Sunday, January 18, 2004

The One-Drop Rule, or Black Like Me

I went to a party last night and in the course of conversation with a charming and attractive African-American woman about my age, I said I was Black. She just smiled at me and said, "Yeah, right." Earlier in the day I had googled the word "Ashworth" and among the several hits was the good old Online Handbook of Texas History telling us that William Ashworth, the son of Keziah Dial and James Ashworth was black. It mentions a few details of his life and accomplishments. It goes on to say that "of of sixty-three free blacks in Jefferson County, thirty-eight were named Ashworth." Those would be my cousins. The other unnamed free blacks were also my cousins. But I digress.

Back to the party. Having garnered the attention of about half a dozen people around me, I went on to say that Whites had invented the One-Drop Rule, but that it was now maintained mostly by Blacks. William Ashworth did not see himself as black. His neighbors did not see him as black. He was married to a white woman. His nephew killed a man who called him black. No one doubts they were not legally accepted as whites. On that the record is clear. My objection to the Handbook's telling of William's story is that is doesn't really give William credit for his victories, nor does it tell the ignanimous ending in late 1856.

I wrote to the Handbook people a few years ago, and found them very receptive to my complaints. They didn't change what they have written and published, but they encouraged me to tell the tale. I've been thinking about how best to go about that task since then. I'm very encouraged by my interaction with other family members this past couple of years. I have discovered that each of us has part of the story, and that when we share it with each other, we remember more details. It's not for the Handbook of Texas to define us or to tell our story. That's our job. So let's do it.

No comments: