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Anita Florence Hemmings: Passing For White At Vassar

Updated on June 26, 2015
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Ron is a student of African American history. His writing highlights the stories of people who overcame prejudice to achieve great things.

Anita Florence Hemmings graduated from Vassar in 1897. But though she was an excellent student, she came very close to not getting her degree at all. That was because just days before graduation, Anita’s roommate uncovered her deepest secret.

In a school that would never have considered admitting a black student, Anita Hemmings had for four years covered up the fact that she was of African American ancestry.

In other words, Anita Hemmings was a black woman who was passing for white, and it almost got her kicked out of Vassar on the very eve of her graduation.

Anita Florence Hemmings
Anita Florence Hemmings | Source

Anita’s family: up from slavery

Anita Hemmings was born on June 8, 1872. Her parents were Robert Williamson Hemmings and Dora Logan Hemmings, both of whom had been born in Virginia, apparently to slave parents. Robert worked as a janitor, while Dora was listed in census records as a homemaker.

Robert and Dora both identified themselves as “mulattoes,” people of mixed black and white heritage.

The Hemmings family lived at 9 Sussex Street in Boston, which is in the historically black Roxbury section of the city. Though they might be living in humble circumstances, Robert and Dora were very ambitious for their four children. Not only would they send Anita to Vassar, but her brother would graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Frederick Hemmings made no effort to hide his race at MIT, where his student records identify him as “colored.”

But the option of openly identifying herself as black was not open to Anita; not if she wanted to fulfill her lifelong dream of going to Vassar.

The Hemmings family decides to have Anita pose as white

Established in 1861 in Poughkeepsie, NY, Vassar was one of the most prestigious colleges for women in the nation.

Vassar in 1864
Vassar in 1864 | Source

According to Olivia Mancini, writing in the Vassar Alumnae/i Quarterly, the school “catered almost exclusively to the daughters of the nation’s elite.” One newspaper account of Anita’s story noted that “Vassar is noted for its exclusiveness.” When Anita was ready to apply to college in 1893, the chances that Vassar would knowingly admit a black student were effectively zero.

So, Anita and her parents decided to do what it would take to get Anita into the school. They simply failed to note on her application that she had African American ancestry. Instead, she was listed as being of French and English background.

Anita was well qualified to become a student at Vassar. Later newspaper accounts, published after her secret was revealed, say that as a child she had come to the attention of a wealthy white woman who financed her early education. Well prepared, Anita easily passed the Vassar entrance examination, and was an excellent student there.

A beautiful and accomplished young woman

In addition to her academic achievements, Anita had another qualification that was even more necessary to her career at Vassar. She looked unquestionably white; and she was unquestionably beautiful.

"She has a clear olive complexion, heavy black hair and eyebrows and coal black eyes," said a Boston newspaper in reporting the story of her graduation from Vassar. According to the New York World:

[She was] one of the most beautiful young women who ever attended the great institution of learning. Her manners were those of a person of gentle birth, and her intelligence and ability were recognized alike by her classmates and professors.

Another newspaper, with an eye for a sensational headline, trumpeted that she was:

The Handsomest Girl There-Yale and Harvard Men Among Those Who Sought Favor With the "Brunette Beauty."

Lebanon Daily News, September 11, 1897
Lebanon Daily News, September 11, 1897 | Source

While on campus Anita participated fully in both the academic and social life of the college. She was proficient in seven languages, including Latin, French, and ancient Greek, and was active in the college choir, the Debate Society, and the Contemporary Club Literary Organization. A gifted soprano, she was invited to give recitals at local churches. The New York World noted in its story that the upper class women of Poughkeepsie had “receive[d] her in their homes as their equal.”

Vassar Glee Club. Anita Hemmings is 4th from right.
Vassar Glee Club. Anita Hemmings is 4th from right. | Source

But eventually questions began to arise about the beautiful young woman with olive skin.

Anita’s roommate grows suspicious

By her third year at the school, rumors concerning Anita’s ancestry were starting to circulate. Probably one reason for this was the visit she received at Vassar from her brother Frederick, the MIT student of whom she was very proud. Frederick’s MIT class photo shows him to be a shade darker than his classmates (he was the only African American in his class, and one of the first to graduate from MIT). Some of Anita’s fellow students began whispering that she might have some Indian blood in her veins.

But it was her own roommate who finally blew Anita’s cover. This young woman voiced her growing suspicions to her father. The father, horrified at the possibility that his blue blood daughter might be living in the same room as someone whose blood was not quite as blue as her own, hired a private detective to track down Anita’s antecedents. That wasn’t hard, since on their home turf in the Roxbury section of Boston, the Hemmings family made no effort to hide their racial identity.

Roommates in a Vassar dorm room in the 1890s
Roommates in a Vassar dorm room in the 1890s | Source

Anita is threatened with expulsion before graduation

Confronted, just a few days before graduation, with the bombshell revelation that her secret had been exposed, Anita went tearfully to a sympathetic faculty member and confessed her plight. She was terrified that after four years of hard work and academic achievement, she would be denied her diploma because of her race.

The professor was moved by Anita’s story, and decided to do all she could to insure that the school would not perpetrate the injustice of refusing to allow an excellent student to graduate simply because she was black. As one newspaper account put it:

The kindhearted professor, a woman, wiped away the girl’s tears and spoke words of encouragement. Then she went to President Taylor with the story and pleaded with him not to deprive the girl of commencement honors and a diploma.

Vassar’s president, James Monroe Taylor, immediately called a secret meeting of the faculty to discuss this unprecedented situation. Here’s the New York World’s account of that meeting:

The faculty considered the matter gravely. Never had a colored girl been a student at aristocratic Vassar, and the professors were at a loss to foresee the effect upon the future if this one were allowed to be graduated. Yet there is nothing in the college rules that prohibits a colored woman from entering Vassar.

Commencement was but a few days off and the girl would soon be gone and forgotten. So it was decided to conceal the facts and to allow her to be graduated with her classmates. On class day and commencement the young woman took a prominent part in the exercises, and of all the hundred or more girls in the class of '97 none looked more attractive or acted more becomingly than this girl of negro birth.

Interestingly, once she was allowed to graduate with her class, Anita was mentioned in college alumni publications just like any of her classmates. No mention was made of her race.

We know our daughter went to Vassar as a white girl and stayed there as such. As long as she conducted herself as a lady she never thought it necessary to proclaim the fact that her parents were mulattoes

— Robert Williamson Hemmings

Poll Question

Was it right for Anita Hemmings to pretend to be white in order to get into Vassar?

See results

Anita’s life after graduating from Vassar

Safely graduated from what was perhaps the most prestigious women’s college in the nation, Anita went on to join the staff of the Boston Public Library as their foreign cataloguer, doing translations and bibliographies.

By 1914 she was listed in Woman's Who's who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada. That listing noted that she “favors woman suffrage.” She also became a friend of African American civil rights activist W. E. B. Dubois.

When she returned to her hometown of Boston after college, Anita never made any attempt to hide her African American ancestry. But her days of passing for white were not over, not by a long shot.

A markerWhere the Hemmings family lived in the Roxbury section of Boston -
9 Sussex Street, Roxbury Crossing, MA 02120, USA
get directions

A new chapter in a life of passing as white

In 1903 Anita married Dr. Andrew Jackson Love, whom she met through her work at the library. Dr. Love would go on to have a prestigious medical practice among the rich on Madison Avenue in New York City.

Anita and her husband, each well educated and comfortable among people at the highest levels of society, had a lot in common. In fact, they had more in common than Dr. Love’s patients, and Anita’s new friends, would ever know.

Although Dr. Love claimed to have graduated from Harvard Medical School, the institution listed on his diploma was actually Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Founded in 1876, Meharry was the first medical school in the South devoted to educating black physicians. In other words, Anita’s husband was also an African American who was passing for white. The two would spend the rest of their lives living as white people.

Why did Anita and her husband choose to deny their racial heritage?

From the late 19th century through the 1950s, it was not at all unusual for upwardly mobile African Americans to attempt to pass as white if they thought they could get away with it. The reason is simple. During those times racial prejudice and discrimination were pervasive and debilitating facts of life for black people in America. If you were known to have any black blood in your veins, almost every avenue of advancement would be closed to you. Many (though not all) African Americans whose appearance allowed them to do so made the excruciatingly painful decision to pass as white because there was no other way to escape the heavy burden of racial discrimination.

There was a heavy price to pay for passing as white

If you were going to pass for white, you had to essentially cut yourself off from your family and community of origin. As Anita found out the hard way at Vassar, something as simple as having a darker skinned relative come to visit could tear down everything you had built up in a lifetime of living as a white person.

Those who pass have a severe dilemma before they decide to do so, since a person must give up all family ties and loyalties to the black community in order to gain economic and other opportunities.

— Dr. F. James Davis

In fact, Anita soon faced exactly that dilemma with her own mother. According to Anita’s great granddaughter, Jillian Sim, Dora Logan Hemmings came to visit the Loves in their New York home only once. And when she did, she had to use the servants’ entrance.

The Loves raised their children as whites. It was not until she met her grandmother Dora for the first time in 1923 that Anita’s daughter Ellen, born in 1905, learned that her family was black.

A second generation passes for white at Vasser

When Ellen was ready for college in the early 1920s, Anita, like many parents, wanted her daughter to attend her alma mater. But Vassar would not knowingly admit an African American until Beatrix McCleary and June Jackson were enrolled in 1940. Ellen went to Vassar anyway, and she did it, like her mother, passing as white.

VIDEO: Interview with Dr. Beatrix McCleary Hamburg, who became the first acknowledged African American Vassar graduate in 1944.

The roommate strikes again!

Unbelievably, after 25 years Anita’s former roommate had not gotten over the trauma of having roomed with an African American. At a class reunion she learned that Anita’s daughter was now enrolled in Vassar, and was, like her mother before her, passing for white.

The roommate, still stung by her "own painful experience with a roommate who was supposed to be a white girl, but who proved to be a negress," sent a letter of complaint to the college’s president, Henry Noble McCracken. Dr. McCracken’s response indicates that the school had at least progressed beyond outright panic at the prospect of having an African American student. “We are aware,” he replied, “and we’ve made sure she’s in a room by herself. We don’t even know if she is aware that she’s black."

Ellen would become Vassar’s second black graduate in 1927. There would not be another until 1944.

A secret kept through generations

Jill Sim, Anita’s great granddaughter, didn’t discover her black ancestry until after her grandmother Ellen passed away in 1994. Although the two were very close, Ellen would never talk about that aspect of the family history. When Jill, having lived all her life as a white person, discovered that she had African American ancestors, she had an interesting take on her racial identity.

I have reddish brown hair, and it is very fine. I have blue eyes, and you can easily see the blue veins under my yellow-pale skin. I was ignorant enough to think of blackness in the arbitrary way most of white society does: One must have a darker hue to one’s skin to be black. I look about as black as Heidi.

And yet, by the rules of racial identity that, to this day, we adhere to in this country, Jill Sim is black.

The “One Drop” rule

In the age of Barack Obama, universally spoken of as the first black President of the United States, although he is actually half white, it might be fairly asked why someone like Jill Sim, who obviously has more European ancestry than African, should still be considered black.

It’s because the “one drop” rule is still in effect in this country. F. James Davis, Professor Emeritus of sociology at Illinois State University addresses the issue in his book Who is Black? One Nation's Definition.

According to Professor Davis, the “one drop” rule is the product of slavery in the American South, and the Jim Crow system of segregation that followed it. The rule says that a person with any known black ancestry, down to a "single drop" of African blood, is automatically defined as black. That definition is still generally accepted by whites and blacks alike. Even our court system often abides by it.

Not only does the one-drop rule apply to no other group than American blacks, but apparently the rule is unique in that it is found only in the United States and not in any other nation in the world.

— Dr. F. James Davis

That’s why Anita Hemmings, and her children, and her children’s children, could be visually indistinguishable from whites, yet be considered black down to the farthest generation.

And that’s why Anita, her husband, and many thousands of others like them, were willing to pay the price of being entirely alienated from their heritage in order to gain for themselves and their children the privileges other Americans take for granted.

© 2014 Ronald E Franklin

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      RiRi 4 months ago

      Its find that you get your degree. It is very disgraceful to see people try to be something they are not. Just start your own instead of pretending 18th century or 21st century

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 11 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, D Moore. I think you are right that many people who think they are racially "pure" would be shocked if they got a DNA test. Maybe once people realized we're almost all mixtures to some degree, the idea of making distinctions based on race will fade away.

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      D Moore 11 months ago

      Very intresting story. If a lot of folks would have their ancestry checked they might be shocked. I had mine checked and part of my DNA comes from North Africa. .003% is listed as black. I have always considered myself as Heinz 57 because i have so many different relatives from so many generations. My brother and I are intrigued by the idea of having this blood mix in our line, our father not so much. Some tend to think it came from the Boone line in my family. I am Daniel Boone's 4th cousin 6x (generations) removed.

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      Ronald E Franklin 12 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks much, Susan. I think your comment is very perceptive in highlighting the fact that when people looked at Anita in terms of her accomplishments rather than her race, they saw a very different picture from what they would have perceived through the lens of racial prejudice. What's tragic is that those, like Anita's roommate, who dismissed her because of her race probably would have denied being prejudiced - by their lights they were just being realistic.

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      Susan 12 months ago

      Extremely well-written story; the many details are woven together into a compelling story. The one thing that strikes me the hardest is the way the faculty, and especially the media, spoke so glowingly about this young lady, even go so far as to emphasizing her superiority to the other girls! Surely that must have been shocking back then! Of course, it was due in a huge part to her looking white, but they all did so knowing that she was considered black! If only the rest of society could have learned the blatant lesson from this incident, and grown accordingly. But true, lasting change seems only to be purchased with time. So, as someone who is sometimes considered white (I am a Jew), we will have work harder at bettering ourselves.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 19 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Ron, your welcome.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Jack, thanks for your input. It has helped me get a better picture of the way many people in our nation are thinking about these issues.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 19 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Ron, I disagree with you on Dr. Carson. He is much more than a good surgeon. Read his books and you will learn what he did to help with his education charity. His Conservative principles and work ethics should be embraced by the black community. His road to success and some other black conservatives are a roadmap for others who wants to succeed. His soft spoken tone is a sharp contrast to Sharpton. By refusing to be a victim of circumstance, and with his strong faith, he made his own path.

      I've written many hubs on the conservative principles and how it can help all groups. The black populace have been misslead by the Democratic party for over 50 years. It is time to take stock and re-think who is your friend and who really is looking out for you.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Hi, Nell. We've made a lot of progress in the last half century. It's no longer publicly acceptable to even suggest that someone should be denied entry into a school or other institution based on race. But many of the people who publicly or privately did exactly that a half century ago are still making their influence felt in more subtle ways. We as a nation are on a long road toward a truly color-blind society. We aren't there yet, but we are on the road.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Jack, I didn't remember President Obama saying anything provocative about Ferguson, so I did a quick Google check. All I see is his comments following the Grand Jury's refusal to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown. The president said, "First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully."

      Is there something in this you find divisive? Perhaps you can point me to specific quotes that you think indicate the president's divisiveness.

      Please understand that African Americans are not being led in their thinking about issues surrounding race by Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, or anyone else, for that matter. Their opinions are shaped by what they experience in the lives they actually live. That's why it's very difficult for someone who has little exposure to what it means to be black in this country to gain a hearing for opinions that to those who live the life every day, seem to be divorced from reality.

      That's why although African Americans may be proud of Dr. Carson's achievements as a surgeon, they pay little attention to him as a political leader. His outlook and proposals simply don't connect with the lives of most African Americans.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 19 months ago from England

      Reading this I just felt anger at the stupidity of human beings. how can people be not allowed in a school even if they only have a drop of black blood in them? Jeez! thank goodness I live in England. I have grown up in a country that, these days, and for the last hundred years or so people have inter married, racism, yes it exists, but not much, in fact its usually a balanced thing, sounds silly? yep, but what i mean is, asian against black, white being insulted and racist against and so on, but not on a big countrywide scale just stupid backward single people. not loads. sorry to think that you believe its still like it over there, nell

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 19 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Ron, I can point to many incidences. He has weighted in on numerous cases relating to blacks and police even before the facts were known. The Ferguson case in point. The officer was cleared eventually but the damage was done. He could have used that incident to calm the community instead he created more conflict. I don't deny there are miss treatments of blacks by some police. However, we should focus on punishing the guilty but not paint a broad brush. It solves nothing. I am a big fan of Dr. Ben Carson. He seems to have the right message and tone when it comes to race relations. I wish more blacks would listen to him instead of Rev. Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. They have done little to improve race relations IMHO. I'll be happy to discuss this in detail. In my attempt to speak to black colleague, they don't seems to want to engage. There one method to shut down discussion is that I (not being black) cannot understand their problems. How can we go forward with that attitude?

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Terrex, the Dolezal saga is ironic, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Jack, I can only tell you that African Americans are painfully aware that for many in our nation the racism with which black people must contend on a daily basis is invisible - people literally don't "see" it. People tend to judge reality from their own perspective, and when an issue does not directly or personally affect them, it's easy to miss its impact on others.

      While not really wanting to get into a deep political discussion, I've always been curious about what those who accuse President Obama of "stirring the race problems" mean by that. What are the specific actions you think Obama has taken that contribute to racial divisiveness? From an African American perspective, that claim is simply incomprehensible, and I would be interested to understand what those who make it mean by it.

    • Terrex profile image

      Terrex 19 months ago

      How the world has changed - now you have white women claiming to be black for black privilege.

      Yes, I am talking about Rachel Dolezal.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 19 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Ron, I don't see it that way. As an Asian immigrant and a proud American, I don't see this "hidden racism" and even it does exist, it is not a lot of people. There will always be bigots in any population but institutional racism is dead in America and have been for a long time. I see a fundamental disagreement with the policies of this president whether he is black or white or brown. He is stirring the race problems that exist and making things worse not better. It is a missed opportunity in my opinion when the first black President chose ideology over the greater good. History will not treat his legacy well. IMHO

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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Jack, thanks for reading and sharing. I think the election of President Obama stirred the pot of hidden racism in a lot of people, bringing to the surface not only their prejudices, but their fears of their group no longer being in control. Thus the focus on "taking our country back" by some politicians who cater to folks with that mindset.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Authenticz. Yes, doing a good historical article takes lots of research. But it's something I enjoy, and I think the stories that come out of that research are well worth the effort.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 19 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Excellent article on a piece of American race relations history. Do you think in 2016, our country still have a long way to go in terms of race relations with blacks in particular? It seems that the progress made in the last century have taken a U turn especially under the first black president Barack Obama.

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      Ava Ming 19 months ago from Shenzhen, China

      Hi RonElFran,

      Yes, China is an amazing place with just as many challenges as delights, I guess that's what provides the adventure (-:

      Just wanted to tell you that I've just shared your fab article to my FB page.

      Thanks again for writing and posting.

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      Authenticz HubPage 19 months ago from North America

      RonEFran bravo ! An eloquent and persevering work enhancing true readership and inspiring authors.

    • Authenticz profile image

      Authenticz HubPage 19 months ago from North America

      RonEFran bravo! Eloquent article and very persevering work. Its really hard to gather all information, data and picture relevant to read. I appreciate your true passion for writing which enhances readership. Your work is an inspiration for authors as well.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks much, InspiringWriter. From your profile it looks like you're living a very adventurous life, yourself!

    • InspiringWriter profile image

      Ava Ming 19 months ago from Shenzhen, China

      I really enjoyed reading this. Such an informative article and so well written.

      Thanks RonElFran

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Many thanks, Myra. This story obviously has a special resonance for you, and I'm very glad you liked it.

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      Myra Thomas64 19 months ago

      As an African-American Vassar grad, thanks so much for this compelling story about my race and about my alma mater. Well written.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Taranwanderer, I think Anita's story is a compelling one that still resonates today. It's a part of our history that underlies issues our nation is still struggling to understand and deal with. Thanks for sharing.

    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 19 months ago

      Incredibly interesting hub on this great nation's atrocious history at times. Must complete the reading at a later date (got through about half for now). Definitely bookmarked!

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 21 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Graham. I hope the inspiration flows!

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      Graham Lee 2 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Ron. I have come back to your first class hub, dare I say for a little inspiration. Your work is a pleasure to read and I am able to take something from it in many ways. Well done.

      voted up and all.

      Graham.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks much, Wendi. I was not aware of the Fannie Flagg book. I'll have to look it up.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Besarien, you remind me of the story of a white supremacist by the name of Craig Cobb. He bought land in North Dakota to form an all-white town. Then he took a DNA test. Turns out he's 14% black. Given the "one drop rule" he wouldn't be allowed to live in his own town. Delicious irony!

    • lyoness913 profile image

      Wendi Pembridge Skilling 2 years ago from Overland Park, KS

      What a great read- I was unaware of this story before reading this hub. I read a fictional book about 'passing' by Fannie Flagg called 'Welcome to the World, Baby Girl' and I was infatuated by it.

      Perfect article. Go Vassar!

      -Wendi

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 2 years ago

      This article certainly makes me love or at least appreciate my own roommates from my college days.

      I read recently that a rather sizeable percentage of the DNA test subjects who thought themselves "purely English" have a shared sub-Saharan African ancestor who probably lived there prior to the 1600's. The US "white" population of the US is far more diverse given our immigrant past, Native American heritage, and long and heavy reliance on slavery. Of course, we were all Africans in the beginning any way.

      Fear of otherness may be an innate flaw/defense mechanism rooted in our collective psychology as a species. I think we all have it to one degree or another and have to overcome it on an individual basis. The more isolated and less educated are always going to have a harder time.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks so much, Rodric29. Hopefully looking back on what was will help us move ahead to where we need to get to.

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      Rodric Johnson 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      This is a great ariticle as has been repeatedly typed in the comments! It is informative and educational revealing the heritage of a family instructing readers about the experience of people of mixed heritages during a time when only one was of consequence in the minds of most Americans, White.

      Voted up, I will add this to one of my favored and link similar articles to it for reference.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Hi, watergeek. As Dr. Davis says, the one drop rule is observed only in the U. S., and applies only to African Americans. Does that make any sense? Of course not. But then the whole idea of prejudice based on race is utterly senseless. We are definitely still a work in progress. Thanks for reading and sharing.

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      watergeek 2 years ago from Pasadena CA

      Oh wow! I must be Cherokee . . . oh wait, French . . . no, Italian . . . Viking? What the heck is a "mixed person" anyway? Besides just like everybody else in the world? (And why should one part of one's DNA be any more "true" than another?) This one-drop assumption has either got to go or be applied universally to all defined races (heh-heh), effectively nullifying it.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Marcy. I still think about the price everyone involved was willing to pay to give Anita and her children a better life. It must have been heartbreaking for Dora Logan Hemmings to know that she couldn't visit her daughter more than that one time when she came in through the servants' entrance. Since she couldn't be acknowledged as a visitor, there was no reason that could be given for her being there. But I'm sure she paid the price willingly, if not with gladness. I'm glad to think that nobody has to pay that kind of price today.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 2 years ago from Planet Earth

      This is an amazing story - thank you for researching it and sharing it here. She was beautiful. My heart breaks that a talented woman, with so much to offer, had to hide her own heritage to attend a school that should have been honored to have her. I noticed more than 3,000 have voted in your poll so far, and 97% of us feel she did the right thing to get admitted.

      Shared!

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks so much, AliciaC. It is a fascinating story that still has a lot of resonance today.

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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a fascinating hub, Ron. It's most definitely deserving of the Hub of the Day Award! Thank you for sharing the information about a very important topic.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thank you, cianeko. I'm glad you liked the article.

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      Cianeko Abueva 2 years ago

      My college subject on post-colonial litt made me realize that I need to have a soft spot for people of color (esp. African- Americans). I love these people. Thank you for sharing such a wonderfully written article.

    • RonElFran profile image
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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Tamyko, I think you're right - a lot of family trees today have branches that are members of the family may not know about, or at least are not willing to acknowledge. Thanks for your comment.

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      Tamyko McCaskill Brown 2 years ago

      Thank you for this wonderfully written, detailed account of Ms. Hemmings' life! This article gave me a more 'compassionate' understanding of those who chose to "pass". The toll of racism - families were 'dismantled' by slavery, as well as the aftermath of it. I had never considered the disunity of families, which resulted from people who made the choice to "pass". I've consistently stated that if we shook our family trees, many of us would be surprised (some amazed, some devastated) by some of our discoveries!

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thank you, tgjr56, for reading and sharing.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Carol Piening. I share your hope.

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      tgjr56 2 years ago

      First, and foremost, this is not a story about RACE. Wake up people. This is a story about ethnicity. Who amongst is of another RACE other than HUMAN. Granted, there are some people who act like animals, or even aliens, but sadly, they are HUMAN also. Inspiring story no doubt.

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      Jill Sim 2 years ago

      J. Newell: And who, exactly, are the 'people like her'? The story is a lot more complicated than the one action implies. My great-great grandmother Dora Hemmings used the servant's entrance in order to be able to see her family. She did not wish to blow the Love's cover. People back then made creative decisions to operate on both sides of the 'line.' There was no script to follow. It would have been far better if my grandmother had been able to get to know her grandmother more, whom she loved dearly by the way. And saved a lot of heartbreak on both sides. The way the family ordered their lives was based on the realities of the time and situation THEY understood. And, clearly, you don't understand their situation, not even to an extent, otherwise you would not paint my ancestor as a "despicable" person. She was quite the opposite.

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      J.newell 2 years ago

      while I inderstand her choice to an extent. I find people like her despicable, there nothing that could make me have my mother enter throught servant quarters nor deny my heritage for my whole adulthood and to my kids. All can not be blamed on society. Many very light blacks remained black and prospered in her time. Was it hard, likely. But much more admirable.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Hi Linda. I'm sure you are able to appreciate Anita's story even more because you've seen the impact of race prejudice on real people. To be put in the position of having to make the kind of choice your friend was confronted with is a burden no one deserves to have imposed on them. And that's the power of stories like Anita's. They bring home the fact that what's at issue is not some nebulous concept of "race," but the lives of real people who deserve the same opportunities in life as everyone else. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

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      Linda Bolliger 2 years ago

      Reading Ms. Hemmings story brought this experience back to me and reinforces the need to work on unity between American blacks and whites, especially since many of us are related...whether we know it or not. I'm white. And I had occasion to match my family's oral history with a black family claiming kinship with one of my family's ancestors. This news was occasioned by discovering one of my business clients had a black grandmother, a well known opera singer. While my years of working in the War on Poverty changed my white life sufficiently to enjoy these new relatives, it was the story of an adult friend who was black that forever seared a scar on my heart. She had been presented an opportunity to pass for white by a top official at an Ivy League Women's University. All she had to do was take the offer and everything would have been managed for her. I still grieve over the difference in how we two were treated so differently in entering the university experience. Later she became a city Mayor and Regent at her university. And I wrote a city government's first Affirmative Action program and became a pioneer in the corporate boardroom diversification movement visa a vie the Boardroom Bound program & Boardology Institute responsible for helping diverse leaders serve on privately-held, corporate advisory and publicly-traded company boards...both here and abroad.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Sherri. Yes, it is thought that Anita's family is descended from the Hemings of Monticello, apparently through Sally's brother.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks for reading, Amanda. And thanks for the heads-up on the President's name.

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      Sherri 2 years ago

      Thank you for bringing Anita's story to light. When I first read the headline in another post relating her to Sally Hemmings, I immediately thought "it's possible" given the fact that two of Sally Hemmings' children with Jefferson did "pass" in white society, as well as the family's roots in Virginia. A very interesting narrative, indeed!

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      Amanda 2 years ago

      Very interesting, well written article and an important part of our history, but you might want to correct the spelling of the President's name (Barack, not Barak).

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Jill, wow! As I said before, I'm really looking forward to your book.

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      Jill Sim 2 years ago

      Yes, my great grandfather never intended to leave to South or to stop administering to the African American community in Chattanooga. The family was driven out by the Ku Klux Klan with the clothes on their backs after Anita shopped in a whites-only store.

      Regards,

      Jill

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Hi, Jill. I didn't remember your comment on the Gettysburg article, so I went back and looked at it. Was the great grandfather who practiced in Chattanooga Dr. Love? How fascinating that would be! Thanks so much for your kind words and good wishes.

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      Jill Sim 2 years ago

      Dear Mr. Franklin,

      Thanks for your kind words. And thanks again for writing the story. I don't know if you recall, but we also shared an exchange on your Gettysburg article, which was just as wonderfully researched and written as this one. You do us all a huge service by uncovering histories on African Americans who gave their blood, sweat, and tears to build this country. And surmounted the greatest odds doing so. All the best to you in the New Year! I look forward to reading much more of your fine work.

      Yours Sincerely,

      Jill

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Nina, I'm sure there are many people who are unaware of their black ancestry. I remember the case of a rabid white supremacist who took a DNA test and was stunned to learn that his racial heritage was 14 percent African. Thanks for reading.

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      Nina 2 years ago

      Damn! That's deep! My daughter is whiter than her but would never ever even think of passing. I don't judge though. People do what they feel they have to do and I can't fault them for that. I have family that I've never met because they've been to busy passing. Just tells me that more folks in this country have black blood in them than they know. So all those folks that you look really hard at and wonder...they may not even know themselves...Deep!

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      old albion, I somehow missed your comment a few weeks ago, but I'm very appreciative. Thanks!

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thank you, fotolady49 lm. It's a very interesting and inspirational story, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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      fotolady49 lm 2 years ago

      I enjoyed reading your hub and thank you for sharing this interesting story! I'm sure glad that she was allowed to graduate.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, hostaguy. It's obvious that the Hemmings family, the parents as well as Anita and Frederick, were filled with potential. Hopefully we are getting beyond the point where anybody thinks the kind of blind prejudice that sought to chain that potential makes sense.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Jill, I can't tell you how gratified I am to have your approbation for this article. When I first learned of your great grandmother's story, I knew it was one that needed to be more widely known. The courage and drive of Anita and all her family to overcome the unreasoning prejudice that would have locked them into their condition in life remains an inspiration. I'm sure your upcoming book will make the story even more compelling, and I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your reaction.

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      frank nyikos 2 years ago from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468

      I think it is amazing that as a woman she even had a chance at that time let alone her ethnic background. . .and her brother was attending MIT! Smart family. Good job Ron.

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      Jill Sim 2 years ago

      Hello, a friend of mine pointed out your article on my great grandmother Anita Hemmings. This is Jill Sim, here, and I thought your article was terrific. Thank you for publishing some facts of her life. There's a whole lot more, and I hope to someday finish the book I'm working on about Anita's life. And the lives of her parents and community in Boston. The family did the best they could in sometimes impossible situations.

      Thank you so much for the beautiful piece - and my family thanks you, too.

      Yours Sincerely,

      Jill Sim

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Hi, MizBejabbers. You're right about the Hemmings being linked to Jefferson. Anita's branch apparently comes through Sally Hemings' brother. The situation of Native Americans with regard to their tribal lineage is another aspect of this same issue of racial identity, and I can see how troubling it's been for you. I look forward to a day when we no longer draw lines to include or exclude people based on what is perceived to be their race. Thanks for reading and for sharing.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Hi, Joel. I think you're right - not only would this be a great movie, but what a discussion starter it could be in the classroom. Thanks for your kind words.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Rev. David Singleton, as you have seen in your own family, the cost of passing for white could be very heavy. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Doris Lassiter, Anita's story would make a great movie, wouldn't it? Thanks for reading and sharing.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Hello, Uzochukwu Mike. I certainly agree with you that "nobody can stop the destiny of a destined child." Eliminating prejudice and discrimination in our part of the world is still a work in progress, but we are getting there. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      Very interesting hub, and I would bet that they were genetically linked to the Hemmings family who descended from Thomas Jefferson. There was a case in Louisiana years ago in which a young woman who was 1/32 black went to court and had "Negro" on her birth certificate erased and changed to "White". Her family had integrated into white society and she was raised white. The court decided that she was white.

      There is another side to the unfairness of being white. People who have Native American blood can't claim it if they are not on certain rolls dictated by the government. We can't get accepted back into the tribe from which our ancestors came. In fact, after a couple of generations our NA blood is so successfully hidden that sometimes we can't find which tribe we descended from.

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      Joel Diffendarfer 2 years ago from Ft Collins, Colorado

      Wow! Great account and well worth voting up and sharing. This story would make a great screenplay and would also make a great study in schools. Very moving and well written. Once again, Ron, you have presented a wonderful and important piece of work. Thanks!

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      Rev. David Singleton 2 years ago

      Hard times call for harder decisions.while passing for white I believe it's one duty to use covert tactics an influence to advance the position of your people as Moses did,not to my paternal GGM could have chosen to live as a white person only played the part on occasion to help others, She is my Shero though I don't condemn her brother an other family members who turned their backs against us, yet for my mothers generation it's an open wound.

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      Doris Lassiter 2 years ago

      What a great historical piece! Thank you for sharing and would hope to see this made into a fantastic movie.

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      Uzochukw Mike 2 years ago from Oba

      Racism is bad but nobody can stop the destiny of a destined child. I believe such practice is now reduced in that part of the world.

      All are equal and nobody should discriminate. I want to say that this hub is great.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thank you, Mel. You're right that Boston has had its issues. I remember how big a fight the school busing issue became in the 70s. For all of us, this is still a work in progress. BTW, it finally just hit me what your screen name is all about.

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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Amazing that even in abolitionist Boston this would take place. People forget that it wasn't just the South where this kind of discrimination occurred. The Civil War was just the first stage of a long uphill battle. Great hub!

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Hi, KT Karin. I did spend some time trying to track down info on Bessie. I wasn't able to find much, but it did lead me to a lot about William Henry Lewis. His story is fascinating in its own right. I did find one newspaper account of Bessie being Anita's roommate at Northfield and her bridesmaid, but that's all I've been able to discover so far.

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      KT Karin 2 years ago

      Hi Ron, yes! Newspaper journalism at the time was definitely light on fact checking. Elizabeth (Bessie) Baker, married name Lewis, was really interesting. Her husband is of course the famous one, but she was an early friend of W.E.B Du Bois and one of the earliest African-American women to attend college. And interestingly, one of Bessie and William's daughters went on to marry a Belgian nobleman.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, KT Karin, for setting the record straight about Bessie Baker. As the clip I include from the Lebanon, PA Daily News demonstrates, newspaper accuracy in that era could be hit or miss, so I can readily believe that the identification of Anita's roommate in newspaper accounts was inaccurate. You've aroused my curiosity about Bessie, and I'll have to find out more about her. Thanks for reading and for leaving your informative comment.

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      KT Karin 2 years ago

      Hi Ron, love this important piece but just want to clarify one thing. Bessie Baker was not the one to out Anita about her race at Vassar. Elizabeth (Bessie) Baker was one of Anita's closest friends growing up in Massachusetts. They attended Northfield Mount Hermon school together to prep for college and Bessie, also a light skinned African-American, went on to attend Wellesley College and marry the great lawyer, politician and football player William Henry Lewis. Many articles about Anita published in 1897 used Bessie's name, as she lived with her briefly after Vassar. But Bessie was a pioneer in African-American women's education, so want to make sure she gets her due!

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thank you, travel_man1971. Hopefully, equality will win out over race in the American consciousness.

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      Ireno Alcala 2 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      It's amazing to know that you can still trace once ancestry, Sir Ron. I think equality is fast becoming a nice word in the American homeland. Thanks for sharing this beautiful but suspenseful story.

      God Bless and Happy New Year!

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      Huntgoddess 2 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      lol---- I like your thinking, R.E.F.

      "Who won that race?" Ha, ha. I love that.

      I think we could at least partially make reparation, though? If not the government directly, perhaps slave-owning families could be sued by descendants of slaves. This would require changes in statutes of limitations, but some situations cry out for that?

      God bless. Happy New Year!

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Huntgoddess, you're right that the concept of "race" has no genetic foundation. IMO, whatever moral merit the idea of reparations may have, getting it done is a political impossibility. I'll be satisfied when we get to the point where when race is mentioned, the only thing people ask is who won.

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      Huntgoddess 2 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Yes I agree.

      Further, there is no such thing as "race."

      Science verifies that there is no genetic or physiological marker that distinguishes any group of humans from another.

      But, I think the U.S. should pay reparation for slavery. An entire group of Americans have ancestors who were never paid for the work they did.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thank you, danicole. The very idea that a person's "race" tells us something about that individual is, in my opinion, the root of the problem. Once we get past that, the one drop rule will be nothing more than a pointless relic.

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      danicole 2 years ago from United States

      This hub is very interesting!!!!! That "one drop rule" was a load of BS; we are all a mixture of different races and ethnicities. People move around, people fall in love with people, etc.

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      Huntgoddess 2 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Thanks for your quick reply, Ron El Fran.

      God bless and Merry Christmas!

      Let's remember the wise words of Dickens' Tiny Tim: "God bless us, every one."

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks so much, Mel. Anita's story is one that reminds us of where we've come from, and of how far we still have to go.

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      Melody Lassalle 2 years ago from California

      Well deserved HOTD! I found her story fascinating. It's remarkable what she accomplished at Vassar and in her lifetime. It couldn't have been easy on so many levels. Thanks for sharing her story!

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Sed-me, Anita's great granddaughter, like you, suspects that jealousy was the real motive behind the roommate's antagonism. Thanks for your comment.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Pawpawwrites. I imagine there are quite a few families, like yours, that can identify with Anita's story.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks for reading, Miebakagh57. Hopefully, we're learning that racial prejudice holds us all back.

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      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thank you, Dip Mtra. I'm glad to be able to fill in more of Anita's story for you.