Monday, January 23, 2012

Vanderbilt Professor and Author to Explore Racial "Passing" in America Thursday, February 2

CHESTERTOWN, MD— One of the most persistent of the myths that Americans tell themselves about race is that the line between black and white is a matter of genetics rather than choice. But new scholarship is chipping away at this assumption, revealing how men and women, and sometimes entire families, have consciously stepped across the color line.
In a February 2 presentation at Washington College, law professor and historian Daniel Sharfstein will delve into the dramatic stories of three black families who responded to times of great racial upheaval by seizing opportunities to reinvent themselves as white. Among the author’s astonishing discoveries is an antebellum Southern family that – after covertly crossing the line from black to white – became wealthy sugar planters, slaveholders, and ardent Confederates.
Sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, Sharfstein’s talk, “The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America,” is free and open to the public, and will begin at 5:00 pm in the college’s Hynson Lounge, Hodson Hall. A book signing will follow the presentation. The talk is co-sponsored by the Black Studies Program, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture.

Sharfstein’s recent book, The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White (Penguin, 2011), has been lauded far and wide as a masterpiece, a work that, in the words of writer Melissa Fay Greene, “overthrows nearly everything Americans thought they knew about race.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed called The Invisible Line “a must read for all who are interested in the construction of race in the United States,” and the Boston Globe praised its “you-are-there” approach to history as “spellbinding.” The New York Times lauded Sharfstein’s “astonishingly detailed rendering of the variety and complexity of racial experience.’’
Sharfstein is an associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University. A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, he has held fellowships from Harvard University, New York University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His articles and reviews have appeared in the Yale Law Journal, the New York Times, The Economist, the Washington Post, and other publications.
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Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in colonial Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience is dedicated to fostering innovative approaches to the American past and present. Through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach, and a special focus on written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between the academic world and the public at large. For more information on the Center, visit


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