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Clasped hands in robe with CHF logo and text overlay: BELIEF, October 28 - November 12
CHF 2012: America

Crossing the Color Line in Gilded Age America

Clarence King was a prominent 19th-century geologist, mining engineer, and mountaineer. Chiefly responsible for mapping the West after the Civil War, he gained additional renown for his legendary explorations of the Sierra Nevada and served as the first director of the United States Geological Survey. But this scion of a prominent white family from Newport, Rhode Island, lived a double life for 13 years. After falling in love with an African American woman, King lived in a common-law marriage as James Todd, representing himself as a black Pullman porter, and passing back and forth across the color line to maintain his own identity for professional work in the field. He revealed this double life in a final deathbed letter to his wife. Princeton University historian Martha Sandweiss, one of the leading scholars of the American West, unfurls this extraordinary story and reveals what it tells us about this country’s complicated racial history.

This program is presented in partnership with The Newberry Library and the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture at the University of Chicago.

Speakers and Performers

Martha Sandweiss

Martha A. Sandweiss, professor of history at Princeton University, is the author of numerous books on the history of the American West and American photography, including Print the Legend: Photography and the American West. Her most recent book, Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History.
CHF Suggests      Related links and resources for further study

Leaders And Thinkers

Martha Sandweiss' Website
Books, bio, and much more...

Good Reads

Sometimes One Man Can Live Two Lives
The New York Times reviews Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line

Online Resources

Reading Guides
An introduction to Passing Strange and a conversation with Martha Sandweiss