Exploring Race and Ethnicity: Racial Passing

Topics: Race and Ethnicity, Black people, Racism Pages: 11 (3836 words) Published: May 23, 2008
Who are you? From whence do you derive? No, this is not a Shakespearian couplet. But it is one of the most important and spiritual questions of all time. Questions that history has failed to have answered. Is there a right or wrong answer? For some, the answers are simple. While for many others it's not as simple because the world is not simple. Which side do you belong on? Racial passing, let's explore this concept with a fine tooth comb (no pun intended).

Racial passing is the act of a person belonging to one particular race who tends to pass for another race. Although this term is broad and is meant for anyone but it is usually referred to members of the black race who passes beyond the color line. There are many instances where this can be seen throughout history, and the mass media (books, and films). Today I would like to expound on the historical aspects by speaking on the life and times of Ellen and William Craft. Also, I will give a brief explain utilizing two movies that highlights the topic of racial passing (The Imitation of Life and An American Scandal).

The world is comprised of many beautiful people filled with many attractive colors, races, and creeds. Like a kaleidoscope, which depicts several swiftly changing scenes and patterns; people's thoughts on controversial issues tend to be colored often with a jaded eye.

Ellen and William Craft the names of two African American abolitionists who were husband and wife. Ellen Craft (1826-1891) was a light-skinned black who helped her and her husband escape from slavery by passing as white.

Ellen was born in Clinton, Georgia, to a biracial slave woman and her master and was so light-skinned that she was often mistaken for a member of her father's white family. Because of this confusion at age 11 Ellen was given as a wedding gift to a daughter who lived in Macon. There Ellen met William, whom she married in 1846. Two years later, the Crafts began to devise their escape plan, which involved Ellen posing as a white slaveholder traveling with "his" slave William.

This plan required many levels of deception. Because a white woman would not travel alone with a male slave, Ellen had to pretend to be not only white but a white man. She cut her hair, changed her walk, and wrapped her jaw in bandages to disguise her lack of a beard. To hide her illiteracy, she wrapped her right arm in a sling to have a ready excuse for being not able to sign papers; and she explained all of the bandages by claiming to be an invalid traveling north to receive medical care. In this manner, the Crafts traveled from Georgia to Pennsylvania by train, steamer, and ferry without being discovered. They arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Day in 1848.

In Philadelphia they quickly made friends with abolitionists William Wells Brown and William Lloyd Garrison, who was inspired by the power the Crafts’ story could have as an antislavery method. The Crafts relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, and began traveling as antislavery lecturers. But the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which mandated that fugitive slaves living anywhere in the United States must be returned to their owners, put their freedom at risk (see Fugitive Slave Laws). Because of their celebrity, the Crafts were singled out by slave catchers as targets.

In November 1850 they made their way to England, where they had five children, attended an agricultural training school, and continued to support antislavery activists. Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, William's autobiography, was published in London in 1860.

In 1868, following the American Civil War, the Crafts returned to the United States with two of their children and settled in Ways Station, Georgia, near Savannah. There they farmed a cotton and rice plantation and attempted to start a school, although financial debts from the plantation and hostility from white neighbors ultimately led to the school's demise. Ellen Craft had...
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