Love Across the Color Line
This book examines a remarkable collection of twenty-seven letters written by a white working-class woman to her African American lover in 1907 and 1908. Stuffed inside a black lace stocking, the letters were hidden under the floorboards of a house in Northampton, Massachusetts, until their recent discovery. Reflecting the passions and anxieties of the moment, the letters were written by Alice Hanley, the daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants, to Channing Lewis, a cook in Springfield. Since the thoughts and feelings of women like Hanley have usually been filtered through middle-class reformers, her words provide a rare window into a realm of American social life seldom explored by historians. The letters are accompanied by essays that skillfully probe their larger meanings. Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz introduces the letters, placing them in the context of their time, while journalist Phoebe Rolin Mitchell recounts the story of their discovery. Kathy Peiss explores Hanley's life, her negotiation of illicit love, and her desire for respectability, re-creating a dense and textured world of home, church, and town. Historian Louis Wilson unearths the trail left by Lewis and members of his extended family in Springfield. Reviewing the experiences of African Americans in that city, Wilson clarifies the economic, social, and political position of a black, middle-aged breadwinner during the difficult years of the early twentieth century.
"While its focus rests unmistakably on the letters themselves, the volume includes three essays that help to place them and the stories of their writer and recipient in historical context. . . . Love across the Color Line reminds us that the story of race relations in the United States is more vast, and the task of recovering it more varied, than we have imagined."—Women's Review of Books
"Of interest not only to the historian and the social scientist, but also to the lay reader, the letters and essays that explore them bring to life the common and uncommon experiences of ordinary people who, without such evidence of their thoughts and concerns, would have been forever lost to the past."—Virginia Quarterly Review
"The letters provide a rare glimpse into interracial love among the working class of western Massachusetts. . . . This work is a pedagogical mint in research methodology."—Journal of Women's History
"This work is more than a carefully documented study of relationships; it is also an excellent work of historical detection. A valuable source for training historians, especially African American and women's historians, in the use of local records and the development of historical context."—Choice