February 19, 2010 "Remarkable" Mixed-Race Family in 20th Century Is Subject of Book Discussion

“Parallel Worlds” Focuses on “the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin”

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Center for the Book (202) 707-5221

When William Henry Hunt married Ida Alexander Gibbs in the spring of 1904, their wedding was a glittering Washington social event that joined an Oberlin-educated diplomat’s daughter and a Wall Street veteran who could trace his lineage to Jamestown. Their union took place in a world of refinement and privilege, but both William and Ida had mixed-race backgrounds, and their country therefore placed severe restrictions on their lives because, at that time, “one drop of colored blood” classified anyone as a Negro.

This “stain” of melanin pushed the couple’s achievements to the margins of American society. Nonetheless, as William followed a career in the foreign service, Ida (whose grandfather was probably Richard Malcolm Johnson, a vice president of the United States) moved in intellectual and political circles that included the likes of Frederick Douglass, J. Pierpont Morgan, Booker T. Washington, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Mary Church Terrell.

Adele Logan Alexander has written a fascinating account of this couple in “Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin” (University of Virginia Press, 2010). Alexander will discuss and sign her book on Wednesday, March 3, at 12:30 p.m. in Dining Room A, sixth floor, James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E. The event, part of the Books and Beyond author series of the Center for the Book, is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.

Born into slavery, William Henry Hunt had an adventurous youth, including a brief career as a jockey and an interlude at Williams College; ultimately, he succeeded Ida’s father as consul in Madagascar. The diplomat’s “expatriate” life provided him with a distinguished career and a stage on which to showcase his talents throughout the world, as well as an escape from racial stigmas back home. Free of the diplomatic hindrances her husband faced, Ida advocated openly against race and gender inequities and was a major participant in W.E.B. Du Bois’s post-World-War-I Pan-African Congresses, which took her to European capitals that were largely free of racial oppression.

Alexander is a professor of history at George Washington University and has been nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the National Council on the Humanities.

Alexander’s book is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The new Books & Beyond Book Club is available at www.facebook.com/booksandbeyond/. The site offers discussions of books by authors who have appeared, or will appear, in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard.

The Center for the Book (www.loc.gov/cfbook/) was established by Congress in 1977 “to use the resources and prestige of the Library of Congress to promote books, reading, literacy and libraries.” With its many educational programs that reach readers of all ages, through its support of the National Book Festival and through its dynamic state centers in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Center for the Book has developed a nationwide network of organizational partners dedicated to promoting the wonders and benefits of reading. The Center also oversees the new Read.gov website, with its exclusive “Exquisite Corpse Adventure” serialized story.


PR 10-035
ISSN 0731-3527