The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

Karl Jacoby

A prize-winning historian tells a brand new tale of the black adventure in the US in the course of the lifetime of a mysterious entrepreneur.

To his contemporaries in Gilded Age new york, Guillermo Eliseo was once a beautifully filthy rich Mexican, the proud proprietor of a luxurious residence overlooking primary Park, a hectic Wall highway place of work, and ratings of mines and haciendas in Mexico. yet for all his visible riches and his stylish visual appeal, Eliseo was once additionally the possessor of a devastating mystery: he used to be now not, in reality, from Mexico in any respect. relatively, he had all started lifestyles as a slave named William Ellis, born on a cotton plantation in southern Texas in the course of the waning years of King Cotton.

After emancipation, Ellis, capitalizing at the Spanish he discovered in the course of his youth alongside the Mexican border and his ambivalent visual appeal, engaged in a virtuoso act of reinvention. He crafted an adjust ego, the Mexican Guillermo Eliseo, who was once capable of entry some of the privileges denied to African americans on the time: touring in first class educate berths, staying in upscale motels, and consuming within the most interesting restaurants.

Eliseo’s good fortune in crossing the colour line, despite the fact that, introduced heightened scrutiny in its wake as he grew to become the intimate of political and enterprise leaders on either side of the US-Mexico border. Ellis, not like many passers, maintained a connection to his relatives and to black politics that still raised awkward questions about his racial prestige. but such used to be Ellis’s ability in manipulating his era’s racial codes, many of the whites he encountered persevered to insist that he needs to be Hispanic at the same time Ellis grew to become embroiled in scandals that hinted the fellow referred to as Guillermo Eliseo used to be now not rather who he claimed to be.

The unusual profession of William Ellis reads like a singular yet bargains clean insights at the background of the Reconstruction period, the US-Mexico border, and the abiding riddle of race. At a second whilst the U.S. is deepening its connections with Latin the USA and spotting that race is greater than easily black or white, Ellis’s tale couldn't be extra well timed or important.

1 map; eight pages of illustrations

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