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Coverage for grant FB-50300-04

The Color Line: A History of Race, the Law, and American Lives
Daniel Sharfstein, Vanderbilt University

Grant details:

Tracing Lives of Three 'White' Families and Their Black Forebears (Review)
Author(s): Dan Cryer
Publication: Boston Globe
Date: 2/20/2011
Abstract: “[A] spellbinding chronicle of racial passing in America . . . Sharfstein may be a law professor, at Vanderbilt, but he approaches his subject with a storyteller’s verve and a novelist’s gift for the telling detail. . . Sharfstein’s you-are-there approach to history produces dozens of vivid set pieces — Wall rescuing an escaped slave from slave catchers; Gideon Gibson taunting the commander of South Carolina’s militia; Senator Gibson delighting in owning the mansion once occupied by President Lincoln’s secretary of war. In every case, the author clarifies the context that makes each family’s progression from black to white unique . . . The Invisible Line is not only a work of serious scholarship based on exhaustive archival research but an immensely satisfying read.’’

The Invisible Line (Review)
Author(s): Wilbert Rideau
Publication: Financial Times
Date: 2/21/2011
Abstract: “In this meticulously researched history, Sharfstein’s ace-in-the-hole is his ability to recreate dramatic events and build flesh-and-blood characters from courthouse records, family letters, or forgotten contemporaneous accounts. He sets out to change the way we think about race, and he succeeds brilliantly in showing us that before politics began hardening colour lines in the run-up to the civil war, pragmatism often trumped prejudice. . . [F]or me, what makes this book a must-read are Sharfstein’s revelations about antebellum America.”

Shades of White (Review)
Author(s): Raymond Arsenault
Publication: New York Times
Date: 2/27/2011
Abstract: “In an illuminating and aptly titled book, The Invisible Line, Daniel J. Sharfstein demonstrates that African-Americans of mixed ancestry have been crossing the boundaries of color and racial identity since the early colonial era. An associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University and an author with a literary flair, Sharfstein documents this persistent racial fluidity by painstakingly reconstructing the history of three families. In a dizzying array of alternating chapters, he presents the personal and racial stories of the Gibsons, the Spencers and the Walls. The result is an astonishingly detailed rendering of the variety and complexity of racial experience in an evolving national culture moving from slavery to segregation to civil rights.’’

Briefly Noted (Review)
Publication: New Yorker
Date: 3/7/2011
Abstract: "[A]n important reconsideration of the porousness of racial categories . . . and also a powerful evocation of the peril and insecurity that blacks faced both before and after the Civil War."

'The Invisible Line,' by Daniel J. Sharfstein (Review)
Author(s): Bruce Watson
Publication: San Francisco Chronicle
Date: 2/27/2011
Abstract: "Despite an African American president and the annual Black History Month, racial amnesia remains widespread. Everyone knows when slavery ended, but few know how Slavery Lite continued under the oppressive sharecropper system. The persistence of such amnesia long after the triumphs of the civil rights movement makes 'The Invisible Line' must reading. "With dogged research, lawyer and journalist Daniel J. Sharfstein has stitched together the stories of three families toeing America's racial trip wire across several generations. Woven into a novelistic narrative, 'The Invisible Line' presents a primer on the hypocrisies that confronted everyday Americans from the Revolution through to the 1960s."

Un-Reconstructed (Review)
Author(s): Nathan Greenfield
Publication: Times Literary Supplement
Date: 10/28/2011
Abstract: "Daniel J. Sharfstein['s] extraordinary, engaging book, 'The Invisible Line,' . . . shows that the colour line was at times surprisingly permeable."

Escape Into Whiteness (Review)
Author(s): Brent Staples
Publication: New York Review of Books
Date: 11/24/2011
Abstract: "Daniel Sharfstein, an associate professor of law at Vanderbilt, brings . . . late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Negro society vividly to life in his authoritative and elegantly written 'The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White.'"