Forsaking All Others
A True Story of Interracial Sex and Revenge in the 1880s South
An intensely dramatic true story, Forsaking All Others recounts the fascinating case of an interracial couple who attempted, in defiance ofsociety’s laws and conventions, to formalize their relationship in the post-Reconstruction South. It was an affair with tragic consequences, one that entangled the protagonists in a miscegenation trial and, ultimately, a desperate act of revenge.
From the mid-1870s to the early 1880s, Isaac Bankston was the proud sheriff of Desha County, Arkansas, a man so prominent and popular that he won five consecutive terms in office. Although he was married with two children, around 1881 he entered into a relationship with Missouri Bradford, an African American woman who bore his child. Some two years later, Missouri and Isaac abscondedto Memphis, hoping to begin a new life there together. Although Tennessee lawmakers had made miscegenation a felony, Isaac’s dark complexion enabled the couple to apply successfully for a marriage license and take their vows. Word of the marriage quickly spread, however, and Missouri and Isaac were charged with unlawful cohabitation. An attorney from Desha County, James Coates, came to Memphis to act as special prosecutor in the case. Events then took a surprising turn as Isaac chose to deny his white heritage in order to escape conviction. Despite this victory in court, however, Isaac had been publicly disgraced, and his sense of honor propelled him into a violent confrontation with Coates, the man he considered most responsible for his downfall.
Charles F. Robinson uses Missouri and Isaac’s story to examine key aspects of post-Reconstruction society, from the rise of miscegenation laws and the particular burdens they placed on anyone who chose to circumvent them, to the southern codes of honor that governed both social and individual behavior, especially among white men. But most of all, the book offers a compelling personal narrative with important implications for our supposedly moretolerant times.