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  1. Frank W. Sweet, in his examination of racial classification trials, has found that far more weight was often given to friendly or egalitarian social behavior with blacks or mulattoes than the actual amount of “black blood.” One’s “whiteness” was far more likely to be called into question if one did not display proper “white”behavior. I suppose that’s “logical,” in a way, because even many of the advocates of white racial purity must have known that true racial “purity” is impossible.

    In Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia by Jane Dailey, we learn that white Republican “Readjusters” were threatened by Democratic “Redeemers” with loss of white status. They were told that supporting the Reconstruction government and the biracial Republican Party would change them from “white men” into “niggers.” There were no accusations of racial impurity in these cases. One could lose white status solely because of one’s political or social views, regardless of a so-called “pure white” lineage.

  2. Thanks, A.D. You (and Frank Sweet) make an essential point about the history of racial classification–that personal behavior and political context were every bit as important as physical appearance in determining whether one was deemed by the surrounding society to be “white,” “black,” or something in between.

    While researching Montgomery County’s records many years ago, I was struck by the existence of several related families (surname Hussey, or Hursey), who, for a time, identified successfully as “white” despite having an ancestor, Milly Turner, who was a free woman of 1/8 African heritage. Turner had married a white man and was herself declared legally white in South Carolina. Her descendants continued to successfully identify as white after moving to North Carolina–until, that is, the outbreak of the Civil War. With that change in political environment, the Husseys were accused of being “black,” and their civil rights accordingly challenged throughout the 1860s. Their “white” marriages were declared acts of fornication, and the men were forbidden to carry guns, except as soldiers drafted into the Confederacy.

    Wilson Williams, the subject of the above essay and the research of Wallace Jarrell in the one following, lived near the Hussey family. Although Wilson seems never to have been granted full white status in legal terms (he was identified as “mulatto” in the federal manuscript censuses), he came close to living as a white man. Wally has found evidence indicating that Wilson was the son of a local white man, and there is good evidence that he participated in his white community of relatives and neighbors in ways not common to the vast majority of people identified as mulatto in the slaveholding South. Wilson not only married a white woman (Diza Ann Maness McQueen) but court records show he successfully sued various white men for wages owed him, and won at least one of those suits.

    It appears that Wilson lived in a nether world of being considered neither white nor black. There is no indication that he explicitly challenged his imposed racial status, although several of his children did. As a result, at least until the Civil War disrupted communities, and race relations within them, Wilson could depend on the support of certain whites within a small circle of this rural area of mostly small farmers. His marriage to Diza Ann, which produced nine children, lasted until around the late 1870s, when the couple apparently divorced.

    Jane Dailey’s fine book about the Readjustor movement in post-Civil War Virginia provides an informative example of an all-too-brief political moment in which whites and blacks built a powerful coalition based on mutual interests–only to have it destroyed by the ever-present weapon of race-baiting.


  3. […] that?” I’ve been wondering the same thing for a couple of years now. But after reading this entry at Renegade South, I’m pretty certain the census taker made that designation based on policy and not because of […]

  4. I have a member in my family tree named Jane Ward who had 4 children out of wedlock in the 1880’s. Her children’s death certificates lists Jerry McQueen as their father. All children were born in Montgomery county and listed as white on the 1900 census and Mulatto on the 1910 census. Any idea who Jerry may be? I found one in the the same township who is listed as Mulatto…Im thinking this Mary Ann could be a sister of his…..

    • Carrie,

      This is very interesting–it certainly seems as though Jerry McQueen may have a connection to Mary Ann McQueen. I am currently visiting Texas, and will be away from home, and hence away from my research files, until mid-March. When I do return home to Missouri, I will dig into my North Carolina files and come back to your question.


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