Newspapers & Racism in the 1880s

married-a-mulattoIt won’t come as a surprise that there was blatant racial discrimination in the 1880s, but once in a while I am still taken aback by things I come across in the newspapers of the times.

In this case (click for a larger image) on 23 December 1883, the New York Times reports (page 3) that  a woman is seeking a divorce because she came across evidence that her husband of a short while is part African American (the term used is  mulatto). She first claims she had never heard of such a thing, and then that the very idea gives her great distress. She sues for divorce.

Stories about mixed race marriages show up on a regular basis (He married a Mulatto!) and are generally short. Most of the feature outraged family.

What is surprising here is that the paper argues that if women were to ask for divorce solely because they find their in-laws objectionable in some way, things would quickly get out of hand.

I’m unclear on what to make of this: is it meant to hold her up for ridicule as ignorant, or prejudiced? 

Then weeks later there is a front page, two-column article also in the NYT with the provocative title “The Real Southern Darky: A He Coon, A She  Coon, and a Lively Young Coon” dated 3 February 1884.  It is as fine a crude and moronic piece of Amos-n-Andy or minstrel-show performance as you could find anywhere .

The final piece for comparison is from a Michigan newspaper and dated 1880. In Toronto a woman of mixed ancestry, someone hired to teach on a temporary basis (as a substitute, it seems from the wording) in a white school, faces but overcomes racism in the community. 

10 January 1880
10 January 1880

Things are never straight-forward, and generalizations are dangerous.

 

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