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Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820-1920 [Hardcover]

By James M. O'Toole (Author)
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Item Number 121752  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   284
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.46" Width: 6.38" Height: 1.03"
Weight:   1.49 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jun 30, 2002
Publisher   University of Massachusetts Press
ISBN  1558493417  
EAN  9781558493414  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
"O'Toole tells the remarkably well documented story of an American family negotiating the terrain of race and ethnicity in the nineteenth century. Working at the intersection of church history and racial and ethnic history, he demonstrates that racial categories have been more fluid than law and custom admit. The Healys found freedom and extraordinary achievement by embracing their Irish heritage and the Catholic faith, while distancing themselves from their African roots and slave status. This important book presents a more complex American racial past and contributes to our understanding of the challenges of a multiracial future."--Lois E. Horton and James Oliver Horton, authors of "In Hope of Liberty and Black Bostonians"

"O'Toole places into context the Healys' decision to live life as a White family, turning their backs on their mother's lineage. Should they have proudly asserted their Black heritage? Could they? And whom would that have helped? While 'Passing for White' is a thorough work of history, O'Toole manages to keep the material readable. . . . The story is the thing. And it is a great story."--(Cleveland) Call and Post

"A remarkably interesting story. The research is very impressive in both thoroughness and scope. I know of no book that is anywhere near as complete in its extraordinary story of an entire family in the United States when the nation was so heavily, both historically and fundamentally, a bi- rather than multiple-'racial' society."--Winthrop D. Jordan, author of "White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550--1812"

"This book is enormously informative on the subject of race and religion in the nineteenth century, beautifully told and superbly researched. . . . It will be one of the best books we have on nineteenth-century Catholic history and an important study for the rapidly growing field of 'racial' identity."--John T. McGreevy, author of "Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth-Century Urban North"

"[A] lucid, riveting work. . . . I cannot begin to indicate the importance of this work for what it tells us about the Catholic Church in nineteenth-century America or about race relations. O'Toole is to be commended for a fine, well-balanced work that examines an issue that the Church wrestles with even today."--St. Anthony's Messenger

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More About James M. O'Toole

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! James M. O'Toole is Clough Millennium Professor of History, Boston College.

James M. O'Toole currently resides in the state of Massachusetts. James M. O'Toole was born in 1950 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Boston College.

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Passing for White: Race, Religion, and The Healy Family, 1820-1920  Feb 3, 2008
I first learned of the Healy family in January 1959, when I paged through the new 12 month Catholic calendar. Each month was devoted to a 19th century Catholic who made a significant contribution to American Catholic life. One of the individuals was James Augustine Healy. The short description said that James Healy was the first American negro (the acceptable for Blacks or African Americans in 1959) to be ordained a priest; and that he later became Bishop of Portland Maine (certainly another first), where he provided distinguished leadership in pastoral work, education, social advocacy, and public welfare. The commentary went on to report that James was born in Georgia to an Irish-born white father and a black slave woman. Nothing was mentioned of any siblings, the names of his parents, or how he got from Georgia to Maine.

My immediate reaction was a mild (to myself) comment, "Isn't that interesting."

Over the years I learned more bits and pieces about the famous Irish-American Healy family --- and what a family! . I learned that two other Healy brothers were prominent American priests --- the Jesuit, Patrick Francis Healy, being the one time president of Georgetown University; and Alexander Sherwood Healy, a canon law expert in the diocese of Boston. From James Michner's Alaska, I learned that that another Healy sibling, Michael Healy, was a famous captain of the BEAR, a US Coast Guard in vessel operating in the Alaskan waters. And later still I learned that two Healy sisters became nuns with one of them attaining the rank of mother Superior in her community.

But then I learned so much more from Passing for White: Race, Religion, and The Healy Family, 1820-1920 by James M. O'Toole.

Indeed the founder of this family was Michael Morris Healy, born in Ireland (Galway or Roscommon) in 1796. Sometime in the early 1800s he acquired land near present day Macon Georgia, and became a cotton plantation owner. And yes he acquired slaves to work the plantation, including one Eliza Clark.

Unlike other slave owners, Michael did not have a wife in the big house and a concubine in the slave quarters. Laws during the slavery era prohibited interracial marriages, but Michael and Eliza carried out their family life as husband and wife until their death in 1850 (Eliza's death preceded Michael's by about three months.) Their union produced nine children who survived to adulthood. (One died in infancy)

The Healy children were never treated as slaves, but under contemporary Georgia law, they were indeed slaves. Why? A person's slave-status was determined from the status of the mother. Knowing this, Michael Healy began to send children North for their schooling. James was first to move North, followed by brothers Sherwood, Patrick, Hugh (another brother), Michael, and sister Martha Ann. Later, after the death of the parents in 1870 the younger children Amanda Josephine, Eliza Dunamore, and Eugene moved North -- with Hugh's able assistance.

All this was happening when the Fugitive Slave Act was the law of the land. Technically all the Healys were runaway slaves subject to apprehension and the law's subsequent Draconian consequences.

Hugh was the only one of the Healy siblings to ever return to Georgia. By returning in 1851 to retrieve three youngest siblings he placed himself at great personal risk. Under the Fugitive Slave Act, a Black person living north of the Maxon Dixon line was at great personal risk. But the risk of a Black person, technically a runaway, returning to Macon Georgia!

O'Toole goes on to chronicle the many achievements and to a lesser extent the disappointments of the Healy clan. I won't list them in this review. Read them for yourself. But the title, PASSING FOR WHITE give us a hint of the Healys's lives in 19th century Catholic America. According to O'Toole the Healys did not deny or hide their black origin, many know of it. But the Healys managed to redefine themselves Irish-Catholic Americans.

But that's enough from me. O'Toole's Passing for White .. Is a fascinating, well written, and well-researched (34 pages of end notes and a 17 page Bibliography) work. I don't want to give away the entire book's content. Learn for yourself about this distinguished Irish-American and African-American family.

Ed Murphy
Good view of "passing"  Mar 15, 2006
I'm somewhat biased from having studied under Dr O'Toole who is a friendly and generous scholar. That said this book is a good microhistory of one families experience at "passing". There's a fairly deft handling here of identity politics as the Healy sibling redefined themselves from being Black to being Catholic and white. There is an assumption that the siblings Black heritage should be just as important as their Irish heritage, and at times the book is a little sad as many of the Healy siblings very forcefully turn their back on their former Black identity. The book is fascinating both as the reconstruction of a 19th century family (which is the direction from which I approached it) and as an examination of the fluid nature of identity in America.
Irish American - NOT African American  May 2, 2003
Michael Morris Healy, an Irish immigrant, arrives in the United States around 1815 and establishes a plantation near Macon, Georgia. Healy and his mulatto common-law wife, Eliza Clark Healy, have 10 children. All of the children are sent North to be educated, baptized as Catholics, and leave any social disabilities of Georgia behind them. The children achieve great success as Irish-Americans:

James Augustine Healy became Bishop of Portland, Maine

Patrick Francis Healy became the rector then President of Georgetown University (1873-1881).

Michael Morris Healy, Jr. joined the United States Revenue Cutter Service, becoming a celebrated sea captain, the sole representative of the U.S. government in the vast reaches of Alaska.

Alexander Sherwood Healy also became a priest, director of the seminary in Troy, New York and rector of the Cathedral in Boston

Three sisters became nuns, one a Mother Superior.

It must be emphasized that the Healy offspring were accepted as Irish American and "white" (whatever that means). The positions they obtained could not have been theirs if they had been black or even dark-skinned. Many other "white" people who knew about the Healys' mixed-race origins accepted them as Irish-Americans. Are the Healys therefore entitled to be counted among the ranks of Irish-Americans and included in Irish-American history? YES! The family was IRISH-AMERICAN, not "African American." There was nothing "African" about them.

The Healy family's achievements do not show what "blacks" could do in the 19th century because they were NOT BLACK.

O'Toole's racist devotion to the "one drop" myth blinds him to racial reality in the 19th century. He assumes that the "one drop" myth was law and universally accepted by "whites." It wasn't. Any research into racial classification laws in the 19th century would have shown him that various degrees of "negro blood" were accepted into the "white race," even in the Deep South. Also, the combination of a person's looks and the reputation he had established were all taken into consideration in determining whether one was "white" or not. It is obvious that the Healy family siblings succeeded in establishing themselves as second-generation Irish Americans. O'Toole cannot bear this and insists that the Healy siblings were really "African Americans." He also calls their mother, Eliza, an "African American" even though her ancestry was at least half European.

O'Toole assumes that all "whites" believed in "mulatto inferiority" or the doctrine that mixed-race people are biologically inferior to BOTH or ALL "pure" parental groups. He is too ignorant to understand that this doctrine was created as a defense of slavery by pro-slavery intellectuals who wanted to counter the Northern anti-slavery argument that, if slavery is justified on the basis of "race," then "white" slaves should be automatically free because the negro racial "taint" had been effectively bred out of the line. Lawrence Tenzer explains the origins of this doctrine very well in his book The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue. O'Toole would do well to sit at Tenzer's feet and learn something. O'Toole follows the usual liberal excuse of claiming that "society" defined the Healy family as "black," but expresses wonderment at the fact that "whites" who knew about the Healys' mixed ancestry still treated them as "white." O'Toole is amazed that establishing a "white" identity was so easy for the Healys. Could it be because they WERE white, despite their "drop" of "black blood"?

Captain Healy married Mary Ann Roach, herself the daughter of Irish immigrants. One of the sisters who married and produced a large family also married a fellow Irish-American. The Healys were practicing endogamy, not "interracial" marriage:

Captain Michael Healy repeatedly referred to white settlers [in Alaska] as "our people.". His teenage son Fred, who accompanied his father on a voyage in 1883, scratched his name into a rock on a remote island above the Arctic Circle, proudly telling his diary that he was the first "white boy" to do so.

The Healy family saga belongs with the history of IRISH-AMERICANS.Passing for Who You Really Are
The Survival of Bigotry  Apr 25, 2003
The large, extremely intelligent, and admirable Healy family is treated badly by an author who doubts the sincerity of vocations and religion in general. Far from "passing for white," the Healy brothers suffered double persecution; by birth they were despised as both Irish and African, and by religion they were despised as Catholic in a virulantly anti-Catholic America. They were illegitimate according to American laws, though they were legitimate in a Europe that accepted the interracial marriage of their parents. Patrick Healy became a Jesuit not to "pass for white," but out of love. He became President of Georgetown University. James and Sherwood Healy became secular priests, and James died Bishop of Portland, Maine. This author is as narrow-minded as 19th c. "Know Nothing" Nativists in his attitude towards truly good people.
So That's Where These Ideas are Coming From!  Feb 8, 2003
This book opened my eyes to what's been going on even in the 21st century in this country. I've been experiencing something of a struggle like that family's my entire life, but it took reading about it during that particular period in history to understand where today's societal attitudes are coming from. Nothing has changed. Blacks still treat you like you're trying to "pass for white" just by becoming a nun or a monk. And that explains all the racial problems, tensions, and attempted violence that goes with it; black society's resistance to the religious orders has taken even more of a nasty turn in the last century than in the one before it.

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