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Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Interesting Story of Passing......in Reverse? Professor Sandweiss' Latest Book-Passing Strange!

When I first took a gander at the Chron.com piece discussing Passing Strange, I immediately thought about the critically acclaimed Broadway play about the journey of a Black rock musician. Actually the Chron article denotes another Black person's journey....sort of. The Black part that is. Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line tells the fascinating tale of Clarence King, a White male of some prominence during the 19th century who passed for Black in order to marry a woman of color. Here are the specifics, according to the Houston Chronicle:

A few years ago, historian Martha A. Sandweiss read in passing that Clarence King — a Caucasian male famous in the 19th century as a surveyor of the vast frontier and a best-selling author about the land west of the Mississippi River — lived a double life as a self-proclaimed African-American male.

During an era when many light-skinned blacks hoped to pass as white, King, who lived from 1842 to 1901, moved the other direction, passing as black for some of each year without the knowledge of his white friends.

The cause of the reverse passing? Love.

In 1888, King had met and married an African-American woman named Ada Copeland, 18 years his junior. Copeland, who had made her way to New York City from rural Georgia and found a job as a domestic, knew nothing about King’s fame in white high society. Instead, she knew him as James Todd, a name he had concocted. King/Todd, who was known for his brilliant conversation in high society, told Copeland he worked as a Pullman porter, with the long train trips accounting for his long absences. Although King did not look like somebody with even the remotest amount of African-American heritage, Copeland and her friends believed he must be black. Furthermore, why would any successful white male want to pass as black?

So for 13 years, until his death at 59, King carried on the deception as Copeland’s common-law husband and father of their children. He revealed the truth to Copeland near the end of his life. The revelation apparently did not shake Copeland’s love for her husband but, naturally, complicated matters during a struggle over his estate. The complications never dissipated completely for Copeland, who lived another 63 years, finally dying in 1964 at 103.

Sandweiss’ sleuthing has produced a fascinating dual biography of a man who left behind lots of evidence about his life, and a woman born into slavery who left behind little. Those same sleuthing skills led Sandweiss, a historian who specializes in researching the American West, to produce essentially a second book between the same covers, a contextual treatise about race and class in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

Click on the link below for the Chron article, in its entirety:

Passing Strange's love story is a black and white issue

And for Professor Sandweiss' recent BookTV appearance, click here.

And speaking of a Black Rock musician's journey, check out perhaps Prince's funkiest version of Erotic City known to man. This is from a rehearsal/jam session, circa 1984:

The Kid in rare form-

And then there's Ceelo and The Foo Fighters channeling Prince...next entry-The Comic Shoppe-

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