In book after book about the Jim Crow South there was one subject consistently part of the story: the lighter your skin the better. Whether it was Anne Moody, or the many individuals interviewed in Remembering Jim Crow, it was a belief purported by whites and accepted by blacks. They talked about the special treatment and privileges given to black individuals with fair skin, the disappointment of parents when their child was born dark, the pride of having some white blood, and that intelligence was perceived to be directly related to the shade of an individual’s skin. These stories typically led to discussions of passing as white, and the pain of this practice for the individual and their family.
When writing Silent Ties, I knew these beliefs had to be included for historical accuracy. I struggled with the decision, and was concerned that it would appear to perpetuate these falsehoods. My intent was to achieve authenticity and realism. Addie tells Missy that her mother has never met Henry, but doesn’t like him because he is dark. When Miss Ada first saw Miss Emily with her fair skin and white features she knew this was the woman for her son. These stories demonstrate that it wasn’t just the color of one’s skin that determined their life, but the shade of it as well
It goes beyond the issue that lighter is better with “Mr. Jefferson and Grandma Em.” I encourage you to explore more about this distressing topic. Visit “Not Your Typical Book Club!” and read about the decisions that determined their future and the practice of passing as white.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana