Miscegenation and Competing Definitions of Race in Twentieth-Century Louisiana

From The Journal of Southern History
  • Michelle Brattain


Marcus Bruce Christian, an author and professor at Dillard University, observed in the mid-nineteen-fifties that while New Orleans might be known for “gumbo, jambalaya, lagniappe, poor boy sandwiches, pralines, Mardi Gras and Creoles,” it also has “another claim to distinction which has not been bruited about very loudly.” New Orleans is a place, he wrote, where family lines “waver back and forth across color-lines like wet wash in a high March wind.” The city has given to America “more ‘passer pour blanches’ [people who pass for white] than any other city in our country.” A poet and scholar of black history, Christian anticipated much of the current academic interest in race as a social construction.1 His meticulous histories of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century families recreated an era when racial lines were more fluid and southern society accepted—or at least expected— interracial sex. In the latter half of Christian’s career, as a civil rights struggle charged with anxieties about interracial contact swirled around him, his interests broadened to include the progeny of those early families. Among thousands of newspaper clippings that Christian saved over his lifetime— documenting New Orleans history from the protracted fight over school desegregation to the debate over stereotypical and degrading representations of Africans in Mardi Gras—one finds dozens of society photographs, wedding announcements, and obituaries that he compiled, seemingly in an attempt to discover a similar secret interracial history of the twentieth century.


Black Woman Birth Certificate Racial Identity Case File Interracial Marriage 
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  1. 1.
    “Sheep Goats and Passer Pour Blanches,” unpublished manuscript by Marcus Christian, Folder “Ebony Magazine research re passe pour blanc,” Box 12, Series XIII.1: Historical Manuscripts, Marcus Bruce Christian Papers (Special Collections, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans; hereinafter cited as Christian Papers). On Christian, see Marilyn S. Hessler, “Marcus Christian: The Man and His Collection,” Louisiana history 28 (Winter 1987–1988): 37–55Google Scholar
  2. Jerah Johnson, “Marcus B. Christian and the WPA History of Black People in Louisiana,” Louisiana history 20 (Winter 1979–1980): 113–15.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    As numerous scholars have argued, miscegenation law is not a mere by-product of racial ideas; it contributes to the construction and reconstruction of those ideas. See, for example, Eva Saks, “Representing Miscegenation Law,” Raritan 8 (Fall 1988): 39–69Google Scholar
  4. Peggy Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘Race’ in Twentieth-Century America,” Journal of American History 83 (June 1996): 44–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 23.
    On the origin of the term miscegenation, see Sidney Kaplan, “The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864,” Journal of Negro History 34 (July 1949): 274–343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 26.
    Paul A. Lombardo, “Medicine, Eugenics, and the Supreme Court: From Coercive Sterilization to Reproductive Freedom,” Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy 13 (Fall 1996): 21Google Scholar
  7. Lisa Lindquist Dorr, “Arm in Arm: Gender, Eugenics and Virginia’s Racial Integrity Acts of the 1920s” Journal of Women’s History 11 (Spring 1999): 143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 98.
    For a more contemporary discussion of the racial status of Filipinos, see Emory S. Bogardus, “What Race Are Filipinos?” Sociology and Social Research 16 (January–February 1932): 274–79.Google Scholar

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© Organization of American Historians 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle Brattain

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