“Jungle Fever” by the Mills Brothers, plus Female Blackface, from the Civil War Film “Operator 13″

This video is from the 1934 Civil War film Operator 13, which features the Mills Brothers. As noted in Wikipedia, the Mills, from southwestern Ohio, were “an American jazz and pop vocal quartet of the 20th century who made more than 2,000 recordings that combined sold more than 50 million copies, and garnered at least three dozen gold records.” The Mills had phenomenal success in America and Europe, but sadly, are not well known today.

Set amidst a sea of black faces, the Mills perform the song Jungle Fever as part of a Civil War era minstrel show. The song is an ode to the African homeland, albeit with lyrics that some might say reinforce stereotypes of Africans as animalistic and primitive:

Jungle Fever lyrics:

Ever see the Congo when it’s steaming in the night?
Ever hear the jungle with the animals in fright?
Put me in the Congo in the jungle and I’m right.

(chorus)I got that fever that jungle fever
You know the reason that I long to go

Dusky maiden, dark haired siren
Congo sweetheart
I’m comin’ back to you

Wild eyed woman, native dreamgirl
Jungle fever is in my blood for you

Every hear a kettle drum
Pounding out of beat
Ever fight the silence
And the madness and the heat
That’s the thrill I’m cravin’
And the music is so sweet

Oh, the congos callin’
And I’m longin’ to go

This clip is from the curious film Operator 13, starring Marion Davies and Gary Cooper. The movie is about a white woman (Davies) who, in a portion of the film, uses blackface to disguise herself as a slave in order to spy on the Confederates! I’m not making this up.


Marion Davies, at left, made-up as a slave in the movie “Operator 13″
Source: DoctorMacro.com

As noted in the Wikipedia description of the film,

Operator 13 is a 1934 American romance film directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Marion Davies, Gary Cooper, and Jean Parker. Based on stories written by Robert W. Chambers, the film is about a Union spy who impersonates a black maid in the early days of the Civil War, but complications arise when she falls in love with a Confederate officer.The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.

PLOT: Shortly after the Battle of Bull Run, the Union forces are in retreat. In a US Military Hospital, the Pauline Cushman Players are performing for wounded soldiers. Pauline the spy who works for Allen Pinkerton persuades Gail (Marion Davies) to become a spy for the Union cause, under the code name Operator 13. (Allen Pinkerton headed the Union Intelligence Service and was in charge of spying and other activities for the United States during the Civil War.)

Gail, in blackface as a disguise, accompanies Pauline as her African American maid (so-called “octaroon” the out-of-date term for a person of 1/8th African ancestry) and while washing General Stuart’s clothes, hears he will attend a ball that night. At the ball, Captain Gailliard suspects that Pauline is a spy and finds evidence in her room. Pauline, trying to flee is arrested and is to be a witness against Gail who is later sentenced to death. Both women manage to escape to the Union lines.

After the women escape, the Gail character eschew her blackface role and gets romantic with Gary Cooper, who plays a Confederate officer.


Marion Davies as a blond with Gary Cooper, from the movie “Operator 13.” It seems like – dare I say it? – blonds do have more fun.
Source: DoctorMacro.com
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Please Choose One…


US Census Results, 1790; Source: US Census Bureau
The “All other free persons” column provides a count of free African Americans

Mixed Race Studies.org, a blog/website for “scholarly perspectives on the mixed race experience,” has a listing of the racial categories that have been used on the US Census. The names of the racial categories for people of African descent have changed much over the years; refer to the italicized items in the list.

US Census Race Categories, 1790-2010 (US Census Race Categories as Listed on Survey Forms, 1790-2010)

1790-Free White Males; Free White Females; All Other Free Persons; Slaves
1800-Free White Males; Free White Females; All Other Free Persons, except Indians Not Taxed; Slaves
1810-Free White Males; Free White Females; All Other Free Persons; except Indians Not Taxed; Slaves
1820-Free White Males; Free White Females; Free Colored Persons, All other persons, except Indians Not Taxed; Slaves
1830-Free White Persons; Free Colored Persons; Slaves
1840-Free White Persons; Free Colored Persons; Slaves
1850-Black; Mulatto [a]
1860-Black; Mulatto; (Indian) [b],
1870-White; Black; Mulatto; Chinese; Indian
1880-White; Black; Mulatto; Chinese; Indian
1890-White; Black; Mulatto; Quadroon; Octoroon; Chinese; Japanese; Indian
1900-White; Black; Chinese; Japanese; Indian
1910-White; Black; Mulatto; Chinese; Japanese; Indian; Other
1920-White; Black; Mulatto; Indian; Chinese; Japanese; Filipino; Hindu; Korean; Other
1930-White; Negro; Mexican; Indian; Chinese; Japanese; Filipino; Hindu; Korean; (Other races, spell out in full)
1940-White; Negro; Indian; Chinese; Japanese; Filipino; Hindu; Korean; (Other races, spell out in full)
1950-White; Negro; Indian; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; (Other race-spell out)
1960-White; Negro; American Indian; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; Hawaiian; Part-Hawaiian; Aleut Eskimo, etc.
1970-White; Negro or Black; American Indian; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; Hawaiian; Korean; Other (print race)
1980-White; Negro or Black; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; Korean; Vietnamese; American Indian; Asian Indian; Hawaiian; Guamanian; Samoan; Eskimo; Aleut; Other (specify)
1990-White; Black or Negro; American Indian; Eskimo; Aleut; Chinese; Filipino; Hawaiian; Korean; Vietnamese; Japanese; Asian Indian; Samoan; Guamanian; Other API (Asian or Pacific Islander); Other race
2000-White; Black, African American, or Negro; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; Other Asian (Print Race); Other Pacific Islander (Print Race); Some other race (Print Race)
2010-White; Black, African American, or Negro; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; Other Asian (Print Race); Other Pacific Islander (Print Race); Some other race (Print Race) [c]
Note. Categories are presented in the order in which they appeared on schedules.

[a] ln 1850 and 1860, free persons were enumerated on schedules for “free inhabitants”; slaves were enumerated on schedules designated for “slave inhabitants.” On the free- inhabitants schedule, instructions to enumerators read, in part: “In all cases where the person is white leave the space blank in the column marked ‘Color.’ ”

[b] Although “Indian” was not listed on the Census schedule, the instructions read: “ ‘Indians’-lndians not taxed are not to be enumerated. The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under State or Territorial laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated. In all such cases write ‘Ind.’ opposite their names, in column 6, under heading ‘Color.’ ”

Sources:
• M. Nobles. History counts: a comparative analysis of racial/color categorization in US and Brazilian Censuses. Amercan Journal of Public Health. 2000;90:1738-45.
• University of Virginia. United States Historical Census Data Browser.

[c] 2010Census.gov

Confederate Secretary of War: Negroes Can’t be Soldiers… Unless They Can Pass for White

During the Civil War, it was generally understood in the Confederacy that negroes – “blacks” – would not or could not be used as soldiers. However, a question arose in 1863: what about using mixed-race people for soldiers?

Mobile, Alabama, along with New Orleans and Charleston, were Confederate cities with a sizable mixed-race population. Mixed-race people in the southern portions of Louisiana and Alabama were often called creoles or black creoles. Many of them were so light that they could pass for white, and often had much more in common with their white cousins than with their black cousins. Importantly, many of these creoles wanted to serve in the armed forces of the Confederate States of America (CSA).

This led Dabney H. Maury, a CSA Major-General, to formally request that creoles be used as soldiers in the CSA armed forces. This is his request, followed by the answer he got from the Confederate government:

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,
Mobile, Ala., November 7, 1863.
General SAMUEL COOPER,
Adjt. and Insp. Gen., C.S. Army, Richmond, Va.:

GENERAL: I again call your attention to my request to accept into the Confederate service the company of creoles of Mobile, because I think that perhaps the War Department is not exactly informed about the people I have reference to. When Spain ceded this territory to the United States in 1803, the creoles were guaranteed all the immunities and privileges of the citizens of the United States, and have continued to enjoy them up to this time. They have, many of them, negro blood in the degree which disqualifies other persons of negro race from the rights of citizens, but they do not stand here on the footing of negroes. They are very anxious to enter the Confederate service, and I propose to make heavy artillerists of them, for which they will be admirably qualified. Please let me hear at your earliest convenience if I may have them enrolled in a company, or in companies if I can find enough of them to make more than one company.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
DABNEY H. MAURY,
Major-General.

[First indorsement.]
ADJUTANT AND INSPECTOR GENERAL’S OFFICE,
November 20, 1863.
Respectfully submitted to the Secretary of War. An application to have a company of creoles at Mobile accepted into Confederate service.
By order, &c.:
JOHN W. RIELY,
Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General.

[Second indorsement.]
[NOVEMBER] 24, 1863.
Our position with the North and before the world will not allow the employment as armed soldiers of negroes.If these creoles can be naturally and properly discriminated from negroes, the authority may be considered as conferred; otherwise not, unless you can enlist them as “navvies” (to use the English term) or for subordinate working purposes.
J. A. S.,
Secretary.

Source: Official Records of the Rebellion, series 4, volume 2, page 941

The J. A. S in the above is CSA Secretary of War James Seddon. Seddon is asked: can we use freemen as soldiers? Seddon’s reply: no… unless they can pass for white (which many creoles could do).

I guess this is the Confederate version of don’t ask, don’t tell.

But just as gays were denied participation in the military under the don’t ask, don’t tell rules, so too were mixed race people denied under Confederate policy. One has to wonder how the creoles, who were willing to risk their lives in service to their nation, felt after being reminded of their “place” in Confederate society.

****
navvy -Brit., dated: a laborer employed in the excavation and construction of a road, railroad, or canal.
ORIGIN early 19th cent.: abbreviation of navigator.

The Octoroon, a Tragic Mulatto Tale of the Old South

The Octoroon is a tragic mulatto play by Irish playwright and actor Dion Boucicault. It opened on Broadway in 1859, just a few years before the American Civil War. The play was based on Mayne Reid’s novel, The Quadroon, and the incidents relating to the murder of the slave in Albany Fonblanque’s novel, The Filibuster.

Wikipedia describes the tragic mulatto genre:

The Tragic mulatto is a stereotypical fictional character that appeared in American literature during the 19th and 20th centuries. The “tragic mulatto” is an archetypical mixed race person (a “mulatto”), who is assumed to be sad or even suicidal because he/she fails to completely fit in the “white world” or the “black world”. As such, the “tragic mulatto” is depicted as the victim of the society he/she lives in, a society divided by race. Because of society’s reluctance to acknowledge ambiguity in racial classifications, this character is particularly vulnerable.

The “tragic mulatta” figure is a woman of biracial heritage who must endure the hardships of African-Americans in the antebellum South, even though she may look white enough that her ethnicity is not immediately obvious. As the name implies, tragic mulattas almost always meet a bad end.

Generally, the tragic mulatta archetype falls into one of three categories:
• A woman who can “pass” for white attempts to do so, is accepted as white by society and falls in love with a white man. Eventually, her status as a bi-racial person is revealed and the story ends in tragedy.
• A woman appears to be white. She has suffered little hardship in her life, but upon the revelation that she is mixed race, she loses her social standing.
• A woman who has all the social graces that come along with being a middle-class or upper-class white woman is nonetheless subjected to slavery.

The play centers around its heroine Zoe, a Louisiana octoroon in the pre-Civil War era. An octoroon is a person who has one biracial grandparent, while the other three grandparents are white. An octoroon is the child of a white parent and a quadroon parent. A quadroon is the child of a white parent and a biracial parent.

Octoroons are very often light enough to appear white. However, under the era’s one-drop rule, they were considered black. Additionally, any child born to a slave was automatically considered a slave. So, an octoroon born to a quadroon mother, where the quadroon mother was born to a biracial slave mother, was herself a slave.

Zoe lives on the Louisiana slave plantation of the late Judge Peyton and his wife, Mrs. Peyton. Due to financial problems, Mrs. Peyton is being forced to sell the plantation and its slaves. Zoe is the daughter of Judge Peyton through one of the slaves. Zoe is light enough that she appears white. Zoe was raised as, and grew-up believing, she was a freewoman, but learns during the play that she is legally a slave.

The hero of the play is George, the nephew of Mrs. Peyton, who visits the plantation after an extended stay in France. George falls in love with Zoe, and he proposes to her. However, Zoe rejects the proposition, pointing out that the law prevents a white man from marrying a “black” woman. George offers to take her to a different country, but Zoe says wishes to stay with the plantation.

The villain of the play is Jacob McClosky, a scoundrel whose under-handed dealings with the late Judge Peyton led to the plantation’s financial problems. McClosky desires Zoe for himself, but she rejects him. He plots to have her sold with the plantation and the rest of the slaves, and then buy her and make her his mistress.

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