African Americans as a Minority-- Racial Purity Laws

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I. The development of slavery and racism:

A. Driven by the desire for cheap labor and economic gain

B. The British Colonies in the 1600s

1. In the 1660s, England, under Charles II, decided that the country was no longer overpopulated and that it would be unwise to continue to let the work force leave.

2. The first Navigation Act was passed in the early 1650s leading to lower tobacco prices.

3. In 1662, British government granted monopoly to Royal African Slave Company initiating a policy to bring slaves in, replacing the shortage of indentured servants and lower the costs of producing tobacco, rice, indigo, and other colonial staple crops.

C. Blacks in North America:


1. First Africans to arrive to the British Colonies in 1619 did so as free men and women-- indentured servants at Jamestown, VA.


a. Slavery was rare in the British colonies in the 1620s and 1630s. Virginia and Maryland did not recognize slavery until the 1660s.

(1) But, black indentured servants were not treated like white indentured servants.


b. Tight controls were soon extended over slaves.


(1) Conversion to Christianity did not bring freedom.

(2) Laws were passed stating that the status of a child (slave or free) followed the mother. (Most interracial sexual unions were white male/ black female).

(3) African slaves could not own property, could not testify in court, and could not attend school


c. Racism was also growing in among whites in general throughout the colonies including non-slave holders.


(1) Prior to this, among Europeans the color black denoted evil and white denoted purity-- long before skin color was linked to race.

(2) Blacks were not Christians, Europeans fearful of the differences between them and Africans regarded the latter as savage and uncivilized.

II. With this brief Introduction, we will examine the long history of Black Americans’ struggle for equality through this country’s attempts to define and segregate the races. We’ll begin at the end, so to speak-- The case of Loving vs. Virginia. I’ve included an excerpt from a newspaper article below:

A. Loving vs Virginia (1967): (This is a good place to start because it illustrates just how recently anti-miscegenation laws were on the books. This example also illustrates the amazing endurance of Virginia legislation enacted to prevent the mixing of the races.-- from 1657 to the last law enacted in 1932. It was this latter law that the Supreme court of the United States overturned in 1967-- (over 300 years later).


B. "Racial Integrity" 


In an attempt to prevent the mixing of races and preserve "racial integrity" many states passed laws against racial intermarriage. Society encourages homogamy (marriage between people who are alike with regard to race, ethnicity, religion social class background) through informal norms, and in some cases, formal norms (laws). Functionalists argue that this promotes social stability by preserving the distribution of wealth. Conflict theorists argue that people who have wealth and power try to keep it among themselves by controlling marriage carefully. Interactionists would say that people from similar backgrounds have more shared experiences and symbols that make building and maintaining relationships easier.

Maintaining homogamy was easier in the past, before romantic love emerged as a major criterion of mate selection-- an attribute of modern industrial society. The move from large extended families and tribal/clan networks to small nuclear families reduced the direct influence of the parents in the selection of mates (matchmaking) as a means of establishing alliances between families. Romantic love has the potential of cutting across all barriers-- race, ethnic, religious, and social class boundaries. To counter this, many states passed various laws, including the notorious "racial integrity" laws. (No doubt racism and the type of racist sentiments we read about in Gould's book also played a very powerful role in this).

[In class, we discussed the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case (Loving vs. Virginia) that ended prohibitions against racial intermarriage.

III. Racial Purity Laws: Phase One: Legislate against the ACT of interracial marriage.

1662 Any Christian committing fornication with a Negro man or woman:

Penalty: "double the fines of a former act" (In 1657, ACT XIV was passed imposing a fine of 500 pounds of tobacco (or whipping) for fornication.

1691 Racial intermarriage between whites, (bond or free) with a Negro, mulatto or Indian (bond or free)

Penalty: banishment from Virginia forever

1705 Racial intermarriage between white Christian and any of following; Negro, mulatto, Indian, Jew, Moor, Mohammedan or other infidel

Penalty: All white (indentured) servants belonging to the white Christian are to be set free

1705 Racial intermarriage between free white man or woman with a Negro

Penalty: 6 months in prison without bail; fine of 10 pounds to the parish; ministers performing marriage fined 10,000 pounds of tobacco

1753 Racial intermarriage between a free English or white man or woman and a Negro or mulatto man or woman, bond or free

Penalty: 6 months in prison without bail; fine of ten pounds to the parish

1792 Racial intermarriage between free white men and white women with Negroes or mulattoes bond or free

Penalty: 6 months in prison; fine of $30.00 for the use of the parish; ministers who marry Negroes and whites fined $250.00 per marriage

1818 Leaving the state to avoid certain sections of the marriage law of 1792

Penalty: punishment to be the same as if the offense were committed in the Commonwealth

[There were three additional laws passed in the 1800s-- 1848; 1878; 1879-- that have been omitted here].

1932 Any white person intermarrying with a colored person or any colored person intermarrying with a white person

Penalty: felony conviction; confinement in penitentiary from 1 to 5 years

IV About a hundred years later-- a form of cultural lag-- we see the emergence of legislation that defines race and sets boundaries-- Why the 100 year lag?) Notice how this definition becomes "stricter" as time progresses: 

1785 1/4 Every person of whose grandfather or grandmothers anyone is or shall have been a Negro, although all his other progenitors, except that descending from the Negro shall have been white persons, shall be deemed a mulatto, and so every person who shall have one forth or more Negro blood shall in like manner be deemed a mulatto.

1792 1/4 It is provided that every person other than a Negro, although all his other progenitors except that descending from the Negro shall have been white persons shall be deemed a mulatto; so every such person who shall have one-fourth part or more of Negro Blood, shall in like manner be deemed a mulatto.

1833 n/a A court upon satisfactory proof, by a white person of the fact, may grant to any free person of mixed blood a certificate that he is not a Negro, which certificate shall protect such person against the penalties and disabilities to which Negroes are subject.

1860 1/4 Every person who has one-fourth or more of Negro blood shall be deemed a mulatto, and the word Negro in any section shall be construed to mean mulatto as well as Negro.

1866 1/4 Every person having one-fourth or more Negro blood shall be deemed a colored person, and every person not a colored person having one-fourth or more Indian blood shall be deemed an Indian.

1910 1/16 Every person having one-sixteenth or more Negro blood shall be deemed a colored person, and every person not a colored person having one-fourth or more Indian blood shall be deemed an Indian.

1924 ANY The term 'white person' shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian, but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian, and no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed white persons.


V. Finally, there was a move to create records because physical racial distinctions must have become blurred: Note that again, there is a lag in time before laws mandating record keeping are established

1833 A court upon satisfactory proof, by a white person of the fact, may grant to any free person of mixed blood a certificate that he is not a Negro, which certificate shall protect such person against the penalties and disabilities to which free Negroes are subject.

1853 Every commissioner of the revenue shall make an annual registration of the births and deaths in his district. He shall record the date and place of every birth, the full name of the child, the sex and color, and if colored whether free or slave, the full name of the mother, and if the child be free and born in wedlock the full name, occupation and residence of the father, if the child be a slave, the name of the owner, etc.

1866 It shall be the duty of every minister celebrating a marriage and of the keeper of the records of any religious society which solemnizes marriages, by the consent of the parties in open congregation at once to make a record of every marriage between white persons, or between colored persons, stating in such record whether the persons are white or colored, and return a copy to the clerk of the county or corporation in which the marriage is solemnized.

1867 It having been represented to the assembly that the United States authorities have collected statistics exhibiting the marriages heretofore solemnized between colored persons which ought to be preserved, and the Assembly being solicitous to preserve evidences for legitimizing the offspring of such marriages, the governor is instructed to obtain from the United States authorities registers of marriages between persons and have copies deposited with clerks of courts.

1924 For the preservation of racial integrity, registration certificates shall be made out and filed for those persons born before June 14, 1912, showing the racial mixture for whom the birth certificate is not on file. It is a penitentiary offense to make a registration certificate false as to race or color. No marriage license shall be granted unless the clerk has reasonable assurance that the statements as to color are correct.


VI. Now that the system is in place, all that needs tp be done is to pass Jim Crow Legislation that separates the races: This is the formula for denial of equal opportunity!

A. The status of free blacks in Virginia had steadily eroded since their arrival at Jamestown. Legislation enacted in 1639 ordered that "All persons except Negroes are to be provided with arms and ammunition..." (Guild, 1969, p. 37). By 1860, a wide variety of legislation had passed with controls ranging from restrictions on geographic mobility to prohibitions against the purchase of liquor. Free Negroes were not allowed to attend school, carry guns, serve on juries, vote in public elections, or preach.

B. After the Civil War, Virginia legislators were faced with a new dilemma-- how to continue the subjugation of the black population under the guise of freedom and equality. The era of "separate but equal" was born.


1. Separate schools were repeatedly mandated by additional legislation passed in 1902, 1906, 1908, 1920, and 1928

2. In 1912, the state passed legislation that supported the establishment of "segregation districts."

3. Segregation of public facilities -- passenger rail, steamships plying the Commonwealth's waters (1900); trolley lines (1901); state penitentiaries (1908); places of public entertainment (theaters, motion picture shows, etc) 1926; passenger motor vehicles (busses) (1930).

4. In the political area, voting was controlled through capitation taxes (1876); Poll taxes and literacy tests (1902; 1904; 1928)

5. But by 1930, everything was in place to ensure that life chances of Virginia's blacks did not approach (or threaten) those of whites. Most major social institutions-- family, education, economy, and politics were directly touched by racial purity legislation. (It is significant that religion was not).

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