Biracial Portraits

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As a man of mixed "race", I have been married to a very dark Black woman with whom I fathered "Black" appearing children. I have also been married to a blonde Swedish woman with whom I fathered a very fair "white" looking child. Because I am more "of" the Black culture, I consider all my kids to be Black - and so do they! Although it has decided limitations in this culture, there is something decidedly heroic about being Black in America. No one even approaches Paul Robeson or Muhammad Ali for sheer magnificence of character. I was thoroughly impressed by "Secret Daughter" and June Cross and PBS are to be commended.

However, what I also found quite interesting is the research found on your web page. For example, June's very "white" looking mother, Norma, would be considered Black by America's Draconian standards as would an overwhelming majority (if not all) "white" folks in America. The "one-drop" standard of Blackness in America goes back to slavery days. Slavery was an extremely profitable business as was slave-catching. When the progeny of white-Black unions began appearing in the form of blond, blue eyed, aquiline featured "Negroes", slave catchers would often make trips North and kidnap unsuspecting "white" kids and sell them as "octoroons" and thereby was the slave base expanded.

I certainly hope you will pursue this most important issue in future programs.
Ted Thompson
Seattle, WA

My life has been very similar to June Cross's. I was given up 3 days after I was born and have been the family secret ever since. Instead of race that seperates me from my mother it has been money. I can understand the pain you feel and hope one day my mother can announce to the world that I am her daughter, I think she would find it much harder to admit she kept it a secret due to money. I don't know which would be the sadder story ??
St.Louis, MO

I found myself glued to the TV with a piece of paper and pen in hand. I wrote notes to myself as a reminder, after the show I called my father and asked if he knew anything about Stump and Stumpy. He went on and on about how he had met Jimmy Cross at the 'Club Delisa'in Chicago In those days my father was a drummer, he had the pleasure of not only meeting many greats, but also performing with them. I cant say I know how June felt, but the emotions were running thru my heart and mind. My mother had very dark skin and Im very fair. I knew what people were thinking when they saw us together! I keep that inside and use it when ever I encounter prejudice in this world. It makes me stronger as a Black woman and more determined to acheive my goals. I can only hope this is how June feels.Forgive your Mom, there is nothing worse thanregret after the death of a parent. God Bless you! There aremany others your story has touched.
Desiree Reese

I am a daughter of a New York City jazz club performer, my dad "Skylark" Ketchum was known in the circle as a balladier. Recently, the Jazz Showcase (Chicago) had a tribute to performers of the pre-war and pre-television entertainment era. Joe Segal brought performers together at his Jazz Showcase and for the first time in my life, I met other performers who had worked with my dad when he was a traveling, singing teenager (man) with the big bands.

I must admit when dad took the stage it was a moving moment. Jazz pianist Junior Mance, who lives in Manhattan (Chelsea) and still works regularly, and my dad reminicsed about their favorite musical arrangements. Mr. Segal brought in some gentlemen who had made it and made it big. These gentlemen were of European descent and had prospered working in Hollywood, playing for movie soundtracks, etc. My dad often said there weren't racist attitudes among the players. The men had worked together happily, professionally, Your film touched many parts of me, I often asked my mother, why wasn't my dad more famous, more successful, more fufilled with his career? He worked with Dizzy, Carmen MacRae, Joe Williams, Etta James, etc. Your film helped me understand why. The war came, my dad couldn't go, he had a damaged heart from childhood rheumatic fever. Then with the advent of television came a sudden halt in lucrative work. These are just a few of the historical bits of information you revealed to me last night.

But Ms. Cross, I must say when my dad rejoined the guys he once travelled and played with he was so happy. This was a way of life he enjoyed, but he didn't have an M.B.A. or a degree in accounting to manage his financial affairs. Although, he had graduated from high school with excellent grades at the age of sixteen. There was one important aspect missing in the lives of African-Americans living in the north during 1950-1965. The opportunities to becoming successful was limited and and a constant struggle at best.
P. Ketchum

"Secret Daughter" brought up emotions inside of me that I did not know exisited. I am a bi-racial woman who was given up for adoption by my white mother, only to be adopted by white family. My relationship with my real mother (others call her my adoptive mother, but to me she is very real) all but supplanted any thoughts or fantasies I may have had about the woman who gave birth to me. In June's mother I saw a vision of what my own birth mother may have been like -- and could truly empathize with some of the struggles she must have faced. Thank you June.
Rachel Onge Lerman
Washington, DC

It has been a very long time since I've forgone "senseless TV" for PBS, but yesterday's subject, your life, lured me to your piece like a bloodworm does a brown trout, here in Pennsylvania. I was afraid of the subject, because I am a Black man, soon to be divorced from a White woman, with a beautiful daughter and son. Like your mother, I think my wife was more excited to be married than actually in love. What happened between your parents was always my fear of marriage: that fighting might happen. I had seen that with my parents. I had planned not to marry, ever, but I met a person that I loved. Oh well.

Your work was so moving for me. I want my children to view it and I am hoping to purchase it so that I can use it in a course that I teach to first year students. I wonder if you have heard from Maya Angelou. Your life shows that the practice of finding the right people to help raise a child is still going on. Please try and put this story into print, so that I may use it in my course. Again, thank you.
: S.B. Hayes

As I watched June Cross in Secret Daughter, I saw my own multiracial, adopted, daughter. I am white and so is my husband and our older adopted daughter. At many times I watched June Cross through tears just as I watch my computer screen now through those tears. I'd like to think that June Cross' story will influence, dare I say change or improve, what my daughter will face in society. She is just 2 1/2 years old and already there have been comments even from our own family. I once read that being a white mother of a child of color changes the fact that you are white. I think that it's true of being a multiracial family. I feel that we now have a responsibility to educate others. I want to share this story with, number one, my relatives, I'm sorry to have to say, and, number two, with so many others - strangers who take it upon themselves to judge me and my family. And those strangers are both black and white. Neither accept my family but I can deal with that and do what I can to change it. But it is so hard.
Tricia Norton
Randolph, MA

What a story you had to tell! I was thoroughly mesmerized watching your program. I only inteded to watch a few minutes and ended up watching all of it. I have dozens of questions for you--I wish you had been my long lost cousin! Only I would not have allowed an afternoon's visit--I would have insisted on a much longer visit. Yours is just the wildest story--if yours were a fiction story no one would buy into it!

Part of the reason I was so fascinated with your story is that I am a Mormon. I wondered how much your cousins told you about your Mormon heritage. The Mormon story is one filled with persecution, misunderstandings, and triumph over odds. I think you would find it extremely interesting. I wondered how you felt as you looked at the pictures of your unknown ancestors for the first time. Did you feel any connection to them?

My family's history of racial attitudes quite mirrors that of your mother's. My fraternal grandparents didn't want to deal with the subject at all. My cousins interracial marriage was a subject not to be even discussed. My mother is an awesome example of the opposite of what my grandmother was. With her help my father was able to reject the racist attitudes he had been taught. He was the only of his siblings to say he would welcome my cousin's black husband in his home. My husband and I both welcome the ethnic and cultural diversity that we find in our family. It adds interest and at times, a lot of excitement! It is our prayer that our children will even more fully appreciate people of all color and kind.

What courage it must have taken to produce that documentary, to examine so closely your relationship with your mother, to come away maybe not fully understanding your life, but not being bitter either. You seem to know that all the answers will not appear suddenly--but may take years to figure out . Your mother is very fortunate to have such a daughter. Many people would probably say that you are entitled to a life of bitternes and hurt. You appear to have let go of our anger and resentment to grasp onto forgiveness and understanding.

Cinda Atherton

As a 26 year old daughter of a white woman and Black man, I appreciated watching how Ms. Cross's life unfolded. It made me realize how much timing, racial attitudes and color impact biracial children. As for myself, I am light enough to pass for many different ethnicites--I am often mistaken for Puerto Rican, Italian, Jewish and everyone white, black or other swears they have a cousin, or a neighbor who looks just like me. I define myself as an African- American woman of mixed racial heritage. But the timing of my birth and the openness of both sides of my family with their undying love and support has allowed me to be whatever and who ever I choose. I am about to graduate from Morehouse school of Medicine and will pursue a family practice residency. My experience has been very positive. I cannot imagine the pain I would've had to endure if I had been born into a society that forced me to pass and deny one half of who I am. I applaud Ms. Cross' journey to embrace her entire identity and her courage to document this very important struggle. She proves that despite the constraints racism has tried to inflict upon us, that our spirits are enduring and courageous enough to succeed at being exactly whom we choose.
Jehni Robinson

I was adopted by white parents who were advised in 1970 that adopting a black child could be very dangerous. My father was an air force navigator and the agency feared that if he were stationed in the south that a white couple with black child could encounter racial hostility or violence. So they got me, a half-white-half-hispanic girl. My adoption was never a secret, nor was my mixed heritage. I remember race first becoming an issue in Junior High when THE style for wearing your hair was straight, parted down the middle with two paper towel rolls down either side of your face. How I struggled with a curling iron and blow dryer! My mother said, "Honey, your hair just won't do this." And then I realised that no amount of effort would make me look like my classmates. I have struggled between either being an ugly white girl or a white looking hispanic girl. As I have tried to relay this feeling to Cuban or Colombian aquaintances, I have met with resistance.

"You don't even speak Spanish." they have said. "Even if you learned you would never be Latino." "It is not your culture." "You are white."

After so many years of listening to other people tell me who I am, I decided to search for my birthmother and find out for myself. I have engaged an attorney and asked the courts for my original birth certificate. New Mexico has designated searchers to help reunite adoptees and their birth families. "Secret Daughter" aired the day I was informed that it should be a week to ten days before my birthmother is found. The program raised so many possibilities. I never considered that my birthmother might not have been able to face raising a mixed race child. Suddenly my perceptions of race have been realigned once again.

This search has been ongoing for thirteen months and I have been desperate for some sort of conclusion. Now I am beginning to realise that June, who has never fallen out of contact with her birthmother and had to wait more than thirty years to discuss her origins has travelled this long journey only to arrive at the beginning. Now that she can sit with her mother and they can begin to see one another as they are, full of history and well traveled, now, now they can begin to speak and listen to each other. How daunting to realise that my search that is about to conclude, will end with a beginning.

Thank you so much for your program.
Stephanie Merchant
Bear, DE

As I begin to write my comments, I have to deal with the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes. I am a white secret daughter, but as you know, your blood and my blood are the same colour. Outwardly we have a different skin colour, but inside, we are human beings created by the same God. To this day, my mother will not allow me to call her mother. Her three boys think I am their aunt. My grandparents raised me. I had no idea how much this hurt me psychologically throughout my life. But I am seeing myself now, as a casualty survivor. Only now, do I understand the trauma of that deep secret pain. I never understood indentity, my identification seem to need my mother's name on it, so that I could 'feel' valuable, wanted, and approved. If your own mother cannot approve of you, then who can? But now, through the pain, years of pain, who I am is beginning to emerge. June Cross, thank you. I sure wish I could meet you, soul sister.
Vancouver, Canada

Dear FRONTLINE,>br> First, let me thank you for presenting such a thought-provoking program. Having read a number of reviews and reactions to the show, I agree that this program did not give anyone the "feel-good" answers or resolutions that they were loking for. However, I don't believe that this was the purpose. As June Cross said in her opening, the idea was to begin her discussion, not to end it. I applaud both she and her mother for their honesty, their recognition of their own foibles, and their willingness to ask hard questions, even if they did skirt some issues when they occasionally got too painful. That is all part of the process.

As a gay man in his thirties, with a black heterosexual female roommate and a Jewish male lover; as a man who grew up in a small city in Eastern Washington; as a man who has worked with and formed strong friendships with people of all types; as a graduate of Brigham Young University, I was repeatedly struck by the commonalities I shared with Ms. Cross, and by the same thought: All of us, regardless of history, personal story, lineage, etc. have at one time or another experienced hatred or discomfort from others. No one is exempted. I can look back at my own experiences growing up gay in a small town and start to feel extremely sorry for the poor little boy that I was. My path may have been uniquely mine, but it was not so different from so many other children who grow up afraid to be who they really are. It doesn't matter whether the source of this shame and fear is family, friend or society; we all, at some point feel it.

The need, as I see it, is to expand the dialogue beyond racism, homophobia, religious bigotry, etc. We must, as a society and as individuals, search for the root causes of our own experience of inferiority and fear, make attempts to understand why others might try (unconsciously or consciously) to make us feel as less than the beautiful, brilliant individuals we are, and make every effort to avoid a repetition of these mistakes. Societies can only change as their members make individual efforts.

Again, thanks for your positive, insightful, thought-provoking presentation of Secret Daughter. More, more, more!
David Moore
Chicago, IL

I would like to toss another perspective. I absolutely enjoyed the PBS special. I am Latino and have a sister who is married to an African-American. They had a child in August of 1992. My patriarchal father has not spoken to my sister ever since she announced her pregnancy in late 1991. My father does not forbid my stepmother (my sister's natural mother) from speaking to my sister, but she chooses not to. It helps that my sister lives on the East Coast. My stepmother has a casual excuse. My niece is the most loving and beautiful child in the world and how someone who is related to her can hate her merely for the color of her skin is beyond my comprehension. My family is a minority and so is my African-American brother-in-law's, why don't we have more common ground? Perhaps a special on those of mixed minority race can be explored. My Afro-Latino niece would really benefit.
Phoenix, AZ

I turned on the television because I couldn't sleep after having had Thanksgiving dinner for my family from Texas. Lucky me to turn on the tube when your show was on.

Wanted to let you know I not only approved, but I was a more than willing watch, and as all good autobiography should do, yours brought back my story to me, which I have also written about as an independent radio producer (when NPR was more open to that kind of work).

My parents are both white, but there was a distinctive class difference in the small town, and I've been living with that distinction for a long time. Even tried to repeat it in my own attraction to a black trumpet player who I became pregnant by and unhappily decided to have an abortion, also wrote a radio play about that it. But I have thought a lot about what it would have been for a child with darker skin to be raised by lily white me and my world. Even though they always say 'he or she is black,' even when one parent is white, I don't agree. I can see the white in you, and in a lot of people with parents of both races. I know there is a whole 'politically correct' and 'not politically correct' THANG but to me, that's the mark of the very best autobiography -- it has no politics, except as it happens in the story. Great good job!
Ginger Miles

I found this program illuminated alot of things for me My Mother was in a similar situation in the 1930's. Her Mother was White and her father was Black. Societal and family pressures, forced her mother to leave her husband and child- dren and live a sort of secret life, visiting only occasionally until my grandfather moved out of town. BTW, he was also in show business in NYC in the 1930's but wasn't sucessful. I always wondered why in the 1980's and 1990's with the widespread acceptance of interracial relationships, my grand mother would not allow my mother or aunt to visit. She would call and write, but never invite anyone to see her. I have to admit that it had always been a wish of mine to see her. She died this summer in a nursing home denying even to nurses who knew the truth, that she had inter-racial children. I guess the pressures, white women with inter-racial kids faced could be so painful that many of them, just decided to leave the whole situation behind and start over. This program gave me much better insight into what was happening with my mothers family, some thing I never understood. The reluctance of women to interact with their bi-racial children, can be painful and confusing and seeing that others have had similar experiences is heartening.
Suzanne Jackson
Columbus, OH

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