26 Feb, 2015

A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs

/ posted in: Reading A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs
on October 13th 2014
Pages: 382
Genres: History, Nonfiction, United States
Published by Harvard University Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.As racial relations in America have evolved so has the significance of passing. To pass as white in the antebellum South was to escape the shackles of slavery. After emancipation, many African Americans came to regard passing as a form of betrayal, a selling of one's birthright. When the initially hopeful period of Reconstruction proved short-lived, passing became an opportunity to defy Jim Crow and strike out on one's own.Although black Americans who adopted white identities reaped benefits of expanded opportunity and mobility, Hobbs helps us to recognize and understand the grief, loneliness, and isolation that accompanied and often outweighed these rewards. By the dawning of the civil rights era, more and more racially mixed Americans felt the loss of kin and community was too much to bear, that it was time to pass out and embrace a black identity. Although recent decades have witnessed an increasingly multiracial society and a growing acceptance of hybridity, the problem of race and identity remains at the center of public debate and emotionally fraught personal decisions.


“Passing” didn’t always mean changing racial identities. At the beginning of the United States, both black slaves and white indentured servants sometimes passed as free people to run away. But as slavery became more entrenched in racial identity passing came to mean black people living as white.

Some people just did it occasionally to go into a certain segregated area. Others moved away from their hometowns where everyone knew them and cut off all contact with family and friends.

Immediately following the Civil War there as a period of more opportunities for black men. Some of those who might have passed in an earlier generation chose not to at this time.


P.B.S. Pinchback was the first black governor in the U.S. He was also elected to Congress but had difficulty being seated because of his race.

As Jim Crow laws were passed in the South, passing started to happen more often again until the rise of the Civil Right movement.


  • The stories of people who had to decide what was best for them to do and the impact on their families
  • The story of the man who integrated a southern college decades before the college fought against integration. He got his degree because everyone thought he was white.
  • It was sad to read about changing social mores that allowed a man to go openly to an integrated college but then barred his grandchildren because the college no longer admitted black students.

Didn’t Like

  • This isn’t the most narrative book so it could be slow going to read it. I had to take some breaks and then get back into it.


“I decided some time ago that the Negro people need all the good, intelligent, unbelligerent representatives they can get in this world, and I’m trying to be one.”

– Herb Jeffries, an actor that producers tried to convince to bill himself as Latin, on why he refused.

“…although many of her friends would pass without a moment’s hesitation just to be free from color problems, poor-paying jobs and all the other vicious injustices that all too often go with being a Negro,’ she had a different perspective after experiencing the darker side of passing.  Listening to white coworkers speak about blacks with bitter contempt, teetering on a ‘state of nervous collapse,’ and living in constant fear that her secret would be discovered, she felt relieved to be ‘through with passing.’ No longer did she have to worry about returning coworkers’ social invitations or getting sick on the job and being taken home by a coworker who would discover that she lived in a black neighborhood.” 

– based on an anonymously article in Ebony in March 1951


23 Feb, 2015

Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson

/ posted in: Current EventsFeminismReading Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson Freedom's Daughters by Lynne Olson
on 2001
Pages: 460
Genres: 20th Century, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction, Political Science, Social Science, United States, Women's Studies
Published by Simon and Schuster
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

The first comprehensive history of the role of women in the civil rights movement, Freedom's Daughters fills a startling gap in both the literature of civil rights and of women's history. Stokely Carmichael, Andrew Young, John Lewis, and other well-known leaders of the civil rights movement have admitted that women often had the ideas for which men took credit. In this groundbreaking book, credit finally goes where credit is due -- to the bold women who were crucial to the movement's success and who refused to give up the fight.


I found this book because I wanted to find out more about Diane Nash, who was featured in the movie Selma.

The book starts with Ida B. Wells who was a journalist in the 1800s reporting on lynching.

After the Civil War, black women were able to apply their educations in jobs such as teaching more readily than black men were allowed.  These educated women organized social services and groups to fight against injustice.  The backlash came swiftly.  Black pastors accused them of being too powerful and taking on roles that should be filled by men.  The sexism grew.

“Once male slaves were freed, they sought to claim what they saw as those rights of ownership, particularly control over black women to which white men had previously laid claim.” pg 44

It was women who kept pressing for more rights during the early 1900s. Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt were featured among others.

A recurring theme is that women would start a project and then when it was getting successful, men would come in and take over.

“News coverage, which the leaders sought, was, as Murray pointed out, a matter of men reporting on men.  Stories on the movement often read like accounts of sports contests or wars, keeping score of who was up and who was down, who won an dwho lost.  Conflict was always emphasized, whether between civil rights organizations or between local white aurthorities and activitis.  The behind-the-scenes activity that women specialized in – organizing, building consensus, sustaining a  sense of community – did not make good television, nor did it lend itself to dramatic newspaper or magazine headlines. page 235

During the 1960s black and white women worked together in most of the major campaigns. Opposition to Civil Rights was often because of fears of black men sleeping with white women. For this reason, white women were often kept in the office and not allowed to go out into the field with black men. They started to chafe under the restrictions of their “women’s work.” Black women often did not see their point about sexism because they didn’t have the same prohibitions. This led to splits in organizations and several of the white women who had been very involved in the Civil Rights movement started working with feminist organizations. This disconnect between black and white women over sexism can still be seen in discussions today around race and feminism.

I learned about women that I didn’t know anything about previously, including Diane Nash. She was incredible!

This book was a good compliment to the Rosa Parks biography I read. I’d recommend this for anyone interested in women’s history that they may not have heard before.