Adding A Chapter To The History Of Race

Daniel J. Sharfstein recounts the life and ancestry of O.S.B. Wall, a famous DC African American whose children chose to live as white:

Because of its secrecy, "passing for white" has long been the province of literature, not history. Over the last 200 years, dozens of novels, plays, and movies have imagined African-Americans who become white, as well as whites who discover a trace of black ancestry. Most have treated passing as a tragic masquerade: Becoming white means abandoning family, moving far from home, changing names and identities, and living in constant fear that the secret will be betrayed. This conventional narrative has made it easy to regard the history of migration across the color line as something outside of African-American historymarginal to the black experience, almost its negation. When histories of race mention people assimilating into white communities, such accounts hardly ever follow them past the point of becoming white. These individuals fade out of existence. ...

[T]he story of Wall's children suggests that becoming white deserves a place in black history and in the larger history of race in the United States.