Clarence King was a prominent 19th-century geologist, mining engineer, and mountaineer. Chiefly responsible for mapping the West after the Civil War, he gained additional renown for his legendary explorations of the Sierra Nevada and served as the first director of the United States Geological Survey. But this scion of a prominent white family from Newport, Rhode Island, lived a double life for 13 years. After falling in love with an African American woman, King lived in a common-law marriage as James Todd, representing himself as a black Pullman porter, and passing back and forth across the color line to maintain his own identity for professional work in the field. He revealed this double life in a final deathbed letter to his wife. Princeton University historian Martha Sandweiss, one of the leading scholars of the American West, unfurls this extraordinary story and reveals what it tells us about this country’s complicated racial history.
This program is presented in partnership with The Newberry Library and the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture at the University of Chicago.