“I should have thought he was of Spanish origin” – complexions and passing as white (Johnson)

Walter Johnson, Soul By Soul, 156.

Some slaves, however, were “too white to keep.” […] So, too, Robert, who boarded the steamboat that carried him away from slavery and new Orleans as a white man. “I should have thought he was of Spanish origin,” remembered one of his fellow passengers, “he was a man of clear skin and dark complexion.” But more than the way Robert looked, the other passengers remembered the way he acted: “he was very genteely dressed and of a very genteel deportment”; “he had more the appearance of a gentleman than a plebeian”; and, almost every witness noted, “usually seated himself at the first table, high up, and near the ladies.” Robert, it turned out, had once been a waiter, and he used the skills he had learned as a slave, the gentility and sociable palate of the server, to make his way into the confines reserved for the served. […] Robert made it as far as Memphis before being arrested and sent to the slave market in New Orleans, where he very shortly died.

 

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