The love letters between Leonard Kip Rhinelander and Alice Jones were read to giggling spectators in the courtroom on Nov. 21, 1925. – Bettmann/CORBIS
The lack of interest in Kanye West’s and Kim’s race stands in sharp contrast to the 1924 marriage and separation of Leonard “Kip” Rhinelander, son of the New York glitterati, and Alice Jones, a blue-collar woman with at least one black grandparent.
Theirs became perhaps the most examined interracial relationship in our nation’s history when Kip sued Alice for annulment on the grounds that she’d hid her “Negro blood” and intentionally deceived him into believing she was white.
The newspapers of the day alternatively called Alice a quadroon and octoroon. Quadroon was once used to describe someone who’s one-fourth black. An octoroon was the offspring of a quadroon and a white person. (All this talk of quadroons and octoroons now feels more than a little offensive and silly.)
Contemporary accounts vary as to whether Alice had one or two black grandparents. No matter the ratio of the mix, much of American society and statute adhered to the race standard colloquially called the “.”
Color in Love
Kip, 18, and Alice, 22, met in 1921 and began a three-year courtship.
Despite Rhinelander’s powerful and wealthy New York family taking measures to end his relationship with Alice, the two rendezvoused, wrote hundreds of letters to one another, and then eloped in October 1924.
The next month, the marriage was made public when The Standard-Star published a headline story titled “Rhinelanders’ Son Marries the Daughter of a Colored Man.”
Kip’s father immediately demanded he file for an annulment, and court proceedings began shortly thereafter.
The suit endeavored to prove Alice duped the stuttering, socially awkward, younger Kip and used sex to swindle her way into riches and high society. It was the celebrity nature of the Rhinelander family and the exposé of intimate marital details that turned the proceedings into a national spectacle.
To prove it was impossible to mask her race, the color of Alice Jones Rhinelander’s nipples was examined by judge and jury as evidence of her blackness.
Kip testified that Alice told him her complexion was courtesy of Spanish ancestry.
His lawyer attempted to show that all the dimwitted Kip wanted from Alice was sex and that he initially had no intentions of marrying her.
To this end, hotel trysts were described in excruciating detail and sensual passages from Alice’s love letters read aloud to show she was loose and licentious.