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Love On Trial [Hardcover]

Earl Lewis , Heidi Ardizzone
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 31 2001
A modern Cinderella must defend her fairy-tale marriage in a scandal that rocked jazz-age America. Upon marrying Leonard Rhinelander in 1924, Alice Jones, a former nanny, became the first black woman to be listed in the Social Register as a member of one of New York's wealthiest families. When their marriage became a national scandal, Alice and Leonard found themselves thrust into the glare of public scrutiny--and into a Westchester courtroom. Earl Lewis and Heidi Ardizzone tell the story of the marriage and the annulment trial that opened the lives of two vastly different families to the media. Tracking the public obsession with the case, they unfold a fascinating story with a dramatic cast of characters. Would the jury believe Alice's claim that her husband had known she was of mixed racial ancestry before their marriage? Would Leonard's social status sway the verdict? How much ancestry made one black? Love on Trial recalls a struggle that raised questions about race and identity that continue to haunt us today. 40 b/w illustrations.

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From Publishers Weekly

While modern readers may not be familiar with the notorious Rhinelander trial of 1924, Lewis (dean of graduate studies at the University of Michigan) and Ardizzone (visiting assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame) offer a detailed account of the various people and complex issues that made it sensational. Young, white and a member of New York society, Leonard Rhinelander spent some three years courting working-class Alice Jones. After the wedding and a few nights of marital bliss at Jones's parents' home, young Lenny sued to have his marriage annulled, claiming he didn't know Alice wasn't white. In fact, Alice's mother was white; her father was an Englishman the son of a white woman and an unidentified man who may been Indian who never entertained the question of his race. While Alice's family never consciously tried to "pass" for white, they lived in a sort of racial limbo, letting their social status define them. It was left to an upstate New York judge and jury to determine whether Alice was "white," "colored" or "Negro" terms not clearly defined but certainly hotly debated in 1920s America. In addition to being a legal quagmire, the Rhinelander trial unleashed a Pandora's box of morality questions (in the end, it seems neither premarital sex or interracial sex was as scandalous as cross-class marriage). Although not graceful writers, Lewis and Ardizzone cleverly build their narrative on the progression of the trial, careful not to foreshadow the verdict. Small photo insets give a scrapbook-look to this dense but fascinating volume. (May)Forecast: If Norton's marketing effectively reaches the core academic audience for this book and jump-starts it through word of mouth, students of African-American and women's studies will find this an engrossing read as will historians of many stripes despite its clunky prose.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

First published as a scholarly article and later reorganized and rewritten, this work results from a collaboration between Lewis (history, African American studies, Univ. of Michigan) and Ardizzone, his former graduate student. The authors researched the events surrounding the 1925 annulment trial in a Westchester County courtroom involving Leonard Rhinelander, son of a privileged, aristocratic New York family, who married Alice Jones, a beautiful working-class woman of mixed-race ancestry. Pressured to end the marriage, young Rhinelander claimed that Jones had misrepresented her race. Using dozens of American newspapers as primary sources, the authors explore racial ambiguity during a period of stiffening segregation policy. At times, the text is repetitive or bloated with conjecture, dragging out the undoubtedly painful scandal like the newspaper coverage of the day. Those accounts described Jones as dusky, octoroon, quadroon, colored, Negro, mulatto, and black, distinctions that faded with the pursuit of palpable civil rights decades later. An intriguing story; recommended for public and academic libraries. Elaine Machleder, Bronx, NY

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
ALICE BEATRICE JONES RHINELANDER, fashionably dressed, sat quietly in the hard wooden seat and smiled. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and thought-provoking March 16 2004
Format:Hardcover
Hmm, I don't know if everyone reads the book carefully, but very clearly, one of the main arguments of this book is how american culture tried to portray something ambiguous (race) as something precise and scientific, and was caught in its own lie.
The book is human and interesting, but it lets that human interest come from the story. Many books of this nature are ruined by authors who want to make more of a novel, injecting dialogues and thoughts that the author has invented to flesh out the facts as they are known. We don't know exactly what the young couple were thinking or how their feelings might have changed over time, but the author doesn't pretend to know, either, and that makes the events more compelling and the book more truthful.
I like this book because it has been written with a soft touch, presenting facts, and allowing them to make the story.
We are not given a romantic, overdone cartoon of the case, but merely invited to see how absurd a love affair is when it is divorced from its personal nature, and how equally absurd the scientific classification of "race" is when it cannot even be measured with scientific precision.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Author's comment--not a review Jan. 29 2004
Format:Hardcover
I'm glad to see ongoing interest in this book (which is available in paperback now.) I'm even happier to see ongoing discussion of the issues it raises. That was one of the reasons we wrote the book. I'd just like to briefly correct a few misreadings in A.D. Powell's review. I am certainly not a proponent of one-drop racialism. While it is true that for much of American history, both blacks and whites assumed people of mixed ancestry to have more in common with their black peers than their white, much of my work actually highlights situations where this was not the case. People might certainly have black ancestry they are unaware of, but in the present context I don't advocate that they must identify themselves as black. However, in the 1920s, in some states, if a seeming white person were to be discovered to have a black grandparent or even great grandparent, that person's legal status would shift to black. Virginia was particularly well known for pursuing family trees and make such changes, although they allowed for some Native ancestry in a legally white person. One drop racialism was one of the primary ways white Americans defined race at the turn of the century. It was never the only way, and it was a system full of illogic and contradictions, which we state several times in the book. In fact we talk extensively about the ambiguity of Alice's identity and ancestry, and how that ambiguity challenged American efforts to eliminate an intermediary category between blacks and whites. It is that ambiguity that made the story compelling to us as historians and writers. We don't really know what her father's ethnicity was, and we say so quite clearly. But we do analyze the trial and the news coverage of it primarily in the context of "black and white" as the title suggests. Read more ›
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2.0 out of 5 stars A family that was mixed but not "black" Nov. 24 2003
Format:Hardcover
This book is a history of the infamous 1920's "Rhinelander" case, in which a high society poor excuse for a man named Leonard Rhnelander tried to get his marriage to quadroon Alice Jones annulled because she allegedly "lied" about her "race."
Authors Lewis and Ardizzone are advocates of the idea that anyone who even might have a "drop" of the dreaded "black blood" is instantly a member of the "black race" and "African American" ethnic group. They want people to believe that you can be "black" without even knowing it. Non-black phenotypes and cultures are dismissed as unimportant. Note again that, through silence, they pay tribute to the greatest "passers" of all, the Latinos and Arab-Americans, by being careful not to mention their embarrassing relationship to the "race" they claim to champion.
In Love on Trial, Lewis and Ardizzone use their editorial perogative to continually describe Alice Jones as "black" and "African American" as if these were objective facts. Yet, Alice was the daughter of immigrants from England. She had no ancestors among American "Negroes" or even mulattoes. Her mother was described as "pure white" and her father's ancestry was actually unknown. He was the son of a working class white Englishwoman and a father who was presumed to be from one of the colonies of the British empire. To this day, Alice's paternal grandfather has not been identified -- racially or otherwise. Her father, George Jones, was darker than "white" but otherwise had no Negroid characteristics.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This goes to show that America July 5 2002
Format:Hardcover
still has a problem with racial/ethnic/class mixing and multiracial/multiethnic people. This book tells all about the courtship and marriage of Kip Rhinelander and Alice Jones, the media scruntiny, Kip's father's disapproval of the match, the publicized trial, the humiliation of Alice Rhinelander in the courtroom(much like the humiliation of Anita Hill by the Senate Judiciary Committee back in 1991), and the troubling questions of race/ethnicity/class in the 1920s.
Even today, "black"/"white" relationships still arouse a great deal of controversy. Look at the O.J. Simpson case. That case has divided the nation into two hostile camps. Assorted incidents directed toward multiracial couples shows that we have a long way to go. Whites oppose such relationships because it weakens white privilege, while Blacks condemned them in the name of Black racial solidarity and unity.
Please buy this book now. If not, then go to your local library and borrow it. This is a very fascinating book that is very riveting in its telling of the long-neglected chapter of American history.
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