In the firing line
First-hand accounts of what it was like to submit to race classification are surprisingly few and far between. These transcripts of the cross-examination of Oscar Henry Felton, who was being accused of "passing" for white, give a sense of the heated nature of these hearings and the way in which the state tried to prove that Felton was guilty of "passing". Felton, at the end of the court case, was classified as "coloured" as his mother was "coloured", even though he thought of himself as "white".
Adv. Kruger: And your mother's maiden name was Thomas?
OHF: Thomas, that's correct.
Adv. Kruger: Christian name was Evelyn at one stage?
OHF: Evelyn, yes.
Adv. Kruger: Maria, what was the other name?
OHF: Well, I don't know. I think it's Anna Maria.
Adv. Kruger: Anna Maria, that's right. But that's exactly the same person. Evelyn Felton and Anna Maria Felton is exactly one and the same person?
Adv. Kruger: In 1951 your mother was a widow?
Adv. Kruger: And she was born in Cape Town?
OHF: Yes, in the Cape Province.
Adv. Kruger: She was a dressmaker?
Adv. Kruger: She did have her own business?
OHF: Yes, she conducted her own.
Adv. Kruger: And was the home language English?
Adv. Kruger: And could she speak Afrikaans?
OHF: She could speak Afrikaans.
Adv. Kruger: Can you speak Afrikaans?
Adv. Kruger: And was your mother a Cape Coloured?
OHF: No, I've never ... I don't know.
Adv. Kruger: You don't know whether she was a Cape Coloured or not. That's in actual fact your position?
OHF: Position, yes.
Adv. Kruger: Yes, so that to all intents and purposes all these details that she gave the census may be quite correct?
OHF: It may be quite correct.
Adv. Kruger: Correct. Every bit. I've read them all out to you. I've read them, all out to you except the one Cape Coloured and I asked you about the Cape Coloured?
Adv. Kruger: So she may be a Cape Coloured?
Adv. Kruger: Do you know your wife's signature at all?
OHF: I don't think I could recognise it.
Adv. Kruger: That's her signature; and the writing on that form is actually the same as the person that signed that form, isn't that so?
Adv. Kruger: Is that right, that's her handwriting? Just tell the board what does she designate her race position there? What does she call herself?
Adv. Kruger: She calls herself Coloured - that's your wife?
Adv. Kruger: She never told you that she was a Coloured girl?
Adv. Kruger: Where did she work?
OHF: She worked at the Sprinbok Clothing Factory.
Adv. Kruger: Clothing factory. But you knew that a lot of Coloured girls actually work as such at the clothing factory?
OHF: Yes. Well, I was told that. So, I told her ... I asked her to leave immediately and she's not working at the moment.
Adv. Kruger: Now where are your children in Natal, Mr Felton?
OHF: They're at Little Flower School.
Adv. Kruger: Little Flower is a Catholic school?
OHF: A Catholic, yes.
Adv. Kruger Are there any Coloured children there?
OHF: No, not to my knowledge.
Adv. Kruger: Do you know that the Catholic schools don't mind if Coloured children come in to school, you know that, don't you?
OHF: No, not with the new law.
Adv. Kruger: No. But know that Catholic schools do not worry about the colour so much, isn't it? You're aware of that?
Adv. Kruger: Isn't that the reason why you sent your children to a Catholic school?
OHF: No, no, sir. I'm sorry, we were living in a room in 9 Berea Road - only in a room. I couldn't raise two children, you know it's very difficult to struggle and have little room and have two small children with you. You have no alternative but to send them away.
Adv. Kruger: Now this area, Lovers Walk in Fordsburg, there are Coloured people staying there?
OHF: There are Coloured, but there's Whites as well.
Adv. Kruger: So you actually resided in a mixed area, Coloured and White and probably also Indian?
Adv. Kruger: Now the school that you went to, how far is that from Lovers Walk, Fordsburg?
OHF: It's about half a mile.
Adv. Kruger: So there must have been other fellows from the same area as you that also went to the school?
Adv. Kruger: And I presume that also some of the Coloured fellows that looked fairly white also went to that school?
OHF: Well, they may have.
Adv. Kruger: Yes. But you also know of men of that area that looked fairly white that were Coloureds actually?
OHF: No. Well, I mixed up with the whites.
Adv. Kruger: And I'm going to put it to you that you were well aware, you and your good little wife, that you were both really Coloured people and that you probably both looked fairly White and that you tried for White?
OHF: I never regarded myself as a Coloured.
Adv. Kruger: I see. But you were aware that there may have been Coloured blood in you?
OHF: The possibility, yes.
Adv. Kruger: But you in actual fact you were aware of that?
Adv. Kruger: But you thought well, as far as I'm concerned I'm going for White whatever my ancestry is - isn't that so?
OHF: Well, my father was White.
Adv. Kruger: Yes, but your mother wasn't quite White?
OHF: It happens in the best of families.
Adv. Kruger: ... You knew your mother was a Coloured woman and you wanted to break away from the Coloureds?
OHF: No, I didn't want to because she had ... she was working for White people; she was a dressmaker.
Adv. Kruger: That's right. But you knew that she was a Coloured woman, working for White people, isn't that so?
OHF: Yes. Well, let's put it that way, yes.
- Oscar Henry Felton vs The Secretary for the Interior and Race Classification Board, National Archives, Pretoria, TAB, Ref. M1840/1970