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  1. GentlemanVoleur

    GentlemanVoleur New Member

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    Inter-racial Friendship in the 1920's US

    Discussion in 'Research' started by GentlemanVoleur, Jan 22, 2020.

    Hello,
    My question is in regards to a scene in my book, one in which the main character a white female is being tutored for dance by a male American of African descent.

    As an American I know of the inter-racial struggles between whites and blacks from our founding all the way until the Civil Rights Era (and event today sadly) and know there was a period in time that in (particularly the south) marriage relationships between whites and blacks mostly forbidden.

    My story takes place in an unnamed north-east city (Think New York City or Chicago) in 1928. I've done a fair amount of research regarding anachronisms and historical accuracy and say I'm very spot on which brings me to the question of:

    Would having a white woman tutored by a black man be considered TO unrealistic? That is taking into consideration upbringing (would most whites just be taught that blacks are not to be friends with), social stigma (if anyone found out the black male would be in trouble) even in the context of the American of African descent teaching dances classes... if that would even be allowed. Would a black southerner even want to teach a white woman anything due to resentment?

    Any resources or input would be greatly helpful!
     
  2. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hi there - Obviously researching this area will all need to be second-hand, unless you can find people on the forum who were alive and aware in the 1920s USA. But that being said, there are lots of sources out there that can help you.

    Here's a good one. It provides links with explanations of what the links contain. http://americainclass.org/sources/becomingmodern/divisions/text2/text2.htm

    It should get you started, anyway. Good luck!
     
  3. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I've got no use for kale... Contributor

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    Meh. The way I look at it, White people and Black people do things together all the time, so it doesn't need to be a thing.
     
  4. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That is now, but the OP is talking about 'then.'

    The OP needs to know what it would have been like for his characters, back in the 1920s, in a northern city—back when black people were forbidden to use the same doors into buildings, or ride at the front of a bus.

    If the author projects today's attitudes onto the society of the 1920s, that could result in some huge anachronisms in the story. If you write historical fiction—as I do—you do want details and situations to be as accurate as possible. Handwaving away the inconvenient realities of the time just doesn't work out very well.

    It doesn't mean you can't create characters who buck the social conventions of the time—and even break some actual laws—but you need to know they ARE bucking them, if you want your story to reflect the time period accurately. There are likely to be consequences for your characters if they flaunt convention or break laws.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2020
  5. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Creature of Quarantine Contributor

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    Relationships in the north were more acceptable than in the south. interracial couples would actually flee north to marry and be together.If anything, gender would play a role in this. a woman wouldn't be taking classes from a man, especially below her class.

    But if there was a way past that, the next issue would be him teaching her. Just because he is fine with teaching her and she is fine with taking classes, doesn't mean that society would be ok with them both together (even though it was more lenient further north).

    Larger cities tend to have more race mixing than small southern towns and cities. So if its in New York or Chicago, it would be an ideal location.
    This isn't to say there there wouldn't be nay-sayers.

    Read Paragon Hotel. Its about a New York woman in the '20s who is running from the mafia. She ends up in Portland, Oregon where she befriends a black man. The fact that he's black doesn't bother her (she even starts to fall for him), but when she is shot (by the mafia), he is hesitant about touching her because people are watching them. And she lies and says he's her servant to people who question them.
    She ends up staying at the hotel that he works part time at, a hotel run by black people and who only accept black boarders. They accept her (eventually), but she witnesses some of the crap they have to deal with with other white people.
    The author does a lot of research on this topic.

    Relating to your topic:
    [​IMG]
    "Jack Johnson and his wife Etta Terry Duryea, 27th January, 1910. Jack Johnson was a successful boxer and a performer for theatre companies. The Jack-of-all-trades was married three times, each time to a white woman. They included Brooklyn socialite Etta Terry Duryea; Lucille Cameron, and Irene Pineau. Events surrounding each of these unions were very controversial, with Duryea committing suicide after rumours of Johnson abusing her and Cameron having been rumoured to help Johnson pimp out prostitutes"

    There are more stories of interracial marriages and relationships here https://metro.co.uk/2018/01/22/photos-19th-century-interracial-couples-incredible-examples-love-triumphing-law-7249514/
     
    EFMingo likes this.
  6. Xoic

    Xoic Senior Member

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    One solution that occurs to me; he might tutor her privately. I believe at all times it wasn't uncommon for individuals to buck social convention and do as they please, though they might have to hide it from prying eyes. Of course it would be a dangerous game.

    Disclaimer - I wrote this off the top of my head and might have a few particulars wrong. Example, opium and laudanum might have been more popular 20 years prior, not sure. So if any history buffs see mistakes, by all means please correct!

    One important thing to keep in mind about the 20's is that it was similar to the 60's in many regards. A time of social upheaval and new freedoms. The Victorian age had just ended and women began wearing bathing suits that actually showed elbows and knees, the saucy trollops! Some men refused to wear fashionable beards! Spiritualism and the occult became very popular. Also new attitudes about recreational drugs, which at the time meant opium (not sure what else, maybe Laudanum?) So it was a time when people had less inhibitions about breaking longstanding social conventions, and of course the radicals and more progressive-leaning ones even defined themselves by their rejection of those conventions. And, as in the 60's, radicalism and progressivism were also very popular.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2020
  7. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Handsome couple. So sad that their marriage went smash in such a tragic way.
     
  8. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Creature of Quarantine Contributor

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    I might also add that friendships and relationship were more acceptable between lighter skinned African Americans and white vs darker skinned.
    If your character were light skinned, then he would have fared better in society and would have been in a position to tutor a white woman without much problem.
    (sad truth)
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2020
  9. Xoic

    Xoic Senior Member

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    ^ This is very true. Also some who were light enough to pass as white would do so, and try to keep their secret hidden. Case in point, George Herriman, famous cartoonist who drew Krazy Kat for the newspapers. He was never seen in public without a hat because his hair would be a giveaway.
     

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