He passed For Black To Marry Black Woman – The Story Of Clarence King

During America’s Gilded Age, Clarence King was a famous geologist, friend of wealthy, famous, and powerful men. He was a larger-than-life character whose intellect and wanderlust pushed him to survey far-flung regions of the western U.S. and South America and develop an abiding appreciation of non-Western culture and people. What his family and wealthy friends did not know was that for 17 years, King lived secretly as James Todd, a black Pullman porter with a black wife and mixed-race children residing in Brooklyn. Devoted to his mother and half-siblings, restless and constantly in need of money, King relied on the largesse of his wealthy friends to help him support both families, never revealing his secret until he was near death. Martha A.Sandweiss relies on letters, newspaper accounts, and interviews to chronicle the extraordinary story of an influential blue-eyed white man who passed for black at a time when passing generally went the other way. An engaging portrait of a man who defied social conventions but could not face up to the potential ruin of an interracial marriage.

Ada Copeland (ca. December 23, 1860 – April 14, 1964) was the common-law wife of the American geologist Clarence King, who was appointed as the first director of the United States Geological Survey. Copeland was presumed born a slave on or around December 23, 1860, in Georgia. As a young woman, she moved to New York in the mid-1880s and worked as a nursemaid. In about 1887, she became involved with Clarence King, an upper-class white man who presented himself to her as a light-skinned black Pullman porter under the name of James Todd. (Given the long history of slavery in the United States, many African Americans had European ancestry. Some passed or identified as white, given their majority white ancestry.)

They married in September 1888, with King living as Todd with her, but as Clarence King while working in the field. They had five children together, four of whom survived to adulthood. Their two daughters married white men; their two sons served classified as blacks during World War I. Before his death from tuberculosis in 1901, King wrote to Copeland confessing his true identity.

After King died, Copeland embarked on a thirty-year battle to gain control of the trust fund he had promised her. Her representatives included the notable lawyers Everett J. Waring, the first black lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, and J. Douglas Wetmore, who contested segregation laws in Jacksonville, Florida.

Eventually, in 1933, the court determined that King had died penniless, and no money was forthcoming. John Hay, a friend of King’s, provided Ada King with a monthly stipend and, after his death in 1905, Hay’s daughter Helen Hay Whitney continued the support. The stipend eventually stopped, though Copeland until her death continued to live in the house John Hay had bought for her. She died on April 14, 1964, one of the last of the former American slaves.

About agogo22

Director of Manchester School of Samba at http://www.sambaman.org.uk
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1 Response to He passed For Black To Marry Black Woman – The Story Of Clarence King

  1. This is such a typical white paranoia. Why is it so important to keep a so called race pure? There is no purity of race anyway, we are all mongrels because of the peoples’ migration and people conquering each other. Or why keep a culture free from outside influences? Most people in Europe, except the French, don’t mind the American influence in culture and language, so why not accept influence from African cultures for example? We could learn a lot from them with regard to hospitality!
    All this penny pinching defining of racial lables should just stop, and race should not be mentioned in passports either. I understand that this is still the case in GB and USA.
    And when we are at it, why not drop the gender labels as well and religion labels.

    Liked by 1 person

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