(Illustration by Chris Kindred for The Washington Post)

Anita Hemmings was Vassar College’s first African American graduate. But no one was supposed to know that she was black.

A light-skinned mixed-race woman, Hemmings passed as white for most of her time at Vassar — until her roommate hired a private investigator to find out the truth.

Hemmings graduated college in 1897 and continued passing as white for the rest of her life. Her story fits in with a broader history of African Americans passing in this country for personal safety, economic and social reasons.

In this episode of “Other: Mixed Race in America,” we learn the story of Hemmings, and we also learn about the legacy of passing that is inherited through generations of mixed-race Americans.

New episodes of “Other: Mixed Race in America” will publish every day for a week, starting May 1. Subscribe to the series on Apple Podcasts or RadioPublic.

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Read a transcript of this episode here. 

LISTEN:

Learn more about the other episodes here:

  1. Race is more than just black and white. This new podcast explores some of that middle ground. 
  2. Why it can be hard to date as a multiracial person
  3. What happens to your cultural heritage when you marry someone of a different race?
  4. The debate over who counts as ‘American’ is nothing new. Just ask this woman who was put in an internment camp when she was 10.
  5. Why it’s so powerful to see yourself represented in pop culture
  6. ‘That’s my story’: Heidi Durrow on why stories about multiracial identity just aren’t niche offerings
  7. How Ruth Ozeki renamed herself