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AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum

Re: Inquiry on the Color Line
In Response To: Inquiry on the Color Line ()

Dear Daniel:

Dr. Gwen Midlo Hall and William Coker are some of the Lower South's historians who discuss people of color shifting from one racial category to another. However, the shift was not necessarily their doing or that of the census taker.

Midlo Hall's landmark study "Africans in Colonial Louisiana" noted that the census of 1786 and 1790 lumped all free people of color with whites. (page 258). She writes, " The extent of race mixture and emancipation in French Louisiana has been minimized by excessive reliance upon Spanish census. which overlooked the passing of mixed bloods into the "white" race." (page 239)

William Coker and G Douglas Inglis authored the "Spanish Census of Pensacola 1784-1820" suggests that the white population was inflated for political reasons. In later census, people who were once classified as pardo or mulatto were now white.

The Notre Dame Archives record a child being re-classified as having Indian, although her baptismal record is listed in the Book of Negroes. Her mother insisted that she was descended from a white Indian relationship. Around the same time, the very same Mamam can be found in the Hall's Afro-Louisiana database buying and selling slaves as a free woman of color.

Many of us are members of families both “white and black” who share the same mixed blood. Many of us at Afrigeneas are bemused by genealogy postings on message boards seeking the heritage of their "Indian" ancestors. We watch as people help them pinpoint their ancestors while ignoring readily available on-line census records that list them as people of color.

Denise touched on an important point. Many people who were visually white passed temporarily for economic reasons or for educational betterment. Others passed permanently for the same reason. We shouldn't judge them for making these decisions. Nor should we “out them” without knowing why they made this choice. What we should judge are the people and governments who created these cruel discriminatory laws.

The US is the only country that holds fast to the one-drop rule. We can thank England for the legacy of a harsh and rigid form of slavery. The tiny strip of Eastern geography that contained the13 colonies and the Upper South continues to overshadow the history of slavery and Africans in America. Historians continue to ignore the fact that France and Spain owned most of the US before1803. Their role in slavery and colonization of the Americas didn’t make them poster boys for abolition. I leave the assessment of France and Spain’s history to scholars like Gwen Midlo Hall, Larry Rivers, Jane Landers and Coker.

Many thanks to everyone for their insight and interest in the Color Line.

K Wyer Lane

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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