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Romance and Rights

The Politics of Interracial Intimacy, 1945-1954

Publication Year: 2005

Romance and Rights: The Politics of Interracial Intimacy, 1945-1954 studies the meaning of interracial romance, love, and sex in the ten years after World War II. How was interracial romance treated in popular culture by civil rights leaders, African American soldiers, and white segregationists? Previous studies focus on the period beginning in 1967 when the Supreme Court overturned the last state antimiscegenation law (Loving v. Virginia). Lubin's study, however, suggests that we cannot fully understand contemporary debates about "hybridity," or mixed-race identity, without first comprehending how WWII changed the terrain. The book focuses on the years immediately after the war, when ideologies of race, gender, and sexuality were being reformulated and solidified in both the academy and the public. Lubin shows that interracial romance, particularly between blacks and whites, was a testing ground for both the general American public and the American government. The government wanted interracial relationships to be treated primarily as private affairs to keep attention off contradictions between its outward aura of cultural freedom and the realities of Jim Crow politics and antimiscegenation laws. Activists, however, wanted interracial intimacy treated as a public act, one that could be used symbolically to promote equal rights and expanded opportunities. These contradictory impulses helped shape our current perceptions about interracial romances and their broader significance in American culture. Romance and Rights ends in 1954, the year of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, before the civil rights movement became well organized. By closely examining postwar popular culture, African American literature, NAACP manuscripts, miscegenation laws, and segregationist protest letters, among other resources, the author analyzes postwar attitudes towards interracial romance, showing how complex and often contradictory those attitudes could be. Alex Lubin is a professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico. His work has been published in American Quarterly, Labor Studies, and OAH History Magazine.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

This book project began as a graduate seminar paper for a class taught by David Roediger at the University of Minnesota. During the time it has taken to transform the ideas I first presented in that seminar into a dissertation and book, I have received invaluable help from a number of teachers, classmates, colleagues...

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pp. ix-xxi

In the summer of 1942 the black actor, singer, athlete, and political activist Paul Robeson walked onto the stage of the Brattle Street Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, portraying the role of William Shakespeare’s Othello. In doing so, Robeson became the first black actor to assume the role of Shakespeare’s “dark Moor” in an interracial production in the United...

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Chapter 1: Legislating Love: Antimiscegenation Law and the Regulation of Intimacy

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pp. 3-38

When critics and audiences celebrated Paul Robeson’s performance in the 1942 production of Othello as a civil rights achievement, they rearticulated the meaning of interracial intimacy in American society. Robeson’s casting in the role of Othello, in addition to the play’s interracial romantic plot, moved the matter of interracial intimacy into public view...

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Chapter 2: Containing Contradictions: The Cultural Logic of Interracial Intimacy

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pp. 39-65

In 1934 John Stahl’s remarkable film Imitation of Life engaged the politics of interracial intimacy through its exploration of a light-skinned black woman’s attempt to pass as white. But in order to do so, Peola (Fredi Washington) had to reject her dark-skinned black mother, Delilah (Louise Beavers). Stahl’s adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel concludes with...

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Chapter 3: Making Marriage Matter: Interracial Intimacy and the Black Public Sphere

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pp. 66-95

In 1956 the attorney general of Georgia, Eugene Cook, hatched a political strategy to undermine the civil rights movement in his state. Reminiscent of the 1864 ploy to label Lincoln an amalgamationist, Cook attributed to a fictional Howard University professor, Roosevelt Williams, a speech advocating interracial marriage. Williams’s speech conflated interracial...

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Chapter 4: At Home and Abroad: Black Soldiers and the Spaces of Interracial Intimacy

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pp. 96-122

Black participation in the U.S. military during the First World War, as this folktale reveals, was punctuated by tensions over civil rights and the specter of interracial sex. The war inspired one black serviceman to believe he had earned the “right” to marry a white woman. Yet the other serviceman’s prediction that an interracial romance would lead to his...

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Chapter 5: From the Outside Looking In: The Limits of Interracial Intimacy

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pp. 123-150

After World War II, American culture was divided over whether interracial intimacy was primarily a private or public matter. Postwar mainstream popular culture and courts relegated interracial intimacy to the nonnational spheres of the home and the state or region. As a result, the full political implications of these relationships would not be realized. As a consequence...

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Conclusion: Strom Thurmond’s Legacy

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pp. 151-159

In 1948 the fiery Dixiecrat presidential candidate Strom Thurmond gave a public address in which he said, “All the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes.”1 Thurmond’s segregationist platform linked the issue of desegregation to the privacy of the home and hinted that desegregation would necessarily lead to interracial households. The...


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pp. 160-172


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pp. 173-180


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pp. 181-183

E-ISBN-13: 9781604730593
E-ISBN-10: 1604730595
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578067053
Print-ISBN-10: 1578067057

Publication Year: 2005