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Friday, June 6, 2014

Love in the Time of Miscegenation

By Kathleen Rice Adams

She’s the sweetest rose of color this darky ever knew.
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew.
You may talk about your Dearest May, and sing of Rosa Lee,
But the Yellow Rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee.

Those are the original words to the chorus of “The Yellow Rose Texas,” a folksong dating to early Colonial Texas. The first known transcribed version—handwritten on a piece of plain paper—appeared around the time of the Texian victory at San Jacinto in April 1836.

In its original form, the song tells the story of a black man (“darky”) who has been separated from his sweetheart and longs to reunite with her. The lyrics indicate the sweetheart was a free mulatto woman—a person of mixed black and white heritage. In those days, “person of color” was considered a polite way to refer to black people who were not slaves. “Yellow” was a common term for people of mixed race.

During the Civil War, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” became a popular marching tune for troops all over the Confederacy; consequently, the lyrics changed. White Confederates were not eager to refer to themselves as darkies, so “darky” became “soldier.” In addition, “rose of color” became “little flower.”

Aside from the obvious racist reasons for the modifications, legal doctrine played into the picture as well. Until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional in 1967, all eleven former Confederate states plus Delaware, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia outlawed marriage and sexual relations between whites and blacks. In four of the former Confederate states—Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—marriage or sexual relations between whites and any non-white was labeled a felony. Such laws were called anti-miscegenation laws, or simply miscegenation laws. In order to draw what attorneys term a “bright line” between legal and illegal behavior, many states codified the “single-drop rule,” which held that a person with a single drop of Negro blood was black, regardless the color of his or her skin.

"New Orleans' Voodoo Queen" Marie Laveau
(1774-1881) was a free Creole of mixed race.
Texas’s miscegenation law, enacted in 1837, prescribed among the most severe penalties nationwide: A white person convicted of marrying, "living in sin" with, or having sex with a person of another ethnicity was subject to a prison sentence of two to five years. Well into the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for the non-white half of the illicit relationship to be severely beaten or killed by irate local citizens.

The first American miscegenation laws arose in the colonies in the 1600s. The laws breathed their last gasp in 2001, when Alabama finally removed the anti-miscegenation clause from its state constitution after a referendum passed with only sixty percent of the popular vote.

Texas’s miscegenation law plays a role in “The Big Uneasy,” my contribution to Prairie Rose Publications’ new anthology Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride. After the death of his wife, the bridegroom’s father engages in an illicit relationship with a free Creole of color. The practice was not uncommon in the heroine’s hometown, New Orleans, but if the indiscretion gets out in Texas, the wealthy, powerful family could be ruined.

Here’s an excerpt from the story.

The Big Uneasy

A man in love with a woman he can’t have. A woman engaged to a man she doesn’t love. A secret in common could destroy them all.

June 1860, the Texas Crescent

Josephine LaPierre nearly tumbled from the seat when the buggy’s wheel struck yet another hole in the muddy road. She gripped the padded armrest with one hand and steadied the tiny dog in her lap with the other. Vibration beneath her gloved fingers warned of an impending explosion of temper.

“Hush, Napoleon.” She scratched behind his bat-like ears until he quieted. “All is well, mon petit.”

Napoleon sneezed. After turning three circles in her lap, he nestled into Jo’s skirt. She bestowed a fond smile upon her fearsome bodyguard, running a hand across the top of his head and down his smooth back. Her tiny knight in soft, fawn-colored armor.

The man beside her took the horse in hand with a flick of his wrist, passing an amused glance over Jo and the dog. “Feisty little critter, ain’t he?”

The suppressed laughter in startling blue eyes sent a flicker of heat dancing across Jo’s cheekbones. She looked away. “He can be. I warn you, his bark is not worse than his bite.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Chuckling, the driver scratched the top of the little dog’s head.

Jo tensed, prepared to intervene, but Napoleon stretched toward his admirer and licked the man’s glove.

The driver withdrew his hand to run a finger between his stand-up collar and his neck. Then he swatted at his dark broadcloth trousers and frockcoat as if they inconvenienced him, as well. “I imagine this trip’s been a mite rough on you and that little fella.”

Not in the least disposed to admit her posterior might never be the same, Jo pulled on the most gracious smile she could find. “Monsieur—”

“Amon.” Though gentle, the correction was much firmer than she was accustomed to hearing from servants. “No monsieur about it. Just Amon.” The French word rolled from his lips with practiced ease. How odd.

“Amon. How much farther must we travel?”

“Won’t be long now. House is just up the road a piece.”

Her gaze followed his nod. How could anyone judge distance in such a place? Texas was nothing at all like New Orleans. Although the land here lay as flat as at home, Texas remained wild and unpopulated. Even on the docks where she disembarked hours ago, no laughing patois chatter brightened her ears, nor did young women of color in vivid tignons compete for attention with azaleas and bougainvillea. No aroma of magnolia and honeysuckle, of strong coffee and fresh beignets, greeted her arrival.

The afternoon sun, brighter here somehow, chased the last of the morning’s rain from the landscape. The scent of wet earth rose with the steam, intertwining with damp wood and a vague fishiness from the nearby bayou. Strange cattle with wicked, curling horns as long as their bodies dotted miles and miles of green, overgrown in patches with thorny brush and vines. Here and there, brief flashes of yellow peeked from tall, waving grass.

What did Texans eat and drink and admire in this odd, monochromatic country? What did they do for entertainment? With no other humans around to practice the art of conversation, did they forget how to speak?

Jo flicked open the blades of sandalwood dangling from her wrist and fanned herself and Napoleon in an unsuccessful attempt to dissipate the suffocating heat. “Have you worked for Monsieur Collier long?”

Rubbing knuckles along the line of a strong jaw, Amon stared over the bay horse’s ears. “All my life.”

His voice, quiet yet strong, soothed some of her unease. The man spoke at least a little French. Perhaps a modicum of civilization existed in the wilderness. “Tell me about him, s'il vous plaît.”

“Not much to tell.” The gaze he swung from one horizon to the other caressed each tree, each blade of grass in its path. “Edson Collier owns everything we’ve driven through. All you can see, smell, taste, or touch. Every living thing on this property wears a Collier brand.”

“And the man I am to marry?”

“Bennett?” Amon shook his head on a wry huff. “Bennett Collier is educated to within an inch of his life. Smart, wealthy, ambitious. He’ll run this state in a few years.”

A man of such stature would take pride in protecting his wife, his children. Maman and Céline would have approved.

Maman and Céline. Of all the things Jo would miss about New Orleans, she would miss her mother and sister the most—and the tidy cottage in The Marigny.

But not the man inside. Lucien Bouchard. The Devil with an angel’s face…and enough money and influence to buy anything and anyone he wanted. She pressed fingertips to her lips to settle a familiar surge of bile.

"The Big Uneasy"

To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing.

Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.

You can lasso a copy of Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride in print and most digital formats at these online booksellers:

Trade paperback     •     Amazon Kindle     •    B&N Nook     •    Smashwords





  1. Kathleen,

    I absolutely love the title of your Mail-Order Bride story. I didn't make the cleverly subtle New Orleans connection until I was well into the story, and the nuance of 'big uneasy' is a perfect description of your underlying theme of miscegenation.

    I'm so proud to have my mail-order bride story rubbing elbows in the same anthology as yours, Cheryl's, and Tanya's.

    1. Kaye, thank you so much for your kind words. I'm incredibly proud to have a story in this anthology, bumping up against yours, Cheryl's, and Tanya's. I dearly loved "A Permanent Woman." Tales of love like that don't come along every day. :-)

  2. I had heard about the deep and interesting history of the New Orleans region, but not much of the Texas part. This story sounds so delicious. Can't wait. Next on the list of books I must have. Best and thanks for adding to my knowledge of history and that region. Doris

    1. New Orleans has a fascinating cultural tradition, Doris. It's still a fascinating place. For its time, antebellum New Orleans was quite a progressive place.

      Thanks for stopping by today, honey! :-)

  3. Kathleen, I didn't know the original lyrics of The Yellow Rose of Texas were changed, but I'm not surprised considering the time period. I'm well aware of the prejudice and legal constraints against inter-racial marriage and relationships here in Texas. Ancestors on my dad's side of the family were mixed blood Indian and white. They called themselves "Black Dutch." I think this term was used for Europeans with swarthy complexions. It was used by my ancestors to account for their dark skin color, I learned from a cousin, obviously to protect themselves from persecution.

    Kudos to you for tackling such a touchy subject in The Big Uneasy.

    1. Lynn, there seem to be quite a few of us Texans with mixed heritage! :-D

      I've heard of the Black Dutch, but I don't know much about them. If the Black Dutch were accepted as white in Texas, I'm not surprised people of mixed ethnicity might claim to be part of that community. It's difficult to imagine that kind of persecution these days, isn't it?

      The lyrics of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" have changed several times since 1836. The words I remember from my youth are "She's the sweetest little rosebud this Texan ever knew / Her eyes are bright and shining, they sparkle like the dew / You may talk about your Clementine and sing of Rosalie / But the Yellow Rose of Texas is the only girl for me." I think Mitch Miller may be to blame for those.

      At the end of the Civil War, Hood's Texas Brigade -- the "shock troops" of the Army of Northern Virginia -- retreated after a disastrous battle in Tennessee, and a fourth verse was added to the song:

      And now I'm going southward, for my heart is full of woe.
      I'm going back to Georgia, to see my Uncle Joe.
      You may talk about your Beauregard and sing of Bobbie Lee,
      But the gallant Hood of Texas played hell in Tennessee.

      Thanks for stopping by today, sweetie! :-)

  4. Kathleen, my dad was a quarter Cherokee and didn't even tell my mom. I found out when I started genealogy. When I asked my dad, he asked me if I wanted to be sent to a reservation. I told him they don't still do that and he asked me if I was willing to take that chance.

    1. Oh, Caroline! What a horrible position for your poor dad. My grandmother's story was similar. Her mother kept the secret of her AmerInd heritage from her children. My grandmother, who was 1/2 Native American, didn't know until she was married and living in Texas. My siblings and I were unaware of that part of our heritage until the 1970s, after the repeal of Texas's law.

      I can't even imagine living with the fear that you and your children could be sent away and your husband jailed for something over which you had no control. The idea is mind-boggling today, but it was a fact of life in Texas for 130 years.

  5. You write the most interesting stories. I wrote a blog early on for SOTW about The Yellow Rose of Texas--and I had these original words, and how they were changed more then once.
    But I did not know Texas had the most stringent laws concerning intermarriages in the nation. Doesn't surprise me, though.
    I grew up in West Texas and I saw very few Blacks. Of course, we said "Colored."
    Our son married close to 30 and married a women a few years older, and even though they did miraculously produce one son, they adopted two black boys--one all black, one bi-racial. These three are my dearest treasures. My mother was in a nursing home and I brought photos of the our two grandsons, at the time--she pointed to Aaron, and whispered, "Is he the little nigger?" Yes, she said that. She never saw the third one, but she wouldn't have had to ask, because he is black. The oldest--very light although he has "the hair!"
    I dare anyone to say anything rude against our boys, and treat them badly--if I'm around. Even though they live in Michigan and are must better off there than Texas, they still suffer prejudice and taunting. Not much, but it does happen.
    I love you excerpt. I'll have to get this anthology, too. I have many things to read! Thanks for a wonderful post.

    1. Celia, good for your son and his wife -- and for you, for sticking up for your grandsons! Children are precious. I do not understand how anyone can hold something as insignificant as skin color against a child -- or an adult, for that matter.

      We called black people "colored" while I was growing up, too. I still remember seeing "white-only" or "colored-only" on building entrances and public water fountains in places like Valdosta, Georgia, and Selma, Alabama.

      I'm sure in your mother's mind, there was nothing naughty about the N word. What has become an epithet started out as a Southern dialectical corruption of the word Negro. I heard my grandparents -- and Lyndon Johnson -- pronounce the word "nigra." Texans have always had a rather unconventional relationship with the language, haven't they? :-D

      It's so good to see you here today, sweet lady. Thank you for sharing your story. :-)

  6. Kathleen,
    A great post! I was unaware of the extreme prejudice, so thanks for the insight. But, as the others have mentioned, I'm not surprised. Human beings are responsible for some of the most amazing inventions and innovations, but we can still be one of the most horrific of creatures at the same time. We keep evolving--thank goodness for that.

    You're story, as usual, sounds wonderful. I'm a bit behind in my reading as well, but I have LAMB on my Kindle and look forward to getting to it this summer.

    Cheers, Tex!!

    1. Kristy, that one of the things that never ceases to amaze: Human cruelty. Every time I get to thinking I've seen it all, I'll run across something new and even more creatively mean. I agree: Thank goodness we keep evolving.

      I'm glad you have a copy of LAMOB. There are some really wonderful stories in there. :-)

  7. Kathleen,
    Your essay on miscegenation laws in Texas and its impact on families is excellent history. I didn't know about the original words to Yellow Rose of Texas but seem to remember reading of its meaning many years ago. Song lyrics, poetry and fiction are so often the way injustice and history are preserved for the future to understand. Your excerpt from "The Big Uneasy" is a beautiful piece of work.

    1. Arletta, thank you for your kind words. I'm blushing over here. :-)

      You make a good point about music and literature -- and the visual arts, as well -- being the custodians of history. I think that's an important role of the arts: documenting aspects of society and culture that otherwise might be swept under the rug.

      I also believe we do ourselves and future generations a disservice by pretending the negative aspects of the past didn't happen. Yes, discussing some things can be uncomfortable, but if we don't talk about the shameful aspects of our shared history, we risk repeating them. History can be a great teacher, if we let it.

      Thank you for dropping by and commenting today. It's really good to make new friends. :-)

  8. All of the facts you presented about the song, Yellow Rose of Texas, and the law that prevented marriage or sexual relations between different ethnic couples was all completely new to me. It was so interesting to learn all that.
    In your excerpt, I was captivated by your colorful description of the New Orleans dock compared to the landscape of Texas. It was so rich in all the senses that I felt I had was there beside Jo experiencing it, too.
    What a wonderful excerpt and informative blog, Kathleen.

    1. Thank you, Sarah. I can only hope to catch up with you one of these days. Thanks to your Wilding stories, the fictional town of Hazard, Wyoming, is a VERY real place in my mind. Thank goodness there was a Wilding tale in LASSOING A BRIDE. I can't wait for the next one! :-)

      HUGS, sweetheart!

  9. Kathleen,

    Such an interesting post. I didn't know about the Yellow Rose of Texas' original meaning and words until about a year ago when I was researching it for a story. Before that I always attributed it to a soldier missing his sweetheart...or Waylon Jennings and company. :) I was very interested in this post, because I've been digging around about such laws myself as I've had a couple mixed couples in manuscripts and wanted to check out challenges beyond family and friends. Again, I should have just come to you! I cannot imagine being imprisoned simply for loving someone with different pigment in their skin. I remember when I was in grad school a man I was seeing who was in school down in Georgia told me his friend, who was black, asked a white girl out and a group of thugs beat him up. This was in 1996, but the kicker was a bunch a black girls threatened her, too! We tend to think the past is always crazy, but there's enough loco to go around today.

    Wonderful excerpt!! I cannot wait to read this story! I will have to set time aside this weekend and dig in.

    1. Figures you'd be researching this topic, Rustler. :-D I'm eager to see how those stories turn out. You come up with some of the twistiest, most interesting plots.

      Wyoming's law, repealed in 1965, prohibited marriage between whites and blacks, Asians, and Filipinos. (Filipinos appear to have been a big concern there for a while, which is something else I didn't realize. A number of states' miscegenation laws specifically mentioned Filipinos.)

      As bad as Texas's law was, things could have been worse. Texas could have adopted a law similar to Virginia's, which not only segregated all people into two classes -- white and non-white -- but also employed the one-drop rule and prescribed prison sentences of one to five years for violators. In 1924, Virginia added new requirements mandating every person's racial classification be recorded at birth. The 1924 Racial Integrity Act also provided for the compulsory sterilization of folks confined to state institutions, including prisons and asylums. Had Texas followed Virginia's lead, people imprisoned under Texas's miscegenation law could have been sterilized without their consent.

      The Supreme Court case that struck down miscegenation laws nationwide arose in Virginia: Loving v. Virginia. In recent years, federal courts have cited the Loving case in their decisions about same-sex marriage. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the same-sex marriage issue finally reaches the current Supreme Court.

  10. I always learn new things every day on this blog. My Mom was a quarter Cherokee. She never spoke of any prejudice because of it. I do remember when the tiny black school in our town was closed and the kids came to public school. Can you imagine how scary that would be for the kids involved to be thrown into a school 99% white after being taught in a one room school? The lady who helps me take care of my father went to that little school and talked about the school library, the one shelf of books. It just boggles my mind that there were laws that wouldn't allow that sweet lady to attend public school. Great blog, and great story Kathleen. They just keep getting better.

    1. Livia, learning new things daily is one of the reasons I love the PRP blog. The Prairie Roses have researched a broad diversity of topics and possess a wide range of personal experience. Even better: Most of us feel compelled to put our research and experience to good use by sharing the information. I'm sure our families and friends get tired of hearing about some of the topics individual Roses collect, but at least we fascinate each other. ;-)

      I've often marveled at the courage the first students to integrate must have possessed. Being forced into that kind of antagonistic atmosphere at a tender age must have been extremely difficult. (Again I'm reminded of Alabama and the image of Gov. George Wallace facing down the National Guard on the steps of a public school. I attended high school in Alabama for a year almost a decade later, and the repercussions of integration were still being ironed out.)

      Bless that little lady who helps with your father. One shelf of books in a school library is such a dreary thought. We're still feeling the ripples of that kind of institutionalized intellectual poverty.

  11. Kathleen, I just loved this post. So interesting! (As always!) And I loved your story, too. I was just shocked at the end, and of course, I always enjoy that. LOL

    We had Indian blood on both sides of my family. Although my mom's side was just as strong as my dad's, you can see it a lot more clearly in his features than in hers. But I've heard "the tales" too--how they couldn't/wouldn't admit to it or sign up on the rolls because they were worried about being carted off to a reservation, etc. So proving it now is really really hard.

    Livia, the same thing happened in my little town--the black kids had their own school and it closed about the time I was finishing up my elementary years--so in middle school/high school we were all together--but it was a LOT of "melting pot" in my school as we had a lot of Indian tribes who went there too, and didn't mingle with the whites much. Talk about segregation! Very "clique-ish" there.

    Kathleen, I love that you included this situation in your story! You kept me guessing throughout as to what in the heck was going to happen. Now...ahem...are you writing?LOL

    1. Okie, my family's having the same problem researching my AmerInd great-grandmother. No one has been able to find a stitch of documentation about her. As a journalist, I'm accustomed to digging up facts people would rather not see exposed, but I'm completely stumped in this instance. People "passing" as white appear to have been very, very good at covering their tracks -- for obvious reasons.

      Thanks for your kind words about "The Big Uneasy." If a plot twist can shock YOU, I figure I've done good. :-D

  12. I will try again, google just ate my comment. Great story first of all. Kathleen, and terrific history in this post. I had no idea of the original meaning of the yellow rose of Texas!

    1. Thanks, Tanya! This post is what happens to me when I start down a research rabbit hole. If I disappear one of these days, y'all look for a big hole in ground and lower biscuits and water, okay? ;-)

      I always love your stories, and "Her Hurry-Up Husband" is no exception. How on earth do you come up with some of these concepts? Your story in WISHING FOR A COWBOY remains among my favorites, and I don't think I'll ever forget the HEARTS AND SPURS story about a woman masquerading as a man so she could serve as a judge. I can't wait to see what you come up with next. :-)

  13. Wow, Kathleen. I knew old laws stayed on the books, but not this. Amazing, isn't it, how we move forward in so many ways, but still tie ourselves to old prejudices? Thanks for the history -- and the reminder that the fight is not yet over.

    1. Tracy, it never ceases to amaze me how a country founded on "liberty and justice for all" can so blithely deny liberty and justice to some for the most tenuous of reasons.

      Let me preface this next by saying I come from a long line of missionaries and ministers, so this is not a gratuitous swipe at religion: I was simply floored by the number of court decisions and state laws predicated upon what today seems twisted doctrine but back then was par for the course. One judge, for example, wrote in his decision that God put the different races on different continents for a reason and therefore, essentially, "What God hath wrought, let no man put asunder." Those kinds of decisions were a bit chilling, especially in light of some of the social battles taking place in the courts and Congress today. (That was not a political statement -- just an observation.)

      Thanks for coming by today, honey! :-)

  14. Kathleen,
    I had an epiphany tonight while working on my long delayed WIP...Yellow Rose makes an appearance when Aunt Mariah arrives in AZ to tell my protagonist of the story and sings it to Rose's little "Yellow Rose," the result of her love affair with a young man who is tri-racial: white, black and Chiricahua Apache! You planted a seed and it popped up in my writing process. Thank you...

    1. Arletta, that's exciting! I'm so glad something I wrote tripped a trigger for you. It's odd how sometimes the least expected things can fire up the ol' Muse, isn't it?

      Keep working at the WIP, sweetie! Sounds like you've got quite a story on your hands. :-)