Krazy Kat’s Final Reflections on Passing

Krazy Kat — please click on art for a better view of this Sunday page.



The facts about George Herriman have been known for a long time: he was born in Lousiana in 1880. The birth certificate listed him as colored. Other documents described every other member of his family as colored. They were in fact of mixed racial ancestry: “mulattos” in the terminology of the time, having some African ancestry but with skin color only a shade darker than most northern Europeans. Herriman’s family moved to Los Angeles around 1886, most likely to escape the increasingly rigid racial regime of the American South where they would have been segregated. In California, they reinvented themselves as white Americans. Herriman would grow up and become a cartoonist, creating the greatest of all comic strips, Krazy Kat (1910-1944). When he died he was listed in the death certificate as Caucasian.


The facts are clear but what are we to make of this story? Did Herriman realize that he had black ancestor and that his family was passing? Did he knowingly go along with the passing or did he simply grow up thinking he was white? If he knew about the passing (and himself consciously passed) how did he feel about it?

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