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Karl Jacoby & Robert "Chip" Williams

Jacoby - Chip Lecture SliderPlease join Karl Jacoby and Robert “Chip” Williams as they discuss the extraordinary but true history of the border-crossing William Ellis. Born into slavery in Victoria, Texas, William Ellis capitalized on the Spanish that he learned as a child to reinvent himself in the 1880s as the Mexican businessman Guillermo Eliseo, a cosmopolitan figure who circulated between San Antonio, Mexico City, and New York City’s Wall Street. Ellis’s remarkable ability to negotiate color lines between black and Mexican communities as well as the borderline between the US and Mexico casts in sharp relief the racial and political geography of Mexico, the U.S., and their shared border region at the turn of the last century.

Karl Jacoby is the Allan Nevins Professor of American History at Columbia University. Robert “Chip” Williams is a teacher in the Los Angeles school system and the great grand-nephew of William Ellis. Their presentation will explore the interplay between what the archive can tell us about William Ellis versus other, more vernacular sources, such as family stories.