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The Color FactorThe Economics of African-American Well-Being in the Nineteenth-Century South$
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Howard Bodenhorn

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199383092

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199383092.001.0001

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Legal Constructions of Race and Interpretations of Color

Legal Constructions of Race and Interpretations of Color

(p.19) 2 Legal Constructions of Race and Interpretations of Color
The Color Factor

Howard Bodenhorn

Oxford University Press

This chapter illustrates nineteenth-century approaches to defining race to show that society opened an intermediate space for mixed-race people. Legislatures provided statutory definitions of black and white that did not conform to the one-drop rule. A person could be statutorily white even with known and discernible African ancestry. Moreover, before the Civil War, the trend was toward wider rather than narrower definitions; that is, mixed-race men and women with greater black ancestry were increasingly accepted as legally, if not socially white. Courts became the battleground on which statutory definitions were contested and holdings contributed to the fuzziness of contemporary definitions of race and its social fluidity.

Keywords:   mulatto, critical race theory, racial definition

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