Monday, July 13, 2015

Effa Manley: Another White Woman Passing as Black

With all the talk of Caitlen Jenner in the news, everyone is familiar with the term trans-gender. Now, with the recent story of Rachel Dolezal, should a new term be created for what she did? In other words, if someone chooses to racially pass, should they be considered trans-racial? 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!

5 comments:

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I've never heard of Effa Manley. Fascinating story! Just goes to show that in this case at least, nurture trumps nature.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Jennette! Good point;).

William Kendall said...

This is the first I've heard of her, Maria.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, William! Learning about her was new to me, too. Penny Marshall is directing a movie about her that's coming out in 2016.

Norma Beishir said...

Thank you, Maria, for sharing stories of people many of us might never have otherwise known!