Monday, January 7, 2013

Passing as Black

Effa Manley
So there's trans-gender, can there also be trans-racial? If someone chooses to pass, perhaps they are. If you're unfamiliar with the term "passing," here's a definition from Wikipedia

Racial passing refers to a person classified as a member of one racial group attempting to be accepted as a member of a different racial group. The term was used especially in the U.S. to describe a person of mixed-race heritage assimilating into the white majority during times when legal and social conventions...classified the person as a minority, subject to racial segregation and discrimination.

Back in the days of segregation, lots of mixed race individuals of black and white ancestry chose to pass as white for social and economic reasons.  Effa Manley, however, was a white woman who chose to pass as black!  Her biological parents were white, but she was raised by her white mother, and her step-father who was African-American.

I'd never heard of Effa Manley, but here's some of her story from Negro Leagues Legacy.  See the link for the complete article "The First Lady of Black Baseball," by Aimee Crawford.

Effa Manley was ahead of her time.

In the 1930s and '40s, women were often viewed as second-class citizens, and blacks were accorded few rights. According to the established rules of society, neither were considered qualified to contend at baseball's highest level. But Effa Manley had little use for those rules -- or for establishment, for that matter.

Like greats Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, she was a pioneer in breaking down baseball's racial barriers. Unlike those two, Manley faced the additional obstacle of gender bias.

 Aggressive and progressive, glamorous and magnanimous, Manley overcame each to make her mark as one  of the most fascinating and significant figures in Negro League history.  

"She was unique and effervescent and knowledgeable," says Monte Irvin, the Hall of Famer who played shortstop and outfield for the Newark Eagles, the Negro League team Manley co-owned with her husband, Abe. "She ran the whole business end of the team."
  
A born entrepreneur, Manley was the only female in the history of Negro Leagues.  Effa and Abe ran the Eagles, a Negro National League team, from 1935-48. And her considerable influence extended beyond baseball as well; she was also active in the black civil rights movement.

Manley was born March 27, 1900. Her birth, like much of her life, was controversial. Within the black community, Manley rarely discussed her heritage, and most people assumed she was a light-skinned black. But Manley claimed in an interview in 1973 that she was white. Her mother, Bertha Ford Brooks, was white, of German and Asian-Indian descent. Effa explained that Bertha, who earned a  living as a seamstress, became pregnant by her white employer, John M. Bishop, a wealthy Philadelphian. Manley's black stepfather, Benjamin Brooks, sued Bishop and received a settlement of $10,000 before he and Bertha divorced. Bertha remarried, and Effa was raised in a household with a black step-father and black half-siblings, and so chose to live as a black person.


Effa Manley was a fascinating individual, and the first person I'd ever heard of to "pass as black!" Had you ever heard of her, or perhaps someone else who chose to pass as something other than white?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

11 comments:

The Happy Whisk said...

Hope you had a great Christmas break and here's to an Oogie Boogie New Year.

Maria McKenzie said...

Thank you Happy Whisk! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Shelly said...

How fascinating! My new son-in-law is biracial, and his mom has several sisters who are lighter than I am and are often taken to be white. My husband is Hispanic and has several family members who are blonde haired, green eyed and who look more white than I do.

I look forward to reading your new book~

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Shelly! Thanks for visiting:). Racial makeup is fascinating! So many times, members of one racial group don't fit the typical norm!

The Desert Rocks said...

Very interesting Maria. Thanks for sharing this and Happy New Year and welcome back!

Maria McKenzie said...

Thank you, Eve!

Romance Book Paradise said...

This is a fascinating story. I'd love to know more about this woman.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Nas! Thanks for visiting;). This really is a fascinating story! Be sure to click on "Negro Leagues Legacy" for more on Effa Manley:)!

William Kendall said...

Fascinating! No, I've never heard of her....

Norma Beishir said...

When I was in college, living on campus, there was a girl in my dorm--a very pretty girl. She looked caucasian. i don't think anyone ever questioned it. Then one day, her parents came to visit. They were African American--I think her mother may have been bi-racial. The girl was furious with them. She accused them of trying to ruin her life and made it clear she wanted them to leave. They did--looking heartbroken.

I couldn't believe she could do that to her own parents. This was the mid-70s, not the '50s.

Maria McKenzie said...

@William: Learning about her was new to me as well;).

@Norma: How awful!! I wonder what kind of relationship she has (if any) with her family now. Sad...