Romance and Rights
The Politics of Interracial Intimacy, 1945-1954
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
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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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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...
Chapter 1: Legislating Love: Antimiscegenation Law and the Regulation of Intimacy
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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...
Chapter 2: Containing Contradictions: The Cultural Logic of Interracial Intimacy
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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...
Chapter 3: Making Marriage Matter: Interracial Intimacy and the Black Public Sphere
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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...
Chapter 4: At Home and Abroad: Black Soldiers and the Spaces of Interracial Intimacy
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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...
Chapter 5: From the Outside Looking In: The Limits of Interracial Intimacy
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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...
Conclusion: Strom Thurmond’s Legacy
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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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Publication Year: 2005