Earl Lewis and Heidi Ardizzone, authors of Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White, discussed their book with host Lynn Neary on NPR's Talk of the Nation today.
In 1924, a former nanny named Alice Jones married New York society scion Leonard Rhinelander. Shortly thereafter, it came out in the press that Alice was of mixed race ancestry. Leonard sued for annulment, claiming he was unaware of Alice's background prior to their marriage. Alice's lawyers countered with evidence that Leonard did know that Alice, despite her fair skin, was legally black. The resulting trial was played out in the news media to considerable public attention.
Earl Lewis, dean of graduate studies at the University of Michigan, and Heidi Ardizzone, visiting assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame, together have written Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White. In this book, published May 2001, they tell the story of the trial and explore what it said about race relations in the twenties, as well as the implications for race relations today.
Back in those bad old days, people were classified in the law by race. The proportion African ancestry to classify a person as black varied from state to state.
The bare facts are from editorial description on Amazon.com and what I can remember from listening to the TOTN broadcast.
There was an instance in Louisiana around 1982 or '83 of a white woman who objected to the race designation "black" on her driver's license, bringing national attention to legal classifications of race. Her ancestry, of which she was previously unaware, included 1/16th black.
Mark Twain explored the idea of how little black blood it took for a person to be classed as black in Puddin' Head Wilson.
IOW Damn straight there's precedent on the books.
In nearly every state in the union at some point.