The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America

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Overview

"An astonishingly detailed rendering of the variety and complexity of racial experience in an evolving national culture."
-The New York Times Book Review

In the Obama era, as Americans confront the enduring significance of race and heritage, this multigenerational account of family secrets promises to spark debate across the country. Daniel J. Sharfstein's sweeping history moves from eighteenth-century South Carolina to twentieth-century Washington, D.C., unraveling the stories ...

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The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America

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Overview

"An astonishingly detailed rendering of the variety and complexity of racial experience in an evolving national culture."
-The New York Times Book Review

In the Obama era, as Americans confront the enduring significance of race and heritage, this multigenerational account of family secrets promises to spark debate across the country. Daniel J. Sharfstein's sweeping history moves from eighteenth-century South Carolina to twentieth-century Washington, D.C., unraveling the stories of three families who represent the complexity of race in America. Identifying first as people of color and later as whites, the families provide a lens through which to examine how people thought about and experienced race and how, for them and America, the very meanings of black and white changed. The Invisible Line cuts through centuries of myth to transform the way we see ourselves.

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Editorial Reviews

Raymond Arsenault
In an illuminating and aptly titled book, The Invisible Line, Daniel J. Sharfstein demonstrates that African-Americans of mixed ancestry have been crossing the boundaries of color and racial identity since the early colonial era…Sharfstein documents this persistent racial fluidity by painstakingly reconstructing the history of three families. In a dizzying array of alternating chapters, he presents the personal and racial stories of the Gibsons, the Spencers and the Walls. The result is an astonishingly detailed rendering of the variety and complexity of racial experience in an evolving national culture moving from slavery to segregation to civil rights.
—The New York Times
Library Journal
The story of the wealthy Gibsons of Colonial South Carolina, the farming Spencers of 19th-century Kentucky, and the middle-class Walls of post-Civil War Washington, DC, and each family's shifting self-identity from black to white.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143120636
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/31/2012
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 381,281
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel J. Sharfstein is an associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University. Sharfstein graduated from Yale Law School and from Harvard College, summa cum laude in history and literature and Afro-American Studies. He has been awarded fellowships in legal history from Harvard, New York University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Sharfstein has written for the Yale Law Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, and The Washington Post.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

Family Trees xiv

Introduction: The House Behind the Cedars 1

1 GIBSON: Mars Bluff, South Carolina, 1768 13

2 WALL: Rockingham, North Carolina, 1838 27

3 SPENCER: Clay County, Kentucky, 1848 39

4 GIBSON: New Haven, Connecticut, 1850-55 53

5 SPENCER: Jordan Gap, Johnson County, Kentucky, 1855 73

6 WALL: Oberlin, Ohio, September 1858 85

7 CIVIL WAR: Wall, Gibson, and Spencer, 1859-63 103

8 CIVIL WAR: Wall and Gibson, 1863-66 119

9 GIBSON; Mississippi, New Orleans, and New York, 1866-68 135

10 WALL: Washington, D.C. June 14, 1871 151

11 SPENCER: Jordan Gap, Johnson County, Kentucky, 1870s 169

12 GIBSON: Washington, D.C., 1878 181

13 WALL: Washington, D.C, January 21, 1880 197

14 GIBSON: Washington, D.C, New Orleans, and Hot Springs, Arkansas, 1888-92 215

15 WALL: Washington, D.C, 1890-91 229

16 SPENCER: Jordan Gap, Johnson County, Kentucky, ca. 1900 241

17 WALL: Washington, D.C, 1909 253

18 SPENCER: Home Creek, Buchanan County, Virginia, 1912 273

19 GIBSON: Paris and Chicago, 1931-33 293

20 WALL: Freeport, Long Island, 1946 307

Epilogue 321

Acknowledgments 331

Notes 337

Index 385

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Customer Reviews

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