A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line
On Sale: February 5, 2009
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The secret double life of the man who mapped the American
West, and the woman he loved
Clarence King is a hero of nineteenth century western
history; a brilliant scientist and witty conversationalist,
best-selling author and architect of the great surveys that
mapped the West after the Civil War. Secretary of State John
Hay named King Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“the best and brightest of his generation.Ă˘â‚¬Âť
But King hid a secret from his Gilded Age cohorts and
prominent family in Newport: for thirteen years he lived a
double lifeĂ˘â‚¬â€ťas the celebrated white explorer, geologist and
writer Clarence King and as a black Pullman porter and steel
worker named James Todd. The fair blue-eyed son of a wealthy
China trader passed across the color line, revealing his
secret to his black common- law wife, Ada Copeland, only on
King lied because he wanted to and he lied because he had
to. To marry his wife in a public way Ă˘â‚¬â€ś as the white man
known as Clarence King Ă˘â‚¬â€ś would have created a scandal and
destroyed his career. At a moment when many mixed-race
Americans concealed their African heritage to seize the
privileges of white America, King falsely presented himself
as a black man in order to marry the woman he loved.
Noted historian of the American West Martha Sandweiss is the
first writer to uncover the life that King tried so hard to
conceal from the public eye. She reveals the complexity of a
man who while publicly espousing a personal dream of a
uniquely American Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“race,Ă˘â‚¬Âť an amalgam of white and black, hid
his love for his wife, Ada, and their five biracial
children. Passing Strange tells the dramatic tale of a
family built along the fault lines of celebrity, class, and
raceĂ˘â‚¬â€ťfrom the Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“ToddĂ˘â‚¬â„˘sĂ˘â‚¬Âť wedding in 1888, to the 1964 death of
Ada King, one of the last surviving Americans born into slavery.
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