March 12, 2005


The facts seem simple enough. A rather hum-drum late nineteenth century novelist, Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins (1863-1938), finds late twentieth century cachet when she is identified as an African American author. . . .

Holly Jackson's discovery shows that Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins was white. Her family knew that all along. Her novels included no people of color. Only the scholars believed Kelley-Hawkins was an African American writer and that her novels betrayed no race consciousness became a matter for interpretation. But why would scholars not have taken the relentlessly white novels of Kelley-Hawkins as a signal that she was white? Did we read them and do the archival research about her or did we simply rely on an earlier authority's word for their author's ethnicity?

Sounds like a case of "too good to check." Or maybe Hollywood is right, and people are just easy to fool.