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Products for grant FB-50300-04

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

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The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White (Book) [show prizes]
Title: The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White
Author: Daniel J. Sharfstein
Abstract: "The Invisible Line" is a multigenerational history of three families of color who assimilated into white communities at different points in American history. The Gibsons were wealthy landowners in the South Carolina backcountry who became white in the 1760s, ascending to the heights of the Southern elite and ultimately to the U.S. Senate. The Spencers were hardscrabble farmers in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, joining an isolated Appalachian community in the 1840s and for the better part of a century hovering on the line between white and black. The Walls were fixtures of the rising black middle class in post-Civil War Washington, D.C., only to give up everything they had fought for to become white at the dawn of the twentieth century. Together, their interwoven and intersecting stories uncover a forgotten America in which the rules of race were something to be believed but not necessarily obeyed. Defining their identities first as people of color and later as whites, these families provide a lens for understanding how people thought about and experienced race and how these ideas and experiences evolved -- how the very meaning of black and white changed -- over time.
Year: 2011
Primary URL:,,9781594202827,00.html
Secondary URL:
Publisher: Penguin Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9781594202827

Crossing the Color Line: Racial Migration and the One-Drop Rule, 1600-1860 (Article)
Title: Crossing the Color Line: Racial Migration and the One-Drop Rule, 1600-1860
Author: Daniel J. Sharfstein
Abstract: Scholars describe the one-drop rule - the idea that any African ancestry makes a person black - as the American regime of race. While accounts of when the rule emerged vary widely, ranging from the 1660s to the 1920s, most legal scholars have assumed that once established, the rule created a bright line that people were bound to follow. This Article reconstructs the one-drop rule's meaning and purpose from 1600 to 1860, setting it within the context of racial migration, the continual process by which people of African descent assimilated into white communities. While ideologies of blood-borne racial difference predate Jamestown, the rhetoric of purity was always undermined by the realities of mixture. Cases such as Hudgins v. Wright and State v. Cantey simultaneously strengthened and undermined the color line, expressing confidence in the permanence of racial difference while allowing people of color to become white. Instead of simply widening the racial divide, restrictions on the liberty and livelihoods of African Americans pushed many into whiteness. As more people became vulnerable to reclassification, courts acted to preserve social stability in Southern communities, shielding them from the insecurity that an insistence on racial purity would engender. The one-drop rule's transformation from ideological current to legal bright line and presumed social reality is a story not of slavery, but of freedom. In the 1840s and 1850s, the prospect of emancipation hastened the rule's spread as whites attempted to preserve property relations in slavery's absence. In Northern border states such as Ohio, the rule emerged by 1860 as a legal argument and a social attitude. The rule's ostensible opponents - abolitionists - propagated it, deploying it as a rhetorical weapon to symbolize slavery's cruelty and to argue that Northern whites could be enslaved. But the rule's ascent did not make it any more enforceable than it had ever been.
Year: 2007
Primary URL:
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Minnesota Law Review