Verda Byrd's parents never told her the truth about where she came from.
Move over Rachel Dolezal, there's a new person making us question our assumptions about race. Only this one didn't lie.
Verda Byrd was born in 1942. She grew up in Newton, KS, the only child of a middle-class black family. Her father, Ray, was a railroad porter, and her mother, Edwinna, was a homemaker. She had a normal childhood, and was treated by everyone she knew as a light-skinned black person. She lived that way for seven decades, until a startling revelation changed everything.
In 2013, Edwinna confessed to Verda that she was adopted. At the age of 70, this was a big shock. However, Edwinna wouldn't reveal any further details. She was suspiciously cagey about the whole situation. It was only after she passed away that Verda looked into her own past and discovered the truth: her birth parents were white.
She was born Jeanette Beagle, one of ten children born to transients Earl and Daisy Beagle. Her father walked out on the family, and then her mother fell victim to a horrible trolley accident. Then she became a ward of the state. Once the Byrds adopted her, they decided never to tell her she was adopted. So naturally, the truth came as something of a shock. She told USA Today:
"It was unbelievable. I grew up not questioning birth or anything else because it was never told to me that I was born white."
Verda still considers herself African American. "I'm comfortable with being a black woman," she said. However, she rankles at any comparison to Rachel Dolezal, because unlike Dolezal, she never lied. She just didn't know. Also, she grew up being treated as a black woman by the world and her family. And she never got a perm and a spray tan to try and pass. Really, she's not like Rachel Dolezal at all.
In the end, she feels no connection to the identity of Jeanette Beagle. As she put it:
"Jeanette Beagle does not fit Verda Byrd. Jeanette Beagle does not have an education. Jeanette Beagle has no Social Security money because she does not work. She never went to kindergarten."
It doesn't seem like much of a choice. She can either be Verda Byrd, the twice-married mother of one who grew up with a loving family, or Jeanette Beagle, who doesn't have an education or money because she's still technically a baby. All issues of race aside, who would choose to be a baby?
Maybe Rachel Dolezal would. You can't stay mad at a baby.