Over the past year, I have been thinking about a project that am currently working on. The project involves examining African American texts from the 1960s and 1970s that center on interracial relationships. I chose this time period because the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia; however, even forty years later, racist individuals still disapproved of interracial relationships. In 2009, Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell refused to marry an interracial couple in Tangipahoa Parish, LA. After my most recent post Black Perspectives post, “Interracial Intimacy and Film as Social Commentary,” I’ve decided to share a perspective syllabus on interracial intimacy and African American literature.
Reviewing Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), W.E.B. DuBois wrote that the fears surrounding interracial intimacy would dissolve to dust within a few generations. He wrote, “It is all still a petty, silly matter of no real importance which another generation will comprehend with great difficulty. But today, and in the minds of most white Americans, it is a matter of tremendous moral import. One may deceive as to killing, stealing, and adultery, but you must tell your ‘friend’ that you’re ‘colored’ or suffer a very material hell fire in this world, if not the next.” It took 38 more years for the Supreme Court to strike down antimiscegenation laws, and even then, fears abounded 32 years after that decision as Keith Bardwell proves.
The course outlined below is far from comprehensive, and I know that there are multiple texts, from multiple periods, that should be added here. In the comments below, let me know what text(s) should be added to this syllabus. As well, if you have taught a course similar to this, how did it go? I would love to hear your experiences.
Elizabeth Key, in 1655, successfully sued for her freedom in the colony of Virginia. Born to a white father, Thomas Key, and an unnamed African woman, the biracial Key was the product of quite possibly a forced interracial relationship. Thomas planned to have Elizabeth freed at fifteen, but that did not occur. Later, she became a Christian and had a daughter with an Englishman, William Greenstead. In 1655, Greenstead and Key sued for her and her daughter’s freedom, and they won. The case led to the 1662 law that the status of the child would follow that of the mother, opening the door for further exploitation and sexual assault against enslaved women and children. As Ibram X. Kendi notes, “With the  law in place, White enslavers could now reap financial rewards from relations ‘upon a negro woman.’ But they wanted to prevent the limited number of White women from engaging in similar interracial relations (as their biracial babies would become free).” Even after slavery, lawmakers would rely on the “fate of the children” when arguing that interracial marriages should not become legal.
This course will explore interracial intimacy in African American literature and in popular media of the 1960s. In this manner, we will explore the legal strictures that the hegemonic society put in place to maintain a separation of races in public and in private as well. Even with these laws, interactions occurred, and the texts we will read this semester will explore the ways that African American authors, as Jonathan D. Little states, “used the drama of interracial sex to protest and explore racial attitudes and behavior in the United States.” We will examine the ways that the texts counter stereotypes, question the social construction of race, and highlight issues of power derived from racial status that the texts explore.
Along with literature, we will also look at popular media in the form of films and television shows. As well, we will look at historical texts and critical texts that explore the ways that “legal fictions” influence literature.
Loving v Virginia 87 S.Ct. 1817 (1967)
Harriett Jacobs Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl(1861)
Charles Chesnutt “The Future American” (1900)
Nella Larsen Passing (1929)
Chester Himes The End of a Primitive (1955) (Suggested by Darryl Dickson-Carr)
John A. Williams The Angry Ones (1960)
Ernest J. Gaines Of Love and Dust (1967)
William Melvin Kelley Dem (1967)
Frank Yerby Speak Now (1969)
Hal Bennett Lord of Dark Places (1970) (Suggested by Darryl Dickson-Carr)
Toni Morrison Sula (1973)
Gayl Jones Corregidora (1975)
Alice Walker Meridian (1976)
Octavia Butler Kindred (1979)
Films and Television
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Director Stanley Kramer (1967)
“Plato’s Stepchildren,” Star Trek Director David Alexander (1968)
100 Rifles Director Tom Gries (1969)
Sheryll Cashin. Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017.
Elizabeth M. Smith-Pryor. Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Hazel V. Carby. “Slave and Mistress: Ideologies of Womanhood under Slavery.”
Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. Oxford University Press, 1987. 20-39.
Karla F.C. Holloway. “Composing Contract.” Legal Fictions:Constituting Race, Composing Literature. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. 89-110.
Suzanna W. Jones. “Tabooed Romance: Love, Lies, and the Burden of Southern History.” Race Mixing: Southern Fiction Since the Sixties. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2004. 148-206.
andré m carrington. “Space Race Woman: Lieutenant Uhura Beyond the Bridge“. Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fictions. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016. 68-88.
Darryl Dickson-Carr. “‘Nation Enough’: Black Politics in the 1960s and the Advent of the Multicultural Iconoclast.” African American Satire: The Sacredly Profane Novel. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001. 112-163.
Werner Sollors. Selections from Neither Black nor White yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Peggy Pascoe. What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.(Suggested by Karen Dunak)