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The Long Shadow of the Civil War, by Victoria Bynum

The “one drop rule” of race refers to the belief that a mere drop of African ancestry makes one “black”—no matter how “white” one’s appearance. This pseudoscientific concept, still commonly believed throughout the United States and among people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, reinforces the idea that a white person who has even one African ancestor somehow is “passing” for white.  However, legal cases that involved race during an era in which being classified as a “Negro” severely circumscribed one’s civil rights reveal that questions about racial identity were anything but black and white. 

Historically, one of the many paradoxes of Southern race-based society was the co-existence of  the “one drop rule” alongside contradictory legal definitions of whiteness. In Mississippi and North Carolina, for example, a person with less than one-eighth African ancestry was legally defined as white. The legal criteria for determining one’s race sometimes—but certainly not always—prevailed over the one drop rule in cases involving the marital rights of mixed-race people.

For example, in 1949, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and remanded Davis Knight’s 1948 conviction* for miscegenation (marrying across the color line) on grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove that Knight had at least one-eighth African ancestry. Challenged by Knight’s aggressive defense lawyer, Quitman Ross, the High Court agreed that the “one drop rule” could not be the determinant of a citizen’s legal status. Davis Knight was deemed legally white and therefore legally married.

Davis Knight’s courtroom victory proved that the disjuncture between social custom and state law might favorably impact a person’s fate. Conversely, in an 1888-1892 North Carolina case, Hopkins, et al, vs Boothe, et al,* Ann Bowers Boothe was deprived of her late husband’s property based on hearsay evidence that she was the daughter of a white woman and a former slave.  Even though her alleged father’s nickname, “Red,” indicated his own mixed-race background, and even though the one-eighth law was discussed, Ann’s degree of African ancestry (if indeed, she had any) did not determine the outcome of the case. Rather, the one drop rule prevailed.

An 1877 North Carolina divorce case, Long vs. Long,* reveals the grip of racialist thinking on judges who presided over the South’s transition from race-based slavery to race-based segregation. In a case seemingly not about interracial mixing at all, a white man, James C. Long, sued his white wife Teresa for divorce on grounds she had been pregnant by another man at the time of their marriage. Denied a divorce by the lower court, Long appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court and was again denied.

Justice William Blount Rodman, however, issued a lengthy dissent from the bench. Although Teresa Long had given birth to a white child, Justice Rodman raised the possibility that an adulterous woman such as she might have been carrying a black man’s child. Citing “scientific” evidence that makes our head swim today, Justice Rodman claimed that “physiologists tell us” that once a white woman has given birth to a mixed-race child, her blood “has been tainted by mingling with that of her first child, and she is incapable of bearing children that will not show mixture of African blood in appearance or character” (italics mine). The courts, argued Rodman, must therefore allow divorce in cases where the bride was already pregnant, or “man has lost the common right lawfully to continue his pure race.”

Such was the imputed power of one drop of African blood! Did this highly-educated Supreme Court judge truly believe that an interracial pregnancy had the power to “taint” the blood stream of a white woman? Given the racial theories of his time, he most likely did.  But Justice Rodman took the “one drop rule” a step further than most by arguing in essence that a white woman who crossed the color line risked turning herself “black,” since the “mingling” of her blood with that of her mixed-race child during pregnancy destroyed her “racial purity.” One wonders if Rodman would have required such a woman, then, to identify herself as “black,” or else face accusations that she was “passing” for white. 

Vikki Bynum

*I discuss the above court cases in The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

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Interview by Wisconsin Public Radio

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

This has been a busy week, and the upcoming week will be even more so! As part of Wisconsin Public Radio’s observation of the 150 year anniversary of the Civil War, I was interviewed on Friday, July 8, on the Veronica Rueckert Show.  The topic was my latest book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, and the discussion included Southern Unionists, participation by Southern women in anti-Confederate uprisings, Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones, and Wesleyan Methodist Unionists in North Carolina. After the first half hour the show was opened to callers, whose questions and comments took us beyond a discussion of the book’s contents. If you’d like to hear the interview for yourself, click on the arrow below:

Upcoming presentation in Jones County

In a few days, Gregg and I will head out for Laurel, Mississippi, where I’m scheduled to present “Newt Knight, Southern Renegade: Patriot or Traitor?” at the Laurel-Jones Public Library. The Library is located at 530 Commerce St., Laurel, and my talk will take place on Friday, July 15, from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. If you’re in the area, come on by!

My thanks to Dan Walters of Laurel for arranging this. 

Gregg’s and my day at the Laurel library will be followed by our attendance at the biennial Knight-Booth Family Reunion in Soso, where we’re looking forward to reconnecting with good friends like Florence Knight Blaylock and Olga Watts Nelson, pictured below.

Vikki Bynum

Florence Blaylock, Olga Watts Nelson, and Vikki Bynum, January 2011

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Please read the preceding essay, “The One Drop Rule Revisited,” first!

 

NOTE FROM MODERATOR: Wallace Jarrell’s research on the descendants of Diza Ann Maness McQueen, identified in records as white, and her husband, Wilson Williams, identified as mulatto, reveals that many of our common understandings of “race” lack an objective scientific basis. Also revealed are some common characteristics of families defined by nineteenth-century law as “black” regardless of the color of their skin. Despite legal definitions imposed by society, most of Diza Ann and Wilson Williams’s children defined themselves as white and raised their children as such; yet, at least of two of those children identified as “black”.  DNA evidence, Wally shows, only complicates the question of the Williams’s racial identity. What we do know is that nineteenth-century notions of what constituted a “person of color” forced Wilson Williams to “pass” for black regardless of his DNA.
 
The Racially-Ambiguous Family of Diza Ann Maness McQueen and Wilson Williams
 
By Wallace E. “Wally” Jarrell  
 
 
I am a descendant of Diza Ann Williams, and probably Wilson Williams.  My great-grandfather, Sampson Williams, was the fifth known child of Diza Ann.  His daughter, Margie Reen Williams Jarrell, was my grandmother.  Her son, Herman Claude Jarrell, was my father.

           

Early in my genealogy research, which began in 1978, I ran into a brick wall in regard to my great-grandfather, Sampson Williams.  I found his 1879 marriage license from Montgomery County, NC, which listed him as the white son of Diza Williams and “unknown.”  I couldn’t seem to find him in the federal manuscript census before he was married, but I did find a black family that had similar names as his and his mother’s.  So I questioned my grandmother’s only remaining sibling, Aunt Ida, about Sampson’s family. She was evasive, telling me that she couldn’t remember her father having family.  Eventually she told me that he had “people” that lived near Worthville, NC.  Some locals who remembered Sampson called him “Samps Wilse” for short.  Ida told me not to call him Samps Wilse, because that would make him black.  This statement seemed strange, but eventually convinced me to look again at the black Williams family.  In various censuses, I noticed that the Diza/ Dicey/ Disey, lived with a son named Sampson and was sometimes listed as black, sometimes white, sometimes mulatto.  I decided to try to track down descendants of this Williams family.

             

I learned that Diza Ann was first married to Calvin McQueen, with whom she had a daughter, Mary Ann, born in 1854.  Both parents were identified as white.  Beginning about 1855 and continuing through 1873, Diza gave birth to nine more children, all probably fathered by Wilson Williams (aka Wright), who was identified as her husband in the 1860 census.  The children born after Mary Ann were as follows:

                         

1. Daniel, born about 1855.  I know very little about him thus far.

                       

2. William M. Williams, a twin to Daniel.  He married in Montgomery County and gave his mother’s name as Diza Williams and his father as “unknown.”  His death certificate lists his father as Wilson Williams and mother as Eliza Manors.  There was a Diza Maners listed in the 1850 census.  He and his wife went as white and lived in Vance County, NC in later years.

                 

3. David D. Williams’ death certificate reported his birth date as 5 October 1854.  He first married a Montgomery County woman by whom he had children.  He and his brother Sampson were known to fight with one another, and were arrested at least once for doing so.  David divorced and moved to Robeson County, NC, where he remarried and had other children. By 1900, he and his second family were living in Cumberland County. Wilson was living with them, and was listed as David’s “step-father.”  David went as white and remained in that area, which is part of Lumbee Indian territory. Wilson Williams may have had Lumbee connections. Earlier, while living in Montgomery County, Wilson was deeded land together with a Shadrach Williams, who I have not identified.  Later, Shadrach was listed in the census as living with a man named Locklear, a common Lumbee surname.  It’s possible that Wilson was of Lumbee descent and that he may not have had African ancestry. In the nineteenth century, however, mixed people of Indian or African descent were generally identified by census enumerators as “black” or “mulatto”.

                       

4. Sampson Williams, my great-grandfather, was born in 1859.  He went as white, married a white woman, and appeared white for the most part.  I have seen a couple of descendants who had a slight amount of color in their complexion, but displayed no other traits indicating African descent.  Sampson apparently had little to do with his siblings.  He was ill-tempered, often in trouble with the law for fighting, drinking, etc.; he once cut a man, almost killing him. He fled to Florida to hide out for a time, then came home and served some time in jail.  I believe he saw a hard life because of his family history. Sampson registered to vote in 1902, giving his ancestor as James Maness.  Some of the Manors/Maners/Mainors family became known later as Maness.  Sampson Williams died in 1929.

                   

5. Sarah Williams, born about 1861, seems to have disappeared after the 1880 Census, where she was listed as white and boarding with a Freeman family.

 

6. Margaret Ellen Williams was born 7 August 1866. She never married, but had two children.  She stayed for a while with her half-sister, Mary Ann, then moved to the Worthville, NC, area.  She went as white, but appeared to have some African ancestry. Her descendants are all white in appearance.  She died in 1921.

 

7. John Williams was born about 1867.  I have nothing firm on him, although I am pursuing some leads at this time.

 

8. Moses Williams was born 22 June 1869, and was listed as mulatto in the 1880 Montgomery County Census.  He was married in 1892 in Richmond County, NC, to a black woman.  His marriage license identifies his parents as Wilson and Disey Williams.  His family later moved to Laurinburg, in Scotland County.  He lived as black, though his descendants say he had light skin and green eyes.  He died in 1949.

 

9. Marshall Williams was born in 1873 and remained in Montgomery County.  He married a black woman and is buried in a black cemetery.  He had one son who never married and died in Maryland.  Marshall went as black, but relatives remember that he was very light skinned.  His death certificate lists his father as Wilson Williams and his mother as Diza Williams.

 

A side note, I had my father take a DNA test a few years ago to determine his racial background.  I expected it to show either mostly white European heritage with a small amount of African, or mostly white with a small amount of American Indian.  I was surprised when the test came back showing mostly white European with a small amount of EAST ASIAN.  After further study, I learned that some Indians are descended from Asiatic people who migrated here centuries ago.  The granddaughter of Margaret Ellen Williams took the same test, and her results show mostly white European, with a small amount of American Indian.

 

One interesting occurrence during my research:  I have become good friends with Margaret Ellen Williams’s descendants, and once, while we were looking through their family photos, they showed me one person that they could not identify.  I immediately knew who it was, and when I turned it over, it had the name Ida Esco Williams written on the back. This was the same Great-Aunt Ida from whom I had tried to gain information about our Williams ancestry!

 

Sampson Williams Family, courtesy Wallace E. Jarrell

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

David Williams, courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sampson Williams, courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Margaret Ellen Williams, courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

 

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NOTE FROM MODERATOR: On March 17, 2009, Renegade South published the essay “Race and the ‘One Drop Rule’ in the Post-Reconstruction South,” which presented the story of Mary Ann McQueen of Montgomery County, North Carolina. Recently, that essay elicited a response from Wallace E. “Wally” Jarrell, who is a descendant of Mary Ann’s mother, Diza Ann, and Diza’s second husband, Wilson Williams. Wally generously shared his own research on the Williams family with me, and so I have decided to repost the original essay, followed by his expanded history of the family. Here, first, is the original post–now illustrated with photos!– that drew Wally’s attention:

 

Race and the “One Drop Rule” in the Post-Reconstruction South

by Vikki Bynum

Many people, perhaps most, think of “race” as an objective reality. Historically, however, racial categorization has been unstable, contradictory, and arbitrary. Consider the term “passing.” Most of us immediately picture a light-skinned person who is “hiding” their African ancestry. Many would go further and accuse that person of denying their “real” racial identity. Yet few people would accuse a dark-skinned person who has an Anglo ancestor of trying to pass for “black,” and thereby denying their “true” Anglo roots!

So why is a white person with an African ancestor presumed to be “really” black? In fact, in this day of DNA testing, it’s become increasingly clear that many more white-identified people have a “drop” or two of African ancestry than most ever imagined. Are lots of white folks (or are they black?) “passing,” then, without even knowing it?

Having said all that, I’d like to provide some historical examples of the shifting and arbitrary nature of racial categorization. Those familiar with Newt Knight already know about the 1948 miscegenation trial of his great-grandson, Davis Knight. According to the “one drop rule” of race, Davis was a black man by virtue of having a multiracial great-grandmother (Rachel Knight). Yet, social custom and the law differed. One was legally “white” in Mississippi if one had one-eighth or less African ancestry, and Davis eventually went free on that legal ground.

Despite Davis Knight’s legal victory, custom (and often the law) at times went even further than applying the “one drop rule.” After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation of the races was legal (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896), census enumerators in the segregated South of 1900 were instructed to list people’s race as either “black” or “white”; there were to be no “in-between” designations. Some enumerators went even further than that. To reinforce the image of a racially-segregated society, they categorized many formerly white-identified people as “black” simply because they lived in multiracial neighborhoods. Hence, Newt and Serena Knight, and their children who lived (and married) among Rachel and her children, were listed as “black” in the 1900 federal manuscript census.

Similar contradictions of racial identification may be found throughout Southern court records as segregation ordinances were written into law. An example of one absurd, yet utterly serious, effort to determine whether an individual was “white” or “black” (which I pieced together from North Carolina state and federal records) follows:

In 1884, Mary Ann McQueen, a young white woman about 33 years old, was suspected of having “black” blood. So strong were these suspicions that her mother, who had always been accepted as white, swore out a deed in the Montgomery County Court that “solemnly” proclaimed her daughter to be “purely white and clear of an African blood whatsoever.” But why did suspicions about the “purity” of Mary Ann McQueen’s “blood” arise in the first place?

It all began before the Civil War, when Mary Ann’s mother, Diza Ann, ended her marriage to Mary Ann’s father, Calvin McQueen. Almost immediately afterward, she married Wilson Williams (aka Wilson Wright). By 1861, when the Civil War began, Diza had given birth to four more children. Meanwhile, Mary Ann’s father, Calvin, enlisted in the Confederate Army in February 1862 and marched off to war. Barely five months later, in July 1862, he was dead from wounds suffered in the battle of Mechanicsville, Virginia. Calvin had lived and died as a white man.

The same was not true, however, of Diza’s second husband, Wilson Williams, who was listed as a “mulatto” by census enumerators. This meant that Mary Ann McQueen grew up in a multiracial household with a stepfather and several siblings all classified as mulattos. By 1884, as segregation expanded and lines of race correspondingly hardened, many folks wondered how this white woman could have mixed-race kinfolk without being mixed herself.

With racially discriminatory laws a fundamental part of segregation, Mary Ann had a lot to lose in civil rights, as well as social standing, if she could not rid herself of the “one drop” taint. Perhaps because she lived in a small community with a long memory, her mother’s sworn statement, which reminded the court that Calvin McQueen and not Wilson Williams was Mary Ann’s biological father, seems to have won Mary Ann her whiteness, at least legally. By 1900, the federal manuscript census for Montgomery County, N.C., listed a Mary McQueen, born 1851, as “white.”

That does not mean however, that Mary Ann’s social status was restored. If this is our Mary Ann, she apparently never married, despite having given birth to a son, also listed as white. Were Mary Ann’s chances at marriage to a white man compromised by her mother’s interracial marriage? In the era of segregation, most certainly they were.

[UPDATE: In fact, as I've learned from Wally, Mary Ann McQueen did marry. She married John Milton Rich, a white man, and she married as a white woman. Below are photos of the couple:]

 
 

Mary Ann McQueen Rich, photo courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

 

Today, most scientists agree that there is no genetic basis for the idea of humans as separate “races,” or subspecies. But, as we see in the case of Mary Ann McQueen and the more recent trial of Davis Knight, societal beliefs about race were written into law and political policy, and reflected historical struggles of power over slavery, segregation, and civil rights.

John Milton Rich, Photo courtesy of Wallace E. Jarrell

NOTE:  The stories of Davis Knight and Mary Ann McQueen are discussed in my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

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Note from Moderator: Phebe Crook belonged to the same North Carolina community of Unionist women that I’ve been researching and writing about for 25 years as did Martha Sheets and Caroline, Sarah, and Clarinda Hulin.  Thanks to exhaustive research by historians in local, state, and federal records, we now know that women were active participants in the American Civil War. Particularly in southern regions that displayed strong Unionist sentiment, ordinary farm women like Phebe engaged in inner civil wars that centered around protesting Confederate policies that claimed the lives of their fathers, sons, and husbands, and which threatened them with impoverishment and even starvation.


Phebe Crook and the Inner Civil War in North Carolina

By Vikki Bynum


On September 15, 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, a young unmarried woman of the Randolph/Montgomery County area of North Carolina, wrote an unusually detailed and articulate letter of protest to Governor Zebulon Vance. Phebe Crook began her letter with a polite salutation:

Mr. Vance, Dear Sir,  I imbrace this opertunity of writing you a few lines in order to inform you of the conduct of our oficers and leading men of this county as you are appointed govenor of the state and [because] I Beleave that you are willing to Do all that you can in trying to protect the civil laws and writs of our county.

Then Phebe got down to business, providing the governor with her eye-witness account of Confederate militia sent to her community to enforce conscript laws and arrest deserters:

Whearas I believe you are a Man of high feelings and one that is willing to Do your duty in every respect, I will now inform you of some of the conduct of our Militia officers and Magistrats of this county. Thir imployment is hunting Deserters, they say, and the way they Manage to find them is taking up poore old grey headed fathers who has fought in the old War.

Seizing fathers and grandfathers was one means by which Confederate soldiers sought to learn the whereabouts of men who evaded or deserted Confederate service. But according to Phebe,

Some of them [men who evaded service] has done thir Duty in trying to support both the army and thir family, [but] these men [home guard and militia] that has remained at home ever since the War commenced are taking them up and keeping them under gard without a mouthful to eat for severl days.

Militia and home guard also tortured deserters’ wives, claimed Phebe, by

taking up the women and keeping them under gard and Boxing thir jaws and nocking them about as if they were bruts and keeping them from thir little children that they hav almost wore our thir lifes in trying to make surport for them. And some of thes women is in no fix to leav homes and others have little suckling infants not more than 2 months old.

Nor were children exempt from torture. According to Phebe, Confederate militia were

taking up little children and Hanging them until they turn black in the face trying to make them tell whear thir fathers is When the little children knows nothing atall about thir fathers. Thir plea is they hav orders from the Govenner to do this and they also say that they hav orders from the govner to Burn up thir Barns and houses.

It seemed to Phebe that the mission of the Confederacy was to

Destroy all that [families] hav got to live on Because they hav a poor wore out son or husband that has served in the army, some of them for 2 or 3 years and is almost wore out and starved to Death and has come home to try to take a little rest. [Deserters are] Doing no body any harm and are eating thir own Rations, [whereas the home guard] has Remained at home ever since the Ware commenced, [and] take thir guns and go in the woods and shoot them down without Halting them as if they war Bruts or murderers.  [They] also pilfer and plunder and steal on thir creadits.

Phebe Crook ended her letter by asserting her own credentials:

As for my self, I am a young Lady that has Neither Husband nor father no Brother in the woods, But I always like to [see] peple hav jestis and I think if thes Most powerfull fighting men that has always remained at home would go out and fight the enemy and let thes poore wor out soldiers Remain at [home] a little while and take a little rest that we would have Better times. But they [Confederate militia and home guard] say that if they are called they will Lie in the Woods until they Rot Before they will go to the war. And now why should thes men have the power to punish men for a crime [when] they would Be guilty of the same?

Although she began and ended her letter with a tone of politeness, Phebe now demanded that Governor Vance respond to her description of the desperate situation faced by the ordinary war-weary people of the North Carolina Piedmont:

So I will close By requesting you to answer this note if you pleas, and answer it imediately.

Yours Truly,

Phebe Crook

Direct to Phebe Crook, Salem Church, Randolph County, N.C.

NOTE: If there are descendants or kinfolk of Phebe Crook among readers of Renegade South, I would love to hear from you. I have not been able to trace Phebe’s whereabouts after the war. I do know that she was the daughter of William and Rachel Crook and the sister of Clarinda Crook Hulin. After the war, Clarinda and her husband, Nelson Hulin, moved to Kentucky.

Vikki Bynum

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Note from Moderator: I recently visited Richard Phillips’s blog, “N.C. Buffalo Soldiers,” and wanted to share it with readers

Vikki Bynum

http://ncbuffaloes.wordpress.com/1st-and-2nd-north-carolina-union-veterans/

N.C.  Buffalo Soldiers: 1st and 2nd North Carolina Union Volunteers

By Richard Phillips

Hello, My name is Richard Phillips and this blog is an attempt to understand and learn about the men who served in the 1st and 2nd NC Union Volunteers.  These men went against the tide of Confederate Nationalism.  Their story has been ignored and forgotten by historians.  Its time to set things right.
My GG Grandfather, Edward Phillips was a soldier in Company F, 1st North Carolina Union Volunteers. Its interesting the different reactions my father and uncle had in regards to Edwards service in the Union Army. My father, Richard R. Phillips Sr. told me he was very proud of Edwards service in the Union Army. My Uncle, Grover C. Phillips said that Edward was a damn traitor.

One of the photos below shows Edward Phillips holding his great grandson, Grover C. Phillips.

Edward_Phillips_2Edward_Phillips_4Edward_Phillips_6Edward_Phillips_8

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I returned from Falmouth/Fredericksburg Virginia last week, where I spoke on women in Civil War North Carolina. Two major topics of my paper were interracial relations before the war, and the Wesleyan Methodist community of the Randolph County area (including northern Montgomery County), located in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt.

Jesse Hulin’s widow, Caroline, and their children are pictured below on the event’s brochure. For a clearer print of the photo, click here.


The Hulins were Wesleyan Methodists who opposed slavery; Jesse was killed during the war for deserting the Confederacy.

It was a wonderful visit. The turnout was great, and my hosts, Beate Jensen and Anita Dodd, went out of their way to show me a good time, even treating me to a tour of artist Gari Melchers’ (1860-1932) studio and home.

I am also pleased that Jan Coxey, who frequently posts about her Mississippi kin on Renegade South, came over for the presentation. We had never met before, and had a great time getting to know one another in person. She even brought a camera, as evidenced by the photo below.

I’m now preparing to move to Missouri, so expect my posts to be a bit more sporadic. I will continue to moderate comments as best I can for the next few weeks!

Jan Coxey and Vikki Bynum, Gari Melchers Pavilion, Belmont, Falmouth, Virginia. March 21, 2010.

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