Black Woman Discovers She’s A White Woman At The Age Of 70, Still Considers Herself Black After Being Compared To Rachel Dolezal

Remember the story of Rachel Dolezal? The “trans-racial” woman who was born to white parents but lived life as a “self-proclaimed Black woman”?  The women who became the President of the NAACP Spokane, Washington chapter from 2014 until June of 2015?  The woman who as soon as she was found out who then attempted to continue and justify her lies and proceeded to self-identify as African-American? 

This is a story that is similar, but not so much.  A woman by the name of Verda Ann Wagner Byrd’s story is going viral as she has unknowingly been living a lie for 70 years.  Legally adopted as a baby in 1943 by Ray Wagner and Edwinna Wagner, a Black couple, she was raised to believe that she in fact was African-American.  It wasn’t until she was 70-years-old, back in 2013, that Byrd became privy to shocking family secrets that would change everything for her. 

“It was overwhelming,” said Verda to ABC News in a 2015 interview. “You cannot erase 70 years of your life and just accept what the papers say instantly. It’s like 70 years pass by, and in a blink of an eye, you’re a different race.” 

Her complicated story begins in 1942 when Verda, born Jeanette Beagle, was born in Kansas City, MO, to parents Daisy and Earl Beagle. Byrd was then adopted by the Wagners, who were unable to have children of their own.  She grew up with folks believing that she took her adopted mother’s skin tone, as she was light-skinned. 

“I went to a white school because our town was small and our schools weren’t segregated,” she said. “And other than my dad getting paid less than his white counterparts, my family didn’t experience much discrimination because my mom and I were lighter-skinned and there weren’t a lot of African Americans in Newton.” 

Later on, she hired a researcher to help trace her background.  “At that time, I thought, now I have the peace of mind to find out who this Jeanette Beagle really is,” Byrd said.  After coming to terms with the truth, a two-year process, she has come to accept it.   

“I’ve accepted my life, because as a trans-racial adoptee, it is what it is,” she said. “I am still comfortable as Verda Ann Wagner Byrd. When I die, and when I’m six feet under, my tombstone is not going to have the word ‘race’ on it. I’m lucky to have two moms and dads.”  As for how she identifies, Byrd is a “beautiful Black woman.” 

However, don’t compare her complicated story to that of Rachel Dolezal.  “She upsets me so much because I don’t understand why she or anyone needs to lie about their race or their ethnic group,” she states.  “I did not know I was born white. She knew it.” 

Her story is now available in book form, thanks to a collaborative effort telling her story to author Joyce Garlick-Peavy in the book Seventy Years of Blackness.  

About Jamari Williams

Jamari Williams is a seasoned journalist who works mainly in the fields of music, film and television. Jamari is a Morehouse graduate who began writing at the age of 12 and have wrote for many new media companies.

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