These lines were not drawn under slavery; they were drawn under Jim Crow. Also, the state's definition of "colored" as a synonym for "black" is modern. It is apparent that many Creoles used the old definition, and the state (along with reporters) is assuming that they are calling themselves "black."
New York Times
SUIT ON RACE RECALLS LINES DRAWN UNDER SLAVERY
By GREGORY JAYNES (NYT) 2030 words
Published: September 30, 1982
NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 23 -
A Louisiana woman who the state contends is black has gone to court to have herself declared white, and that is but the short of it.
The story, a story as old as the country, has elements of anthropology and sociology special to this region, and its message, here in 1982 America, is that it is still far better to be white than black. Some New Orleans blacks are cheering the woman on.
Her name is Susie Guillory Phipps. She is a 48-year-old, blackhaired woman with big dark eyes, and she says she was flabbergasted and sickened to learn when she applied for a birth certificate five years ago that the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics had her down as ''colored.''
''I'm not light,'' she said, pointing to her face. ''I'm white.'' Traced Back 222 Years
So say thousands of Louisianians with Negroes in their ancestry, while thousands of others, blue-eyed and light as day, consider themselves black. In Mrs. Phipps's case, the state has traced her geneology back 222 years, to a black slave named Margarita, Mrs. Phipps's great-great-great-great grandmother.
The great-great-great-great grandfather was a white planter named John Gregoire Guillory. Louisiana law since 1970 has held that if a person has one thirty-second ''Negro blood,'' the person is black. Before 1970 ''a trace'' of Negro ancestry made a person black in the eyes of the state.
The 1970 law is the only one in the country that gives any equation for determining a person's race. Elsewhere in most of the nation, race is simply a matter of what the parents tell the authorities to record on the birth certificate, with no questions asked. The chief advocate of the Louisiana law at the time it was passed, a New Orleans lawyer who asked not to have his name published, said he was then representing a white family whose child was given a black birth certificate because when the documents came through the state office, someone ''saw the name and it alerted him to the fact that the family had a trace of Negro blood.'' A Hassle Over Fractions
The lawyer traced the family geneology and found that the child might be ''one two-hundred and fifty-sixth Negro.'' He said he had gone to the Legislature with his bill, and what followed was: ''I got into a hassle with some of them, and so they started off at one onehundred and twenty-eighth, and just to have some bargaining power I started off with an octaroon, or an eighth. We finally struck the bargain at one thirty-second, and it sailed through. There was no debate.''
''What I was trying to do was help a white person get a white birth certificate,'' the lawyer said. ''Whatever you feel on the race question, it's a fact that white people don't want to be known as colored and maybe colored people don't want to be known as white.''
Mrs. Phipps, who lives in Sulphur, La., with her husband, Andy, a white, wealthy seafood wholesaler, has spent $20,000 in legal fees trying to get the law declared unconstitutional and herself declared white. A decision is pending in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, where hearings on the matter were held last week.
The state has spent $5,000 hiring a geneological researcher and tracking Mrs. Phipps's heritage to prove she is black. Jack Westholz is the attorney for the state, and though he says he does not like the law at all, he argues that Mrs. Phipps has known for years that she is ''colored.'' Her Parents' Burial Recalled
''This is where Susie's people are from,'' said Mr. Westholz, tracing a finger on a map across tiny communities called Mowata, Frey and Iota along Bayou Mallet in southwest Louisiana. ''Now you turn off Highway 13 here at Mowata, and right by this railroad track lives a man named Daigle.''
''He wouldn't give me a deposition, but he'll tell you he remembers that little black-eyed Susie,'' Mr. Westholz continued. ''He'll tell you how she nearly caused a race riot in 1969 when she planted - he uses the word planted - her parents in the white section of the cemetery. They died two months apart.''
Mr. Daigle was not home when a reporter visited this week. Repeal of Law Called Unlikely
''My problem,'' Mr. Westholz said, ''is not whether she's black or white. My problem is how to deal with a statute that's very burdensome. I'm looking for guidelines. If she loses and I receive no guidelines, then I've lost.'' He added that the Legislature was not likely to repeal the law because the issue was too ''hot.''
The issue is as old as the Louisiana Purchase and no less heated now, nearly two centuries later. A paragraph of history would begin with the mating of the French and Spanish colonists with black slaves. These were a Roman Catholic people who accepted paternal responsibilities and set up their own system of classifying their progeny.
Some 64 terms evolved, beginning with ''mulato'' in Spanish, ''mulatre'' in French, then ''griffe,'' the offspring of mulatto and Negro, ''quadroon,'' ''octoroon,'' and ending with ''ahi-te-estas,'' meaning ''there you are.'' Records Kept by Churches
Elsewhere, Protestant slave owners simply classified each infant according to the race of the mother. In Louisiana, impeccable records of the blood mixtures were kept by the Catholic churches.
The Louisiana colonists as a matter of course freed their issue from slavery. These were known as ''free persons of color.'' On old records, Mr. Westholz says, the bayou where Mrs. Phipps was born is called a free-person-of-color community.
In New Orleans in the late 18th century, quadroon balls, at which white men selected women who were one-quarter Negro to be their concubines, were extremely popular. The 1788 New Orleans city directory lists 1,500 free women of color who lived alone in little houses near the ramparts. The law forbade marriage between a white and a descendant of a Negro, regardless of how remote the Negro ancestry was. That law was not repealed until the mid-20th century.
Dr. Munro Edmonson, a professor of anthropology at Tulane University, testified last week in Mrs. Phipps's behalf, making the points that there is no such thing as a pure race and that there is no way to determine what percentage Negro Mrs. Phipps's slave ancestor was. Thus, he says, there is no way to determine what percentage black Mrs. Phipps is.
Called Black Creoles
In an interview, Dr. Edmonson said of the so-called black creoles: ''From the time of the Louisiana Purchase the Anglo-Saxons have done their dead-level best to wipe out this group of people, and the way they've done it is to reclassify them as black. That's what this one thirty-second law is all about, and that's what laws in this state have been about going back before the Civil War. Beginning in the 1820's, restrictive laws were passed against this group. In the 1840's it was against the law for anyone free and colored to emigrate here.''
Dr. Edmonson called the present law ''nonsense.'' The free persons of color, or black creoles, gained political power in Reconstruction and held it for quite a time. In 1896 they went all the way to the United States Supreme Court in fighting a state statute requiring ''separate accommodations for white and colored persons in coaches on railroads.'' That case, Plessy v. Ferguson, resulted in the ''separate but equal'' ruling that was struck down in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education.
Many members of this ''third caste,'' as Dr. Edmonson calls it, left the state and passed for white. A Father 'Crossed the Line'
A New Orleans woman, Gladys Stevens, who had learned that her father had gone to California and lived for 40 years as a white lawyer, wrote in 1957: ''It is hard to say which had the greater impact, learning after 40-odd years that Papa was alive until 1954 or that he had 'crossed the line,' 'gone on the other side,' 'passed for white,' whatever you want to call it. I thought he was dead.''
In a 1977 pamphlet entitled ''Colored Creole, Color Conflict and Confusion in New Orleans,'' another woman, Aline St. Julien, wrote: ''My mother says I am Creole. My teacher said I am Negro. Some Europeans say I am colored, and others call me nigger. Who am I?''
Mrs. St. Julien said she was ''blissfully happy until a schoolteacher explained that Creoles were people of mixed French and Spanish decent.
''When I proudly stated to the whole class that I was a Creole, my teacher said what my mother would never say, You are a Negro,'' she continued. ''I was crushed.'' 'Look at Me - I'm White'
Mrs. Phipps said in an interview that as a child she went to a rural school with 29 relatives and that the subject of race never came up. She said she had always considered herself white, that she ''married white twice'' and that she is once and for all white. ''Look at me -I'm white,'' she said. She produced a family photograph album, going back through three generations of blue eyes.
''When I found out about the slave was last March,'' she said. ''We went to court March 2d, and when Jack told me about this Margarita person I was so sick. I was so sick.''
Mr. Westholz also took depositions from some of Mrs. Phipps's relatives, who consider themselves ''colored,'' meaning black. An aunt, Virginia Fretty, a sister of Mrs. Phipps's mother, said, ''Well, I always followed the colored.'' Another aunt, Alcina Jordan, said, ''I was raised colored.''
An uncle, Victor Jordan, explained how he knew he was colored: ''Well, we just followed them. Where they'd go, we went, and that's the way we've been raised, and that's the way after we got grown up since that's the way we went.''
Daughters Not Told
Victor and Alcina Jordan have a son, Buford, who considers himself colored, and a daughter, Beulah, who lives 10 miles away and considers herself white and has not told her daughters about the existence of her parents, who ''live colored,'' according to Mr. Westholz.
Among the many people here who are acutely attentive to this case are Dr. Dan Thompson, a black sociologist at Dillard University who is the great-grandson of a white slaveowner in Georgia, and his wife, Barbara Guillory, also a sociologist and a distant relative of Mrs. Phipps.
''I am cheering Susie Phipps on for two reasons,'' Dr. Thompson said. ''First, she is emphasizing something we've said all along: It is a great advantage to be white in American society. It costs several thousand dollars a year to be black. Schools, clubs, economic advantages are still to this day much better if you are white.''
''Secondly,'' he said, ''I hope her case will dramatize the foolishness of race as a criterion in our society. I would like to see this distinction abolished. I would like to see racial designation gone. When you apply for a job and somebody asks you your race, it's demeaning. What the hell difference does it make? You're an American citizen, period. 'Race Does Make a Difference'
''Finally, I would say race does make a difference, and if I were her, by God, I'd try to get it changed too if I could. This isn't a black woman claiming to be white. This is a white woman disclaiming to be black.''
Mrs. Phipps said in the interview, ''Take this color off my birth certificate. Let people look at me and tell me what I am.'' ''With Susie,'' said her attorney, Brian Begue, ''we are talking about self-identity. If you think of yourself a certain way and the record shows you're not, then it is important to correct that record. Secondarily, in her part of the country, colored is considered inferior.''
He said you could argue with the attitude all you want, but ''country folks are hard to get around.''