A Project of Boston College Magazine

Loading the player ...

Format: Lecture followed by Q&A
Length: 58


Date: December 4, 2002

Location: Cushing Hall 101, Boston College

Sponsor(s): ;

URL: http://frontrow.bc.edu/program/otoole/

The information on this page is accurate as of December 2002

Program Notes

By Michelle Baildon
Scholarly Communications Reference Librarian
O'Neill Library, Boston College

Web Resources Books

table of contents


Tangled Roots


The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Abolition, Resistance and Slavery at Yale University sponsors this research project on "the shared history of African Americans and Irish Americans." The project's website offers an overview of relevant topics (including the racial identity of Healy family members), access to a large collection of primary source documents, and links to related resources.

Frontline: Mixed Race America


Part of a website designed to accompany the PBS Frontline episode "Jefferson's Blood," this page offers links to sites about racial definition (including the "one drop rule" and census categories), interracial relationships, and racial "passing."

Frontline: Secret Daughter


Frontline producer June Cross, a woman of mixed-race heritage, was given up by her Caucasian mother when she became "too dark to pass for white." An episode of the PBS program told Cross's story, which this companion site relates, including audio excerpts from the program. The site also includes profiles of other mixed-raced Americans, a discussion forum, and links to several relevant readings. The author of the section "The Blurred Racial Lines of Famous Families" is overly confident in (and rather fixated on) racial physiognomic differences—take this with a grain of salt.

Digital History


Although designed for K-12 educators, this site's wealth of resources should interest all users. The project is a joint venture of the University of Houston; the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the National Park Service; and the Project for the Active Teaching of American History.

Primary Sources: Slavery


Concise encyclopedia entries and primary sources (mostly first-person accounts) illustrate such topics as slave culture, punishment, resistance, flight, and emancipation.

A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln


Topics covered by this online exhibition include "the institution of slavery, the fierce sectionalism of free and slave economies in the rapidly expanding country, and the destructive power of the Civil War." The site's text was written by Professor Eric Foner of Columbia University and Olivia Mahoney, the Director of Historical Documentation at the Chicago Historical Society.

America's Reconstruction


Topics covered by this online exhibition include the start of Reconstruction during the Civil War, black and white responses to the end of slavery, the development of a free labor system, the politics of Reconstruction, Reconstruction's end, and the failure of Reconstruction to end Southern white supremacy. The site's text was written by Professor Eric Foner of Columbia University and Olivia Mahoney, the Director of Historical Documentation at the Chicago Historical Society.

Resource Guides


These chronological and topical guides feature historical overviews and links to readings, primary sources, and teaching, audio, and visual resources. Among them are resource guides to the history of:


the Antebellum Era


the "color line"

Hypertext History: American Catholics, 1820-1860


This brief textbook entry describes discrimination faced by Catholics in the United States.

Timeline of Black Catholic History in the United States


The accomplishments of the three ordained Healy brothers are among the milestones mentioned in this timeline by Tara K. Dix, which originally appeared in the August 2002 issue of U.S. Catholic. The timeline draws from Cyprian Davis's The History of Black Catholics in the United States.

William and Ellen Craft


From the website of the Boston African-American National Historic Site, these pages offer a brief biography of the Crafts, a fugitive slave couple who fled Macon, Georgia (birthplace of the Healys) for Boston in 1849. During their escape, Ellen performed a double passing, masquerading as a white man and master to William.

More About the Healys

American Memory Today in History: Patrick Francis Healy Inaugurated


From the Library of Congress's American Memory "Today in History" resource, the entry for July 31 outlines Patrick Healy's achievement in shaping Georgetown into a modern university.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception: Most Rev. James A. Healy, D.D.


The website of the Portland, Maine cathedral where James Healey was bishop for a quarter century includes this brief biographical note, which stresses Healey's accomplishments in the diocese.

Georgetown University Libraries Special Collections: Reverend Patrick F. Healy, S.J.


Not only Patrick (the former Georgetown president), but also his three eldest brothers, are briefly described on this page from the Georgetown University Lauinger Library Special Collections Division.

U.S.C.G.C. Healy: Healy History


A concise chronicle of the life of "Hell Roaring Mike" appears on the website of Michael Healy's nautical namesake, the U.S. Coast Guard's U.S.C.G.C. Healy.

table of contents


"Passing Free"


This essay from the Summer 2003 issue of Boston College Magazine, adapted from James O'Toole's book Passing for White, looks at how the Healys—black in the south, Irish in the north—slipped the bonds of race in Civil War America.

Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom


William and Ellen Craft share the details of their amazing escape from slavery in this 1860 memoir.

The History of Jim Crow: Passing Narratives


Several narratives collected by Professor Wendy Ann Gaudin of Xavier University relate the experiences of people of mixed race who "passed" as white in Jim Crow New Orleans. The page is part of a teacher resource guide from a site for educators produced in conjunction with a PBS documentary.

The House Behind the Cedars


Charles Waddell Chesnutt's 1900 novel about mixed-race siblings who live in white society explores the issues of "passing" and miscegenation.

No Cross, No Crown: Black Nuns in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans


Between 1894 and 1896, Sister Mary Bernard Deggs wrote this history of the Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious community of African American and Creole women founded in 1842 in New Orleans. The Indiana University Press presents the first chapter (http://www.indiana.edu/~iupress/books/0-253-21543-9 3.pdf) online.

Africans in America: Judgment Day Resource Bank


Part of a companion site to a PBS documentary, this page lists links to short essays and primary source material about antebellum slavery, abolitionism, fugitive slaves and Northern racism, westward expansion, and the Civil War.

The Debate Over Slavery


A classroom resource for a George Mason University U.S. history survey course, this page includes several documents representing arguments from the19th-century both for and against slavery.

table of contents


Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s

In this foundational text in racial theory, sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant maintain that race has been central to structuring American politics and society, a situation that ideologies of class, ethnicity, and nationality have masked. Race is a complex social concept, they argue, that is in a continual state of transformation and definition through political and social negotiation and struggle.

Brown: The Last Discovery of America

"I write about race in hope of undermining the notion of race in America," Richard Rodriguez writes in this memoir. America's racial lines have always been hybrid, he argues, using the color brown as a metaphor for mixed and borderline states of being.

Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race

Matthew Frye Jacobson's nimble social and cultural history of "whiteness" elucidates the proliferation of racial categories during the period of "new immigration" from Ireland and Southern and Eastern Europe. From the mid-19th through the early 20th century, the "Caucasian" category fractured, and "Celts," "Semites," "Slavs," "Anglo-Saxon," and others emerged as new races. Jacobson argues that "by far the most powerful language of racial differentiation applied to the Irish," who, like African Americans, were considered to have "primitive" physiognomy and character.

Passing and the Fictions of Identity

Literary and cultural scholars have given "passing" more sustained attention than have historians. This collection, edited by Elaine K. Ginsberg, originates from a call for papers for the annual Modern Language Association convention. Ten essays about the fluidity of identity address gender, sexuality, and nationality in addition to race.

Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves

Ira Berlin extends his earlier award-winning history of slavery Many Thousands Gone through the entire history of American slavery. Berlin integrates the abominable institution into a wider American history. Two of the strengths of his analysis are its regional specificity and his premise that race and slavery are dynamic, historically constructed, and continually negotiated.

Domesticating Slavery: The Master Class in Georgia and South Carolina, 1670-1837

With his model of "corporate individualism," Jeffrey Robert Young sets out to reconcile the two dominant historical interpretations of Southern slaveholders, one depicting them as paternalistic masters and the other as profit-oriented capitalists. Young contends that slaveholders' worldview put society's supposed greater good ahead of individual freedom, requiring slaves' subordination in a system of racial hierarchy.

The Irish in the South, 1815-1877

The Irish are the "forgotten people of the Old South," argues David T. Gleeson. He claims that Irish immigrants enjoyed greater economic opportunity in the South than in other regions of North America—opportunity grounded in slavery, though few Irish ever became slaveholders. Irish immigrants also experienced readier racial and ethnic acceptance in the South, Gleeson contends, and this integration was facilitated by the assistance of the Catholic Church and by Irish immigrants' embrace of slavery and white supremacy. Although Gleeson should perhaps have lent more credence to recent studies of the racial formation of Irish immigrants as "white" Americans, and might also have advanced a more nuanced conceptualization of the contingency and mutability of racial and ethnic identity, he makes an important contribution by studying this neglected group.

The Irish Catholic Diaspora in America

Lawrence J. McCaffrey's survey of the social history of Irish immigrants in the United States stresses the centrality of Catholicism to Irish ethnicity and as the root of anti-Irish prejudice; Irish Americans' attempts to reconcile their religious loyalties with liberal-democratic politics; the recent diminishing of Catholicism as a component of Irish American identity; and the links between Ireland, Britain, and the United States that have stemmed from the diaspora.

Catholicism and American Freedom: A History

Stressing family, community, and tradition over individual rights and autonomy, the Roman Catholic Church has often advanced ideas at odds with the tradition of American liberalism. John T. McGreevy surveys 200 years of divergences and intersections between Catholic teachings and secular ideas about such political and social issues as slavery, public education, social welfare, free markets, war, nationalism, contraception, abortion, and euthanasia.

Persons of Color and Religious at the Same Time: The Oblate Sisters of Providence, 1828-1860

Diane Batts Morrow chronicles the earliest decades of the first permanent community of African American Roman Catholic women in the United States, founded in 1828 in Baltimore. According to Morrow, the sisters' religious vocation offered an opportunity to subvert certain constrictions of race and gender, in addition to confounding antebellum notions of African American women's lack of virtue. The Healys' racial self-fashioning—and the Church's facilitation of it—appear all the more remarkable in light of the centrality of the "black" identity embraced by and imposed upon the Oblate sisters.

American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present

Several chapters of Jay P. Dolan's chronicle of 500 years of American Catholic history cover the years during which the Healey siblings were sheltered and offered opportunities by the Catholic Church. Dolan focuses not only on Church leadership, but on the people of the Church.

Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

The Healy children consolidated their "white" racial identities during Reconstruction, a period of hardening racial division. To understand the broader context of the Healys' adult lives, read Eric Foner's monumental, meticulously researched study. Foner presents a cogent synthesis of the period, using class conflict as his analytical framework and making African American history central to his account.

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

James Weldon Johnson's 1912 counterfeit memoir of racial passing, published anonymously, debunks America's racial system and exposes the mutability of racial definition.

table of contents


"Race, Religion and One Family's Story: BC's James O'Toole Unravels the History of the Healys in His New Book Passing for White,"

Boston College Chronicle, Vol. 11, No. 4, October 17, 2002 By Reid Oslin


The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 6, 2002

By Nina C. Ayoub


The Catholic Books Review, 2003

By Patrick J. Hayes


table of contents


"Passing Free "


This essay from the Summer 2003 issue of Boston College Magazine, adapted from James O'Toole's book Passing for White, looks at how the Healys—black in the south, Irish in the north—slipped the bonds of race in Civil War America.

"Passing" and the American Dream


In the November 4, 2003 edition of Salon, Baz Dreisinger writes about the American fascination with race and its fluid boundaries. Non-subscribers must view a brief advertisement to gain complimentary access to Salon articles.

"Passing For White in Jim Crow America"


Although a more rigorous historicization of white racial discernment would improve this essay, it offers a solid introduction to the phenomenon of racial passing in the segregated South. Professor Wendy Ann Gaudin of Xavier University wrote the essay, which is intended for secondary school teachers and appears on the companion site to the PBS documentary The History of Jim Crow.

"Passing for White: The Human Stain Explores the Idea of Concealing Racial Identity"


In addition to highlighting the 2003 film and the Philip Roth novel on which it was based, this October 2003 MSNBC article mentions Brooke Kroeger's Passing: When People Can't Be Who They Are and details the experiences of several mixed-race people who live or have lived as whites.

"Racial Identity and the Case of Captain Michael Healy, USRCS"


From the Fall 1997 issue of Prologue, the National Archives and Records Administration quarterly magazine, this article by James O'Toole chronicles Michael Healy's life and discusses his decision to live as a white man.