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Forsaking All Others

A True Story of Interracial Sex and Revenge in the 1880s South

Charles F. Robinson

Publication Year: 2011

An intensely dramatic true story, Forsaking All Others recounts the fascinating case of an interracial couple who attempted—in defiance of society’s laws and conventions—to formalize their relationship in the post-Reconstruction South. It was an affair with tragic consequences, one that entangled the protagonists in a miscegenation trial and, ultimately, a desperate act of revenge. From the mid-1870s to the early 1880s, Isaac Bankston was the proud sheriff of Desha County, Arkansas, a man so prominent and popular that he won five consecutive terms in office. Although he was married with two children, around 1881 he entered into a relationship with Missouri Bradford, an African American woman who bore his child. Some two years later, Missouri and Isaac absconded to Memphis, hoping to begin a new life there together. Although Tennessee lawmakers had made miscegenation a felony, Isaac’s dark complexion enabled the couple to apply successfully for a marriage license and take their vows. Word of the marriage quickly spread, however, and Missouri and Isaac were charged with unlawful cohabitation. An attorney from Desha County, James Coates, came to Memphis to act as special prosecutor in the case. Events then took a surprising turn as Isaac chose to deny his white heritage in order to escape conviction. . Despite this victory in court, however, Isaac had been publicly disgraced, and his sense of honor propelled him into a violent confrontation with Coates, the man he considered most responsible for his downfall. Charles F. Robinson uses Missouri and Isaac’s story to examine key aspects of post-Reconstruction society, from the rise of miscegenation laws and the particular burdens they placed on anyone who chose to circumvent them, to the southern codes of honor that governed both social and individual behavior, especially among white men. But most of all, the book offers a compelling personal narrative with important implications for our supposedly more tolerant times.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

The writing of any manuscript is always to some extent a community effort. This book is no exception. There were a number of individuals who greatly affected the final product. Beth Juhl and Andrea Cantrell, librarians at the University of Arkansas, were reliable sources for me in my attempts to locate literature related to the subject. ...

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pp. ix-xiii

On January 24, 1884, Frederick Douglass, the famed black statesman and former abolitionist, shook the pillars of convention by wedding his white secretary, Helen Pitts, in a private ceremony held at the home of a Washington, D.C., minister. When news of the nuptials became public, a storm of criticism poured down on the couple from blacks ...

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1. Mississippi on His Mind: Isaac Bankston’s Formative Years

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pp. 1-17

For most of the residents of Arkansas City, Arkansas, the morning of May 6, 1884, was like so many others. High humidity greeted the sunrise, signaling the steadily increasing temperatures of the season. A light breeze blew through the soft leaves of tall maples. The melodious morning songs of small birds mixed with the crows of roosters announcing ...

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2. The Confluence Across the River

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pp. 19-35

Isaac and Martha arrived in an Arkansas that was in transition. Like blacks and whites throughout the South after the war, Arkansans sought to reclaim their lives and communities. They rebuilt cities and towns, repaired farms, and reestablished county and state governments. Southern Unionists in Arkansas had taken political charge of the ...

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3. In Search of Their Place

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pp. 37-51

When it came to interracial coupling, post–Civil War Arkansas was much like the rest of the South. During the antebellum period, black-white liaisons usually involved white men and slave women. These affairs often operated beneath the public radar and, if known, were mostly ignored and/or tolerated by the larger white society.1 Few ...

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4. From Memphis to Marriage and Misery

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pp. 53-72

In late December 1883, when Missouri and Isaac arrived in the city, Memphis bustled with activity. Seven railroad lines connected the Bluff City to other areas throughout the South and Midwest, while the Memphis City Rail conjoined the city’s ten wards. Steamboats bellowed their daily entries and exits in the river port. Some of them exported ...

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5. Color Line Justice

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pp. 73-94

The indictment of Missouri and Isaac for unlawful cohabitation reflected Tennessee’s long history of opposition to formal interracial relationships. As early as 1741, while operating largely under the laws of North Carolina, the governing body of the sector that would become Tennessee adopted North Carolina’s antimiscegenation provision. ...

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6. A Quest for Honor

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pp. 95-105

On the day following Isaac’s trial, the Memphis Daily Appeal reported on an incident in Batesville, Mississippi, involving two white men, H. W. Thaten, editor of the Batesville Blade, and a young lawyer named Julius Porter. According to the article, Thaten had insinuated that Porter was responsible for a number of thefts in local businesses. Outraged by the accusation, Porter demanded ...


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pp. 107-113


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pp. 115-135


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pp. 137-155


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pp. 157-166

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337404
E-ISBN-10: 1572337400
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572337244
Print-ISBN-10: 1572337249

Page Count: 182
Illustrations: none
Publication Year: 2011