drunk history or re: mary ellen pleasant

Apparently three years have flown by since I first learned of and blogged about Mary Ellen Pleasant.  Whoa.

Anyway, I was truly delighted to come across this Drunk History segment on a Sunday afternoon #sharing.  I love that some funny creative knew of the story and decided to give it life as an inebriated tale.  The piece is actually longer, but this is all I could find on youtube.  If you have Comedy Central and On Demand you can find the entire tale in the “San Francisco” episode.  Highly recommended.

“Where was I at historic-al-ly?”


black mother, white children

I accidentally happened upon a fascinating thread discussing the photograph below.  It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in this sort of thing.  Apparently, Mary categorized herself as “white” on the 1880 Census.  I wonder how that was possible.  Whatever the case, the point that there are approximately 3000 descendants of this family who, I have little doubt, consider themselves to be exclusively white brings me back to the novel idea that we are all mixed, we are simply American, and the veil of otherness is a detrimental illusion from which we desperately need to wake up. K?

James William Evans (1814-1883), his wife Mary Eliza Hoggard, and their children William, John and Mary Evans. Mary Eliza Hoggard was a descendant of the free African American Cobb and Bazemore families of  Bertie County, North Carolina. James William Evans was from Dorchester County, Maryland.


Mr. Evans married Mary Eliza Hoggard, of North Carolina, February 8, 1844. They have three children: Mary Frances, (who married Mr. Frank Collins, a son of J. W. Collins, Register of Clay County, Missouri, and they live with Mr. Evans on the farm);  John Henry, (was married August n, 1877, at Hainesville);  and William James, (who was born August 29, 1848, and married Caroline Gow, a daughter of Arthur Gow, of Clay County, in November, 1875).

We learn… that the North Carolina counties involved are Clinton County and Clay Counties Missouri. The children grew-up, married and lived in these two counties. The daughter married a Collins.

Apparently, James Evans brought (not bought!) Mary Hoggard from North Carolina and married her in Missouri where they raised their family. This makes sense, since this part of Missouri would have been “Free.”

This indicates to me that whites named Evans and Collins living in these two counties today, have a good chance of being a descendant of the black woman in the photo.

This photo speaks volumes of the kind of dilemma a black mother married to a white man found herself in during the 19th century.  This couple were married in Clinton County, Missouri, went by the surname Evans, and would have approximately 3000 descendants today.

  • The children are mulatto but 100% passable. The time, right around the Civil War. The choice the children had was really no choice. Quite simply, either they turned their backs on the mother and leave the state or be classified as Negro and endure Jim Crow for the rest of the lives.

    The mother is clearly not thrilled with the photograph. I think she was forced to sit for it by her husband. She appears to be thinking it’s not a very good idea, that the photo could prove an embarrassment  to her children. Indeed, it could prove an embarrassment to all her descendants 200 years into the future.

    I think this is what she was thinking.

    Let’s say the tall young man in the rear passed for white, married a white woman and had a family. This photo would not be considered a precious family heirloom but instead an indictment of Negro heritage.

    Does this explains why the mother is not smiling…?

  • The husband was born in 1818. The photo — judging by the clothing — was taken a few years before the Civil War. Location Virginia, a slave state. Things were starting to heat up. All around them slave owners were getting pissed a the North, Lincoln, and most especially those sympathetic to Negroes. You think interracial dating is tough today, imagine how hard it was then.

    All kinds of scary things were going on in the Slave states. People were stock-piling weapons. People were talking about succession. The young man standing was  about military age. Free blacks were being snatched-up and sold back into slavery. If the woman had local relatives she had surely cut herself off from them. No way should could afford to have her kin be part of her new family.

    At school the children were probably catching hell because of their black mother. If the mother wasn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown she would be around the time her eldest started talking about joining a local regiment to fight the yankees and preserve slavery.

    Her husband’s family surely would have disowned him by then and no white family would have anything to do with them. Of course if they lived on a farm their contact would be minimal, but if they lived on a farm they had slaves and that must  have made her a mess too.

    But the main thing is sitting for the portrait must have seemed insane to her. Her kids look white. Each one could easily pass. Why do something that would doom them forever to second-class citizenship? She had to be thinking that. The sit had to be the last thing she wanted for her children — proof they were black.

    Had the kids looked like mulattoes, it would have been a different story. But these kids look completely white. They could pass with no problem at all — so why do something that could get them lynched?

    And that photo would do that had her eldest married a local white girl.

    That’s my theory why the mother doesn’t look happy.

  • So, Mary Hoggard Evans (the black woman in the photo) has three children who pass for white. They each get married around 1875.

    That’s six generations. Let’s figure each of her descendants in each of these generations had three children who went on to have three children up until today.

    1875 3 times 3 = 9

    1900 3 times 9 = 36

    1925                   108

    1950                   324

    1975                   974

    2000                   2916

    That’s almost 3000 “whites” descended from black Mary Hoggard.

    See how nonsensical this white-black thing is?

decreasingly on the rise

This article raises more questions for me than it imparts information.  That may be it’s purpose.  I want to know why there is a decrease in the rate of increase of interracial marriages.  Ever since my “a-ha” moment surrounding my biracialness, I’ve been super-interested in the greater number of white women/black men couplings as opposed to black women/white men.  I realized on that day that having a black mom/white dad made me a “minority” within a “minority” within a “minority” (and a majority?).  What!?  I don’t even like the word minority.  Let’s use anomaly.  I perceive myself to be an anomaly within an anomaly.  That’s better.  Anyway, I would love to conduct a study on why exactly the trend in gender and race of black/white couples is as it is.  Lastly, what really stands out to me in the information below is that U.S. born Hispanics and U.S. born Asians are marrying (I assume) U.S. born whites.  What does this mean?  Americans are marrying Americans.  That should be the paradigm that we as a nation collectively shift toward.  Race doesn’t exist. Nationality does.

Interracial Marriage: Who is More Likely to Wed Outside Their Race?

by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox

Interracial marriages are on the rise in the U.S., although they’ve slowed somewhat over the past decade. The latest census figures show that interracial marriages in America now account for 8 percent of all marriages, up from 7 percent in 2000. During the decade from 1990 until 2000, there was a sharp increase in mixed-race marriages, with such couplings growing by 65 percent. Since the year 2000, however, mixed-raced marriages have grown by just 20 percent to about 4.5 million couples.

Looking at the data over the past three decades, which groups are more likely to marry outside their race? According to federal statistics, African Americans are three times more likely to marry whites than they were back in 1980. Some attribute this to an increase in African American educational attainment and more professional interaction among blacks and whites.

Other findings from the census data include:

*14.5 percent of black men and 6.5 percent of black women now marry whites

*38 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics marry whites, compared with 30 percent in 1980

*40 percent of U.S.-born Asians marry whites, a number unchanged since 1980

It would have been interesting to see other data that looked at interracial couples of all kinds, not just a look at which “minority” groups marry whites. In this sense, this data is skewed and rather limited when talking about the full scope of interracial marriages.

We all know that the world is fast becoming multicultural, global in nature and interdependent in numerous ways. From the adventurous traveler who meets and marries someone of a different race and culture in another country to the investor who buys stocks and bonds from companies all around the globe, the world is at once becoming smaller, yet bigger and with more possibilities.

The challenge going forward will be how do we deal with the social, economic and political realities of living in an increasingly multiethnic, interracial society? And will we ever get to a point where race will simply cease to matter — all matters personal, professional and otherwise?


racial identity shaped by social experience, or white mulattoes

This entire post is reblogged from Renegade South: histories of unconventional southerners.  I find it to be a fascinating piece of American history.  It’s one of those stories in which “american” history and “african-american” history are so intertwined that a distinction between the two can hardly be made.  That’s just how it always should be, in my opinion.  This country has just one history.  It’s black and white and everything in between.  The story is long and may be hard to follow, but I think it’s worth the effort.

The Family Origins of Vernon Dahmer, Civil Rights Activist

by renegadesouth

Vernon F. Dahmer, a well known Mississippi civil rights worker, was murdered in 1966 by white supremacists connected to the Ku Klux Klan. Before the night of January 10, 1966, when the Dahmer grocery store and home were firebombed, Vernon had been leading voter registration drives in his community. To facilitate that effort, he had recently placed a voter registration book in the grocery store he owned.

Dahmer Grocery Store

Vernon Dahmer’s grocery store, located on Monroe Road, 3.5 miles from the Jones County line. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Vernon Dahmer, Western Union Telegram

It took many years and five court trials to convict KKK Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers in 1998 of having ordered the murder of Vernon Dahmer. Today, Dahmer is revered for his courageous work on behalf of black civil rights. In honor of his memory, both a street and memorial park in Hattiesburg bear his name.

In the essay that follows, Dahmer’s grandniece, Wilmer Watts Backstrom, and Yvonne Bivins, a member of his extended family, enrich our understanding by telling the story of his family roots in southern Mississippi. Dahmer’s multiracial heritage included white, black, and Indian ancestors. The narrative begins with the story of his grandmother, Laura Barnes.

The Family Origins of Vernon F. Dahmer, Mississippi Civil Rights Activist

By Wilmer Watts Backstrom and Yvonne Bivins

Laura Barnes was born in Jones County, MS in October 1854. According to her daughter, Roxanne Craft, “she was given to a black family to raise because she was born out of wedlock to a white girl.”

The 1870 census for Twp 9 in NE Jones County, Mississippi, shows that fifteen-year-old Laura was living in the household of Ann Barnes, a 55-year-old mulatto woman born in Mississippi whose occupation was housekeeper. A young mulatto boy, Augustus, age 12, also lived in the home.  Living next door to the Barnes family were Andrew and Annice (Brumfield) Dahmer.

Laura Barnes

Laura Barnes, grandmother of Vernon Dahmer, Sr., courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

After the Civil War, Andrew Dahmer and his brothers became traveling salesmen who peddled their wares in Wayne, Jones, and Perry Counties in Mississippi. Andrew soon met and married Annice Brumfield, whose mother, Altamarah Knight Brumfield, was the daughter aunt of Newt Knight and Serena Knight.

Andrew and Annice’s neighbor, Laura Barnes, met Andrew’s brother, Peter Dahmer, in the early 1870s. They began a relationship that resulted in the birth of a baby boy in 1872, who Laura named George Washington Dahmer. Peter apparently did not acknowledge his child, and soon moved to Chickasaw County with several brothers, where they farmed and built a mercantile business.

For giving birth out of wedlock, Laura became a “marked woman.” During this period in her life, she operated a boarding house for the railroad and sawmill workers in northeast Covington County and near “Sullivan’s Hollow” in Smith County. The “Hollow” was notorious for its lawlessness and racial bigotry.  Blacks were not welcome there.  Black families that did live there were descendants of Craft and Sullivan slaves.

Laura hired a black man from the hollow named Charlie Craft. Working closely together on her place, they soon fell in love and developed a relationship. This would bring trouble, because although Laura was raised by a mulatto woman and listed as mulatto on census records, whites still considered her off limits to a black man.

Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft

Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft, grandparents of Vernon Dahmer. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Charlie Craft was born in Smith County, MS, around 1853.  According to family history, he was part Creek Indian and part African, with piercing eyes and coal black straight hair. A former slave of Bryant Craft, Charlie was known as a man who had never run from a fight. Story has it that after a shootout with the infamous Sullivans, he left Smith County, but doubled back to spirit away his siblings. Because newly freed slaves were not welcome in Smith County, they moved to Covington County, where they settled on a ridge south of the Hollow in the Oakohay area. Here, they established a prosperous community called Hopewell.

By 1880, thirty-year-old Charlie and twenty-eight-year old Laura lived in the Oakohay District.  Four children lived with them: George (Laura’s son by Peter Dahmer), age 10; [Roxanne] Viola, age 7; Bettie, age 5; and Elnathan, age 2. All, including Laura and her son George, were listed as “mulattos” on the 1880 federal manuscript census for Covington County.  Living nearby were Charlie Craft’s mother, Melvina, and several siblings.

One night a local white mob filled with home brew surrounded and attacked their home.  Both Laura and Charlie were excellent shots. Laura shot and killed one of attackers as they tried to protect their children from the mob and, in so doing, the couple had to flee “the ridge.” Laura’s son, George Dahmer, helped them escape.  Upon arriving in the Kelly Settlement, they moved off in the swamps on the Leaf River on the old “William Jenkins Place.”

George Washington Dahmer

George Washington Dahmer, father of Vernon Dahmer, son of Laura Barnes Craft and Peter Dahmer, stepson of Charlie Craft. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr

The area commonly known as Kelly Settlement was settled by John Kelly, a white man born in North Carolina about 1750.  John and his wife, Amelia, left Hancock County, GA, and arrived in Mississippi in late 1819, settling in Perry County.  By 1820, the Kelly household included John, Amelia, sons Green, 16, and Osborne, 18, Osborne’s wife Joene, and nine slaves. Among these slaves were the parents of Sarah, whose descendants later formed Kelly Settlement. Although the 1820 federal manuscript census for Perry County listed no free blacks living in the household of John and Amelia Kelly, descendants claim that Sarah’s folks were not slaves, but free people who accompanied the Kelly family to Mississippi.

After the Civil War, Sarah’s children began to homestead land, marry, and raise children.  Working together as they had down on John Kelly’s place, they cleared the land to raise crops, cut timber, and hauled it to the Leaf River by oxen to float it down to the Gulf Coast.

Laura Barnes Craft’s son, George Dahmer, moved to the Kelly community ahead of the rest of the Crafts. In 1895, George married Ellen Louvenia Kelly, the daughter of Warren Kelly and Henrietta McComb.  Like his own mother, Laura, Ellen’s mother, Henrietta, was a white child born out of wedlock and given to a black family, the McCombs, to raise.  The McCombs were living on the William Jenkins place when the Crafts arrived in Perry County.  Ellen Kelly’s father, Warren Kelly, was the mulatto son of Green H. Kelly and the grandson of John Kelly, the original white settler of the area. Warren Kelly’s mother was Sarah, the daughter of John Kelly’s slaves (or perhaps free black servants).

Warren Kelly

Warren Kelly, son of Green Kelly and Sarah Kelly, father of Ellen Kelly Dahmer, grandfather of Vernon Dahmer. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

It was to this community that Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft fled with the aid of Laura’s son, George Dahmer. According to Wilmer Watts Backstrom (their great granddaughter), Charlie and Laura’s family lived in isolation for many years after being forced out of Covington County; they were prone to violent disagreements and exhibited heated tempers. This family drank heavily with much cursing.  They lived down in the swamps isolated from the community until the children were all grown.  As the children became adults, they gradually moved out of the swamps, married and had families of their own.

Charlie was employed by Green Kelly as a night watchman on the Leaf River. He died before 1910 in Forrest County, MS.  By that year, several of his and Laura’s children were married and living in Kelly Settlement, MS. Although Laura’s name does not appear on the 1910 Census, she was still alive that year. In 1920, she lived with her oldest child, daughter Roxanne Craft Watts, on the Dixie Highway, Forrest County, MS.  Laura died on 5 June 1922.

Ellen Louvenia Kelly

Ellen Louvenia Kelly, wife of George Dahmer, mother of Vernon Dahmer, daughter of Warren and Henrietta McComb Kelly. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Laura’s son and Charlie’s stepson, George Dahmer, identified as a black man even though his mother and biological father were white, demonstrating how strongly one’s racial identity is shaped by social experience.

George and Ellen Kelly Dahmer were the parents of Vernon Dahmer. George was known as an honest, hardworking man of outstanding integrity, rich in character rather than worldly goods. Like his father, Vernon worked hard and became a successful storekeeper and commercial farmer. Before his tragic death, he served as music director and Sunday school teacher at the Shady Grove Baptist Church, as well as president of the Forrest County Chapter of the NAACP. He and his wife, Ellie Jewell Davis, were the parents of seven sons and one daughter.

Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr.

Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Vernon and Ellie Dahmer Family

Vernon Dahmer’s wife and children: seated left to right, George Weldon, Ellie J., Alvin; standing, left to right, Vernon Jr., Betty Ellen, Harold. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

encourage an important social change

I have long held a sneaking suspicion that by honestly exploring the mulatto experience we will encourage important social change.  I am thrilled to hear that way back when, others had the same idea.  But then slavery ended, and the “powers that be” really needed to maintain the color-coded class system that allowed them such control and wealth, and so did our chances (slim though they were) of being counted for what we really are.  This was not a chance, in my opinion, to distance ourselves from blackness, but to disprove the theory that white and black were different species. I do think we’ve moved beyond that antiquated notion, but I’m not so sure there aren’t a great number of people who consciously or unconsciously believe that black and white occupy space at opposite ends of the spectrum of one species.  I think this article says so much and says it very well.

Census reveals history of U.S. racial identity

by Sally Lehrman

Whether or not they can lay claim to a special category, the “Confederate Southern Americans” who want to write themselves into the U.S. census section denoting “race” have a point.

Race, as the social scientists like to say, is “socially constructed.” Since the founding of this country, we have been making it up as we go. Race is a modern idea, historians and anthropologists tell us, a means to categorize and organize ourselves that we constantly adjust.

The U.S. census serves as an archive of this change, a record of classifications that have been “contradictory and confused from the very outset,” says Margo Anderson, a University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, urban studies historian and expert on U.S. census history. Begun in 1790 as a solution to the problem of how to allocate seats in Congress, the survey didn’t mention “race” originally, but the idea as we understand it today was central. How should slaves be counted? Were they entirely property or were they people? What to do with “civilized” Indians?

Later Congress debated whether to include the word “mulatto,” Anderson says, and finally agreed – but for opposite reasons. Blacks and whites were different species, some argued, so their “unnatural” offspring should be counted. Others felt that documenting the children of black-white relationships would encourage an important social advance.

“Mexicans” were counted as a race in the 1930 questionnaire, but the Mexican government protested and the category disappeared. “Hindu” lasted for three decades. Koreans were written in, pulled out, and added back again.

All along, the “race” category of the census has been a powerful social and political tool wielded both to discriminate and to guard against discrimination. At first, survey categories reflected ideas about the divide between black and white, which immigrants were eligible for citizenship, and how to sort categories of “Indians.” Later, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, its groupings also made it possible to measure compliance with equal treatment under the law.

The census reveals the process of race, the categories by which Americans construct difference and with difference, special privileges for some. It measures who and what matters, how resources have been allocated, and reflects the political, economic and social interests that prop up race. Race is defined and contested constantly, shaped in both personal and social realms all at once, according to Michael Omi and Howard Winant, sociologists who developed the central paradigm for studying contemporary race in American society.

Today, for instance, many Latinos refuse to conform to the forms of race described in the census. “Hispanic” is separated out as an “ethnicity” on the survey, so members of this group are expected to choose a race, too. About 40 percent in both 1980 and 2000 selected “some other race,” often writing in an identity such as “Venezuelan” instead.

But that’s not to say race is an illusion, a set of categories we can write in or wipe away like chalk on a blackboard. Race arose in America as a means to support and rationalize the slave economy. By the end of the 17th century, writes social anthropologist Audrey Smedley, wealthy planters had carefully woven it into a “rigid and exclusionist” system, a legal and institutional hierarchy built upon skin color.

We continue to shape race through both our institutions and everyday actions, and it powerfully shapes us. Public health statistics reveal the damage. On average, white people can expect to live about five years longer than African Americans. Even middle-class black people are more likely than any other group to live with a chronic health condition or disability. American Indians and Latinos suffer disproportionately from diabetes, Asian Americans bear a heavier burden of tuberculosis and hepatitis B, and the list goes on. While genetic scientists hunt for possible differences in susceptibility, public health experts shine their light on society.

Forces like everyday prejudice, segregated neighborhoods and unequal schools wear out hearts and immune systems, clog up air passages and make us fat. San Francisco is among the cities, in fact, studying the ways in which we build disparate health opportunity right into our streets. Who enjoys neighborhoods with clean, well-lighted sidewalks? Who has to battle congested traffic and diesel fumes to get to work or school? Who can walk to a farmers’ market on Saturday, and who sees only fast-food outlets block after block?

When confronted with race categories neatly printed out on a form, it’s tempting to see them as natural divisions. The inequities that go along with them, it seems to follow, are natural, too. With their proposition to claim themselves as a race, the Southern Confederates challenge all of us to contemplate what we mean by that term and what role we play in making its harms and hierarchies real. And when we learn about racial differences in health, in economic success, in education or any other measure, we should remember the confederates. Race matters, and we are the hands that shape it.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/04/17/INA41CUC6V.DTL#ixzz0lZT8DJ4W

just one more census thing

i think this should be the last census post.  actually, it’s just something i found amusing.  while researching census stuff i came across this ad and it’s one of the silliest things i’ve ever seen…  what!?

From the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, who were using the Christmas story from Luke 2 to encourage people to participate in the 2010 census.  Luke 2:1-4 says Jesus was born during a census ordered by Caesar Augustus. Although historians question the accuracy of the account, Luke stated that everyone had to return to his ancestral town to be registered for taxes and that Joseph and Mary left Nazareth for Bethlehem.

oh. of course. how did i miss that?

changing attitudes and understandings about race

I thought I was over the Census, but my interest keeps getting piqued despite my best efforts to ignore the chatter.  What I’m most intrigued by at this moment is the notion that in the next decade or two, if we keep changing our attitudes and understandings for the better, a majority of Americans could come to view themselves as mixed race.  And by that I mean Americans who today consider themselves to be exclusively white or black despite the abstract knowledge that we are all mixed up to some extent.  And if that paradigm shift happens there won’t be much use in classifying ourselves in terms of “race” because we will see ourselves as generally more similar than different regardless of color/phenotype.  Although I respect Obama’s right (and that of every individual) to self-identify any way he chooses, I feel that the checking of just one box is holding us back from reaching that “promised land” where we aren’t so entrenched in these antiquated notions of race and color, but perhaps more interested in heart, spirit, intellect …. Once again I’m a bit speechless because I’m not sure what the world will look like when instinctively and instantly we take people for what the truly are instead of what they truly look like.

Rep. Patrick McHenry claims every census in history has asked for an individual’s race


In an op-ed piece for the conservative Web site Red State on April 1, 2010, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC, the ranking Republican on the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee, sought to tamp down some of the misinformation being spread about the census by “otherwise well-meaning conservatives” and warned that failing to fully participate in the census could create a competitive advantage for Democrats.

Specifically, McHenry attempted to allay the fear among some Republicans who distrust the government and view the census as overly prying.

…In his posting on Red State, McHenry said “the most private question on this year’s form asks for an individual’s race and that question has been asked by every census since the 1790 census conducted under then-President George Washington.”

We decided to check that claim out, which was similar to one from Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves in a March 15, 2010, press release: “It’s one of the shortest forms in our lifetime with just 10 questions very much like the questions James Madison and Thomas Jefferson helped craft on the very first Census.”

Conveniently, the U.S. Census Bureau keeps historical records online of all the questions asked in every census going back to the first one in 1790.

If you follow the census questions asked through U.S. history, you can see how they reflect changing attitudes and understandings about race.

Yes, the 1790 census and others in the early years of the survey addressed race, but it was hardly a matter of checking a box. Rather, the census asked about the number of free white males and females; the number of “all other free persons” and the number of slaves.

By 1850, the Census asked about people’s “color.” According to the Census archives, this column was to be left blank if a person was white, marked “B” if a person was black, and marked “M” if a person was mulatto. A separate form listed slave inhabitants, the last census to do so. By 1870, the “color” options included “W” for white, “B” for black, “M” for mulatto, “C” for Chinese (a category which included all Asians), or “I” for American Indian. The 1890 census added Japanese and more mixed-race categories — mulatto, quadroon and even octoroon, according to amounts of perceived African blood. By 1920 Filipino and Korean sprang up, along with the improbable racial term “Hindu.” New labels emerged after World War II, with Hawaiian, Eskimo and others joining the parade of terms.  The question morphed into “color or race” in the mid-1900s, and then, finally to just “race” in 1970. In 1980, in addition to race, the Census began asking if a person was of Spanish or Hispanic origin or descent.

It’s fair to say that every census has addressed the issue of race in some fashion. But we think it’s a bit of a stretch when McHenry says “this year’s asks for an individual’s race and that question has been asked by every census since the 1790 census.”

In the 1790 Census (and several after it), a respondent was not simply asked their race. Rather, they were asked to list the number of white people, the number of “other free persons” and the number of slaves. In other words, it didn’t ask for the race of non-whites. One could argue this reflects the common attitude about race at the time. But that’s hardly the same as the 2010 version that simply asks a person’s race.

Prior to the Civil War the census was more concerned with whether someone was enslaved or not, than establishing whether someone was white. This is a very different conception from our modern idea of race. Post Civil War, the terminology changed (from “color” to “race,” for example) and the categories expanded over time. Certainly these are different standards when compared to today’s measures. But again, one could argue that the questions comported with attitudes about race at those times, and the census has always asked discriptive questions that corrolate to race. So we rule McHenry’s claim Mostly True.

denying the rich history of america’s multiracial realities

these are my sentiments exactly, jason haap!  i try so hard not to judge or be offended by anyones’ choice to self-identify as they choose, but…. come on obama!!  how will we ever move forward if the most recognized living ‘mulatto’ doesn’t think it matters that he is one?  how will we eradicate the vestiges of the one-drop rule, which implies that black blood is a pollutant, and that if your drop is visible you better forget about the rest and fall in line at the back with the other tainted ready to fight the good fight?  if we can’t get rid of that idea, then how will we get to the point where we see ourselves in everyone because we are indeed all mixed up and there is no inherent opposition.  i have a feeling that we as a human race could reach untold heights if we redirected the energy that we (perhaps unconsciously) spend on categorizing/demonizing/stereotyping/judging/comparing/othering toward a more inclusive, unified system of brotherly commune. like, no fighting, no distrust, no base-less fear. what!? i don’t even know how to say what i mean. maybe there’s not a word for it. yet.

Unfortunate message to our mixed-race children

by Jason Haap, an educator, citizen media activist, and father of two multiracial children


The “one drop” rule is alive and well for America’s multiracial children! Last week, President Obama gathered fanfare from national media. Despite the obvious existence of his white mother, he checked just one box on his census form regarding his racial identity: “Black, African Am., or Negro.” By ignoring the option of checking multiple boxes (or of writing in a word like “multiracial”), Obama sent an unfortunate message to America’s mixed-race children.

People may have the freedom to pick racial identities individually, but Obama’s public actions as president of the United States deny the rich history of America’s multiracial realities, hearkening back to a racist period that said one drop “black” makes a person “all black.”

I remember, a few months ago, playing with my kids at the Cincinnati Children’s Museum. I heard one boy point at my oldest son and call him “that black kid.” Certainly my children are more brown-skinned than me, but they are also more fair-skinned than their mother. That’s because I have multiracial children, and I think it’s too bad their racial identities are being formed by a backward-thinking American culture before they are even old enough to notice skin color might mean something in the first place.

Despite the mythologies some of us have been raised to believe, there is nothing “stronger” about black blood. It does not “take over” a baby’s genes if one parent is black and the other white. These ideas were promulgated by racists who wanted to scare white people into thinking their genes would be obliterated by the act of intermixing with blacks. But it’s just not true. It’s bunk science and even bunkier sociology.

When the Race exhibit came to the Cincinnati Museum Center, I learned how some cultures have radically different ways of articulating race – such as in Brazil, where dozens of descriptive terms are used instead of polarizing opposites like simply “white” or simply “black.” Instead of helping move our racial understandings into the 21st century, Obama’s public actions have placed us back into the old racist thinking of the one drop rule, and that’s a shame.

grateful for the choice

I mailed my Census form yesterday.  I must say that after all the hype, I was totally underwhelmed by the experience.  I checked the two boxes.  I can’t say it brought me any great feelings of validation.  I guess I thought they’d be asking some questions that went beyond race.  I also thought that “Negro” would be the only African American classification term offered since there was so much buzz about the word being used in 2010.  At any rate, I enjoyed this article.

More than black or white

By Annette John-Hall

Inquirer Columnist


For Kathrin P. Ivanovic, racial identity means a whole lot more than just black or white.

Her makeup runs the gamut.

“My mother is German and my birth father is African American with Cuban ancestry,” says Ivanovic, 29, director of development at the Nationalities Service Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit that services immigrants and refugees.

“Plus, my adopted dad is white, and I’m queer. Unfortunately, they don’t have a box for that.

“. . . I call myself a mixed chick.”

But when her 2010 U.S. Census form arrives in the mail this week (the 10-question form is being touted as the shortest in census history), Ivanovic will be satisfied to check black and white – which is really how she sees herself anyway.

Since the 2000 census, for millions of Americans like Ivanovic, “check one or more” will apply.

There is plenty to choose from, with the number of racial and ethnic categories at 63. In the 1990 census, there were only five designations offered.

It can be dizzying. If you’re, say, Asian, you can check any combination of Asian American, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, Guamanian, or Chamorro, Samoan, as well as write-in categories for Other Asian or Other Pacific Islander.

In addition, you can also note if you’re of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. That’s because since 1970, Hispanic was no longer recognized as an overarching classification.

Still with me? (And here I thought having Negro on the same line as the black or African American box was confusing.)

But I’m all for it, especially if it paints a more genuine picture of who we are – all 300 million of us. Doesn’t matter if only 2 percent of Americans were identified as more than one race in 2000. Nowadays, we’ve got more multiracial and multiethnic couples and children than ever before, which means the percentage is sure to increase this year.

Which in turn enables the government to allocate funds more equitably. Census data are used in everything from determining the number of congressmen your region gets to the assessing the amount of funding for your town’s bridge project to supporting health centers.

Race data also have driven the nation’s civil rights laws (how many people were denied the right to vote, how many were discriminated against in housing, for example) and are still used to monitor inequalities in health and education.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Truth is, the U.S. Census was historically more of an oppressor than an advocate, especially when it came to African Americans.

Racial count

From the time census data were first collected in 1790, when enumerators listed categories of free men and slaves, whites used the census to diminish African Americans.

“You can see why they had a slave category,” says MIT professor Melissa Nobles, author of Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics. “Southern slave owners wanted the least amount of information, thinking it would help abolitionists. And abolitionists wanted the most amount of information [to make their case].”

Throughout the 19th century and until 1930, census counters used categories such as quadroon (one-quarter black), octoroon (one-eighth black), and mulatto (half black) to describe any person who had a discernible amount of African American blood.

Like they could tell just from looking.

Even after 1930, Southern laws imposed the “one-drop rule” to its census enumerating, meaning they were to count as mulattos anyone who even looked remotely black – a mandate loosely applied by census counters nationwide.

“They used it for racial social science,” Nobles says. For example, they used census data to prove skewed theories (arguing, for instance, that biracial people – “the tragic mulatto” – were somehow weaker and suffered from higher death rates), which in turn helped legislators make the case against interracial marriage.

But even as the categories have expanded, some today are pushing for a separate, generic multiracial designation.

Ralina L. Joseph, a professor of communications at the University of Washington, worries that even though the data will show us as more diverse and multihued, they could be misinterpreted once again.

“I don’t want people to read the numbers and think that racism is over, that this is a post-racial moment,” says Joseph, who is biracial. “We should hope that people who are disenfranchised through race, class, and poverty levels should be identified as such.”

Some sociologists even insist that racial designations have no place on a census form, if it is indeed as simple as an objective count.

But in a multiracial, multiethnic society where even the president is a self-described “mutt,” Kathrin Ivanovic is grateful for the choice.

“I am mixed. It’s how I view the world, and in some ways it’s how the world views me,” she says. “To not be able to identify that way is dishonest to me personally.”

“The Census Taker” (1870) Harper’s Weekly

make your own definition

I enjoyed and appreciated this article about “us.”  I’ve been thinking lately about the choice we have to either “interact with the system the way it interacts with you,” or to come up with (and stick to and be ready to defend) our own definition of self.  In other words, you can let everyone else define you because it’s the path of least outward resistance, or you can follow the path of the least inward resistance.  I tried to go along with the system.  I think that was the primary source of my former discontent.  Now that I’m being true to myself, lots of things make a lot more sense and the possibilities seem greater.  Other things seem to make no sense at all and the obstacles loom large.  Yet I’m confident that I’m heading in the right direction.

For fast-growing group of Americans, race isn’t defined by one name

The question hit Tiffanie Grier like a hammer, and more than 15 years later, the impact lingers. She was just 9 years old, a third-grader at a school awards program, when she was asked by a friend’s mother about her ambiguous racial appearance.

What are you?

For Grier, now 26 and career placement director for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis, it was the first of many instances in which she confronted questions related to her heritage as the daughter of a white mother and an African-American father.

“I get asked a lot,” she said. “(People) feel the need to know.”

Far from being a rarity, however, Grier is part of what may be the fastest-growing demographic, both locally and nationally.

Between 2000 and 2008, the number of people of two or more races rose nearly 33 percent, from 3.9 million to nearly 5.2 million nationwide, according to census estimates.

In Shelby County, the growth rate was even faster. The number of multiracial residents increased some 43 percent, from 6,384 to 9,113 during the eight-year period in which the overall county population grew by only about 1 percent.

The 2010 Census, barely two months away, is expected to show even greater growth in the category, demographers say.

The reasons are twofold. First, the number of interracial marriages, and the children produced by them, has risen steadily since 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state prohibitions on the unions.

Second, as a result of a growing acceptance of multiracial heritage, researchers say, people have become increasingly willing to check more than one category for race on the census forms. The election of a mixed-race president, Barack Obama, likely will reinforce that trend.

“It’s the wave of the future, for sure,” said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution in Washington. “I think symbolically … it might have an impact on how people view race.”

The upcoming census will be only the second in which respondents are able to identify themselves as multiracial.

The 2000 Census showed the emerging “two-or-more-races” group was poised for rapid growth. About 42 percent of them were under age 18, compared to only 25 percent of the general population that young, and 70 percent were younger than 35.

“What that’s telling you is that it’s a young population, and that it’s increasing,” said Nicholas Jones, chief of the Census Bureau’s racial statistics branch.

Among the most common combinations named by people in the two-or-more-races category in 2000 were white-Native American/ Alaskan (1.08 million), white-Asian (about 868,000) and white-black (nearly 785,000).

The significance of the emerging multirace demographic is anything but clear. Frey predicts it will diminish the importance of race — helping to propel society beyond a black-white divide — while others say the impact will be more on a personal level.

“I think it’s important to the people themselves — how they identify themselves,” said Darryl Tukufu, vice president for academic affairs and associate professor of sociology at Crichton College in Memphis.
Memphians (clockwise from top left) Felicia Scarpeti-Lomax, Tiffanie Grier, Cardell Orrin  and Desireé Robertson are members of what may be the fastest-growing demographic, both locally and nationally -- people who may identify themselves by two or more races.

(PHOTO BY MIKE BROWN: Memphians (clockwise from top left) Felicia Scarpeti-Lomax, Tiffanie Grier, Cardell Orrin and Desireé Robertson are members of what may be the fastest-growing demographic, both locally and nationally — people who may identify themselves by two or more races.)

Whatever other effects it might have, the relatively recent census acceptance of multiracial classification recalls the nation’s troubled and convoluted history regarding race.

Although many African-Americans have some white ancestry, the historic “one-drop rule” meant that anyone with so much as a drop of black blood was categorized as black and potentially subjected to disenfranchisement and other forms of discrimination.

That history, said Warner Dickerson, president of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP, blurs the significance of the new census categories.

“I happen to be a fair-skinned black man, and you and I both know why,” Dickerson said. “Most of us are mixed with black blood and white blood.”

Because society has labeled them as black, many people with one African-American and one white parent say they will continue to check only the black category on the census form.

“I will be addressed, especially here in the South, as an African-American,” said Cardell Orrin, 35, a Memphis business consultant and co-founder of a political action committee called New Path. “You decide to make your own definition or interact with the system the way it interacts with you.”

Tukufu said the labeling, and discrimination that accompanied it, tended to instill in many mixed-race people a pride in their black heritage. That’s why they’ve stuck with one racial category on census forms.

“But now you have more of the younger folks who identify with both,” he added.

Grier interviewed people of ambiguous racial appearance, including many of mixed heritage, for her master’s thesis at the University of Memphis. She found that the question of how mixed-race people identified themselves often depends on who raised them.

That was the case with Desireé Robertson, 37, of Millington, who was adopted by an African-American couple and didn’t discover until age 30 that her biological mother was white.

“That’s my primary identification,” Robertson said in explaining why she’ll stay with just African-American as her identity in the census.

But Felicia Scarpeti-Lomax, 39, who was raised by both her white Italian-American mother and her black father, plans to use both racial categories.

“For me to use one racial category, that would be eliminating one of my parents, and that’s not my heritage,” Scarpeti-Lomax said.

She formerly lived in New York City, where racial identity was never an issue, she said.

“I never faced this craziness until I moved to the South,” she said.

Scarpeti-Lomax, like many others of biracial heritage, said she’s glad the Census Bureau finally began offered the choice of multiple categories.

“This is 2010 …” she said, “and I just refuse to live my life identified by a color.”