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Naomi Drake's Control of Racial 'Classification' in Louisiana

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  • multiracialbookclub
    Naomi Drake and her control of the Racial Classifications in Louisiana In the very valuable but little publicized book, White by Definition : Social
    Message 1 of 3 , Dec 3, 2011
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      Naomi Drake and her control of the 
      Racial Classifications in Louisiana

      In the very valuable but little publicized 
      'White' by "Definition": Social 
      Classification in Creole Louisiana
      (written) by Virginia R. Dominguez 
      (Rutgers University Press, 1986), 

      White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana

      ----- it explains how secret files were held in the 
      state government of Louisiana and kept on `White' 
      families of Mixed-Race lineage or who were at 
      least "suspected" having some part-"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 
      'Colored' (i.e. 'Mixed-Race').

      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 "Coloreds".

      Such birth certificates are checked against a 
      "Race List" maintained by the Vital Records Office.

      If the name appeared on the "Race List," then a further study of 
      genealogical records maintained by the Vital Records Office 
      was 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" [i.e. Mixed-Race]

      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 the 
      Bureau self-described / appointed "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


      Naomi Drake and Race Changes in the Vital Stats 
      Office of the  Orleans  Parish in the state of  Louisiana


      In a society in which few `White' people could imagine anything 
      worse than being called "black", Naomi Drake wielded the weapon 
      of racism with the ardor of an armed knight defending her king.

      During 16 years as the head of the Bureau of Vital Statistics 
      for New Orleans, Drake made it clear that there was 
      nothing worse in the world than to allow a person
      to live as `White' who did not "deserve" to do so.

      She lorded over the birth and death records of 
      generations of New Orleanians, and unilaterally 
      changed the race of thousands of them from `White' 
      to "black "---- almost never the other way around.

      When she was finally fired in 1965, Drake was feared 
      and reviled - by parents who could not get birth 
      certificates to put their children in public schools, 
      by lawyers who could not do research or complete 
      wills, by adoption agencies and funeral homes.

      But the source of her power and reputation 
      says more about racism in  New Orleans
      than it did about her peculiar habits of mind.

      She was able to wield such power because of racism's sway.

      No matter what they looked like, who they were or 
      how they had lived, `White' people knew that to be 
      touched by any hint of "blackness" was to be "tainted" 
      (`stigmatized' by the sting of their own racial prejudices).

      That is what made people fear Naomi Drake.

      The Civil Service Commission agreed to delete the names of 
      any witnesses from its final decision upholding Drake's firing.
      That was to save the witnesses the embarrassment of having 
      been suspected as being "black", however inaccurately.

      If Drake thought there was the slightest hint that someone who 
      lived as a `White' person might have "any" African ancestry,
      ----- she would not issue a birth or death certificate.

      At the time of her firing for her refusal to issue certificates, 
      the backlog of birth certificates had mounted to 4,700.
      Almost 1,200 death certificates had been held up.

      And if she could prove African ancestry --- however distant 
      -- she would change a person's Race in the official records 
      of the City of  New Orleans
      , usually without notifying the
      person affected or any of the person's family members.

      According to testimony at her hearing, she once reportedly 
      said, "All the people in  White   Castle
       are half-breeds". 

      She would ferret out signs of African ancestry in children of 
      unmarried mothers, call them in to her office and inform them 
      that their children were "adulterous bastards," testimony showed.

      Drake, who died in 1987, ordered her employees to 
      pull every certificate in the office designated by race 
      with the letter "C" - which usually meant `Mixed race', 
      [a.k.a. 'Colored'] but also sometimes meant Chinese 
      or something else  ----- and change the race on such 
      documents to 'N' or `Negro' [i.e. `Mono'-racially Black]

      She kept a list of "flagged names," that she believed were 
      suspect, and should be checked for signs of African ancestry.

      Any request for a certificate of a person with a 
      flagged name had to be held up for further research.

      The list included such names as 
      Adams, Charles, Landry and Olsen.

      She explained how she could tell when someone's 
      birth certificate was wrong at her dismissal hearing 
      before the Civil Service Commission: 
      "Very often we are acquainted with the name," 
      Drake testified.
      "We know them to be the names of 'Negro' families." 

      She had her workers scour the obituaries of people who had 
      died, looking for any clues that a dead person identified as 
      `White' had "black" relatives or survivors, such as services at a 
      traditionally "black" funeral home, relatives with traditionally 
      "black" names or burial at traditionally "black" cemeteries.

      Her research was instrumental in a decision by the Orleans Parish 
      district attorney's office in 1956 to obtain an indictment against a 
      Plaquemines Parish woman on charges of filing a false document.

      The woman's crime: 
      She considered herself [to be] `White' and had 
      recorded that on the birth certificate for her child.

      The woman was eventually acquitted, but only after being 
      asked a series of questions designed to attach to her any 
      "blackness" at all, including whether her doctor treated 
      her as a "black" person or a `White' person, and 
      where her husband's sister's children attended school.

      When Drake was fired, few people were happier 
      to see her go than Peter Huhner, father of five.
      Huhner had tried to get birth certificates for his children.
      But Drake suspected Huhner's wife had African 
      ancestry, and so refused to release the certificates.
      After months of battling Drake unsuccessfully, 
      Huhner finally put his children in parochial school.
      But what Huhner was most concerned about, according to 
      his letter to city officials after Drake's dismissal, was not 
      the burden of private school tuition or the denial of a 
      public education, but that his family had been besmirched.
      "We find it difficult to understand how my wife's parents were 
      registered as being `White' as were their parents," Huhner wrote.
      "And after being brought up that way, after all these years, 
      someone that does not even know the family at all has reason to 
      believe differently and would cause this much embarrassment." 

      Naomi Drake … was fired [from the 
      Bureau of Vital Statistics] in 1965.

      She refused to issue 4,700 birth certificates 
      ----- most of them because she suspected `
      White' babies of having African ancestry.

      When Bureau of Vital Statistics Director Naomi Drake 
      decided someone had African ancestry, she would simply 
      cross out 'W' ('White'), in this case on a death certificate, 
      and write in 'N' ('Negro' [i.e. `Mono'-racially Black] ) 
      often without telling the families of her decision.


      The fact is, however, that the practice of race-flagging 
      and withholding certificates actually 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 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 
      "partial 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."


      NewsBank InfoWeb NewsBank Full-Text Newspapers  
      Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) August 16, 1993
      Author: JAMES O'BYRNE Staff writer 
      Section: NATIONAL Page: A7 
      Estimated printed pages: 4 Article Text:
      Copyright, 1993, The Times-Picayune Publishing 
      Corporation./ All Rights Reserved./ Used by News
      Bank with Permission. / Record Number: 9308190280
      Record Number: 9308190280
      Copyright. / All rights reserved.

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