Thursday, October 02, 2003

Colored Outside the Lines

When Texas was a part of Mexico, the Ashworths were no different from their American neighbors. They obtained land, managed herds of cattle and hogs, and lived in relative peace with their neighbors. Some of their neighbors may have considered them "Not White," but few mentioned it to their face. Racism as a state institution may have been coming into being, but its enforcement required one to be able to shoot and fight, and few challenged the manpower of the Ashworths and their allied families or their willingness to fight to protect what was theirs. My point being, no one called us "niggers" to our face.

But racism in the South was more than just personal animosity, it was enforced by the state. In the 25 years between independence from Mexico and the start of the Civil War, the Ashworths and their allied families fought the attempts by the state to marginalize them. When William Ashworth and Deliede Gallier were charged with cohabitating (their marriage not recognized by the state of Texas), they took their case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, only to lose. There were 15 indictments returned against the Ashworth family for various offences involving their marriage to Whites. Often they just paid the fines and went on with their lives. More often, they looked to their cousins for spouses. I'm not sure where the line was with cousins, historically, but growing up in East Texas, marriage between first cousins and their offspring were off limits, and between second cousins it was discouraged. My aunt married a second cousin and she and her husband were shunned for the first several years. On the other hand, third cousins were fair game.

When wronged by neighbors, the Ashworths sued; and their neighbors sued them. They were in all respects like their neighbors, just darker. By the laws of the Republic of Texas and subsequently by the State of Texas, people considered non-White were not allowed to own property. The Ashworths owned property; owned slaves, too. We have no record of any of the Ashworths or their allied families voting or running for office. I'm not even sure they could read. They did form churches, White churches.

My point here is not to claim that we didn't have Black blood. Probably we did. Don't know for sure. My question to present day historians, is why do you paint us today with the same racist brush you used 150 years ago?

Here's a group of people, white identified, having few or none of the racial markers characteristic of Blacks, but marginalized by the dominant society with only the accusation of being mixed blood.

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