The Secret History of Race in the United States
Sharfstein, Daniel J.
"Spencer v. Looney" was one of dozens of cases decided in the eras of slavery and segregation that hinged on the question of whether a plaintiff or defendant was white or black. During the past decade, legal historians have begun to excavate these bygone disputes, which involved wills, marriage and divorce, transportation, immigration and naturalization, and libel and slander. With few exceptions, two goals have motivated recent scholarship: proving that race is a social construction and showing how courts in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries helped build America's racial infrastructure. This Essay presents a more complex picture of race in the post-Reconstruction South in an attempt to develop a richer understanding of how the law of race worked.