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Anita Florence Hemmings: Passing for White at Vassar

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

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

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

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'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

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, “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:

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[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

While on campus, Anita participated fully in the college’s academic and social life. 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.

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 about Anita’s ancestry started circulating. 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

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

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.

Where the Hemmings family lived in the Roxbury section of Boston : 9 Sussex Street, Roxbury Crossing, MA 02120, USA

Where the Hemmings family lived in the Roxbury section of Boston : 9 Sussex Street, Roxbury Crossing, MA 02120, USA

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.

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why do we continue to label people according to the one drop rule? In my opinion, it’s ludicrous and irrelevant. Color does not determine a person’s value - character does.

Answer: In my opinion, the one drop rule is finally beginning to lose some of its power, though it is by no means dead yet. That's because it is no longer acceptable to make official or legal distinctions between individuals based entirely on ethnicity. Plus, with modern DNA testing, many people who have always thought of themselves as "white" are finding that they do have some African ancestry. Those people will continue to consider themselves white, even when they find out about that "one drop."

However, I think the one drop rule is being replaced, for many in our society, by what might be called the "one shade rule" based on a person's visual appearance. In other words, if a person's coloration, facial features, or even their hair seems to imply any degree of African ancestry, they will be classified by some as being black, and will often be treated differently than if they were classified as white.

Although making such distinctions is, as you say, pretty silly, it still is, unfortunately, a reality we continue to live with today.

© 2014 Ronald E Franklin


R R on August 31, 2020:

I wonder if the Hemmings family is related to Sally Hemmings of Jefferson’s Montecello

Jill Sim on July 06, 2020:


I am the great-granddaughter of Anita Hemmings, I wrote an article about Anita Hemmings which you can read at entitled "Fade to White," upon which subsequent articles and a novel about my ancestor have been based. I subscribe to this Hub, and, yes, Anita Hemmings is related to the Hemings family. I am working on a non-fiction book about her and our family and will reveal the results of our research and genetics in that book. Anita is not a descendant of Sally Hemings. All the best, Jill

Jennifer Priebe on July 06, 2020:

Dear Ronald, I came to this article after hearing one of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings great grandsons Shannon LaNier refer to Anita as one of his relatives. He wrote the book Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family. Is that true she is related? Thank you for writing the article-I love learning about America's lesser known history!

Topeka Miller-Hughes on July 07, 2019:

This article was very interesting, informative,an inspiring.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on November 05, 2018:

Thanks, Rodric. I hope the info helps with your article.

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on November 05, 2018:

It seems this article received a great update since I last read it. Way to be evergreen! I had to reference this article in one of my own because it is excellent. I appreciate this work. I did not expect to have to read it again as a new work when I came back to it (unless I am mistaking it for another one of your works).

Thanks for keeping it interesting.

Sandy on July 09, 2018:

Glad times has change

Nalini Marquez on May 16, 2018:

You're most welcome! :-)

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 15, 2018:

Thanks, Nalini.

Nalini Marquez on May 15, 2018:

I enjoyed reading this article. Nice job and it gave some items to think about.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 06, 2018:

Thank you, Claude. Anita is commonly thought to be related to Sally Hemings, but I've never seen that genealogical line traced out. So I'm not sure.

Claude on May 06, 2018:

Great article Ron. I read alot of your stuff. Is she related to sally hemmings? By way of TJ? I thought that was where you were getting at when you were saying she was from Va.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 11, 2018:

Thanks, Yves. I think you've picked up on some of the anguish that passing inevitably involved. I suspect it was Anita's mother who insisted on using the servant's entrance to not raise suspicions. After all, the family had sacrificed a lot to get Anita where she was. But still, it must have been an agonizing decision for Anita.

savvydating on April 11, 2018:

Fascinating article. Sometimes you" do what you gotta do." Passing as white was Anita's only option, unless she wanted to settle for secretarial work---and that would have been tragic, in her case. And my goodness, she was incredibly beautiful, as well as being highly intelligent. All that being said, I'd hate to have my mother enter through the back door, though I am certain her parents understood. It's a shame her daughter had to "pass as white" as well.

Another great piece here, as always.

Robert Haubert on April 02, 2018:

I think Anita Hemmings, choose to pass as a white woman because she wanted the best college education of a white woman. I myself, know a friend who is very light skin and can pass but the person is against the the idea of passing. I feel my friends sympathy but, I think maybe the idea of passing is a wonderful idea. I myself, have very light skin and is passing for white and is attending college as a white man. I note that both my parents are light skinned than me and I will continue to pass as white man.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 25, 2018:

Thank you, thoughtfulgirl2. Yes, it was a terrible choice to have to make, and over the years Anita was far from the only one faced with such a decision. It's a measure of our progress that it's a choice that, IMO, no longer need be made.

Claudia Smaletz from East Coast on March 25, 2018:

WOW, what a difficult decision that must have been. The woman through no fault of her own was put in an impossible position and had to make a choice. Depending on her choice it could change the trajectory of her life for better or for worse. Had her parents not made that very difficult choice, would America's venerable institutes of higher learning never have allowed a black person to enter a college such as Vassar or Yale? What a terrible loss that would have been! Great article. Voted up and shared.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 21, 2018:

Hi, Jon. There are several dealing with stories of how people escaped from slavery. You can find them by looking at the list of articles on my profile at .

Jon on March 19, 2018:

Hello, Ronald do you have any articles based on slavery?

Sondra Roberts on February 06, 2018:

Great read!!! my sister is a Vassar graduate and active Alumni in the African Studies program. I can wait for the book.

Jill Sim on January 25, 2018:

Hello Apanda,

Thanks for your comments. I've been scratching away at the family story for a long time. I do still have plans to publish a book about them. And the book will, I hope, answer all of your questions.

And, yes, I wasn't contacted or consulted, either by the writer of the novel, or by the movie production. I wrote the author of the novel when I learned her book was coming out and we exchanged some emails. She was very nice to me, and about me, in her acknowledgements, but her book had little to do with the realities our family knew and little to do with the real person of Anita Hemmings, and I couldn't pretend otherwise.

(I did think the period descriptions of Vassar College were extremely well done.)

When the time is right, I'll get some non-fiction work out there, and let you all know, here.

Thanks for reaching out.


Apanda on January 24, 2018:

I have been reading so much on this story, and I am so glad to have found links of anything involving Jill Sim, because after reading the Gilded Years ( a while ago) I was personally curious as to whether of Hemmings descendants found out about her history. I can't believe that the author of the book did not speak or collaborate with Ms. Sim regarding the accuracy of her representation of Sim's family members. I would love to see Ms. Sim speak on how finding out affected her grandmother and grandfather specifically. I am assuming he was the first white person to be actually brought into the family without knowledge of their race. What about your mother and her siblings? This is all so fascinating, and I hope, with their permission you can give their story life, and maybe do a documentary on it. I am also curious about the great-granduncle that went to MIT. It must have been so hard for her to leave her brother behind. I am not begrudging Ms. Sims ancestors in any way. It was a hard decision.

But what makes this so fascinating, to us, the (black) public, is that we all have folk that know of people that did this. Our folks would say they are' passing', and knew that they were essentially gone. There would be no updates on them, or their lives after, especially if they had kids. So there are countless of 'white' people walking around out there that have no clue of their ancestry. So these stories disappear, like urban legends. But this story lives. We (black people) have resolution if only in the one instance. Answers to the questions of 'will this secret ever come out' And if so, how will the family react?' You are the person to tell it, and so far you have done so with grace. Please continue the good work.

Jill Sim on November 21, 2017:

Thank you, Mr. Franklin. Yours, Jill

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on November 21, 2017:

Hi, Jill. Thanks for your heart-felt comment urging people not to judge your great-grandmother, Anita Hemmings, for the choice she and her family made. I don't think any American today can really put himself or herself in Anita's shoes; we've made that much progress at least.

Because the upcoming movie has been in the news, this article has had a lot of new readers over the past few weeks. My hope is that for many who read it in the future, your comment will provide a perspective on Anita's story that the blurbs about the movie (and perhaps the movie itself) won't.

Jill Sim on November 21, 2017:


I am the great-granddaughter of Anita Hemmings and replies to this Hub are sent to my inbox. I have also submitted replies to this very fine hub over time.

In 1999, I wrote a profile about Anita Hemmings for American Heritage magazine. The article recounted some of Anita's Vassar experience, as well as discoveries about my family's African American ancestry of which I am very proud.


There's so much to say in response to those, here, and elsewhere, who express understandable distaste or discomfort for the actions of my 'passing' family members.

Who are understandably turned off by the seeming lack of courage in those in history who chose to betray their own families to live as privileged whites.

I usually don't reply, at least at length, to comments made online about me or my family, but felt compelled to address a post that came into my inbox today, as it correlates to my own response this week to the news that a Hollywood movie about Anita Hemmings is being made that is based on a work of fiction published last year.

First, I'd like to clarify that Anita Hemmings was not a public figure and would not ever want to celebrated for her choice to live as a white woman. It was a painful choice that severed family ties, the effects of which are still felt today.

When I heard a movie was being made about Anita Hemmings, my first thought was: Why? Is her story, her private act of attending Vassar as a white woman, truly the best boost for Hollywood's reputation of long ignoring stories about black figures in history? And especially on the heels of 'Hidden Figures,' when we want to see many more movies about genuine, seminal, black woman heroes, who were proud of being black and unapologetic and fearless in their work? We have yet to see the big budget movie about Harriet Tubman, or Rosa Parks, or Shirley Chisholm, for example. Of women whose brave actions and sacrifices directly made a difference in peoples' lives.

Anita would not see herself as heroic. She thought of herself as a person of merit who had the right to be "thoroughly educated." Consider it took Vassar another half century to admit black women into the school. Which tells the real story, about the entire groups of people denied equal access to socio-political and economic advancement for far too long in this country.

Hollywood does itself no favor by making a movie about Anita Hemmings that will be based on a romantic novel that got her and our family wrong and sanitized one of the ugliest periods in American history, the Nadir of the black American experience, for mass market consumption.

What I have learned (what I have not yet published) has greatly impacted and enriched my whole life, as it has led to examining many necessary truths about my own white privilege; paradoxically, a legacy given to me in part by Anita Hemmings, as well as allowed me to see some of the more insidious aspects of everyday racism given by a long history of such, which negatively impact too many of our fellow Americans to this day.

At some point, I will publish my findings in the high hopes they encourage exchanges on toxic and long lasting effects of the constructs of racism and colorism.

Until that time, we are to be given a gift of this proposed Anita Hemmings movie, being produced by a powerful white woman of Southern ancestry, and based on a book by a non-black graduate of Vassar and "celebrity expert," that bears so very little resemblance to the historical truths understood by my relatives and their associations during their time. The message of this picture will be beamed throughout the world and it will not be based on important facts.

So, thirdly, and lastly, I would beg of folks here on this hub (and elsewhere) to please withhold judgment of my private ancestor and her life's choices, which were done for her own valid reasons and aligned with the times in which she and her peers lived, and based upon her own private sense of herself.

Thanks—and a special thank you Mr, Franklin, again, for this elegant and fair addition to my family history, and for all the scholarly works on our collective American past.



Nicole on November 21, 2017:

As a black woman, I found this story rather interesting bc I'd never heard it before. As a darkskinned black woman I find this story that I never heard of before upsetting. Darker-skunned blacks did not have the option to walk away from their skin and race. Although this woman had quite a bit of accomplishments, this story, her family and many like them helped to perpetuate negative stereotypes of black people, darker skin and racism. To think there are white people, possibly thousands who may indeed be black and not even know it. Or, I wonder about these people and whether they're racist. They don't even know they're black! Yes life would have been hard if they told the truth and lived like darker skinned blacks but join the club. There are also lighter skinned blacks who live like whites that know they are black and live their lives putting down darker skinned blacks and "assume" because of the hue of their skin they are better. It's not right. Had I the chance to live as white, I would not. I love my race. I am proud of it. In the 1800's would I think the same way, I don't know. That's the sad part. Why does the black race race seem the most confused, the most copied and the most disrespected? She did what she had to do and some would say. But if I had a choice in attending a celebration in her name, I would not attend. My choice.

RiRi on May 12, 2017:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 22, 2016:

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.

D Moore on October 22, 2016:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on September 04, 2016:

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.

Susan on September 04, 2016:

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.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on February 10, 2016:

Ron, your welcome.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 09, 2016:

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.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on February 09, 2016:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 09, 2016:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 09, 2016:

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 from England on February 09, 2016:

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

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on February 09, 2016:

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?

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 09, 2016:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 09, 2016:

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 on February 09, 2016:

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

Yes, I am talking about Rachel Dolezal.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on February 09, 2016:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 09, 2016:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 09, 2016:

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.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on February 09, 2016:

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.

Ava Ming from Shenzhen, China on February 09, 2016:

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.

Authenticz HubPage from North America on February 09, 2016:

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

Authenticz HubPage from North America on February 09, 2016:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 08, 2016:

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

Ava Ming from Shenzhen, China on February 08, 2016:

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

Thanks RonElFran

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 07, 2016:

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

Myra Thomas64 on February 07, 2016:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 02, 2016:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on December 14, 2015:

Thanks, Graham. I hope the inspiration flows!

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on September 21, 2015:

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.


Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on August 12, 2015:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on August 12, 2015:

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!

Summer LaSalle from USA on June 18, 2015:

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!


Besarien from South Florida on May 16, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 29, 2015:

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

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on April 17, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 16, 2015:

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.

Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on April 16, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 15, 2015:

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 from Planet Earth on April 15, 2015:

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.


Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 06, 2015:

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

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 04, 2015:

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

Arni Abueva from Manila, Philippines on March 04, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 13, 2015:

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.

Tamyko McCaskill Brown on February 12, 2015:

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!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 09, 2015:

Thank you, tgjr56, for reading and sharing.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 09, 2015:

Thanks, Carol Piening. I share your hope.

tgjr56 on February 06, 2015:

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.

Jill Sim on February 06, 2015:

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.

J.newell on February 05, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 05, 2015:

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.

Linda Bolliger on February 05, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 05, 2015:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 05, 2015:

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

Sherri on February 05, 2015:

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!

Amanda on February 05, 2015:

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).

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 04, 2015:

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

Jill Sim on February 04, 2015:

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.



Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 04, 2015:

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.

Jill Sim on February 04, 2015:

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,


Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 04, 2015:

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.

Nina on February 04, 2015:

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!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

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

fotolady49 lm on February 03, 2015:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

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.

frank nyikos from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468 on February 03, 2015:

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.

Jill Sim on February 03, 2015:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

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.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

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

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

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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