The Wild Adventures of a ‘Colored Girl’ in the Early 20th Century

Anita Reynolds crossed paths with some of the greatest names in art, music and literature as she “passed” across Europe.

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In the past, “passing” was seen as the worst kind of racial treason. Reading her memoirs, it’s hard to fault Reynolds for the choices she made, given the hand with which she was dealt. Still, reading her breathless prose, it’s easy to feel frustrated at her willful refusal to plumb any emotional depths. She recounts everything in the same breezy, ironic, unaffected tone, from her mother’s death to her English first husband’s descent into alcoholism and tuberculosis. Then again, perhaps living the way she did, laughing the whole time, was itself a revolutionary act. Save the tragic mulatto narrative for someone else. Reynolds certainly never felt tragic. To the contrary: “I feel a little guilty,” she wrote, “saying how much fun I had being a colored girl in the 20th century.”

Teresa Wiltz is a journalist based in Washington, D.C.