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When William Henry Hunt married Ida Alexander Gibbs in the spring of 1904, one would have thought him quite a catch. His family traced its lineage back to Jamestown, and William had moved from a job on Wall Street to serving beside Ida's father as American consul to Madagascar. As for Ida, the Oberlin-educated diplomat's daughter had built a distinguished teaching career and was a social activist and world traveler. While the union between William and Ida took place in a world of refinement and privilege, however, severe restrictions were placed on their life together simply because they were African American. Both William and Ida had diverse racial backgrounds, but in turn-of-the-century America, one drop of 'colored blood' classified anyone as Negro. This was the 'stain' of melanin, in an era when paranoia over miscegenation ran deep. With many limitations imposed on their personal and professional growth, as well as their civil rights, whatever success the Gibbs-Hunts enjoyed would have to take place in the margins of American life. William succeeded Ida's father as consul, and the diplomat's 'expatriate' life offered him both a prestigious career in Africa, Europe, and the Atlantic world, and an escape from racial stigmas back home. Perceived as racially ambiguous by his colleagues overseas (some thought he was Native American, others that he was white), William enjoyed a thirty-five-year career in the U.S. foreign service as almost a 'raceless' citizen of the world. Free of the diplomatic hindrances William faced, Ida advocated more openly against race and gender inequities. As a major participant in W. E. B. Du Bois' Pan-African Congresses, she was a regular visitor to the stimulating capitals of Europe that were largely free of racial oppression. With an international and interracial cast that includes Frederick Douglass, J. Pierpont Morgan, Booker T. Washington, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Mary Church Terrell, among many others, this story, a unique dual biography, offers a rare perspective on the long and critical 'American century'. In a decade that has seen two black secretaries of state and even a black president, Alexander's work shows the Gibbs-Hunts' efforts as critical first steps in moving beyond the many years during which we have squandered our country's African American potential.
Adele Logan Alexander, Associate Professor of History at George Washington University, is the author of Ambiguous Lives: Free Women of Color in Rural Georgia, 1789-1879 and Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family, 1846-1926.
Release date Australia
March 15th, 2010
Country of Publication
40 b&w illustrations
University of Virginia Press
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