Graham Hodges, PhD: “‘Desirable Companions and Lovers’: Irish and African Americans in 19th century New York.”

As two of the poorest groups in New York at this time, recent Irish immigrants and free Black people made their homes in some of the shabbiest neighborhoods of the city. While the close proximity of Irish and black residents could breed conflict, it was in these working class, racially integrated communities that greater tolerance and harmony could also be found, and indeed where interracial marriages often took place. Proslavery, anti-equality New York journalists and conservative religious reformers depicted interracial sex and socializing, or amalgamation, between working-class blacks and Irish as a major threat to New York's racial and social order. Irish and African American residents lived together as neighbors and, in some cases, as families. This close proximity, and a unique and significant pattern of intermarriage between immigrant Irish women and African American men within the Eighth Ward in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the Draft Riots, indicates the possibility of a much greater level of interracial stability and intimacy than has been presumed in discourses about Irish and black relations during this period in New York and, indeed, in the United States.

Hodges is the George Dorland Langdon Jr. Professor of History at Colgate University and has written extensively about the Irish and African American experience.