Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: Atavism Edition

Image taken from Charles Carroll, The Negro a Beast

Reading these old racist screeds, it's interesting to note what beliefs they had about science in general. For instance, Professor O.S. Fowler believed in maternal impression:
A woman, some months before the birth of her child, longed for strawberries, which she could not obtain. Fearing that this might mark her child, and having heard that it would be marked where she then touched herself, she touched her hip. Before the child was born she predicted that it would have a mark resembling a strawberry, and be found on its hip, all of which proved to be true

I recall another person discussing the luminiferous aether, which obviously had to exist because how else would light reach Earth? I forget exactly what point he was trying to make, though.

One belief was that if you had some black ancestry, even if you looked pure white, and you married someone who was pure white, your child could be pure black. In fact, it seems to be the case that people believed that eventually, one of your descendants was sure to be pure black, somewhere down the line. There were plays and stories written about such an event: a man, or woman, who has a few drops of black blood in them, has their ancestry revealed when their child turns out to be fully black. One such story, entitled "The Rushing in of Fools", was printed "by request" in the February 14, 1902, issue of the Chicago Tribune. I reprint it here in full:
The Kingston Woman's club was in session and the President leaned back in her chair and sighed with relief as she saw the approach of recess, for she had just won the last of many hard battles and she was a little weary after the fray. During the recess and the musicale which followed, and even as she bade her co-workers good-by, and, entering her carriage, drove slowly home, she still remained quietly thoughtful as if in a dream.

"I feel so queer—so depressed, and a foreboding of some unknown evil seems to hang over me; yet I know I am right, perfectly right," she mused, as she reached her room and sank into a chair before the fire. "Ah, there's Saville; I will change my gown and have her come up here and we will have a nice long evening together."

She had risen at the sound of opening doors and a merry, soft voice and light footsteps in the hall below. Presently the arrangements for a cozy hour were perfected and the mother and daughter were sitting near the little table, which was supplied to suit the tastes of two dainty, gentle-nurtured women.

"Now I will tell you all about the work done today, as your guest kept you from attending, and I want to talk over some points with you, my darling girlie," began the older woman.

"All right, mamma; I know next to my own silly self that woman's club is the dearest thing on earth to you, but really I was not sorry to be absent from the business and debating session today, for to me it's all tiresome, and I am not a born leader, as you are," returned the pretty, fair girl, with a sunny smile. Her mother sighed.

"No, you are more soft and clinging, and while it is nice to have such an affectionate, dutiful child, still I wish you were more ambitious. Why, at your age I was President of a young ladies' literary society and leader and—"

Chief cook and bottle washer, mamma, dear, in the Kingston Woman's club since its birth, and it does you great credit," interrupted the daughter gayly.

"Yes; I thought today as I sat and looked over the large audience-room and could see the reception-room, the library, the studios, and other apartments between curtains and half-opened doors that it was all different from the little dingy hall where we first met, or even the stuffy old-fashioned parlors we occupied later on. I have worked and thought almost night and day for over twenty years to build up a club that would be a credit to the city and to the sex, and I—"

"And you have succeeded, Mamsie, dear; there isn't a doubt of that—but tell me what was the fight about today?"

"Well, you remember that about a month before you left school I wrote you that I had made the acquaintance of the mistress of that elegant new mansion out in the Lake district, known as Magnolia Grove?"

"Yes, you said they were wealthy, that is, the lady was a widow with a grown son and daughter, that they were from New Orleans, and highly cultured—most desirable acquaintances."

"And so they are; that is, the mother and daughter are simply perfect in appearance and manners; the son is traveling in Europe, but they expect him home in a few weeks, and from the accounts of his standing in social circles over there, especially in Paris, he is a most talented young man. They are all musical and Mrs. Dalrymple does the most exquisite art embroidery and painting. She speaks French, Italian, and German, and reads Greek and Latin, and is an addition that any society might long to gain, and then to think that some of those women who can hardly more than read and write would dare to oppose her name as a member to our club."

"But why? On what grounds, mamma?"

"O, the most narrow, un-Christianlike pretext you ever heard. Mrs. Livingston, the nasty cat, has friends in New Orleans, and she wrote to them, making inquiries about the Dalrymples, and it seems that spiteful people down there whisper that there is a drop or two of negro blood in the family, and so they are called 'niggers' and ostracized from good society in the South."

"That's cruel. They cannot help their color. Do they look as if they had negro blood?" asked the young girl.

"No; that is, since I heard the report, I have noticed a bluish tint around the finger nails, and Mrs. D.'s hair is a glossy black and wavy, though not at all kinky, and even if she and her daughter did show the darker race in their skins I should still keep my position. It's time this color line was broken down. God made us all children of one great family, and he is no respecter of persons, so how can we shut out such sweet, refined women as Mrs. Dalrymple from our clubs just because some ancestor generations ago was a poor slave that cruel white men had stolen from her native land/"

"It doesn't sound fair at all, and I wonder at women who profess to be Christians bringing up such objections. I for one shall be glad to meet these new friends of yours," returned the daughter sweetly.

"That is just like my own dear little girl, who never opposed me in her life. Now, I have arranged for a theater party with the Dalrypmles and you are included, and I intend to show Kingston society that I am loyal to my convictions, and not ashamed of a woman whom it is a delight to honor."

* * *

The above sketch shows the stand of Mrs. Baxter Dare, a prominent club woman in a prosperous Northern town. She had made the acquaintance of the Dalrymples during her own daughter's absence at an Eastern school and now proceeded to carry out her plan of a closer friendship and protection of those whom she considered persecuted through race prejudice. If the mother was an equal at her club, the daughter was a fit friend for her own pretty girlie, and they soon became quite intimate, and the two young girls rather prided themselves on their own warm friendship and took delight in parading their affection by appearing in public together as often as an occasion presented itself.

Time flew by and the son and brother from across the sea returned home, and then all of the romantic, girlish heart of Mrs. Dare's daughter passed into the keeping of this handsome young hero. Indeed, his lithe young form and gentle grace would have attracted any artistic nature, but added to that were a pair of large, dreamy dark eyes, glossy hair with a silken wave and classic features that were the mirror of an Apollo.

He was highly educated and accomplished and possessed a fine mind and a gentle nature. His love and admiration for Saville Dare was instant and lasting, and the two mothers watched the rapid, ardent courtship with delight and prepared for a grand wedding with pleasure, and not a qualm or misgiving crossed the mind of Mrs. Baxter Dare as she gave her fair, golden-haired daughter into the keeping of a man whose blood for generations ran blue and aristocratic enough, but in whose veins lurked the distant taint of a savage ancestor. They were married and went to live in a Southern city after having traveled for some months.

Two years passed by; the daughter made a visit to her former home and at parting whispered a secret in her mother's ear that made them both smile in anticipation of a happy event to occur in the early spring. As that time drew near both mothers—Mrs. Baxter Dare and Mrs. Dalrymple—felt anxious, and the former started South with a foreboding which she strove in vain to overcome.

At St. Louis she was intercepted by a telegram which realized her fears, for in its cruel terseness it read:

"Saville died last night at 7 o'clock."

With a trembling soul she continued her journey and reached her son-in-law's home at an early morning hour. A black footman opened the door and ushered her into the reception-room. She told him who she was and asked to see his master.

"Mr. Dalrymple is prostrated with grief, madam, but I will send the nurse at once," he said courteously and withdrew, to return shortly with a tall, massive looking woman whose rich brown skin and Southern accent were a contrast to the ebony features of the footman, although he was her own son. Her great black eyes were soft with compassion and she took the weary traveler's arm and said:

"O, honey, you is all worn out. Come right up-stairs now. I'se done got yo' room all nice an' warm fo' you."

"Tell me about—my daughter—is, did the baby live?" entreated Mrs. Dare, in an agonized voice.

The other's face went to an ashen gray.

"O, yes, hit's all right—but never you min' about anything now. Yo' jes' come along and res' an' you will feel bettah bime by."

It was a spacious, well appointed room, luxuriously furnished, to which the nurse conducted her, and she soon had off her wraps and was reclining on a couch near the fire. Weary and worn with grief and sleeplessness, she scarcely touched the breakfast the pleasant looking maid so deftly served, and impatiently greeted the nurse's entrance by saying: "Come and tell me all about my darling girl's death. See, I am quite strong now, and I must hear all the details."

To her surprise the poor soul broke into a silent fit of weeping, and sobbed under her breath in a most heartrending way, and shook her head, saying almost in a whisper:

"O, missis, I cayn't tell you. I always said the black and white oughter keep apart. O, the pore lamb, her life went out like the flame from a candle, an' he was so well, too, but I done mistrusted she overheard through the door bein' left ajar, she must er heard some one say somethin' about the pore little baby—"

And here the brown woman wept afresh. Mrs. Baxter Dare half rose from her cushions with a paling face. "But what could she have overheard? What's the matter with the baby—is it crippled, deformed in any way?" she gasped miserably and sank back again.

"No, no, missis; it's a strong, healthy little fellow, only—only the doctor he thought she had better not see it till she got stronger, an' jes' after them gals passed her door a-talkin' about it I came in an' she was lookin' wild an' I cayn't never furgit them big blue eyes an' hair a-shinin' all over her piller, an' she cried out to me: 'O, Milly, is my baby&mdash?' and then she done stop, fur she see her answer in my face, an' she turned to the wall and died without a sound. O, missis, the black blood did it!"

Mrs. Baxter Dare rose to her feet with a stony gaze in her eyes. "Where is that child? I want to see it at once," she demanded with an unnatural calm. The other looked at her, and, placing her hands on her shoulder, gently forced her to sit down. "Wait here. I'll fetch it," she whispered, and left, to return almost immediately with a bundle of dainty flannels and laces. The grandmother rose and stepped forward and as Milly threw back the coverings and she saw a tiny, jet black face surmounted by thick negro wool she gave a low moan and sank senseless at the nurse's feet.

Saville Dare had been beautiful in life, but as her still form lay in funeral robes, upon its pitiless bier, it seemed to shed a radiance cold and clear as the naked truth that gleams from a mountain peak. Eternal snows send a chill to the warmly beating human heart, but they in their isolated purity are not more cutting than the lesson we learn through mistaken sentiment. At the feet of his bride knelt the distratcted [sic] husband, and he had no eyes or memory for that other one who sat gazing on the features of her martyred child, and who held a burden in her arms which slept on peacefully, unconscious of woe or sorrow, untroubled and at rest, although beneath its tiny head a heart broke in wordless grief.

This story was published in 1912, and the idea was very popular. One newspaper article, apparently from 1916, wrote,
[A] play now running with much interest and success ... presents with great artistic ability and skill the tragic problem of a man apparently white, but with a slight and perhaps questionable strain of negro blood from some remote ancestor, who marries a white woman, only to have his secret and shadowy misfortune shouted to the whole world by the birth of a black child!

The motif, of course, is not new, any more than that of Shakespeare's most famous plays, but has been utilized to a vivid and harrowing effect in a score of different stories, novels and plays on both sides of the Atlantic under such titles as "The Black Frankenstein," "The Inescapable Blot," "The Dark Secret," etc.

Further than this we have all heard lurid and sensational stories, usually rather vague as to name, date and place, but most circumstantial and convincing in all other details of similar catastrophes. In fact, the belief that an apparently white man or woman, even one whose ancestors on both sides have passed for white for several generations, may at any time be suddenly confronted by his or her family skeleton in shape of a negro child, is as universally believed and well attested as William Tell's apple, George Washington's hatchet, madstones, centenarians and hoopsnakes.

The article continues by explaining that a recent study by the Carnegie Institution, using the re-discovered views of Mendel, had concluded that such a "throw-back" wasn't possible.

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