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The "Passing" Fancy of 'The One-Eighth-Drop Rule'

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  • multiracialbookclub
    (Article) Passing Fancy: In the Jim Crow South, courts understood that rigidly enforcing the rules against Mixed-Marriage would have been a disaster—for
    Message 1 of 2 , Oct 21, 2006


      (Article)
      "
      Passing" Fancy:


      In the Jim Crow South, courts understood
      that rigidly enforcing the rules against
      Mixed-Marriage would have been
      a disaster—for most `Whites'.


      By Daniel J. Sharfstein

      IN 1903, A YOUNG NORTH CAROLINA
      farmer named Frank Ferrell went a-courting.

      Nineteen years old and working on his father's farm
      in the town of Zebulon , Frank settled his attentions
      on Susie Patterson, a quiet woman in her early 20s  
      whose family had lived in nearby Riley since the 1880s.

      Riley was a town on two borders, smack on the line
      separating Franklin and Wake counties, in the rolling hills
      where the Atlantic Coastal Plain meets the Piedmont Plateau.

      Evidently -- a third boundary -- ran through Riley as well.

      While Frank wooed her, rumors circulated that she
      'had some Indian or Portuguese ancestry'—and some
      suggested that her blood "ran a few shades darker".

      Perhaps because she feared the rumors would one day
      bring trouble, Susie refused Frank's marriage proposal.

      But her suitor persisted and won her over.

      The couple married in January 1904 at the home
      of a justice of the peace on the Wake County side.


      By April of the following year, the couple
      had a daughter, and Frank had become a drunk.

      He beat his wife, stopped providing for her
      and their baby, and in early 1907
      abandoned them entirely.


      Soon after, he hired a lawyer and filed
      a complaint alleging that he had
      unwittingly married a "black" woman.

      At the time, North Carolina law voided marriages
      "between a `White' person and a person of `Negro'
      or `Indian' blood "to the third generation inclusive".


      In other words, if one of Susie's great-grandparents
      were [any part-]"black", Frank would be entitled
      to an annulment and relieved of his obligations
      to provide alimony or child support.


      Susie countersued for divorce with alimony.

      She denied that she was "black" while at
      the same time claiming that --- during
      their courtship Frank had been "repeatedly
      informed" of possible "taints" in her ancestry.


      In 1909, a jury trial was held in Franklin
      County Superior Court
      on the single
      issue of
      Susie Patterson Ferrell's "race".


      Drawing `the Color-Line' was
      "a necessary item of business"
      at local Southern courthouses
      in the early years of Jim Crow.


      Whether a plaintiff or defendant was 'White'
      or "black" determined a range of outcomes—
      in divorce proceedings and miscegenation
      prosecutions, inheritance disputes, libel
      and slander cases, and challenges to
      segregated schools and railroads.

      Although dozens of these cases had arisen
      during the years of slavery, they took on a
      new intensity between the Supreme Court's
      establishment of the "separate but equal"
      rule in the 1896  decision `Plessy v.Ferguson'
      and the start of World War I,  --- as the
      South remade itself into "a segregated society".


      Racial-Classification was an inevitable
      if vexing task in a world obsessed with
      keeping "blacks" and `Whites' [in]
      separate [categories] --- from
      maternity ward to cemetery lot.


      Yet the legal outcomes of these cases
      were often at odds with the paranoid
      and even murderous insistence
      on "Racial-Purity" that
      dominated the politics of the day.


      Courts showed great reluctance to change the legal
      status of ostensibly `White' people to "black" and
      penalized those who made unproven "accusations".

      In the courtroom, hyperbolic fears of Racial-Mixing
      gave way to messy family histories pieced together
      from whispered gossip, unstated understandings,
      and stories purposely forgotten.

      Often these shreds of proof suggested
      that
      'White' "Racial-Purity"
      --- was more myth than reality.


      Courts treaded softly near the
      Color-Line because a more
      rigid approach would have
      been a disaster—for `Whites'.

      AT THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY, a lawyer, court
      stenographer, and soon-to-be-acclaimed author named
      Charles Waddell Chesnutt rode a train through Virginia .

      Sitting in a car reserved for `Whites', Chesnutt asked
      the conductor about the "Jim Crow car system"
      recently legitimated by Plessy v.Ferguson, which
      upheld a Louisiana statute mandating separate
      railroad cars for "blacks" [i.e. `Colored' /
      `Mixed-Race People] and `Whites'.

      In Chesnutt's account, the conductor
      vowed to enforce the law vigorously:

      "Personally I don't mean
      to take any chances," he said.
      "I'd put a `White' man out
      of the "Colored" car as quick
      as I'd put a nigger out of this one."


      Chesnutt took their conversation
      one seemingly innocent step further.

      "Do you ever," he said, "have
      any difficulty about classifying
      people who are very near the line?"

      The conductor answered,

      "I give the passenger the benefit of the doubt."


      The conductor's answer—which delighted Chesnutt,
      an African-American who was at that moment
      posing as `White'—was rooted in Plessy itself.

      The case that deputized railroad conductors
      as the gatekeepers of White-supremacy also
      limited their authority to make close calls.

      Homer Plessy was not "discernibly" of African descent.

      He challenged Louisiana's segregation of railroad
      cars for, among other things, depriving him of
      his "reputation" for being `White' — "a form of
      property", he said — without due process of law.

      The court held that Plessy had no such "property
      interest" because he admitted he was "black"
      [i.e. `Colored' / of `Mixed-Race ancestry].

      But in a seldom-cited portion of the majority opinion,
      the justices agreed that if a `White' person were to be
      deprived of his reputation for `Whiteness'—what the court
      termed his "so-called property" — he could sue for damages.

      Every time a conductor did not give someone "the benefit of
      the doubt", the railroads faced a potential defamation suit.

      Even as it elevated Racial-Segregation to the level of
      Constitutional "truth", Plessy inhibited enforcement
      when a passenger's "race" was `ambiguous'.

      In the decades that followed, many Southern
      state courts made it difficult to challenge
      someone who claimed to be `White'.

      The standards for proving "blackness" were
      exacting and often impossible to meet.

      And in defamation suits brought by people
      who'd been accused of "hiding their color",
      judges refused to hold that the state interest in
      segregation justified allowing accusers to be
      as emphatic or inquisitive as they wished.

      On the one hand, these decisions affirmed
      the `privileges' of `White' "racial" status
      ----- by equating it with property.

      On the other, the cases reflected the
      segregated South's uncomfortable secret:

      Thousands of people who were "socially
      recognized" as `White' had African ancestry.


      In Chesnutt's words, a "stream of dark blood
      has insinuated itself into the veins of the
      dominant, or ...the 'domineering' race".

      The statutes of the time implicitly acknowledged as much.


      Racial purists sought to define "race" in terms
      of a `One-Drop Rule', under which anyone
      with `any' African ancestry was legally "black".

      Instead, most laws across the South
      used `fractional rules', defining as
      "black" those with a [`mono'-racially]
      Black grandparent, or great-grandparent, or
      great-great-grandparent, depending on the state.


      During the South Carolina Constitutional Convention in 1895,
      Congressman George Dionysus Tillman, older brother of the
      notorious Segregationist politician "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman,
      argued strenuously against a proposal to prohibit marriage
      between 'Whites' and "people who had `any' African ancestry".

      Tillman said that the provision would affect
      "at least 100" families in his district that had
      sent their boys to fight for the Confederacy—
      and that no delegate on the floor could
      claim to be a "full-blooded Caucasian."

      The convention adopted a `One-Eighth Rule'.


      Such actions prompted
      Charles Chesnutt to muse,

      "I could almost write a book
      about these laws, their variations,
      their applications and curious
      stories that one hears
      continually concerning them."


      The Color Line is palpably present in many
      of the short stories that he published in
      The
      Atlantic Monthly
      at the turn of the century.

      And a character in one of Chesnutt's novels
      became `White' simply by moving to a
      state with a more "forgiving" definition.


      THE CASES INTERPRETING THESE LAWS
      depended primarily on lay-witnesses who either
      personally knew the parties alleged to be "black" or were
      old enough to remember their parents or grandparents.

      (Courts were less willing to rely on "experts" who claimed
      to be able to look a person over and conclude, as one did
      in a Virginia trial, that "there is some Negro there.")

      The witnesses often matter-of-factly described how
      they worked, ate, and prayed with people who
      were "rumored" or "known" to have Mixed-Blood.

      They didn't seem to care that these Racially-Ambiguous
      neighbors were marrying into their communities,
      though politicians and the press were exhaustively
      detailing [and spreading the lying falsehoods of]
      "the dangers of unrestrained Black sexuality" and
      even "New South" Moderates were proclaiming the
      need to maintain White-Supremacy "at any cost".



      There was no outcry over Frank and Susie Ferrell.

      Evidence from court documents suggests that the rumors
      during their courtship might have had some-basis-in-fact.

      Frank identified `one' great-grandfather
      as the root of his wife's "Negro blood."

      That man came from a large local family that was known to
      be part "black", part `White', and part Native American.


      Still, no one particularly objected to the Ferrells' marriage,
      and the trial drew neither spectators nor press coverage.

      It may seem unsurprising that few people took the
      time to watch a divorce trial involving country
      people who signed their affidavits with an "X."

      But there were plenty of reasons to attend.


      The subject matter was undoubtedly
      of widespread interest at the time;
      three years later, bestselling author Thomas Dixon,
      whose fiction provided the basis for the film
      The Birth of a Nation, wrote a novel and a
      widely performed play about the paramount
      "threat" to the `White' race posed by women
      with "invisible traces" of African ancestry.

      Just as important, the litigants each retained the
       services of lawyers with statewide reputations.

      Susie was represented at trial by Thomas Walter Bickett,
      who would soon be elected governor of North Carolina .

      Frank's lawyer, Frank Shepherd
      Spruill, was a giant of the state bar.


      Bickett and Spruill argued vigorously over one point of
      law: the construction of North Carolina 's `One-Eighth Rule'.


      The trial court agreed with Bickett's position
      on behalf of Susie and instructed the jury
      that for her to be legally" black",  her
      great-grandfather
      would have to be 
      "a real Negro
      ,"
      meaning "one that did
      not have "any" `White' blood in him."


      It was almost a reverse one-drop rule:


      If Susie's great-grandfather had one drop of
      `White' blood, she would be legally `White'.


      The jury decided in Susie's favor.


      In a post-trial motion, Spruill argued that the court's
      instruction was "an impossible standard to meet".

      By that yardstick, no one had been a "real Negro"
      in North Carolina for more than a century, he said.


      Instead, Spruill contended, the term "Negro"
      was purely "descriptive" and should be defined as
      "the descendant of any person whose social status,
      associations and daily living stamped him as being
      a Negro, without respect to the smallness of the
      quantity or infusion of Negro blood in him."


      If Susie's great-grandfather was
      "socially-recognized" as "black",
      then she should be legally-"black"
      --- under `The One-Eighth Rule.


      It was an interpretation of the law rooted in
      the often professed view that the `White'
      race would be destroyed unless it "remained"
      'altogether free of the African "taint".'

      And it convinced the trial judge to set
      aside the verdict and order a new trial.

      Bickett promptly appealed, and Spruill's theory
      was lesskindly received by the North Carolina
      Supreme Court, which unanimously
      granted Susie a divorce with alimony.


      In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Walter Clark
      damned Frank Ferrell not only for abusing and
      abandoning his wife but also for revealing
      `what "should have been" kept a secret':

      If indeed, the plaintiff had discovered
      "any minute strain" of 'Colored' origin
      `after the youth of his wife has been worn
      away for his pleasure and in his service',
      justice and generosity dictated that he keep to
      himself that of which the public was unaware,
      or, if the knowledge had become public and was
      disagreeable, the plaintiff -- if possessed of any sentiment
      of manhood -- would have shielded his wife and children
      by removing to another locality or to a state where
      the fact, if known, would not be deemed a "stigma".


      In other words, there were times
      when race was nobody's business.

      Yet in the segregated South, "Race"
      was supposedly everybody's business.

      That Clark would hint otherwise suggests that he
      understood the risks of enforcing a "One-Drop Rule".


      If courts turned the law against the
      thousands of Southern `Whites' with
      a "minute strain of "Colored"-Origin,"

      the racial paranoia of the time could have
      sparked riots, feuds, and witch hunts.

      Hundreds of husbands could have abandoned their wives
      by claiming they had unwittingly married "black" women.

      Every falling out between neighbors could
      have triggered an "accusation" of "blackness".


      By preserving a porous Color-Line,
      the courts saved `White' people
      --- from themselves.


      A DECADE AFTER SUSIE FERRELL'S
      1910 DIVORCE, the uncompromising
      politics of Segregation caught up with
      the court decisions that had
      held "Racial-Purists" at bay.


      States across the South embraced One-Drop Rules.


      In the 1920s, Virginia and Louisiana empowered
      administrative agencies to investigate
      people's family backgrounds.

      Walter Ashby Plecker, the Head of
      Virginia's Bureau of Vital Statistics,
      was so enthusiastic about his
      "mission" that he personally
      wrote cemeteries to warn them
      against "integrating the dead".

      Plecker's agency used its findings
      to alter racial designations on birth,
      marriage, and death certificates.

      He bragged—in 1943—that his records were
      as thorough as Hitler's genealogies of Jews.


      For 16 years, the New Orleans Vital
      Statistics Supervisor Naomi Drake
      refused to issue thousands of birth
      and death records because families
      did not consent to a designation of "Negro".

      Enormous numbers of complaints
      finally led to her dismissal in 1965.

      Among the enumerated grounds:
      "Lack of courtesy and tact by making
      such statements to a citizen as,
      'All of the people born in
      White
      Castle , La. , are half breeds.'"


      The shift to the one-drop rule may have
      been tolerated only because, for a full
      generation after Plessy, the courts
      had "discouraged" people from
      investigating the Racial-Origins of
      their friends, enemies, and neighbors.



      That passage of time seems to have
      allowed 'White' Southerners to
      develop a "Collective-Amnesia"
      about their Racially-Mixed Origins.


      Even so, supporters of Virginia 's
      racial purity law scrapped a
      provision that would have required
      everyone in the state to register with the
      agency and "prove" their "Racial-Purity".

      And an exception from the One-Drop Rule
      allowed the many First Families of Virginia
      who claimed to be descended from Pocahontas
      and John Rolfe to remain [categorized as] `White'.


      The `Collective-Amnesia' extends to Franklin
      County, N.C., where the case of Frank and Susie
      Ferrell has been completely forgotten.

      According to a great-niece, Frank married twice more, first
      to a widow who lived near his father's farm in Zebulon.

      She had been married to a Native American.

      After her death in 1923, he moved from
      the area and may have left the state.

      His third wife was rumored to be a mail-order bride.


      Susie moved with her daughter to Louisburg , the
      Franklin County seat, where she stayed for 40 years.

      No one ever questioned her "Race" again.

      Her daughter married a `White' man and had four children,
      and Susie spent her last years living with them.

      She kept to herself, leaving her room only to buy food
      with a small purse pinned to the inside of her slip.

      They rented a home by the Tar River , right
      between the "black" and `White' sections of town
      .


      Daniel J. Sharfstein is a law clerk to Judge Rya W. Zobel in Boston .

      This article is adapted from "
      The Secret History of Race in
      the United States
      ,"
      which appeared in the April issue of
      the
      Yale Law Journal./ September|October 2003

      http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/September-October-2003/story_sharfstein_sepoct03.msp

      Related Posts:

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/1386
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/1385

      Links regarding the false "science" & theories
      behind the infamous, racist One-Drop Rule:


      http://www.answers.com/topic/one-drop-theory
      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-drop_rule

    • multiracialbookclub
      (Article) PASSING FANCY: In the Jim Crow South, courts understood that rigidly enforcing the rules against Mixed-Marriage would have been a disaster—for
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 24, 2011


        (Article) 
        "
        PASSING" FANCY: 


        In the Jim Crow South, courts understood 
        that rigidly enforcing the rules against 
        Mixed-Marriage would have been 
        a disaster—for most `Whites
        '.


        By Daniel J. Sharfstein

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        IN 1903, A YOUNG NORTH CAROLINA 
        farmer named Frank Ferrell went a-courting.

        Nineteen years old and working
        on his father's farm in the town of  Zebulon ,
        Frank settled his attentions on Susie Patterson,
        a quiet woman in her early 20s whose family
        had lived in nearby Riley since the 1880s.

        Riley was a town on two borders,
        smack on the line separating
        Franklin and Wake counties,
        in the rolling hills where the Atlantic
        Coastal Plain meets the Piedmont Plateau.

        Evidently -- a third boundary
        -- ran through Riley as well.

        While Frank wooed her, rumors circulated that
        she 'had some Indian or Portuguese ancestry'
        — and some suggested that her blood
        "ran a few shades darker".

        Perhaps because she feared
        the rumors would one day bring trouble,
        Susie refused Frank's marriage proposal.

        But her suitor persisted and won her over.

        The couple married in January 1904
        at the home of a justice of the peace
        on the  Wake   County  side.

        By April of the following year,
        the couple had a daughter,
        and Frank had become a drunk.

        He beat his wife, stopped providing for
        her and their baby, and in early 1907 
        abandoned them entirely.

        Soon after, he hired a lawyer
        and filed a complaint alleging
        that he had unwittingly
        married a "black" woman.

        At the time, North Carolina  law
        voided marriages "between a 
        `White' person and a person
        of `Negro' 
        or`Indian' blood
        ["to the third generation inclusive"].


        In other words, IF 'one' of
        Susie's great-grandparents were
        [any part-]"black"
        , [THEN]
        Frank would be entitled to an
        Annulment AND relieved of
        his obligations to provide
        Alimony Child Support.

        Susie countersued for
        Divorce with Alimony.

        She denied that she was "black" ... 
        while at the same time ... claiming that 
        during their courtship Frank had been
        "repeatedly informed" of possible
        "taints" in her ancestry.

        In 1909, a jury trial was held in
        Franklin County Superior Court 
        on the single issue of 
        Susie Patterson Ferrell's "race".

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        Drawing `the Color-Line' was 
        "a 'necessary' item-of-business
        at local Southern courthouses 
        in the early years of Jim Crow.
         

        Whether a plaintiff or defendant w
        [categorized] as 'White' or "black"
        determined a range of outcomes
        — in divorce proceedings and
        miscegenation-prosecutions,
        inheritance disputes, libel and
        slander cases, and challenges to 
        segregated schools and railroads.

        Although dozens of these cases
        had arisen during the years of slavery,
        they took on a new intensity between
        the
        Supreme Court's establishment of
        the "separate but equal" rule in the 1896
        decision `Plessy v.Ferguson
        and the start of World War I
        -- as the South remade itself
        into "a segregated society
        ".

        Racial-Classification was an inevitable 
        if vexing task in a world obsessed with 
        keeping "blacks" and `Whites'
        [in] separate [categories]
        ---
        from maternity ward to cemetery lot.


        Yet the legal outcomes of these
        cases -- were often at odds with
        the paranoid and even murderous
        insistence on "Racial-Purity"
        that 
        dominated the politics of the day.

        Courts showed great reluctance to change
        the legal status of 
        ostensibly `White' people
        to "black" and
         penalized those who
        made unproven "accusations".

        In the courtroom, hyperbolic fears of Racial-Mixing 
        gave way to messy family histories -- pieced together 
        from whispered gossip, unstated "understandings", 
        and 'stories' [that had been] purposely "forgotten".

        Often these shreds of proof suggested 
        that 
        'White' "Racial-Purity" ---
        was more MYTH than reality.

        Courts treaded softly near the Color-Line
        because a more rigid approach would
        have been a disaster ... for `Whites'.




        AT THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY,
        a lawyer, court stenographer, and
        soon-to-be-acclaimed author named 
        Charles Waddell Chesnutt
        rode a train through  Virginia .

        Sitting in a car reserved for `Whites',
        Chesnutt asked the conductor about
        the "Jim Crow car system" --- recently
        legitimated by Plessy v.Ferguson,
        which upheld a Louisiana statute
        mandating separate railroad cars
        for "blacks" [a socially-constructed
        "racial" categorization which included
        any `Colored' / `Mixed-Race Person 
        whose ancestry contained 'any' amount
        of 'Black' "racial" lineage] and `Whites'.

        In Chesnutt's account, the conductor 
        vowed to enforce the law vigorously:

        "Personally I don't mean 
        to take any chances," he said.
        "I'd put a `White' man out 
        of the "Colored" car as quick 
        as I'd put a n***er out of this one."

        Chesnutt took their conversation 
        one seemingly innocent step further.

        "Do you ever," he said,
        "have any difficulty about
        'classifying' people who are
        very near-'the-line'?"

        The conductor answered,

        "I give the passenger 
        the benefit of the doubt."

        The conductor's answer—which Chesnutt, 
        [a visibly 'White' man of Multiracial ancestry
        who was also a member of the Ethnic group
        that has, today, been given the misnomer of] 
        African-American who was at that moment 
        [based on the racist social-construct known
        as the 'One-Drop Rule']"posing" as [being
        "pure"] `White' -- was rooted in Plessy itself.

        The case -- that 'deputized' railroad conductors 
        as "the gatekeepers of White-supremacy" -- 
        also limited their authority to make close calls.

        Homer Plessy was not "discernibly"
        of [any visible] African descent.

        He challenged Louisiana's
        segregation of railroad cars
        for, among other things,
        depriving him of his
        "reputation" for being `White' --
        "a form of property", he said
        -- without due process of law.

        The court held that Plessy
        had no such "property interest"
        because he admitted he was "black" 
        [i.e. he admitted to being a person of
        `Mixed-Race' lineage that included 
        'any' given amounts of 'Black' ancestry].

        But in a seldom-cited portion of the
        majority opinion, the justices agreed that
        IF a `White' person were to be deprived
        of his "reputation" for `Whiteness' 
        -- what the court termed 
        his so-called "property-- 
        [THEN] he could sue for damages.


        Every time a conductor did not give
        someone "the benefit of the doubt", the
        railroads faced a potential 'defamation' suit.

        Even as it elevated Racial-Segregation
        to the level of Constitutional "truth", 
        Plessy inhibited enforcement when
        a passenger's "race" was `ambiguous'.


        In the decades that followed, many Southern 
        state courts made it difficult to challenge 
        someone who claimed to be `White'
        .

        The standards for proving "blackness"
        were
         exacting and often impossible to meet.

        And in 'defamation' suits brought by people 
        who'd been 'accused' of "hiding their color"
        judges refused to hold that the state interest
        in segregation justified allowing accusers to
        be as emphatic or inquisitive as they wished.

        On the one hand, these decisions affirmed 
        the `privileges' of `White' "racial" status 
        ---- by equating it with "property".

        On the other, the cases reflected
        the 
        segregated-South's
        "uncomfortable secret"
        :

        Thousands of people who were
        "socially recognized" as
        `White' had African ancestry.

        In Chesnutt's words,
        "a 'stream of dark blood' 
        has insinuated itself into
        the veins of the dominant,
        or ...the 'domineering' race".

        The statutes of the time
        implicitly acknowledged as much.


        Racial-purists sought to define "race" in terms 
        of a [non-scientific, black-lineage mocking
        and exceedingly racist] `One-Drop Rule',
        --- under which anyone with `any'
        African ancestry was [to then be]
        legally [categorized as] "black".

        Instead, most laws across the South used
        `Fractional-Rules', defining [and categorizing] as 
        "black" -- those with a ['known' mono-racially] 
        Black grandparent, or great-grandparent, or 
        great-great-grandparent -- depending on the state.

        [In fact,]during the South Carolina
        Constitutional Convention in 1895 color
         , 
        Congressman George Dionysus Tillman,

        George Dionysius Tillman 
        (Photo of 'George Dionysus Tillman')
        older brother of the notorious Segregationist
        politician "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman, 
        Benjamin Ryan Tillman, detail 
        (Photo of 'Benjamin "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman')
        argued strenuously against
        a proposal to prohibit marriage 
        between 'Whites' and "people
        who had `any' African ancestry"
        .

        Tillman said that the provision would affect 
        "at least 100" families in his district that had 
        sent their boys to fight for the Confederacy—
        and that no delegate on the floor could 
        claim to be a "full-blooded Caucasian
        ." 


        The convention adopted
        a `One-Eighth Rule'.
         

        Such actions prompted Charles Chesnutt to muse, 

        "I could almost write a book about these laws,
        their variations, their applications and [the]
        curious stories that one hears 
        continually concerning them."

        The Color Line is palpably present in
        many of the short stories that he published in 
        The Atlantic Monthly at the turn of the century.

        And a character in one of Chesnutt's novels 
        became `White' simply by moving to
        a state with a more "forgiving" definition.


        THE CASES INTERPRETING THESE LAWS 
        depended primarily on lay-witnesses
        who either personally-knew the parties
        alleged to be "black" or 'were old enough
        to remember' their parents or grandparents.

        (Courts were less willing
        to rely on "experts"
        who claimed to be able to
        "look a person over and conclude",
        as one did in a  Virginia trial, that
        "there is some Negro there.") 

        The witnesses
        often matter-of-factly
        described how they worked, ate, 
        and prayed with people who 
        were "rumored" or "known" 
        to have Mixed-Blood.

        They
        didn't seem to care that
        these Racially-Ambiguous
         
        neighbors
        were marrying into their communities

        --
         though politicians and the press
        were exhaustively
         detailing [and also
        spreading unproven falsehoods of]
         "the
        dangers of unrestrained Black sexuality" 
        and even "New South" Moderates were
        proclaiming the
         need to maintain
        'White-Supremacy' at any cost".

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        There was no outcry over Frank and Susie Ferrell.

        Evidence from court documents suggests
        that the rumors during their courtship
        might have had some-basis-in-fact.

        Frank identified `one' great-grandfather 
        as the root of his wife's "Negro blood." 

        That man came from a large local family
        --- that was known to be part "black",
        part `White', and part Native American.

        Still, no one particularly objected to the
        Ferrells' marriage, and the trial drew
        neither spectators nor press coverage.

        (It may seem unsurprising that few people took the 
        time to watch a divorce trial involving country 
        people who signed their affidavits with an "X.")

        But there were plenty of reasons to attend.

        The subject matter was undoubtedly 
        of widespread interest at the time ---
        three years later, bestselling author Thomas
        Dixon, whose fiction provided 
        the basis for the
        [racist, yet classic] film 
        The Birth of a Nation
        wrote a novel and a widely performed play about the
        paramount 
        "threat" to the `White' race 
        posed by 
        women with "invisible traces" of African ancestry.

        Just as important, the litigants each
        retained the services of lawyers
        with statewide reputations.

        Susie was represented at trial by
        Thomas Walter Bickett, who would soon
        be elected Governor of Carolina .
         

        Frank's lawyer,
        Frank Shepherd-Spruill,
        was a giant of the state bar.

        Bickett and Spruill
        argued vigorously over
        one point of law: 
        the construction of 
        North Carolina's
        `One-Eighth Rule'.

        The trial court agreed with Bickett's position 
        on behalf of Susie and instructed the jury that 
        for her to be legally" black", her great-grandfather 
        would have to be  "a real Negro," meaning
        "one that did not have "any" `White' blood in him." 


        It was almost a reverse one-drop rule: 

        If Susie's great-grandfather had one drop of 
        `White' blood, she would be legally `White'.

        The jury decided in Susie's favor.

        (((In a post-trial motion, Spruill argued
        that the court's instruction was
        "an impossible standard to meet".

        By that yardstick, no one had been a "real Negro" 
        in  North Carolina  for more than a century, he said.

        Instead, Spruill contended, the term "Negro" was
        purely "descriptive"
        and should be defined
        as "the descendant of any person whose
        social-status, associations and daily living
        "stamped"
        him as being a Negro,
        without respect to the smallness of the 
        quantity or infusion of Negro blood
        in him." 

        [In other words, he contended that]
        IF Susie's great-grandfather was 
        "socially-recognized" as "black", 
        THEN she should be legally-"black" 
        --- under `The One-Eighth Rule.

        It was an interpretation of the law
        [that was unscientifically] rooted in 
        the often professed view that the
        `White' race would be destroyed
        unless it "remained" 'altogether
        free of the African "taint".'

        And --- it convinced the trial judge to set 
        aside the verdict and order a new trial.)))

        Bickett promptly appealed, and Spruill's 'theory' 
        was less kindly received by the North Carolina 
        Supreme Court, which unanimously 
        granted Susie a Divorce with Alimony.


        In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice
        Walter Clark damned Frank Ferrell
        not only for abusing and abandoning
        his wife --- but also ---  for revealing 
        `what "should have been" kept a secret'

        If indeed, the plaintiff had discovered 
        "any minute strain" of 'Colored' origin 
        `after the youth of his wife has been worn 
        away for his pleasure and in his service', 
        justice and generosity dictated
        that
        he keep to himself that of which 
        the public was unaware, or, if the
        knowledge had become public

        and was disagreeable,
        the plaintiff -- if possessed of
        any sentiment of manhood --
        would have shielded
        his wife and children 
        by removing to another locality
        or to a state where the fact, if known,
        would not be deemed a "stigma".

        In other words, there were times 
        when "race" 'was nobody's business'.

        Yet in the segregated South,
        "Race" 
        was supposedly
        everybody's business.


        That  Clark would hint otherwise
        suggests that he 
        understood the
        risks of enforcing a "One-Drop Rule"
        .


        If courts turned the law against the 
        thousands of Southern `Whites' with 
        a "minute strain of "Colored"-Origin,"
        the racial paranoia of the time could have 
        sparked riots, feuds, and witch hunts.

        Hundreds of husbands could have
        abandoned their wives by claiming they
        had unwittingly married "black" women.

        Every falling out between neighbors could 
        have triggered an "accusation" of "blackness".

        By preserving a "porous" Color-Line, 
        the courts saved `White' people 
        --- from themselves.


        A DECADE AFTER SUSIE FERRELL'S 
        1910 DIVORCE, the uncompromising 
        politics-of-Segregation caught up with 
        the court decisions that had 
        held "Racial-Purists" at bay
        .

        States across the South embraced
        [racist] 'One-Drop Rules'.


        In the 1920s, Virginia  and Louisiana  
        empowered administrative-agencies to 
        investigate people's family backgrounds.

        Walter Ashby Plecker, the Head of 
        Virginia's Bureau of Vital Statistics, 
        was so enthusiastic about his 
        "mission" that he personally 
        wrote
          cemeteries to warn them 
        against "integrating the dead".

        Plecker's agency used its findings 
        to alter racial designations on birth, 
        marriage, and death certificates.

        He bragged—in 1943—that
        his records were as thorough 
        as Hitler's genealogies of Jews.

        For 16 years, the  New Orleans  Vital 
        Statistics Supervisor Naomi Drake 
         
        refused to issue thousands of birth 
        and death records because families did
        not consent to a designation of "Negro".

        (Enormous numbers of complaints 
        finally led to her dismissal in 1965.)

        Among the enumerated grounds: 
        "Lack of courtesy and tact by
        making such statements to a citizen
        as, 'All of the people born
        in 
        White Castle,  La.,
        are half breeds.'" 

        The shift to the [racist] 'One-Drop Rule'
        may have been tolerated only because,
        for a full generation after Plessy,
        the courts 
        had "discouraged" people 
        from investigating the Racial-Origins
        of 
        their friends, enemies, and neighbors.


        That passage of time seems to have 
        allowed 'White' Southerners to 
        develop a "Collective-Amnesia" 
        about their Racially-Mixed Origins.


        Even so, supporters of  Virginia 's 
        racial-purity law scrapped a 
        provision that would have required 
        'everyone' in the state to
        register with the agency AND
        "prove" their "Racial-Purity".

        And an exception from the One-Drop Rule 
        allowed the many 'First Families of Virginia' 
        who claimed to be descended from Pocahontas 
        and John Rolfe to remain [categorized as] `White'.

        The `Collective-Amnesia' extends 
        to Franklin County, N.C., where
        the case of Frank and Susie 
        Ferrell
        has been completely forgotten.

        According to a great-niece, 
        Frank married twice more,
        first 
        to a widow who lived
        near his father's farm in Zebulon.


        She had been married to a Native American.

        After her death in 1923,
        he moved from the area 
        and may have left the state.

        His third wife was
        rumored to be
        a mail-order bride.

        Susie moved with her daughter
        to  Louisburg , the  Franklin   County  seat,
        where she stayed for 40 years.

        No one ever questioned her "Race" again.

        Her daughter married a `White' man and had four children, 
        and Susie spent her last years living with them.

        She kept to herself, leaving her room only to buy food 
        with a small purse pinned to the inside of her slip.

        They rented a home by the  Tar River , right 
        between the "black" and `White' sections of town
        .


        Daniel J. Sharfstein is a law clerk
        to Judge Rya W. Zobel in  Boston .

        This article is adapted from
        "
        The Secret History of
        Race in the United States
        ,"
         
        which appeared in the
        April issue of the

        Yale Law Journal./
        SEPTEMBER|OCTOBER 2003


        http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/September-October-2003/story_sharfstein_sepoct03.msp

        Related Posts:

        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/1386 
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/1385 
        http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/South_Carolina_Constitution#Notoriety 

        Links regarding the false "science" & theories 
        behind the infamous, racist One-Drop Rule:


        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162 
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160 
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4130
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4157 

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