When is an INDIAN not an INDIAN?

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Racial integrity laws were passed by the General Assembly to protect “whiteness” against what many Virginians perceived to be the negative effects of race-mixing. They included the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited interracial marriage and defined as white a person “who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian”; the Public Assemblages Act of 1926, which required all public meeting spaces to be strictly segregated; and a third act, passed in 1930, that defined as black a person who has even a trace of African American ancestry. This way of defining whiteness as a kind of purity in bloodline became known as the “one drop rule.” These laws arrived at a time when a pseudo-science of white superiority called eugenics gained support by groups like the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, which argued that the mixing of whites, African Americans, and Virginia Indianscould cause great societal harm, despite the fact that the races had been intermixed since European settlement. From his position as the state registrar of vital statistics, Walter A. Plecker micromanaged the racial classifications of Virginians, often worrying that blacks were attempting to pass as white. Virginia Indians were particularly incensed by the laws, and by Plecker in particular, because the state seemed intent on removing any legal recognition of Indian identity in favor of the broader category “colored.” After one failed try, lawmakers largely achieved this goal in 1930, drawing negative reaction from the black press. The Racial Integrity Act remained on the books until 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Loving v. Virginia, found its prohibition of interracial marriage to be unconstitutional. In 2001, the General Assembly denounced the act, and eugenics, as racist.


1924 RACIAL INTEGRITY ACT

The 1924 Racial Integrity Act was part of a series of laws designed to prevent racial intermixing. Under the direction of Dr. Walter Plecker, the Bureau of Vital Statistics divided Virginians into strictly defined racial categories of “white” and “colored” and banned marriages between people of different races. Many Virginians filed lawsuits disputing their racial classification and claiming their right to get married.

Related Links:

The Legitimization Act

The Racial Integrity Act

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