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 White's 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.‖
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
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
To Establish Credibility
Rachel Kennedy passed as white not visually but
When pressed to talk on the telephone with some
authority on an important matter—a consumer complaint,
dealing with police, seeking employment or educational
opportunities—she would adopt an accent that most
listeners would associate with the speech of a white
person. She put on countless stellar performances before
an appreciative household audience that viewed these
affairs as comical episodes in the American racial
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
The Human Stain
Coleman and the Charges of
• Do you think that Coleman Silk had the intention to insult the
students by saying ―Do they exist or are they spooks?‖
• Q: Why did none of Coleman‘s coworkers stand up for him
when he was accused of the racist remark?
• Q: Would Coleman‘s coworkers have said anything if Coleman
had revealed himself as African American right then and there?
• Q: Why did Coleman quit his job for being accused of being
racist when he could have resolved it?
• Q: Did Coleman truly believe that his wife would have judged
him for being a black man if he would have revealed his secret
• Q: What was the reason why Coleman approached Nathan in
Coleman and Steena
• Why did Coleman introduce […] Steena to his mother, knowing
that she might leave him for that?
• Why was Coleman sure that Steena would stay with him after
learning his lineage?
• Why did Coleman not tell his girlfriend about his mother being
black before they met in person?
• After Steena expressed how much she loved Coleman. Why did
she leave him after finding out he was passing as a white male?
• Will Steena regret her decision? Will she be better off without
• Why didn‘t Coleman go after Steena and try to make things right
when she got up and left?
Coleman and Faunia
• Q: Why was Coleman Silk so attracted to Faunia Farley?
What was it that made her so attractive to him?
• Q: What caused Coleman to reveal his secret to someone
so late in life and to someone he barely knew?
• Q: What did Faunia Farley have that Coleman‘s wife didn‘t?
• Lester continually attributed part of his anger to Faunia
―fucking an old Jew,‖ which shows that he never realized
that Coleman was biracial. Would this knowledge have
changed his attitude, or did it purely have to do with Faunia
being with another man?
Anger, Fear, and Regret
• Q: Coleman was a great young boxer in his early school
years, but why does his dad make him stop?
• When Coleman was a young man, before he brought
Steena home, did he take an active role in his passing for
• How did Coleman feel about passing? And was it easier
emotionally to pass as a white man after his father died?
• Did Coleman actually benefit from passing? It almost
seems that passing made things worse for him.
• 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?
• Does color make that much difference to change your
love for the person just because of your color?
• Can you really love someone if you don‘t know
everything about them?
• Assuming we all think it is moral to allow everyone to
have equal opportunity, is it moral to still
make/have/keep racial distinctions ?
• Is there a difference between intentionally passing and
allowing others to believe you are something or
someone you are not?
Image from The Wife of His Youth and Other
Stories of the Color Line:
Chesnutt, Charles W. (Charles Waddell),
Illustrated by Clyde O. De Land
"The Passing of Grandison”
• What is the significance behind Grandison‘s passing?
• Q: Grandison was a loyal servant to the Owens family what
was it that finally made him decide to run away?
• Q: why did it take Grandison so long to seek freedom? Why
did he come back when he had the chance and decide to
• What would ever be a good reason for someone to stay
enslaved when they have the opportunity for freedom?
• Q: Do you think Grandison would have still wanted to escape
if he hadn‘t visited Canada?
• Was Grandison‘s well mannered behavior a part of his plan
• Was Grandison really kidnapped or was that part of his plan?
• Q: Was Grandison able to make a difference in the views of
slavery in their society upon his actions?
What‘s up with Dick?
• 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
• 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?
• Q: Does it matter that Dick Owens is trying to help a slave
escape just because he wants to impress a woman?
• Q: What is going to happen now between Charity and Dick?
Will the colonel ever find out what his son was trying to do
during the trip?
Introduction to Essay 2:
―If passing for white will get a fellow better accommodations
on the train, better seats in the theatre, immunity from
insults in public places, and may even save his life from a
mob,‖ wrote William Pickens, ―only idiots would fail to seize
the advantages of passing, at least occasionally if not
permanently‖ (―Racial Segregation,‖ Opportunity, December
Write an essay of four to six pages arguing for or against
William Pickens‘s statement. Use support from the texts
you have read so far, The Human Stain, our discussions,
and your own insights. Remember to format your essay in
MLA style. This essay will require citations and a works
If passing for white will get a fellow better accommodations on the train,
better seats in the theatre, immunity from insults in public places, and may
even save his life from a mob,‖ only idiots would fail to seize the
advantages of passing, at least occasionally if not permanently.‖
Do you agree with Pickens's
If yes, why?
If no, why not?
Reading: Hughes: "Who's
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