A panel of speakers met at the Konover Auditorium Thursday to discuss the 50th anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court case regarding racial equality.
The case, Loving v. Virginia, focused on anti-miscegenation laws which prohibited interracial marriage. It was brought to the court by the appropriately-named Loving family who, in 1958, were sentenced to one year in jail for their unlawful marriage. The husband, Dick Loving, was a white man trying to marry his childhood sweetheart, a black woman named Mildred Jeter.
Nine years later, the Warren Court unanimously sided in favor of the Lovings, overturning anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 states that had them on the books.
The event took the occasion to mine the complex history and social dynamics of mixed race people in America.
Thursday’s keynote speaker, Paul Spickard, a history professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, began proceedings with a discussion of the history of mixed-race Americans.
One section of Spickard’s presentation, highlighting the creation of race, featured an especially enlightening moment. The professor asked the room how many Africans were brought to America in the slave trade and many responded with numbers in the thousands or millions. In an unexpected turn, Spickard said that the number of “Africans” was zero because, before the diaspora began, these people identified as members of their local tribes. It took the domination and subjugation of Europeans to impose this term on these people and it really spoke to the lack of control people have over racial distinctions.
For Cormac Lundt, a fifth-semester economics major, the highlight of the presentation came when Spickard told the story of Pinckney B.S. Pinchback. In terms of intrigue, Pinchback’s life story mirrors his name because his political career was a truly remarkable tale. Pinchback, a mixed-race man himself, went on to be governor of Louisiana after the Civil War.
This story resonated with the some of the audience in a very strong way.
“The fact that he became governor of a southern state as a black man following the Civil War was truly amazing,” Lundt said.
The wide range of perspectives on the panel was a clear positive of the event. UConn professor Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar came at the idea of mixed race from the perspective of its utility in our country.
He cited examples of light-skinned black individuals being “black” within their family and then “white” in their professional lives. This kind of dual personality is reminiscent of the code-switching sketch in season one of Key & Peele, a show that was also referenced in Spickard’s presentation.
Another perspective of the mixed-race issue came from Micki McElya, who attempted to analogize the marriage equality on the grounds of race to marriage equality for same-sex partners.
For the closing act, Sean Forbes, assistant English professor in residence at UConn, explained his own complex background as a mixed race and homosexual man. Forbes’ eloquence was clearly the reason for him going last, because the room was locked in while he spoke.
Thursday’s event highlighted a topic that is often overlooked and brought a panel of wide-ranging perspectives to get to the bottom of the mixed race discussion.
Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.