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Romance and Rights

Romance and Rights: The Politics of Interracial Intimacy, 1945-1954

Alex Lubin
Copyright Date: 2005
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    Romance and Rights
    Book Description:

    Romance and Rights: The Politics of Interracial Intimacy, 1945-1954studies the meaning of interracial romance, love, and sex in the ten years after World War II. How was interracial romance treated in popular culture by civil rights leaders, African American soldiers, and white segregationists?

    Previous studies focus on the period beginning in 1967 when the Supreme Court overturned the last state antimiscegenation law (Loving v. Virginia). Lubin's study, however, suggests that we cannot fully understand contemporary debates about "hybridity," or mixed-race identity, without first comprehending how WWII changed the terrain.

    The book focuses on the years immediately after the war, when ideologies of race, gender, and sexuality were being reformulated and solidified in both the academy and the public. Lubin shows that interracial romance, particularly between blacks and whites, was a testing ground for both the general American public and the American government. The government wanted interracial relationships to be treated primarily as private affairs to keep attention off contradictions between its outward aura of cultural freedom and the realities of Jim Crow politics and antimiscegenation laws. Activists, however, wanted interracial intimacy treated as a public act, one that could be used symbolically to promote equal rights and expanded opportunities. These contradictory impulses helped shape our current perceptions about interracial romances and their broader significance in American culture.

    Romance and Rightsends in 1954, the year of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, before the civil rights movement became well organized. By closely examining postwar popular culture, African American literature, NAACP manuscripts, miscegenation laws, and segregationist protest letters, among other resources, the author analyzes postwar attitudes towards interracial romance, showing how complex and often contradictory those attitudes could be.

    Alex Lubin is a professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico. His work has been published inAmerican Quarterly,Labor Studies, andOAH History Magazine.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-059-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    In the summer of 1942 the black actor, singer, athlete, and political activist Paul Robeson walked onto the stage of the Brattle Street Theater in Cambridge,Massachusetts, portraying the role of William Shakespeare’s Othello. In doing so, Robeson became the first black actor to assume the role of Shakespeare’s “dark Moor” in an interracial production in the United States. Although there had been all-black off-Broadway productions ofOthelloprior to World War II, white audiences did not view these productions. Prior to Robeson’s performance, white actors had played Othello in various shades of blackface. In the pre-1942 productions, Othello had been...

  5. Chapter 1 Legislating Love: Antimiscegenation Law and the Regulation of Intimacy
    (pp. 3-38)

    When critics and audiences celebrated Paul Robeson’s performance in the 1942 production ofOthelloas a civil rights achievement, they rearticulated the meaning of interracial intimacy in American society. Robeson’s casting in the role of Othello, in addition to the play’s interracial romantic plot, moved the matter of interracial intimacy into public view and potentially into the realm of civil rights. In order to understand the significance of this performance and its location within the public sphere, we must first examine how the politics of interracial intimacy developed in the United States. From 1661 to 1967, U.S. citizens in certain...

  6. Chapter 2 Containing Contradictions: The Cultural Logic of Interracial Intimacy
    (pp. 39-65)

    In 1934 John Stahl’s remarkable filmImitation of Lifeengaged the politics of interracial intimacy through its exploration of a light-skinned black woman’s attempt to pass as white. But in order to do so, Peola (Fredi Washington) had to reject her dark-skinned black mother, Delilah (Louise Beavers). Stahl’s adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel concludes with Delilah’s death, attributed in part to her anguish over Peola’s rejection. Peola, by the end of the film, feels guilty for rejecting her mother. Yet the film leaves open the question of Peola’s future. Will she now freely pass as white, or will she...

  7. Chapter 3 Making Marriage Matter: Interracial Intimacy and the Black Public Sphere
    (pp. 66-95)

    In 1956 the attorney general of Georgia, Eugene Cook, hatched a political strategy to undermine the civil rights movement in his state. Reminiscent of the 1864 ploy to label Lincoln an amalgamationist, Cook attributed to a fictional Howard University professor, Roosevelt Williams, a speech advocating interracial marriage. Williams’s speech conflated interracial marriage and civil rights reforms during a time when segregationists were especially uneasy about the implications of desegregation.

    We demand the abolition of all state laws which forbid intermarriage of the different races…. The whole world knows that the white man prefers the Negro woman. The white women have...

  8. Chapter 4 At Home and Abroad: Black Soldiers and the Spaces of Interracial Intimacy
    (pp. 96-122)

    Black participation in the U.S. military during the First World War, as this folktale reveals, was punctuated by tensions over civil rights and the specter of interracial sex. The war inspired one black serviceman to believe he had earned the “right” to marry a white woman. Yet the other serviceman’s prediction that an interracial romance would lead to his friend’s death illustrates the limits of this “rights” approach. Interracial intimacy was therefore a contested issue that illuminated certain contradictions centered on black participation in the nation.

    Military engagements always bring to the fore issues of social and cultural differences within...

  9. Chapter 5 From the Outside Looking In: The Limits of Interracial Intimacy
    (pp. 123-150)

    After World War II, American culture was divided over whether interracial intimacy was primarily a private or public matter. Postwar mainstream popular culture and courts relegated interracial intimacy to the nonnational spheres of the home and the state or region. As a result, the full political implications of these relationships would not be realized. As a consequence of this positioning of interracial intimacy, black activists attempted to publicize and, at times, celebrate interracial romance and marriage, because doing so pushed certain civil rights questions into the public realm, where they could be dealt with through public policy. Interracial intimacy was...

  10. Conclusion: Strom Thurmond’s Legacy
    (pp. 151-159)

    In 1948 the fiery Dixiecrat presidential candidate Strom Thurmond gave a public address in which he said, “All the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes.”¹ Thurmond’s segregationist platform linked the issue of desegregation to the privacy of the home and hinted that desegregation would necessarily lead to interracial households. The audience that day witnessed a public figure whose star as a defender of the southern way of life was on the rise; what they did not know was that at age twenty-two, Thurmond had engaged in an illicit encounter with Carrie Butler, a fifteen-year-old African...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 160-172)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-180)
  13. Index
    (pp. 181-183)