- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Press; 1St Edition edition (February 17, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594202826
- ISBN-13: 978-1594202827
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#1,297,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #3517 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Specific Demographics > Ethnic Studies
- #5157 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Sociology > Race Relations > Discrimination & Racism
- #6592 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Specific Demographics > African-American Studies
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The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White Hardcover – February 17, 2011
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*Starred Review* Many persons of African American heritage but white appearance crossed the color line at times when racial classification had very real and harsh implications. Legal scholar Sharfstein chronicles the lives of three such families who made the transition from black to white during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Gibsons started as landowners in South Carolina�s backcountry and became wealthy slaveholders and part of the southern elite, producing a senator and a major figure in American commerce. The Spencers owned farmland in eastern Kentucky and eventually Appalachia, scratching out a life as part of an isolated community, in which families were loathe to set hard racial definitions until coal mining and outsiders pressed the broader social mores of the U.S. The Walls gravitated to post�Civil War Washington, DC, and became part of the black elite that challenged racial restrictions until they could no longer resist the temptation to take advantage of the escape their fair skin afforded them. Drawing on archival material, Sharfstein constructs an absorbing history, demonstrating the fluidity and arbitrariness of racial classification. --Vanessa Bush
"The Invisible Line offers a trilogy of remarkable tales brimming with risk taking, camouflage, irony, narrow escapes, misgivings, regret, delight, and full-scale human drama. Excellent histories have been published about the Great Migration of twentieth-century African Americans from the rural South to the urban North, but, until now, no authoritative and cumulative work has looked at this preceding and overlapping social movement of race changing. This book overthrows nearly everything Americans thought they knew about race."
-Melissa Fay Greene, author of Praying for Sheetrock and There Is No Me Without You
"An original and often startling look at the vagaries of the 'color line.' Sharfstein shows definitively that it was not a doctrinaire belief in racial purity that gave the South stability but rather a fluid understanding by its people and its institutions of racial difference and its multiple permutations."
-Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
"Sharfstein brings his original research alive with a novelist's eye for vivid detail and narrative. A groundbreaking work that will stir reflection and debate."
-Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club
"With lively prose and remarkable research, Sharfstein creates a fresh and stirring epic of American life. He weaves the vexing problem of race into the very fabric of national life and shows just how unsteady and complicated racial identity can be."
-Martha A. Sandweiss, author of Passing Strange
"A tremendous contribution to our understanding of the role of race in American history . . . One of those rare books that make history come alive."."
-Lawrence M. Friedman, Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor, Stanford Law School; author of A History of American Law
"Deeply intertwined in the American story of race are these stories of camouflaged families and their passages across the color line. Daniel Sharfstein disentangles them with eloquence and compassion."
-David K. Shipler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Country of Strangers
"A beautifully written book that reveals not only how the law has shaped American ideas about race but also how the complexity of human experience has pushed against the rigid boundaries of our legal categories."
-Mark S. Weiner, professor of law, Rutgers-Newark School of Law; author of Black Trials
"Brilliant . . . a true American story. Its consequences pervade the American past and shadow its future."
-Ira Berlin, professor of history at the University of Maryland, author of The Making African America
"A must-read for all serious students of the race line in American life, written with care, verve, sophistication, and enormous learning."
--Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law, Harvard University
"A powerful indictment of one of America's most enduring myths. Written with a novelist's eye for fascinating characters and rich sense of place and a scholar's precision and panoramic perspective, The Invisible Line makes visible the shifting artificial nature of the "color line" and its dire, life-changing consequences. Read this book if you want to understand the roots of our knotted racial history. Read this book if you hope to untangle it."
--Bliss Broyard, author of One Drop
Top customer reviews
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The book is eminently readable, and tells the story of three American families, all of whom crossed the color line at some point, many never looked back. Its gripping tale of family history reminded me of Anthony Lukas' stellar book on Boston's busing struggles, Common Ground - both books use personal family stories to shed light on how attitudes towards race evolve and change and shape each of us.
Highly recommended for adults, but also a great read for college and high school students.
The book also vividly describes the social, political, and legal forces that helped shape the definitions of race from the founding of the U.S. through the early part of the 20th century. The story is so much more complicated than I ever appreciated. This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the nature of race in the United States.
John Van Ness
Allen County , Kentucky