Minnie Moses, Mother of 1930s Dancer Fay Ray, and The US Expatriation Law of 1907

In response to a concern about dual citizenship, Congress passed the Expatriation Act of 1907.[1] One provision mandated that women who married foreign born men would automatically lose their citizenship and be considered citizens of their husband’s country. If they were not eligible for said citizenship, they would then be stateless. Either way, they were no longer US citizens. It is interesting that the concern didn’t extend to US men who married foreign born women. I only learned about this law within the past two years. I don’t remember anyone mentioning this to me prior to that. Just recently I found a real-life example in my own research.

Fay Ray
Fay Ray, August 2006, at the 100th Year Celebration of her sister-in-law, Kate Lassiter Jones, Randolph County NC. Photo by Margo Lee Williams

I was doing some background research on the nightclub singer and dancer of the 1930s and 40s, (and later, member of Silver Belles) Fay Ray. Fay was the second wife of my 2nd cousin, 3x removed, Clark Lassiter.[2] I learned from a biography written about her that her father’s name was Dave Moses and her mother was Minnie Parrot. They lived in Natchitoches, Louisiana.[3] I was hoping to learn more about her background. The article mentioned that her mother died when she was still very young, and her father then married an Alma Barnes. For reasons not stated, she was sent to live with another family.

Since Fay was born in 1919, I looked in the 1920 census for the family. I found them quickly. Dave, Minnie, and Fay were living in Natchitoches, Louisiana.[4] I noted something which was not mentioned in the biographies I had read about her, Fay’s father, Dave Moses, was born in Syria. I wanted to be sure that I had the right family, so I kept looking for additional information. I looked for a death record for Minnie, but I found nothing. I did find Dave and Alma, no Fay, in the 1930[5] and 1940[6] censuses. Each census noted that Dave was born in Syria. I was also able to locate Dave’s naturalization records.[7] It noted that he immigrated from Syria in 1912, by way of Brazil, but he didn’t remember the name of the ship. He said his name when he immigrated was Deeb Moussa.[8] He also mentioned his wife’s maiden name, Alma Barnes. I had the right Dave Moses.

I went back to look at the 1920 census to see if I could identify something that would tell me anything about Minnie, Fay’s mother. That’s when I saw it. Next to Minnie’s name, in the citizenship column it said, “Al,” Alien. Yet the places of birth for her and her parents were listed as Louisiana. In accordance with the Expatriation Act of 1907, Minnie had lost her citizenship as a result of marrying Dave. Dave had not been naturalized yet; he was still a foreign national. Thus, Minnie had become a Syrian national at best, stateless at worst. Did she realize that? I have no idea. Fay, on the other hand, was considered a citizen, by virtue of her own birth in Louisiana.

Fay Moses 1920 census
Fay Moses in the 1920 Census, Natchitoches, Louisiana

Another anomaly found

From everything I have read and those conversations that I did have with Fay, I believe she was estranged from Dave and Alma. According to her biography she was about eight when Dave married Alma and they sent her to live with another family. I found her in the 1930 census living with Albert Graham and his wife Gladys. She was eleven years old.[9] According to her biography, she was not treated well by the Grahams, so she ran away that year.[10] The census revealed yet another unusual piece to Fay’s background.

In 1920, Dave, Minnie, and Fay, were listed as “w,” white. In 1930 and 1940, Dave and Alma were also listed as white. On Dave’s naturalization papers, he was listed as white. However, in 1930, and for the rest of her life, Fay would be known as a person of color (exact terms changing with the times). What happened?

Fay Moses in 1930 census
Fay Moses in the 1930 Census, Natchitoches, Louisiana

Truthfully, I have no idea why or how Fay slid across the color line, but I can speculate. I have no idea what either of Fay’s parents actually looked like. Someone from Syria could be very fair or very brown. I am assuming that Dave was more on the fair side since he was able to live out his life during segregation as a white man. What about Minnie?

As noted even less is known about Minnie, but in the biography about Fay it states that Minnie was from Houma. Houma is an area that continues to have a strong Native American presence. It is possible that Minnie had a mixed Native background with fair enough coloring to pass for white, but with such “dark” features as black hair and dark eyes. This is purely speculation. The real-life Fay was “fair,” but swarthy, with dark hair and dark eyes. It’s entirely possible that Alma, who was white, with unknown features, did not wish to raise a swarthy complexioned girl, whose dark features would always raise questions about the family’s “whiteness.” On the other hand, Fay’s background was clearly divergent from that of the average African American. Fairer complexion has often carried questions of whether a person thought they were “better than” their darker friends or family members, thus creating tensions. Leaving the smaller rural communities for the more cosmopolitan cities could provide better acceptance for people of all skin hues. If I am right about this scenario, it is no wonder that Fay never reconciled with her father. I can’t imagine what pain she must have felt at being given away.

Fay Ray Lassiter on tour
Fay Moses (Left) on tour with the 1942 production, Ship Ahoy, with Ethel Love (Middle) and Olive Sayles (Right). From Celebrating Fay, by Kurt and Klaus

In the end, this is all speculation. What we do know is that Dave and Alma sent Fay away and she went from a white home to a black home. Fed up with bad treatment, she left, eventually becoming the dancer and star, Fay Ray, who married my cousin.

References

[1] Brown, T. B. (17 March 2017). That Time American Women Lost Their Citizenship Because They Married Foreigners. Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed. Retrieved from: NPR.org

[2] North Carolina, Marriage Collection, 1741-2004 [Database on-line]. Fay Moses and Clark Lassiter, married: 27 October 2002, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] Kurt and Klaus. (n.d.). Celebrating Fay. Unpublished manuscript (Copy in possession of the author).

[4] 1920 US Federal Census; Census Place: Natchitoches, Natchitoches, Louisiana; Dave Moses, head; Fay Moses, daughter. NARA Roll: T625-617; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 38. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] 1930 US Federal Census; Census Place: Natchitoches, Natchitoches, Louisiana; Dave Moses, head; Alma J Moses, wife. Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 0003; NARA Microfilm Series T626. FHL microfilm: 2340534. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] 1940 US Federal Census; Census Place: Natchitoches, Natchitoches, Louisiana; Dore [sic] Moses, head; Alma Moses, wife. NARA Roll: M-T0627-01414; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 35-3B. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[7] Louisiana, Naturalization Records, 1836-1998 [Database on-line]. Dave Moss, Petition. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] The only record that the author has found so far that seems to match the naturalization information is: New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [Database on-line]. Diab Moussa, Arrival 7 Sep 1913, New York, S. S. New York, from Southampton, England. NARA Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: 2169; Line: 10; Page Number: 65. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] 1930 US Federal Census; Census Place: Natchitoches, Natchitoches, Louisiana; Albert Graham, head; Fay Moses, Adopted Daughter. Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0001; FHL microfilm: 2340534. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] Kurt and Klaus. (n.d.). Celebrating Fay. Unpublished manuscript. (Copy in possession of the author).

 

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13 thoughts on “Minnie Moses, Mother of 1930s Dancer Fay Ray, and The US Expatriation Law of 1907”

  1. That’s a long post! My wife and I really don’t understand this dual citizenship thing. My wife Dr C is from Kathmandu and gave up her nepali citizenship as soon as we were married in 1971. A lot of her student associates kept theirs only so they could get cheap flights and no visa flights back to Nepal! Why else do people do it?

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    1. I’m sure there are a variety of reasons people choose to keep their citizenship. 100+ years ago, cheap flights were not a thing. Considering the difficulties of obtaining visas for some countries, it’s clearly a blessing. For anyone who has lived through war in their country, or other political upheaval, having a get out of jail card seems more than prudent. For anyone whose work takes them to politically sensitive areas, having multiple options for get out of jail cards also seems wise. Frankly, I wish I had options.
      The issue here is none of those things. The issue here is what the government perceived was a problem and that their solution was to STRIP American citizens (who probably couldn’t even find the country of origin of their spouse on a map) of their citizenship because they fell in love with a guy with an accent. BUT, they didn’t do such to a man who fell in love with a woman with an accent.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh I agree, but we don’t understand people hanging on to the passports and citizenship of the country they have clearly left behind because of war, discrimination, etc …. as my wife did. Why keep them, this isn’t a get out of jail free card, it’s surely a return to jail card?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You would have to ask them. Citizenship is emotional. Sometimes people hold on to the dream of better days allowing them to return home. If they have left family behind they probably hope to be able to at least visit someday. It’s a little like divorce. Some people just can’t bring themselves to do it, even after years of separation, even though it was a bad marriage. Like I said, it’s emotional.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I still,don’t understand it. An emotional response includes belonging, loyalty, pride, etc. My wife has none of these things and gave up Nepali citizenship in 1971 though she still has many family there. She has friends from student days however who maintained dual citizenship purely so as to visit family visa free and who also have no feelings of belonging, loyalty or pride. It’s odd! We know however that if we leave England later this year we will totally renounce our citizenship.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Practical counts for something too. Emotional doesn’t necessarily mean loyalty to a current government, or pride in a corrupt government. It’s a choice. Sometimes people hope things will improve and then they can return to help rebuild a country they can feel proud of. Everyone has their own reasons.
        Speaking of not understanding, I don’t understand why you would give up your British citizenship. Sounds completely foolish to me. So, there you go.

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