Thursday, March 21, 2013

Red Hair, Thomas Jefferson and the Lunacy of Racism

I've also just finished reading Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz, another fascinating book. This time red hair popped up in relation to Thomas Jefferson and the status of mixed race people in the days of slavery.
"Thomas Jefferson fathered a son, Eston, with his one-quarter-black slave, Sally Hemmings. Eston had fair skin, freckles, and red hair, but his background was evidently not black enough to qualify him as "black"; in the early nineteenth century, Virginia law declared people white if they were less than one-quarter black. Nevertheless, the son of a slave was the son of a slave-Eston was only freed on the instruction of Jefferson's will, and lived his life out as a white man in the North. His full brother, Madison Hemmings (born James Madison Hemmings), had no such luck. Though he shared an identical lineage with Eston, and had also been freed in Jefferson's will, Madison had "bronze" skin, which seems to have been enough to condemn him to life as a black man. By law, Madison should have been treated the same as his brother, but no one could accept that someone with Madison's appearance could be considered white, even if his father had been president of the United States."

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