During America’s Gilded Age, Clarence King was a famous geologist, friend of wealthy, famous, and powerful men. He was a larger-than-life character whose intellect and wanderlust pushed him to survey far-flung regions of the western U.S. and South America and develop an abiding appreciation of non-Western culture and people. What his family and wealthy friends did not know was that for 17 years, King lived secretly as James Todd, a black Pullman porter with a black wife and mixed-race children residing in Brooklyn. Devoted to his mother and half-siblings, restless and constantly in need of money, King relied on the largesse of his wealthy friends to help him support both families, never revealing his secret until he was near death. Sandweiss relies on letters, newspaper accounts, and interviews to chronicle the extraordinary story of an influential blue-eyed white man who passed for black at a time when passing generally went the other way. An engaging portrait of a man who defied social conventions but could not face up to the potential ruin of an interracial marriage. --Vanessa Bush
It reads like fiction, but it isn't. At the end of the nineteenth century, Clarence King led a double life. To his mother and friends, like statesman John Hay and author Henry Adams, he was a well-known geologist who helped map the American West. To his African-American wife, Ada, he was James Todd, a Pullman porter and the father of her five children. Lorna Raver reads with enthusiasm and a deliberate delivery. There isn't much opportunity for characterizations as Ada and Clarence/James don't speak, but Raver makes sure you don't miss a word of this well-researched story. At the end of his life Clarence/James confessed to Ada, and his friends took care of her. A feel-good story well presented. J.B.G. © AudioFile 2009, Portland, Maine --AudioFile
[Audio Review] Sandweiss (history, Princeton Univ.) presents a stunning look at the complex nature of race relations in America from the post-Civil War years through the turn of the century in this story of Clarence King, a celebrated white scientist and writer who lived a double life as a black Pullman porter and steelworker in order to marry the woman he loved. Audie Award nominee Lorna Raver (The Age of Innocence) does a credible job with this story, giving a solid but unobtrusive performance well suited to the subject matter. Recommended for listeners of historical nonfiction. Gloria Maxwell, Metropolitan Community Coll.-Penn Valley Lib., Kansas City, MO --Library Journal
“One of the best-known men of his time crosses the racial divide—in reverse.
Well-born traveler, scientist, explorer and writer Clarence King enjoyed great privilege. In the words of Western historian Sandweiss (American Studies/Amherst Coll.; Print the Legen: Photography and the American West, 2002, etc.), he went through life ‘tempted by risk and attracted to the exotic but fearful of losing the social prerogatives that defined his place in the world.’ When King returned from his globetrotting expeditions and settled down in New York to enjoy his fame as the bestselling author of Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, he embarked on a romance with an African-American woman named Ada Copeland. A young nursemaid who moved north from Georgia in the mid-1880s, she apparently met King sometime in 1887 or early 1888 while he was out ‘slumming.’ That word, the author explains, denoted a class-crossing ‘fashionable amusement,’ according to the Saturday Evening Post. King was serious about his courtship of Copeland, but it was fraught with peril for all concerned, presenting threatening possibilities for blackmail on the one hand and abandonment on the other. He decided to present himself to her as a Pullman porter named James Todd, an invented identity that ‘hinged not just on one lie but a cluster of related, duplicitous assertions.’ As Sandweiss notes in this sturdy work, which blends elements of social and intellectual history with biography, thousands of light-skinned blacks in that era tried to pass for white, but the number of those who did the opposite must have been tiny. Yet King married Copeland and gave up his cherished social privileges. She had borne him five children, and he was on his deathbed in 1901, when he finally told her the truth.
An intriguing look at long-held secrets, Jim Crow, bad faith—and also, as Sandweiss observes, ‘love and longing that transcends the historical bounds of time and place.’”
“Sandweiss (Print the Legend
) serves a delicious brew of public accomplishment and domestic intrigue in this dual biography of the geologist-explorer Clarence King (1842-1901) and Ada Copeland (c. 1861-1964), a ‘black, working-class woman’ who was ‘born a slave.’ Rendered as fiction, this true tale, would seem quite implausible-‘a model son of Newport and one of the most admired scientists in America,’ Clarence kept secret for 13 years his marriage to Ada and their apparently contented domestic life. He kept his patrician past and celebrated present concealed as well from his wife, who believed herself the wife of James Todd, a black Pullman porter. Sandweiss provides a fascinating account of King's ‘extraordinary double life as an eminent white scientist and a black workingman’; Ada's struggle ‘through the legal system to assert her rightful name, give her children their true familial history, and [unsuccessfully] claim the trust fund she believed to be hers’; and rich insights into the ‘distinctive American ideas about race’ that allowed King to ‘pass the other way across the color line, claiming African ancestry when he had none at all.’ A remarkable feat of research and reporting that covers the long century from Civil War to Civil Rights, Passing Strange
tells a uniquely American story of self- invention, love, deception and race.”
(starred review Feb.)
tells an astounding true story that would beggar most novelists’ imaginations… A fine, mesmerizing account.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“[Sandweiss is] a curious, talented writer… she tells [Clarence King’s story] with a scholar’s rigor and a storyteller’s verve… A sophisticated work of scholarship.”
—Columbia Journalism Review
--This text refers to the