Cover image for Mulatto America : at the crossroads of Black and White culture : a social history
Mulatto America : at the crossroads of Black and White culture : a social history
Talty, Stephan.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2003]

Physical Description:
xvi, 269 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E184.A1 T35 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Black and white culture has been blending and colliding in America for hundreds of years. In the 1700s, black slaves discovered their masters' Bibles and found in them a seditious faith of their own. In the 1920s, young white men fell in love with New Orleans jazz and created an underground of cultural dissidents. In the 1970s, black style began its takeover of the sports world and made Dr. J and Michael Jordan the idols of millions. In Mulatto America, a dazzling work of cultural history, the stories of these daring and deeply influential encounters are described in vibrant detail. Beginning with new and shocking revelations about the white slaves kidnapped into "the House of Bondage," Mulatto America vividly chronicles the hidden connections that have shaped American style and character. Stephan Talty proposes that, along with the hatred that ruled the relationship between blacks and whites for so long, there has been a largely unexamined flip side: a powerful attraction that led both races to mimic what they saw and desired in each other. The pages of this groundbreaking work, which introduces a strong new voice, are populated by the renegades who crossed the color line out of deep conviction or wild curiosity: W. E. B. Du Bois, Dorothy Dandridge, Elvis, Jay-Z, and many others. Each chapter examines a different vanguard: The interracial lovers of the slavery era who ignored theories of racial inferiority and gave us models of devotion and daring. The black elite early in the last century who found in Shakespeare and Michelangelo not only deeply humanist masterpieces but hope that white bigotry could be overcome. And the members of today's hip-hop generation, who revel in the cultural freedom earned at so high a cost. Drawing on original research and daring new interpretations of crucial events in American history, Talty paints a portrait of a lost America: one in which musicians, writers, and ordinary people led the nation to a deeper understanding of the strangers on the other side of town. Without the mixing of black and white culture, America would look, sound, and feel completely different than it does today. On a cultural level, as well as racially, we are indeed a mulatto nation. This provocative and highly engaging new history shows us how this came to pass.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Talty, a self-defined literary journalist, ponders the American realities of race where the intersection of whites and blacks reveals the essence of the American character. Talty demonstrates this intersection is filled with great creative and destructive tensions, producing energies not always acknowledged in the broader culture. He initially focuses on the ambiguities of race relations in the era of slavery, those points where human recognition across clearly delineated racial barriers seeps through. In later chapters, Talty offers cultural critiques; for example, the role that jazz has played in establishing a common American expression. Talty assesses the crossover impact of soul singer Sam Cooke in the 1960s and then analyzes the controversial black pimp/street life obsession developed by whites in the 1970s as reflected in the music and dress of the disco scene. This is a must-read for readers interested in race and cultural issues. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

Miscegenation, both cultural and biological, brings forth new ideas and undermines narrow conceptions, argues Talty, a noted culture writer for the New York Times Magazine, Spin and Vibe. Describing his project not as traditional academic history but as "literary journalism," Talty draws on a hodgepodge of subjects that he admits cannot serve as a comprehensive survey. His chronology hops from the days when black slaves and white indentured servants mixed to the emergence of a European-minded black intellectual class at the turn of the 20th century and the use of hip-hop as one of the last strongholds of ghetto authenticity. Some of Talty's prose in the earlier chapters, which deal primarily with prevailing notions of blackness in the pre-Civil War era, lacks the forceful, imaginative analysis of later chapters, which showcase the pop-culture byproducts of race mixing. The careers of the first "Black" celebrities, such as Paul Robeson and Dorothy Dandridge, are regarded as complex instances of signification that invigorated the public at large while destroying some of their messengers. Talty's background as a critic is also reflected in his eloquent take on jazz: "It acted as an undertow pulling fans and musicians toward a realization of a complex black humanity, while only barely rippling the surface of 1920s and 1930s race relations." Few of Talty's ideas are revolutionary, but this book is an informed, occasionally inspired work that pulls its historical examples under a broad view of biracialism-as a phenomenon of memes as well as genes. It's a concept that more than sustains this smart, popularizing account. (Jan. 19) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Journalist Talty guides us through a history of mulatto culture (both the mixing of races and mixed-race individuals) from the mid-1700s to the present, admirably covering a huge amount of social and historical information to arrive at the present-day integration of white and black culture. Mixed-race individuals pioneered the overall integration of black and white races: "Black firsts" such as Dorothy Dandridge and Paul Robeson garnered respect from whites and were viewed as wonders of their race or "honorary whites," while later, stars such as Sam Cooke and Muhammad Ali crossed the color line on their own terms. The development of jazz saw whites emulating black musicians to the point of breaking the black cultural code, while the black movement of the Sixties embraced black power as "whites learned how it felt to be the object of racial hatred." Talty suggests that now blacks and whites have choices, allowing the personal finally to trump the social and historical. His conclusion is reminiscent of Shelby Steele's in The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America. An intellectual discourse on popular culture, more literary than academic, this volume is recommended to public and academic libraries.-Paula N. Arnold, M.L.S., Brighton, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Mulatto America Chapter One The Lost History of the White Slave As evening fell, the prow of the Brooklyn ferry cut through the dark surface of the East River, its waters whipped by an ice-tipped October wind. The instant the boat touched the foot of Wall Street, Henry Ward Beecher strode off and headed uptown. Hurrying through the jostling crowds, the young preacher fought to stay alert. He had been working long hours to build his Brooklyn Heights congregation, and had recently auctioned off the pews in his Plymouth church for the princely sum of $8500. Beecher's merchant parishioners were as devout as they were eager for pride of place in New York's most fashionable church. He was deeply satisfied by the response and the fresh cash for his ministry. But tonight's event, also an auction, would be far trickier. In 1848, the 36-year-old Beecher was not yet the most famous religious spokesman of the century, "as much an embodiment of nineteenth century America as Walt Whitman," as he would accurately be called. That would come within a few years, but his influence was growing rapidly. A politician in vestments, the spokesman for a thriving American middle class, a brilliant cliché maker, and an egotist, Beecher was fighting his way out of the shadows of his famous father and eleven accomplished siblings by leading his flock away from his progenitor's steely Calvinism toward a more liberal Protestantism. And tonight at Manhattan's Broadway Tabernacle, he would again confront the most vexing social question that had nagged at him throughout his rise to prominence and would begin to tip him into unheard-of national fame: slavery. The auction he was hurrying to was of not of pews but of two human beings -- light-skinned mulattos known as the Edmonson sisters. The daughters of a slave mother and a white father, the Edmonsons had been offered for sale to a slave dealer for "exportation to New Orleans and the markets," but they had escaped to a northern-bound schooner and found their way to New York. Their case had been written up in the local newspapers, and tonight they would be the center of an anti-slavery auction, where Beecher would try to raise the slave owners' ransom price (around $2000) and buy their freedom. The preacher had equivocated on slavery for years, much to the disgust of the still-marginalized abolitionist movement. Though he would come to be considered a radical by mainstream America, his stance was shot through with moral evasions. Slavery was wrong, Beecher believed, but it was inextricably bound up in the Union; therefore it could not be ended immediately, as William Lloyd Garrison and the other abolitionists were demanding. In fact, Beecher believed it would be literally "ages" before slavery died a slow, natural death. His view represented the opinion of most liberal-minded Americans -- that is, if they gave any thought to the issue at all. On arriving at the crowded Broadway Tabernacle, the preacher climbed to the podium; he would, as usual, be the center of attention, serving as auctioneer. He looked out on the eager faces of the Christian burghers and their wives, then called the Edmonson sisters to the front and began the proceedings. "A sale by a human flesh dealer of Christian girls!" Beecher cried. Painting scenes as "lurid as a Rembrandt," he enumerated the cruelties the girls would face on the plantation -- lashings, endless work under a blazing sun, rape (Beecher paid special attention to the girls' virginity and the certainty of their rape). The preacher played his part with an enthusiasm that surprised even him; later he bragged that he would have made "a capital auctioneer." He explained that the Edmonson sisters had accepted their immortal Redeemer, but if sold into the jungle of the South, they would be brutalized, de-Christianized, de-souled. A masterful preacher, perhaps the greatest of his century, Beecher outdid himself that night. "Of all the meetings I have attended in my life," said the reverend, who would attend thousands, "for a panic of sympathy I never saw one that surpassed that." Women wailed, grew hysterical; descriptions of later Beecher auctions detailed how female audience members tore off their jewelry -- rings, bracelets, brooches -- and piled them in the collection plates that passed through the crowd. Men's hands trembled as they tore the money out of their pocketbooks or unhooked their gold watches. There was a kind of intoxication of the spirit, a bonding with the fate of the slaves that was unusual for the times. Beecher, too, was moved, in his own way. Later, his biographer Paxton Hibben would write that the fact that the girls were Methodists had made him see the entire subject of slavery differently. But that is an evasion: Many, if not most, slaves in the mid-1800s were at least nominally Christian. Something else was at work. Hibben phrased it as a question confronting Beecher: "Shall this girl -- almost as white as you are -- be sold for money to the first comer to do as he likes with?" The answer had to be no. Beecher believed strongly that Africans did not have the same inborn love of freedom that whites did; mulattos, on the other hand, inherited some of that liberty-loving spirit through their European heritage -- a transfusion of values, if you will, through a transfusion of blood. The Edmonsons' Anglo-Saxon bloodlines made them no longer appear as doomed heathens, and empathy surged through Beecher as the congregation shouted. "He sees all of this," says Hibben, re-creating the scene, "as if he were an actor in it, himself. It is more real to him than the crowded church filled with sobbing ... women." The auction exceeded all expectations: $2200 was raised, enough to free the two girls, and the next morning, the newspapers were full of accounts from the Tabernacle. In the following years, Beecher grew more vocal, pressing the issue. And he staged more auctions, which grew into notorious passion plays of redemption, sexual purity, and emotionalism ... Mulatto America . Copyright © by Stephan Talty. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Mulatto America: At the Crossroads of Black and White Culture : a Social History by Stephan Talty All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.