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Here's the problem: I use the marquee tool to highlight a color mage. I then edit>copy. I open a new file and then edit>paste. The image is pasted into the new file but it is black and white. I don't think I've made any changes with the color
Have you created a new black and white image? With the New Document dialog box open, note what the Colour Mode is set too. You may have Grayscale instead of RGB Color.
Yea, sounds like you had created a grayscale image previously, so your settings are sticky. Make sure, when you create the new document, it's in rgb mode.