In 1977, Susie Guillory Phipps and her husband began planning a vacation to South America. In order to travel, they would need current passports; and in order to apply for passports, they would need official copies of their birth certificates. Guillory Phipps requested a copy of her birth certificate from the Louisiana Bureau of Vital Records but was told that it could not be issued because of an apparent discrepancy – her race, as listed on the birth certificate, was different than the race she had indicated on her application. At the age of 48, she discovered something about herself that would make her physically ill for the three days that followed – she was “Colored.” According to her birth certificate, both of her parents were designated “Colored” and therefore she too was Colored.
So began a five-year court battle between Susie Guillory Phipps, her six brothers and sisters, and the State of Louisiana. Not only did they want their birth certificates changed, but they wanted the state’s “one-drop rule” declared unconstitutional. At the time, Louisiana State Law declared anyone with “1/32 Negro blood,” Negro; and according to a genealogist hired by the state, Susie Guillory Phipps had 3/32 Negro blood – her great-great-great-great grandmother was an enslaved African woman by the name of Marguerite.
According to Guillory Phipps, however, she was White. Plain and simple. “I am White. I am all White. I was raised as a White child. I went to White schools. I married White twice.”
In the end, the State of Louisiana upheld the “one-drop rule” and Susie Guillory Phipps lost her case.
The State of Louisiana repealed its law on racial classification 13 years later in 1983, but because the repeal was not retroactive, to date, Susie Guillory Phipps remains Black by law. Although the State no longer abides by the “one-drop rule,” if a person now contests his or her racial classification, the onus of providing a “preponderance of evidence” proving the fallacy of the birth certificate rests on the individual.
“What makes you Black?” Ebony (January, 1983)
“Color Blind.” Time Magazine (July 18, 1983)