To Escape Bondage One extraordinary instance occurred in 1848 when Ellen Craft—the daughter of a master and his slave mistress— escaped from bondage by train, boat, and carriage on a four-day journey from Macon, Georgia, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ellen Craft pretended to be white. Her slave husband was part of her disguise; he pretended to be her servant. And there was one more twist: Ellen Craft traveled not as a white woman but as a white man. To obtain freedom for herself and her husband, she temporarily traversed gender as well as racial lines.
To Get Information Walter White, working on behalf of the NAACP, gathered facts about lynchings and other atrocities and carefully publicized them in an effort to arouse American public opinion. However, the daring way in which he pursued this task brought him close to danger. In 1919, he traveled to Phillips County, Arkansas, to investigate the deaths of some 250 blacks killed in an effort to discourage collective organization by African American cotton farmers. When whites in Phillips County became aware of Whites purpose, he was forced to escape hurriedly. ―You‘re leaving mister, just when the fun is going to start,‖ White recalls being told by the conductor of the train on which he made his getaway. ―A damned yellow nigger is down here passing for white and the boys are going to get him.‖
For Safety Goaded by false stories of Negro men raping white women, a white mob terrorized blacks in Georgia‘s capital. Caught in town amidst marauding whites, two African Americans escaped serious injury only because of their light skin. They witnessed, however, terrible crimes: ―We saw a lame Negro bootblack . . . pathetically try to outrun a mob of whites. Less than a hundred yards from us the chase ended. We saw clubs and fists descending to the accompaniment of savage shouting and cursing. Suddenly a voice cried, ―There goes another nigger!‖ Its work done, the mob went after new prey. The body with the withered foot lay dead in a pool of blood in the street.
To Advance Occupational Ambition Some passed as white during the workday, while presenting themselves as African American outside of the workplace. Chronicling this phenomenon in White By Day . . . Negro by Night, a 1952 article in Ebony magazine relates the following story: One girl who passed to get work as a clerk in a Chicago loop department store thought she had lost her job when an old-time, well-meaning friend of her mother came in and said in happy surprise, ―Well, Baby, it sure is good to see this store is finally hiring colored girls.‖ Fortunately she was overheard only by one other clerk who was a liberal and a good friend of the girl who was passing and the secret did not get out.
To Pursue Education Prevented by state law from freeing his slaves, Michael Healy sent his children to the North where they could be educated and also be free of bondage in the event of their father‘s demise. James Augustine Healy (1830– 1900) was a member of the first graduating class of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He pursued clerical studies in Canada and France, became a priest in Boston, and served for twenty-five years as the Catholic bishop of Portland, Maine.
To Get Access to Services To shop, sleep, or eat meals at racially exclusive establishments Hospitals were divided into two sections. The white section was clean and renovated; the black section, dirty and dilapidated. The physician took a light-skinned man to the white section of the hospital. Before long, though, a visit by a son-in-law apprized the hospital staff of their ―error.‖ His son wrote that his father ―was snatched from the examination table lest he contaminate the ‗white‘ air, and taken hurriedly across the street in a driving downpour . . . to the ‗Negro‘ ward‖ where he died sixteen days later.
To Establish Credibility Rachel Kennedy passed as white not visually but aurally.When pressed to talk on the telephone with some authorityon an important matter—a consumer complaint, dealingwith police, seeking employment or educationalopportunities—she would adopt an accent that mostlisteners would associate with the speech of a white person.She put on countless stellar performances before anappreciative household audience that viewed these affairs ascomical episodes in the American racial tragedy.
Curiosity and Fun St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton report that some light-skinned Negroes in Chicago they interviewed in the forties spoke of going to white establishments ―just to see what they are like and to get a thrill.‖
More Reasons to Pass The non-fiction literature by and about passers is full of references to passing as a mode of resistance or subversion. Ray Stannard Baker noted that passing awakened glee among many Negroes because they viewed it as a way of ―getting even with the dominant white man.‖ Langston Hughes repeatedly defended passing as a joke on racism. Gregory Howard Williams relates that his father derived great psychic satisfaction by defying the rules of segregation when he lived in Virginia as the husband of a white woman and the President of a (supposedly) lily- white chapter of the American Legion. Williams also relates that his brother got a thrill from romancing white girls who would surely have spurned him had they perceived him to be a Negro.
The Human Stain Coleman and the Charges of Racism• Do you think that Coleman Silk had the intention to insult the students by saying ―Do they exist or are they spooks?‖• Why wouldn‘t Coleman‘s [African American] friend at the meeting stand up for him, knowing his friends true feelings? • When Coleman got in trouble for using the word ―spook‖ why didn‘t he or his friend stand up and mention Coleman was African American? • Why did Zuckerman say, ―telling the truth is the one thing Coleman could not do?‖• Why does Coleman still feel afraid of standing out when he is no longer at risk of losing his job for being [black]?• Do you think that Coleman Silk overreacted to the judgment by the school?
Coleman and Steena• Why did Coleman want to bring his first girlfriend home to meet his mother, when he knew how it would most likely turn out, given the circumstances? • Why did Coleman not tell his girlfriend about his mother being black before they met in person?• Why does Coleman‘s mom not like his first girlfriend?• What was the main reason his [girlfriend] decided to leave Coleman? Was it for lying or for the color of his background?‖• Coleman speaks of Stena Paulson as his first love despite what happened, but does or did she ever see him as her true first love, in regard to her actions and choices in the film?• How would Coleman‘s first love [Stena Paulson] be considered one who is passing, but in a different way than Coleman?
Coleman and Faunia• What made Coleman so attracted to Faunia Farley and why would he continue to stay with her even after discovering all the trouble she brings?• Why did Coleman decide to tell Iris that his parents were dead, and completely reject his racial background but reveal his racial identity to Faunia?• Why was Coleman so willing to accept and confide in a person that wouldn‘t be someone to inspire confidence in many people?• Why is Faunia so quick to dismiss everyone else, but somehow she always ends going back or opening up to Coleman?• Would Faunia have stayed with Coleman even she had found out he was black since the beginning rather than the end? Why?• Did Coleman‘s last love end up being his greatest love?• Was there an underlying reason other than Les that could have caused Coleman and Faunia‘s death?• Les claimed in the movie that Coleman and Faunia had killed themselves; [. . .] do you think that they decided death would be their closing statement?
Anger, Fear, and Regret• If Coleman‘s brother and father were content and proud with their lives [as] African Americans, then why couldn‘t Coleman embrace his race too?• After Coleman‘s girlfriend told him that she could not be with him, Coleman hits his opponent like he hates black people: is he just mad that he can‘t be with his girlfriend because he is black?• Can society lead you to hate your own race?• Did Coleman forgive himself at the end of the movie?• If Coleman had a chance to go back and redo parts of his life would he choose the same path of being caged into his own lies, or go the path his father would have wanted him to?• Is Coleman still afraid of speaking the truth, or why would he want a book to be written about the things he went through?
Larger Issues• How does The Human Stain relate to what we‘ve discussed in class?• What does the phrase ―human stain‖ mean?• Are the ideas of race, passing, and prejudice the only factors from the movie, that we‘ve discussed in class?• Can you really love someone if you don‘t know everything about them?• How would you know it would be the right time to tell your life story to someone?
"The Passing of Grandison”• What is the significance behind Grandison‘s passing?• Was Grandison‘s fidelity all an act or was he really loyal to his master at the beginning?• If Dick wanted to help Grandison out why didn‘t he approach him with the truth?• Grandison feigns the ignorance of a ―satisfied slave‖ in order to increase his chances of ever escaping the slavery; at what point did he decide to trust Dick to become his cohort in helping him escape?• Was it Grandison‘s plan all along to eventually escape with his family, or did he choose to do it only when he knew that he had been abandoned in Canada?• If Grandison had never been brought along the trip up to the North with Dick Owens, would he have still ran away?• Why didn‘t Grandison tell the truth about being abandoned in Canada?• Why did Grandison lie about Canada?• How do you think Grandison felt, looking back at the colonel as he stood on that boat leading toward freedom?
• In the story, Dick Owens is not considered the most hard-working individual. How did it effect his relationships with others? Why does Dick Owens behave this way?• Why did Dick try so hard to impress Charity? What was so special about her• Since Dick has a wealthy dad and will inherit his fortunes, why does he go so far to impress his girlfriend when he could get any other girl?• What might of happened with Dick and Charity’s relationship, had she not given him an ultimatum to “do something”?• Does the extreme severity of pushing to illegally freeing a slave at the time, put Dick in the right light but for the wrong reasons?• Dick’s intentions of setting Grandison free was good, but was it right?• How did dick feel after knowing that the whole family was gone and knowing he was a part of why it happened?• Was Dick happy with the final outcome, of that many slaves leaving?• In what ways were Dick Owens and Grandison alike?
Introduction to Essay 2:―If passing for white will get a fellow better accommodationson the train, better seats in the theatre, immunity from insultsin public places, and may even save his life from a mob,‖wrote William Pickens, ―only idiots would fail to seize theadvantages of passing, at least occasionally if notpermanently‖ (―Racial Segregation,‖ Opportunity, December1927 (3).Write an essay of four to six pages arguing for or againstWilliam Pickens‘s statement. Use support from the texts youhave read so far, The Human Stain, our discussions, and yourown insights. Remember to format your essay in MLA style.This essay will require citations and a works cited page.
The Prompt:If passing for white will get a fellow better accommodations on the train, betterseats in the theatre, immunity from insults in public places, and may even savehis life from a mob,‖ only idiots would fail to seize the advantages ofpassing, at least occasionally if not permanently.‖ Do you agree with Pickenss statement? If yes, why? If no, why not?
HOMEWORK Reading: Hughes: "Whos Passing for Who?‖ Post #9 : QHQ: ―Who‘s Passing for Who?‖ Think about Pickens‘s statement and whether you agree with it or not. Consider which texts you might use to support your beliefs. How would you use them?