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
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 days later.
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
Q: Do you think that Coleman Silk had the intention to insult the
students by saying ―Do they exist or are they spooks?‖
2. Q: Would Coleman‘s students perceived him differently if they knew
he was black instead of Jewish White? How would this knowledge
affect his position?
3. Q: Why did none of Coleman‘s coworkers stand up for him when he
was accused of the racist remark?
4. Q: Would Coleman‘s coworkers have said anything if Coleman had
revealed himself as African American right then and there?
5. Q: Why did Coleman quit his job for being accused of being racist
when he could have resolved it?
6. Q: Why did Coleman‘s wife mysteriously die?
1. Q: Coleman was a great young boxer in his early school years, but
why does his dad make him stop?
2. Why didn‘t he continue boxing after his father‘s passing?
3. Q: When and why did Coleman first start letting go of his heritage?
4. Q. Why did Coleman apply as a white instead of a black to the army?
5. Q: Did Coleman make the correct decision in passing as a Jew?
6. Q: Was Coleman a prisoner?
7. Q: After decades of being married, why didn‘t Coleman tell his wife he
8. Q: How was Silk able to live with himself knowing his wife never knew
he was Black?
9. Q: Was Coleman selfish?
10. Q: Would Coleman have died if his wife hadn‘t?
Coleman and Steena
1. Why did Coleman introduce […] Steena to his mother, knowing
that she might leave him for that?
2. Why was Coleman sure that Steena would stay with him after
learning his lineage?
3. Why did Coleman not tell his girlfriend about his mother being
black before they met in person?
4. After Steena expressed how much she loved Coleman. Why
did she leave him after finding out he was passing as a white
5. Will Steena regret her decision? Will she be better off without
6. Why didn‘t Coleman go after Steena and try to make things
right when she got up and left?
Coleman and Faunia
1. Q: What made Coleman so attracted to Faunia Farley? Did he think he
could save her?
2. Q: Why was Coleman so willing to share his secret with his young love
3. Q: What did Faunia Farley have that Coleman‘s wife didn‘t?
4. Q: Coleman said that he wanted to be free but was a prisoner instead;
does he feel free now that he told faunia? And if he were still alive
would he have told the rest of his friends and family?
5. Q: If Coleman hadn‘t told Faunia the truth would they have been in that
car together when her ex ran him off the road? If he hadn‘t stood up to
her ex initially would he even have been a threat to Coleman?
1. Does color make that much difference to change your
love for the person just because of your color?
2. Can you really love someone if you don‘t know
everything about them?
3. Assuming we all think it is moral to allow everyone to
have equal opportunity, is it moral to still
make/have/keep racial distinctions ?
4. 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
Illustrated by Clyde O. De Land
"The Passing of Grandison”
1. Q: In what way does Grandison pass? Why?
2. Q: Grandison was a loyal servant to the Owens family what was it
that finally made him decide to run away?
3. Q: Was Grandison truly a loyal slave at first?
4. Q: Why does Grandison return after being free of slavery?
5. Q: What would ever be a good reason for someone to stay
enslaved when they have the opportunity for freedom?
6. Q: Do you think Grandison would have still wanted to escape if
he hadn‘t visited Canada?
7. Q: Was Grandison able to make a difference in the views of
slavery in their society upon his actions?
8. Q: What compelled Dick‘s father to believe his slaves would
actually not relish the prosperity of being free?
What‘s up with Dick?
1. 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?
2. Q: Were Dick’s actions truly heroic?
3. Q: Does it matter that Dick Owens is trying to help a slave
escape just because he wants to impress a woman?
4. 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 cited page.
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