively permeable. As Black descendants of former slaves ascended the economic ladder they were accepted into the Creole community. Similarly, impoverished planters fleeing the bloody chaos of Haiti’s 1791-1806 revolution descended into Louisiana’s middle caste. Within their own group, the Creoles developed a social system resembling that of pre-Reformation Europe: a social hierarchy based on religion, breeding, and wealth, with little significance given to shades of skin color among themselves. Many were powerful slave owners whose customs forbade intermarriage with free Blacks (former slaves). They founded the earliest “blue-vein” societies for Afro-Europeans of preponderantly European appearance.

The wealth, social standing, education, and unique history of the Creole community set it apart from other Americans of part-African descent. They identified more with European than with American customs. Most spoke only French and many enrolled their children in private academies in Brussels or Paris. As aristocrats, they were acutely self-conscious of a military tradition dating back to when they had helped Andrew Jackson win the 1814 Battle of New Orleans. As of 1830, 967 of them owned 4,382 slaves, about one Louisiana slave in twenty-five.

Incoming Americans gradually eroded Louisiana’s three-caste society after the U.S. acquisition in 1803. Before the Civil War, English-speaking slaveowners passed laws labeling dark-complexioned Creoles as “free blacks.” After the war, Reconstruction governments enforced those laws against desperate Creole resistance. The second color line, the Creole-Black boundary, gradually shifted towards paleness. By Jim Crow times, the two color lines had merged and Louisiana adopted the now-national one-drop rule. In short, the Louisiana Creoles tried to regain their old political power after Reconstruction’s collapse. They failed. And yet, to this day a handful of the older ones, especially in the bayous, still call themselves “gens de couleur libre” (free people of color) and resent being called either White or Black.

Again, we must not lose sight that biracial Creole planters were as ruthless in exploiting their slaves as any biracial Spanish or Portuguese grandee. Whether you think their culture’s destruction just or tragic, merely knowing about it makes it easier to understand opponents of a “multiracial” census category who fear the creation of another federally sponsored “race.” After all, very dark Louisianans suffered under two oppressors, not one.

Readers interested in the history of the U.S. “race” notion may wish to acquire some of the author’s booklets on the subject. These titles contain far more detail than the brief sketches above. More importantly, they contain hundreds of well-referenced footnotes and each offers a bibliography of scholarly, peer-reviewed sources. The booklets are available online at www.backintyme.com/books2.htm or from Amazon.com. They are also sold at numerous historical site and museum gift shops in Florida, or can be borrowed from many libraries (the Miami Dade Public Library has multiple copies).

Biographical Data

Frank W. Sweet is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He recently retired from a lifelong career in electrical engineering as a computer scientist. He has earned a master’s in Civil War studies at American Military University in Manassas, Virginia and is now working on his doctorate. A well-known nineteenth century living history interpreter, he is the author of numerous booklets currently sold at museum and state park gift shops throughout Florida. His two areas of interest and expertise are (1) military tactics of the Civil War and (2) antebellum race relations. He lives with his wife (also a re-enactor) in Palm Coast, Florida. Their web site is at www.backintyme.com.

Multiracial Movement: A political alliance between ALL multiracial/multiethnic individuals!?

 A political alliance between ALL multiracial/multiethnic individuals!?
By A.D. Powell (A.D. Powell’s assessments should be required reading for “blacks,” academicians, “white” “liberals” and especially Latinos. Eloquently stated and entirely necessary. –William Javier Nelson, author of the “Racial Definition Handbook”)

An alliance between all groups and individuals who have suffered because of the refusal of government elites to recognize the legitimacy and normalcy of interracial ancestry is certainly desirable. The obstacles to such an alliance, however, are cultural and political and these differences must be aired.

The main victims of “one drop” mythology have been the mixed-blood descendants of “whites” (however that is defined) and those blacks from the American ethnic group that was formerly enslaved in the United States (predominately in the South). While Southern elites took pains to stigmatize intermixture in order to confirm their doctrine of black racial inferiority, most of the propaganda promoting the “one drop” mythology has come from black and mulatto elites and their “white liberal” allies. Unlike avowed racists, they stressed their supposed belief in racial equality while expressing absolute panic at the thought of “white blood” escaping from the Negro “race.” The tacit assumption was that “white blood” was the source of intelligence and beauty (especially beautiful women) and that mulattoes and creole whites would perform great deed in the name of the Negro, thereby “proving” that race’s equality with whites. The latter statement is a contradiction, but human beings are nothing if not contradictory.

Enforcing the “one drop” mythology has, ironically, depended almost totally on self-policing. Not even the dreaded South had a system designed to “hunt” impure whites as the Nazis hunted Jews. Racial classification trials tended to focus more on “reputation” rather than proof of “impurity.” Southerners may have been racists, but they were not total fools. They knew well that “the tarbrush” could happen to any white person, and it was best to not look too far into another white’s background. The task of truly policing “white purity” fell to the black and mulatto elites. It was their job (which they performed with great enthusiasm) to scare mulatto and creole whites within their families into thinking that the entire white race had met and blackballed them from the fraternity. Novels and films that condemn “passing” (a racist term implying that the offender is destroying white “purity”) are inevitably produced by blacks and mulatto elites (mulattoes who consider themseves the elite of a “race” that includes blacks).

In contrast to the above, the government has gone to great pains to hide the tri-racial ancestry (Indian, black and white) of Latinos. The Census Bureau was ordered to classify them as white (regardless of looks or genetic background), and they were not segregated in the armed forces (despite skin colors as dark as that of any black). Despite these privileges obtained from the federal government (which didn’t want to admit that Latin America is racially mixed), Mexicans and Puerto Ricans were discriminated against by ordinary people and local governments (which refused to ignore their dark skin). Latino elites have often looked the other way when the “one drop” myth is being discussed, pretending that they aren’t involved (Ray Suarez of National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” is a Puerto Rican (i.e., mulatto) and a prime offender). Also, most Anglos of mixed ancestry don’t get to meet Latinos and see the “one drop” myth being openly violated.

Indian/white intermixture has an inherent contradiction. We have all seen Westerns in which the “half-breed” is denigrated and the Indians alone are described as his/her “people.” However, we also know that many “whites” openly proclaim Indian ancestry (Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Will Rogers, Burt Reynolds, Cher and many, many others) while claiming total membership in the white “race.” Such people have often discriminated against Indian/black or Indian/black/white people by banning the latter from tribal memberships. The “white Cherokees,” for example, brought slavery to the Cherokee nation in order to have workers for their plantations and banned Cherokees mixed with black from the nation. They also were enthusiastic supporters of the Confederacy whose states had kicked their tribes out of the Southeastern U.S. Whenever you hear Cherokees whining about the “Trail of Tears,” remind them of this!

The truth is that most Americans are not concerned with “racial purity” but government elites are concerned with promoting the myth that they are. Latinos and Arab-Americans often clearly show black ancestry but are not forced to call themselves “black.” I have seen many Italians, Jews, Greeks, etc. who are supposedly of “pure” European descent but look like mulattoes. Europe itself is not “pure,” especially Southern Europe. If you remind academic and political elites of this, they will quickly change the subject because they know they are lying when they claim a “white” consensus for the “one drop” mythology. Indeed, if black elites stopped advocating “one drop” mythology, I give it a year to disappear altogether!

In summary, an alliance between all “mixed” groups is necessary and can come about if some individuals take the lead. However, they must all denounce “one drop” mythology, white racial “purity,” and show solidarity with each other.

Harold McDougall at “Multiracial Identities and the 2000 Census” Panel

Harold McDougall at “Multiracial Identities & The 2000 Census” panel
By A.D. Powell

I encourage IV readers to view Harold McDougall’s performance at the “Multiracial Identities & The 2000 Census” panel on C-Span (5/30/98, ID# 106489, 1-800-277-2698, $29.95 plus $7 shipping).

It is my strong OPINION that Harold McDougall is a sneaking, lying s.o.b. He is obviously a “hired gun” retained by the NAACP to assassinate the Multiracial Identity movement.

1) Harold states that a “multiracial identity” will not end “racism,” therefore there should be no recognition of multiracial identity. Apply that to other identities. Latino rights, gay rights, women’s rights, etc. will not end “racism” (which is being continually redefined so that things we used to consider flaming liberal are now being denounced as “racist” and “right-wing”), but would Harold and his NAACP confederates dare to say that those other movements should disband or put their needs aside until “blacks” have achieved “paradise” (by the NAACP’s definition of the term)?

2) Harold says that interracial marriages will do nothing to “end racism” because married people still argue and therefore social problems will remain. This is similar to argument #1, in that the movement must achieve some vaguely defined version of paradise or be labelled a failure or irrelevant (a condition the NAACP would not dare to impose on any other movement). This is also similar to the frequent argument that racial intermixture has been “tried” and “failed” because antebellum concubinage, Latin American intermixture, the South African “colored” caste, etc. failed to achieve racial “paradise.” The dishonesty here falls into two parts:

a) A society in which racism has been officially repudiated and (most) racial discrimination outlawed (the current U.S.) will supposedly become like societies in which racism was never repudiated and racial discrimination was legal and mandatory simply because multiracial ancestry is officially recognized. This is impossible. The NAACP and its allies are implying that racial mixture was the cause of racial discrimination – a ridiculous contention that cannot be supported.

b) McDougall and his ilk deliberately fail to distinguish between interracial marriages in a society of legal equality with concubinage and casual encounters in societies where racial hierarchies were legally mandated. Interracial marriage does not “end” but does DECREASE racism because family relationships are openly acknowledged and legally recognized. Interracial mixture in societies where interracial marriages were outlawed were burdened with legal restrictions that encouraged the denial of family relationships precisely because elites feared that marriages would break down the racial hierarchy.

3) Harold and his allies constantly emphasized the importance of “looks” and the opinions of people with whom one has casual encounters (such as cab drivers). Of course, if Tiger Woods is “black,” because he “looks black,” then Mariah Carey is definitely “white” because she “looks white.” Of course, the NAACP doesn’t want to say the latter. The truth is that Latinos, Indians (both American and from India), darker Europeans, etc. are constantly mistaken for the people the NAACP wants to claim as “black” (just as Anglo multiracials are constantly relating how they are “mistaken” for Hispanic). Most “racial” identifications of people who are not very “white” or very “black” depend upon a variety of social clues. If a guy who looks like Tiger Woods is seen hanging around the Chicano Studies office, most people will assume he is Chicano. If he is hanging around the South Asian Studies office, then he must be of Indian or Pakistani origin. If the Pakistani kid is seen at the mall, most people will assume he is Hispanic. When the Indian customer hands his credit card or check to the clerk and she sees an Indian name, she knows that she was mistaken and Mr. Singh is not Mexican or whatever identity she had casually assigned to him. The NAACP would never have the nerve to say that Latinos or South Asians should change their identities because some clerks or cab drivers think they are “black” because of their dark skin.

4) If the multiracial identity applied only to multiracials who are NOT partially “black,” you can bet the rent that the NAACP would have no objection to it.

5) If no one had expressed concern about the biracial baby of that Danish actress being left in a stroller outside the restaurant in New York City, and something had happened to the child because no one called the authorities, you can be sure that Harold McDougall would be denouncing the “racism” of people who did not intervene to protect a helpless biracial infant. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. McDougall and his ilk are afraid that there isn’t enough racism to put “uppity” multiracials in the place the NAACP has assigned to them. That’s why he’s grabbing at straws and repeating this Danish woman’s story over and over.

The Melungeons: A New Path By Brent Kennedy

The Melungeons: A New Path

(Originally published in “Interracial Voice”)

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The Melungeons: A New Path

By Brent Kennedy


The long-awaited DNA results are in and as many of us have maintained, the Melungeons are indeed a mixture of all races and many ethnic groups. The DNA samples in this study represent the oldest, most established Melungeon male and female lines in the Hancock County (Tennessee) community, and the Wise County (Virginia) community. Extensive genealogies for these two populations — and those sampled — are known and documented. Respected members of each community assisted in the collection of the samples, and these samples can be examined separately (by community) and compared against one another.


In addition to Native American (approximately 5% of the sample), African (approximately 5%) and European (approximately 83% of the sample, but representing Europeans from north to south), the study also showed approximately 7% of the samples matching populations in Turkey, Syria and northern India. In other words, the surviving genes from Middle Eastern and East Indian ancestors are in equal proportion to those of Native Americans and Africans. My gut feeling is that the original, seventeenth-century percentages of all three groups (i.e., African, Native American, and Middle Eastern/East Indian) were higher than what we’re seeing today. Time, admixture, and out-movement of some of our darker cousins into other minority groups have likely lowered the genetic traces of their earlier presence. But enough of them were there to still be traceable among the Melungeons of today. The long discounted Mediterranean and Middle Eastern heritages are irrefutably there.

Very importantly, this study is only a sampling. It’s impossible to get to every single bonafied Melungeon descendant. Consequently, all this — or any other — DNA study can do is CONFIRM heritages — it cannot dismiss them. But via the genetic sequences found, it can give us a hint at the ethnic make-up of the earliest Melungeons. In this regard, I am still keeping an open mind regarding the theories that are out there. Four hundred years has allowed a great deal of time for population admixture and each family has its own distinct cultural and ethnic legacy. The original people referred to as Melungeons may have been Africans, or East Indians, or Native Americans, or Turks, or Gypsies or Portuguese or whatever. Not one of us knows with absolute certainty. What we do know is that very early on these various populations combined into one people known as Melungeons.


As those who attended Fourth Union heard, from both Dr. Jones and Dr. Morris, this finding is incredibly important from a healthcare standpoint alone. Native Americans, Europeans, and African Americans can — and do — carry Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diseases. It takes very few individuals in a founding population to have a dramatic impact on a gene pool. African Americans and Native Americans can – and do – have Familial Mediterranean Fever. White Americans can — and do — have Sickle Cell Anemia. Having the genetic and genealogical data to explain why is critical to improving healthcare.


The study also underscores another important aspect of the origins debate: nearly all theories are correct to some extent. The only ones wrong are those that have been exclusive in their premise. The long-standing academic position that Melungeons are a “tri-racial isolate” consisting of strictly northern Europeans, strictly West Africans, and Native Americans is incorrect. Those unwilling to add any other ethnic group to the mix have been wrong. This is what I stated in my book and have maintained for years: we are mixed and highly inclusive, and that inclusiveness includes Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and East Indian.


We should also keep in mind that these non Native-American ethnic groups could have arrived in a myriad of ways, and likely did. Those who have read my book or heard me speak know that this has always been my position. I have never been wed to any theory of arrival – what I have been wed to is, simply, arrival. Santa Elena and its outlying forts continue to help explain how some of these people — and their genes — might have gotten here. There were Gypsies and Conversos (e.g., Jews, Arabs, Berbers, East Indians, Turks, Moors, Africans, etc.) at Santa Elena who, even as “good Catholic Spaniards” and “good Catholic Portuguese” would have carried their ancestral genes from their ancestral homelands. The finding of Turkish genes (both male and female lines) in the Melungeon population seems to indicate full families, so Santa Elena remains an origin possibility for some of the Melungeon ancestors. There were no women with Drake’s Turks and the Turks themselves weren’t sending families here, at least as far as I know.


The British, however, were doing so. Turkish and Armenian families were documentably present in Jamestown, serving the English colonists as indentured servants and artisans. Whatever the case, historians are best equipped to determine HOW the genes arrived. Finally, East Indians were brought to these shores in significant numbers from the early 1600s on and Romany (Gypsies) are also well documented in Virginia and the Carolinas during the same time period. There was, simply said, no shortage of the people necessary to provide the genetic proof to back up the Melungeon claims of origin.


I don’t yet know my full family DNA results but when I do I, and hopefully others, will share the information in an effort to help solve the roles specific families have played in the Melungeon odyssey. But I do know one sequence and this single piece of information is enlightening. My Mitochondrial DNA, which I inherited from my Mother, matches the Siddis of India. The dark-skinned Siddis likely originated from what today is Ethiopia, Eritrea, or Somalia — sub-Saharan, east Africa. They were transported to India in a variety of ways, most not so pleasant, and formed a major component of what became known as the Untouchable Caste. Their lives — and the life of my ancestral Mother — must have been horribly difficult. But she survived long enough to have at least one daughter and that daughter did likewise. And generation after generation this original Ethiopian girl’s DNA was passed along until, in 1950, it came to me.


How my particular East Indian ancestor made her way to America remains unclear. It may have been as the wife of a sixteenth-century New World Portuguese settler (the sixteenth-century Portuguese soldiers married northern Indian women by the thousands). Or she may have been the spouse of a seventeenth-century British ex-patriot, or an East Indian female sent to the Caribbean as an indentured servant. Still again, she may have arrived on these shores as a Rom (or so-called, Gypsy) girl. Many Romany share the Siddi mitochondria and the Romany-related surnames that follow this particular mitochondrial line in my family (Mullins, Bennett, Rose, etc.) would seem supportive of a Romany origin. Regardless of her mode of arrival to the New World, what is clear is that she –and her genes — did indeed make their way here. My Mother and I are living proof of this woman’s legacy. All this to say that had a young, sub-Saharan east African girl never lived, never been transported to India, and never had a daughter of her own, I wouldn’t be here.


So, what is the meaning of all this? For me, I can sum it up this way:


While I am likely — and proudly — of northern European heritage, I am also of Siddi heritage. And I am equally kin to the Scotsman tilling his field outside Glasgow, the Chickahominy Indian fighting to keep tribal pride alive, and the various east Africans at one another’s throats in Somalia. The Israelis and Palestinians dealing out death on a daily basis, the Appalachian blue grass banjo picker, the Indian and Pakistani soldiers staring one another down in Kashmir, and — yes — the down-beaten Untouchable in the poorest ghettos of southern India are also family. All are literally, not just figuratively, MY people. Genocide in the Balkans, earthquakes in Turkey, riots in Argentina, and repressive regimes in Afghanistan are no longer faraway occurrences of little consequence. In every tragedy on this Earth, a relative is suffering. And this leads me to a deeper understanding of just what the Melungeon story really means, and the transition that I must make.


We in Appalachia are known for our powerful storytelling tradition. Beginning today we have the opportunity to tell the most important story in our history — the story of the Oneness of Mankind and how this Oneness is exemplified in the Appalachian heartland. The irony that we in Appalachia and those whose roots lie in these mountains — long considered the lowest of the low — could play a role in World ethnic harmony is staggering in its implications. But it’s not a pipe dream. We can send a powerful message to all people everywhere, that:


No place, no region, no human being is too small, too remote, or too insignificant to justify dismissal. We are all of the same flesh and each of us matters.


From this point on, our mission lies in spreading this message beyond these mountains. And we need to start at the earliest levels of teaching — our elementary schools — as well before the seeds of racism and hate have been sown.


Beginning this week, I commit myself to this mission. The time has come for me to leave the historical and origins research, further DNA analysis, and other academic pursuits to those more qualified. My task was to be a catalyst — an instigator.


Fourteen years ago, very few people cared about the Melungeons or any other mixed race population for that matter. That deeply bothered me, as I felt that these various populations deserved more attention from academia and, indeed, had played a far larger role in building this nation than they’d ever been given credit for. Placing them all into a box labeled “tri-racial isolate” and closing the lid seemed a grave injustice. I wrote my book to force the acknowledgment of our multi-racial communities and, in a sense, to help bring them out of the closet in which academia had shoved them. I believe I’ve contributed to an increased awareness and, hopefully, an increased pride. The level of interest and the sheer volume of books and articles being written today is enormous compared to the late 1980s and early 1990s. This was my dream and I am now confident that this interest will not dissipate.


There are a myriad of talented researchers exploring a variety of Melungeon related issues. Dozens of younger scholars are joining the older established writers and researchers in the search for Melungeon origins and the meaning of that search. Over the past decade, people like Jack Goins, Manuel Mira, Eloy Gallegos, James Nickens, Pat Elder, Mike Nassau, Wayne Winkler, Tim Hashaw, Carroll and Betty Goyne, and Virginia DeMarce have added substantial knowledge to what we might soon begin calling “Melungeon Studies.” Each of these individuals deserves our gratitude and our praise. My long-standing hope has been, and continues to be, that all those researching this important topic can somehow pull together. That we acknowledge our differing opinions on historical matters, but that we come to recognize our shared commitment to (1) caring for these people and their culture, and (2) abhorring racism in any form. These shared commitments far outweigh the debate over who showed up first, where the name came from, or what color John Doe might have been. Perhaps my greatest disappointment over the years has rested in the inability or unwillingness of what should have been fellow travelers on a very bumpy road to travel together. It’s not too late.


In closing, I’ve done all that I can do for those who came before us. From this point on, I plan on devoting my efforts to making this Earth a better place for the living. If I’ve learned anything in this nearly fifteen-year journey, it’s the sobering reality that human prejudice exists everywhere — even within the very groups that have been the target of such prejudice. The heated debates over who can — or cannot be — a Melungeon are reminiscent of the earlier debates over who can — or cannot be — white. I know we don’t intend it to be this way, but this is what invariably happens when we humans insist on categorizing and refining human ethnicity. It’s this same mindset that, when carried to an extreme, results in prejudice, ethnic cleansing and, ultimately, genocide. “Race” is cultural, not genetic. I’ve been accused time and again of “diluting” Melungeon ethnicity to the point of blurring the boundaries and, in the words of one critic, “making them related to everybody.” This is precisely what I intended to do and the DNA study results have supported this contention. That’s the underlying beauty of this story, and to miss that point is symptomatic of the too narrow focus that inevitably leads to ethnic tensions.


And so, what energy and time I have will be expended in bringing people together wherever and whenever I can. In teaching and engaging in projects that can impact how human beings — and especially our children — view their fellow human beings. That we are not just figuratively– but literally — one human family. From Africa and India, to Turkey, Portugal, and the United States of America, we are one race. Where I can make a difference in helping others to understand this, I will. Where I cannot, I’ll try.


And I pledge to live by our Melungeon creed, “One People, All Colors.”

I thank God for an amazing fourteen years of Chapter One and, God-willing, at least that many more for Chapter Two.


Of further interest to readers is Mr. Kennedy’s book “The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America.”

Obama, Anatole Broyard and the Double Standard of Hypodescent

Obama’s Election and the Double Standard

December 4, 2008

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While I wish him well and hope that he restores the economic and moral health of our country, I see in Barack Obama’s victory a certain danger to those who oppose forced racial classification and wish to promote the legitimation of multiracial identities and racial ambiguity.  Why?  Too many of the black-identified members of the political and intellectual elite and their “white” allies will probably be emboldened to try and silence us forever because their Democratic comrades now rule the roost.
On the other hand, I have been struck by the large number of fellow “white” Americans who have openly asked why Obama is “black” when he is half white and was reared by white relatives in a totally non-black environment.  “Mixed race” is no longer an abstraction to growing numbers of “whites.”  They may not be interracially married themselves, but they are the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. of mixed-race people.  They see their relatives, who are usually white women and often single mothers, pour all of their love and resources into their biracial children (just as Obama’s mother and grandmother did).  They are far less afraid to say that there is no logic in claiming that those children are totally “black” or “African American” and not entitled to claim their white parents’ “race” and ethnicity.
I propose that the multiracial movement see the election of Obama as an opportunity to reach out to more ordinary “white” Americans with the question “Why is Obama “black” when he is equally “white”?  I propose that we contrast Obama with the late New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard.  Obama was born into  and reared in a Hawaii-based white-identified family and had no ties of blood or culture to the native “African American” community.  Broyard was born in New Orleans to a Creole family falsely labeled as “Negro” by the racist government of Louisiana, which was determined to subject its mixed-race Creole population to a documentary genocide of forced assimilation into the “black” Anglo population/caste.  Obama left Hawaii with the intention, according to his autobiography, of finding a “racial community” of people who looked like himself.  Broyard, whose family moved to New York City when he was a small child, refused to self-police himself and accept a “Negro” or “colored” classification.  In the free environment of New York, he chose to be identified as white.  Indeed, his parents had themselves moved back and forth across the color line because they also had European phenotypes.  Obama married a woman “blacker” than himself and produced two children who look “black” to most Americans.  Broyard married a woman “whiter” than himself (Norwegian-American) and produced two children who look totally white to most Americans.  Why is Obama praised for moving toward “blackness” while Broyard is demonized by the black and white liberal intellectual elites for moving toward “whiteness”?  How about some equal rights here?  I would be far more impressed by an open defense of Broyard’s whiteness than I am by Obama’s election.  White racism has always rested on the assumption of white racial purity.  Obama claims that he is “black” because he “looks black.”  Why wasn’t Broyard “white” because he “looked white”?  The Obama/Broyard comparison would require open criticism of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (foremost advocate of the “one drop rule” in the U.S. who first “outed” Broyard as a so-called “light-skinned black”) and Anatole’s daughter Bliss Broyard (who has openly sided with Gates and denounced her father as “black”).  This is a chance to strike at the “one drop rule” and we should not miss it.  The fact that Obama, Gates and Bliss Broyard are already all over the media should make the task easier.
No matter how much Obama might call himself “black,” his white ancestry and white upbringing are too well known to be denied.  Other “white” Americans are already asking questions.  We must encourage them to do so and point out that the denial of freedom of racial/ethnic identity and the abuse of black political power in support of that denial affects their own families, now and/or in the future.

Susie Guillory Phipps and the “One Drop” Myth: Where Are Louisiana’s “Race Flagging” Files?

Where Are Louisiana’s “Race Flagging” Files?

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Where Are Louisiana’s “Race Flagging” Files?

Almost every student of racial and ethnic stratification in the United States has heard of Mrs. Susie Guillory Phipps, and how the overwhelmingly white (slightly more than 1/32) Louisiana native unsuccessfully sued the Louisiana Bureau of Vital Records to change the racial classification on her birth certificate from “colored” (now defined as “black”) to white (1982-83). In 1983, the State Supreme Court denied her motion and upheld the state’s right to classify and quantify racial identity. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case and thus left standing the lower court’s decision. These students are left with the false impression that Mrs. Phipps descended from privileged whiteness to degraded blackness and are never told or encouraged to address the following questions:
It is and was impossible for Louisiana’s government to keep African ancestry out of the white population. Only an idiot does not realize this. Mrs. Phipps was not ordered by the state to change the “white” designation on her other documents. She was still the mother of “white” children and had twice married “white” men as a “white” woman. Mrs. Phipps was only one of many thousands of mixed whites whose “tainted drop of Negro blood” successfully penetrated the charade of white racial purity. Moreover, Latinos and Arabs (who are nearly all part-black) and anyone whose ancestors did not have the misfortune to be born or die in Louisiana could happily declare themselves “white” in that state, with no telltale documentation for its racist government to trace. Why was Louisiana obsessed with forcing the “black” classification on its native residents while observing a gentlemen’s agreement to look the other way when it came to “Negro blood” they couldn’t document so easily, even if that “blood” was obvious (as is often the case with Latinos and Arabs)?

Why did the media never tell Americans that other Southern states, such as Virginia, were notorious for doing the same as Louisiana?

Why did the mostly sympathetic mainstream media trumpet the headline “Who is black?” and not “Who is White?” Why didn’t they point out that, in the name of white racial purity, Louisiana was harassing predominate whites with small amounts of “black” ancestry while the federal government was classifying as “white” Latinos and Arabs with buckets as opposed to drops of “black blood.” If biological purity is the objective, why did they accept this discrepancy? Why did they promote it?

Above all, they are never told that Mrs. Phipps is a hero for defying Louisiana’s version of the Nuremberg Laws. Thanks to her, Louisiana elites were at least forced to change their racist law stating that someone with more than 1/32 “black blood” could be legally defined as “black” (based on the racist assumption that miscegenation “improves” the “inferior” black race and degrades the “superior” white race) to the more vague but cowardly standard of a “preponderance of the evidence.” Speaking of the Nuremberg Laws, what would happen if a state government were to keep files on the genealogies of its citizens with Jewish ancestry, denying them classification as “whites” and assigning them to unwanted and inaccurate racial classifications? Wouldn’t the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) be on their asses and never let up? The answer is that such files exist in Louisiana, but because they were persecuting whites with “black blood” instead of Jewish blood, American liberals and conservatives say nothing against them.

In the very valuable but little publicized book, White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana by Virginia R. Dominguez (Rutgers University Press, 1986), we learn for the first time about the secret files the state government of Louisiana kept on white families of mixed or suspected “black” ancestry:

In 1938, in Sunseri v, Cassagne (191 La. 209, 185 So. 1 – affirmed on rehearing in 1940, 195 La. 19, 196 So. 7) – the Louisiana Supreme Court proclaimed traceability of African ancestry to be the only requirement for definition of colored. In 1949, Naomi Drake assumed the post of supervisor and deputy registrar of vital statistics at the Louisiana Bureau of Vital Statistics, and she figures prominently in the cases filed against the bureau through the mid-1960s.

Armed with the traceability criterion established by the court in 1938, she followed the practice of race-flagging, pulling out a birth certificate that lists a baby as white but bears a name common to blacks. Such birth certificates are checked against a “race list” maintained by the Vital Records Office. If the name appears on the “race list,” then a further study of genealogical records maintained by the Vital Records Office is conducted (a description given to the New Orleans States Item, June 5-16, 1978, by a Dr. Doris Thompson who had been assistant secretary of the State Department of Health and Human Resources, of which the Bureau is a part). pp. 37-38

If the bureau determined through study of its genealogical records that the person in question had any African ancestors, the applicant was then informed that a certificate would be issued only if it declared the person to be colored. If the applicant refused to accept such a certificate, the bureau in turn refused to issue a certificate. There is evidence that between 1960 and 1965 a minimum of 4,700 applications for certificated copies of birth certificates and a minimum of 1,100 applications for death certificates were held in abeyance by the bureau under the supervision of Naomi Drake (188 So. 2nd 94)…

Individuals petitioned the courts to force the bureau to change the racial labels that appeared on the birth or death certificates of members of their families. They presented evidence that purported to prove that these people were white despite the imputations of bureau genealogists. In each case, the bureau questioned the authenticity of much of the evidence adduced, or the nature of the evidence introduced during the proceedings. Plaintiff’s job was to dispute the authenticity of the document(s), prove that (s)he was the child of a different marriage or of a sexual union resulting from a parent’s remarriage or concubinage, or dispute the meaning of the specific social label that in the eyes of the bureau implied Negro ancestry. p. 44

Why aren’t these victims of Louisiana’s racist “purity” laws as well known as the victims of the Nuremberg Laws? Moreover, why was this practice continued long after both the federal government (including the U.S. Supreme Court, which had refused to hear Mrs. Phipps’ case) and Louisiana’s state government had officially overturned the “Jim Crow” racial segregation laws and pledged themselves to promoting a society of racial equality?

The fact is, however, that the practice of race-flagging and withholding certificates continued long after Naomi Drake’s departure from her post. We have no way of estimating the number of applications for birth or death certificates withheld since the mid-sixties (this information is now considered confidential and is carefully guarded by clerks and bureaucrats), but other indices are telling. Twelve mandamus proceedings against the bureau have been initiated since Drake’s official departure. Also on May 26, 1977, Wayne Parker, at the time registrar of vital statistics, admitted to me in an interview that in 1977 the bureau employed two full-time clerk investigators to handle only cases concerned with racial designation, and that the bureau spent some six thousand man-hours in 1976 exclusively on race cases. Parker estimated that between sixty and a hundred surnames were regularly flagged by the bureau and checked in a special file room against fairly extensive genealogies kept by the bureau on the many branches of these families. Thompson (cf. New Orleans States Item, June 5-16, 1978) estimated that 250 names of “white” families with partially black ancestry were kept at the bureau. p. 49

It should be pointed out that one does not actually have to have any African ancestry in order to be a victim of “race flagging.” Few Americans know, for example, that words such as “colored” or “mulatto” were often used as synonyms for non-white and often included people with no African ancestry at all:

…Especially problematic is the use of the term mulatto. As the Louisiana Court of Appeals acknowledged in rendering its judgment…U.S. censuses did not provide many alternatives for racial identification. This meant that the term mulatto was often applied loosely. The late nineteenth century census records allowed only five options: white, black, mulatto, Chinese, or Indian…Limited lexical options meant that the term mulatto was used to denote anyone who did not appear all white or all black. p. 49

Again, why has the American Civil Liberties and other organizations supposedly concerned with privacy and civil liberties shown no interest whatsoever in demanding that Louisiana reveal the location of these files, explain why they are keeping them and how they are used. How are Louisiana genealogical files any more legitimate than the FBI’s COINTELPRO files on political dissidents? I would say that the Louisiana “race flagging” files are even less legitimate, since the only “crime” its victims were suspected of was having the wrong ancestors.

I strongly suspect that the strange silence of the ACLU and other supposed defenders of liberty and rights has a lot to do with the fact that the American black intelligentsia is overwhelming in favor of promoting a “one drop” myth of blackness and eagerly engages in character assassination against mixed whites they accuse of “passing for who they really are.”