by Rick Gildemeister
01/22/2000: From: Rick Gildemeister "...include that posting
(Racial Islands) as is. As far as Ned (Heite) and Paul (Heinegg) are
concerned, at this early stage in research, there are few absolute
givens, so it's good that there be these polar opposites, so that
synthesizers can tease out what seems reasonable and attempt to further
Years ago I wrote my senior thesis on groups variously referred to
as "local races", "little races" "racial islands" "tri-racial isolates"
"third races" and "interstitial groups." Members of these groups can
be traced historically through censuses and other materials to the
pre-Civil War "free persons of color."
studies have been done on free persons of color, drawing on the same
historical sources as scholars doing research on these groups, with
little or no cross-discussion on the part of the two sets of scholars.
One recent article stated that research on these groups is not worthwhile,
since the phenomenon involves so few individuals. If this is true,
why do I keep meeting them here in New York?
brings all these groups (one researcher estimates there are roughly
200 such groups, I believe) under one rubric is as follows:
of these groups are alleged both by scholars and by local blacks and
whites in these groups' areas of residence to be of white, Indian,
and black origin. Appearance is not necessarily an important criterion
by which members are identified, but ancestry, surname, and reputation
are called upon in cases of doubt.
the most important sociological feature of these groups is that they
deny any African origin; what results is that the groups are socially
accepted only within their own group and think of themselves as white,
Indian, or a separate race altogether. Many people in some of these
groups have fought in court and had their racial classification changed
to white or Indian. In the old days down South, certain counties supported
three separate school systems. In South Carolina there were certain
schools that were nominally white schools but were called "special
schools" i.e. for children of allegedly mixed-race groups.
statements are a gross oversimplification but may help clarify what
is meant by "third races" etc.
if it involves only a few individuals, the subject raises questions
about the collective identity of African-Americans as a people. It
seems highly possible that the racial classification system of the
old South and the identities of people referred to as free persons
of color in the South may be more complex than we have thought, and
that the persistence of these "third races" indicates the possibility
that the phenomenon of "third races" may have been more widespread;
the literature on these groups indicate that many groups have dispersed,
with the individuals intermarrying with whites and blacks.
final note: Hiram Revels was descended from just such a group, and
the first black insurance company was started by members of the Lowry
family, who derive from the same group in North Carolina as Revels.
So, any information on listservs on Southern history and African American
history would be much appreciated. I would like to write an article
on this and, as I am experienced with "electronic conferences." I
thought a discussion list might be a good place to share information.
Wed, 18 Aug 1993 13:55:48