White man passes as black in 19th century NYC

Clarence King was a noted white scientist and explorer by day, but by night he was James Todd, a black man married to a black woman.

But this isn’t a case of a black man seeking more privilege by “passing” as a white man. This is a case of a white man seeking to marry the woman he loved by “passing” as a black man.

From a blurb for the book Passing Strange, by Martha A Sandweiss:

From Wikipedia:

Pointless, maybe, but not mundane!

You must have been listenting to NPR this morning too! What an interesting story.

I found it facinating that his daughters passed as white (married white men and marked “white” on their marriage licenses), while his sons were assigned to all black units during WWI.

I see that the Wiki article says that Clarence King finally told his wife of his double life in a letter written from his deathbed, although I don’t recall them mentioning that on NPR. I would love to read that letter.

Just goes to show how stupid classification by race is/was.

When I filled out the 2010 census I marked “Other” when asked what race I am, and in the line provided wrote out “human”

This bothers me. It doesn’t bother me that you think race is unimportant on a moral, or even scientific level. I feel that way too.

But as long as we live in a society that provides social services based in part on the demographic information that it collects, this sort of thing is can only be counterproductive.

I heard that story on NPR too. Fascinating. About his confession, I wonder:

  1. What he was doing in Arizona while his family was in NYC, and
  2. How do you say it? “Uh, remember when I told you I couldn’t dance because of a railway accident? You see, the real reason is…”

That is a fascinating story. I want to learn more about it.

God that’s funny. And immediately I thought of Steve Martin in “The Jerk.”

He had tuberculosis, I seem to remember that it was a common treatment to send people with tuberculosis to a sanatorium with “clean”, dry air, like on a mountain or in the desert.

And while I feel for what Clarence King went through for love of a woman, he still ain’t got nothing on Billy Tipton.

Hey, thanks for ruining my joke.

I was going to mention that if a movie were to be made about this guy, Steve Martin should get the starring role.

I’m considering reading the book. I don’t tend to read biographies or things of the sort, but the story is just so odd.

I still don’t understand how someone could have sex with someone else and not suspect that maybe there wasn’t a dick involved. I guess that’s what a lack of sexual education will do to a culture.

Passing Strange.

Another African American who passed for at least 20 years, was Michael Healy, who was the captain of the Revenue Cutter USS Bear in the 1800s. Although the Wiki article doesn’t mention it, his ethnicity was not known to either the government or his crew until his death. There was a documentary film made about his life, but I don’t recall the title.

Looking at pictures of this guy… I just don’t see how he could have passed. Are there any pictures of him AS “James Todd”

[quote=“Monstera_deliciosa, post:4, topic:550628”]

Yes, indeed.

Ideally, so counterproductive that we stop doing it that way.

The laws at the time meant that being 1/8 black made you black, so there would have been plenty of “black” people who didn’t look it.

According to the biographer, he was a blue-eyed blond man.

You can think of a better way to apportion social services by than figuring out what people live where*, figuring out what those people need, and then providing those services?

  • the “what people” category is not limited to race, but may certainly include it.

An analogy less fraught with controversy than government and social services might be the world of business. Take, for example, a market research survey done by a supermarket chain looking to expand into a new area. They might include questions about race and ethnicity in their survey. On the face of it, this might seem bigoted or intrusive. But in reality, there is only so much shelf space in even the largest store, and one cannot expect every retail establishment to be everything to everyone, or carry every product available. Suppose their research turns up a larger than average Chinese population in the area, and a smaller than average Mexican one. The supermarket can then devote more shelf space to products favored by Chinese consumers, and a smaller proportion to those favored by Mexican consumers, and be fairly confident that the community, and their bottom line, will be reasonably served.

Like it or not, while all people are created equal, Kumbayah, etc., equality does not mean there aren’t different cultural needs, and keeping track of who lives where is still an important factor in serving those needs. Cutesy answers on census forms are not going to make racism go away, and they aren’t going to make the differing needs of differing populations vanish.

I feel rather bad for hijacking jsgoddess’s interesting thread with my tangential peeve, without contributing otherwise. So let me say the idea of my Italian-American husband attempting to pass for black in order to marry me, an African-American woman, is both heartwarming and chuckle-inducing. But, as jsgoddess points out, 19th Americans, both black and white, considered people with even the small hint of black ancestry to be black, regardless of their appearance.

And differences in appearance are in the eye of the beholder. Just yesterday, I accompanied my stepson (who has no black ancestry whatsover, and who, while dark-haired, has a pale, milky complexion) to the doctors office, and the doctor (a new one) thought at first that I was his birth mother.