The Origins of the U.S. Color Line (Video)

I just added four new animated cartoon lectures to my Youtube channel. They comprise a four-part series on the origin of the U.S. endogamous color line in the late 17-century Chesapeake. Their links are:

This topic has a quirky personal significance to me. I researched these colonial events while writing my doctoral dissertation. I was suprised to learn that they were unknown to my History Department’s faculty, who subscribe to the notion that the U.S. endogamous color line is an inevitable consequence of White racism, which itself springs from an inborn European disdain of Africans.

What is quirky is that the topic of my thesis was not the colonial Chesapeake. My topic was the one-drop rule (the rise and triumph of the legal notion that someone with partial sub-Saharan ancestry who looks White and is accepted as White is really Black and just “passing for White”). And so, all of my findings regarding the ODR sprang from my own primary-source research, with only glancing mention of prior studies.

On the other hand, I had to research the colonial Chesapeake, like it or not, because my teachers were unaware that the color line was not an inherent European character flaw. They did not know that it had been imposed by the landed gentry against resistance by the colonists. Because the colonial Chesapeake was not the focus of my dissertation, I relied on the excellent wealth of prior studies (verifying their references and cited sources for myself, of course). Amazingly, my teachers were uninterested in Allen, Morgan, Smedley, Hannaford, Bennett, Price, Breen and Innes, Brown, and all the other dedicated researchers who had reported the same story.

As we can see in recent threads (here and here) about a Harvard professor’s inaccuracy about the law of 1662 (then swallowed by a gullible Time Magazine reporter), the master narrative in much of academia still follows Jordan’s hypothesis of “inherent disdain” and cannot bear to accept facts confirmed and re-confrmed many times over by independent scholars.

This has personal siginifcance because I can understand academic resistance to my own original findings, I am just one person, after all. But for the life of me, I cannot understand academic rejection of facts that have been independently uncovered by so many university-published scholarly peer-reviewed studies and rebutted by none.

If there is one lesson to take away from this entire four-part series, it is that ordinary Americans did not choose to become racialists. They were forced into it over generations, by rulers who worked tirelessly to impose a color line. The older master narrative, that White folks despise Africans due to an ancient inborn tendency, is obsolete. The evidence shows the contrary. American colonists were as accepting of intermarriage as the British and Spanish until the endogamous barrier was imposed at sword-point by their rulers.

Frank W. Sweet is the author of Legal History of the Color Line (ISBN 9780939479238), an analysis of the nearly 300 appealed cases that determined Americans’ “racial” identity over the centuries. It is the most thorough study of the legal history of this topic yet published. He was accepted to Ph.D. candidacy in history with a minor in molecular anthropology at the University of Florida in 2003 and has completed all but his dissertation defense. He earned an M.A. in History from American Military University in 2001. He is also the author of several state park historical booklets and published historical essays. He was a member of the editorial board of the magazine Interracial Voice, and is a regular lecturer and panelist at historical and genealogical conferences. To send email, click here.

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