NOTE: W.A. Plecker, acting as Virginia's first Registrar of Vital Statistics, was determined to "mark" all Melungeons as not-white. Here is one of many articles and essays that he wrote and published on behalf of the American eugenics movement, a movement with haunting similarities to Hitler's genocide against European Jews and Gypsies. The views expressed below are those of W.A. Plecker and his racist colleagues; they are presented here to illustrate the hostility and vigor he showed in persecuting mixed-ancestry Americans. An excellent discussion of Plecker's dubious "legacy" can be found in Pocahontas' People, by Helen Rountree.
VIRGINIA'S ATTEMPT TO ADJUST THE COLOR PROBLEM *
W. A. PLECKER, M.D., FELLOW A.P.HAState Registrar of Vital Statistics, Richmond, Virginia
* Read at the joint session of the Public Health Administration and Vital Statistics Sections of the American Public Health Association at the Fifth-third Annual Meeting at Detroit, Michigan, October 23, 1924.
THE SETTLERS of North America came not as did the Spanish and Portuguese adventurers of the southern continent, without their women, bent only on conquest and the gaining of wealth and power; but bringing their families, the Bible, and high ideals of religious and civic freedom.
They came to make homes, to create a nation, and to found a civilization of the highest type; not to mix their blood with the savages of the land; not to originate a mongrel population combining the worst traits of both conquerors and conquered.
All was well until that fateful day in 1619 when a Dutch trader landed twenty negroes and sold them to the settlers, who hoped by means of slave labor to clear the land and develop the colony more quickly.
Few paused to consider the enormity of the mistake until it was too late. From this small beginning developed the great slave traffic which continued until 1808, when the importation of slaves into America was stopped. But there were already enough negroes in the land to constitute them the great American problem. Two races as materially divergent as the white and the negro, in morals, mental powers, and cultural fitness, cannot live in close contact without injury to the higher, amounting in many case; to absolute ruin. The lower never has been and never can be raised to the level of the higher.
This statement is not an opinion based on sentiment or prejudice, but is an unquestionable scientific fact. Recently published ethnological studies of history lead to this conclusion, as do the psychological tests of negro and negroid groups, especially the tests made by the United States Army for selective service in the World War. It is evident that in the hybrid mixture the traits of the more primitive will dominate those of the more specialized or civilized race. It is equally obvious that these culturally destructive characteristics are hereditary, carried in the germ plasm, and hence they cannot be influenced by environmental factors such as unproved economic, social and educational opportunities. On the contrary, such opportunities often accelerate the inevitable decadence. Dr. A. H. Estabrook in a recent study, made for the Carnegie Foundation, of a mixed group in Virginia many of whom are so slightly negroid as to be able to pass f or white, says, " School studies and observations of some adults indicate the group as a whole to be of poor mentality, much below the average, probably D or D- on the basis of the army intelligence tests. There is an early adolescence with low moral code, high incidence of licentiousness and 21 per cent of illegitimacy in group."
When two races live together there is but one possible outcome, and that is the amalgamation of the races. The result of this will be the elimination of the higher type, the one on which progress depends. In the mixture the lower race loses its native good qualities which may be utilized and developed in the presence of a dominant race.
The mongrels are superior in mental power to, the lower race. They are more cunning and more capable, but they lack the creative power of the higher race, and cannot sustain a lasting civilization that will rank with the best of the world.
History affords many examples. Egypt in the day of her greatness was white. But the white Pharaohs began to extend their dominion south into the negro land, and to bring back multitudes of captives for laborers and soldiers, special mention. being made also in their records that women in large numbers were included. Interbreeding with these negroes began and continued through many centuries until the country became largely negroid.
The climax was finally reached when one of the Pharaohs took to himself a negro wife and his mulatto son Taharka succeeding to the throne. The color line had vanished and with it Egypt's greatness. Assyrian invaders met with no effective resistance. From that day to this Egypt has been a mongrel nation, incapable of initiative, and now dependent upon foreign protection and leadership.
India affords a parallel example. Four thousand years ago the invasion of India by Aryans occurred. These came into contact with a mixed population of white-yellow-black composition. The conquerors attempted to prevent their own amalgamation with the natives by establishing a rigorous caste system, which was not like the present one based upon occupation, but upon color. This system failed, and though caste is still in force in India the reason for it no longer exists.
Modern South Africa is a melancholy example of what may occur when the intermixture which inevitably results is hastened by fanatical religious teaching and misguided legal interference from the mother country. Major E. S. Cox, who spent years in that region and in other countries studying race conditions, in his book "White America," gives a graphic account of the struggle made by the determined colonists against the imposition. They lost out, and the population of Cape Colony province is today largely mixed, showing how quickly this condition results when the natural process is speeded up by negrophilism and the law.
Let us return now to our own country, and, as we are considering Virginia, to that state in particular.
There are about twelve million negroes of various degrees of admixture in the Union today. Of the population of Virginia, nearly one-third is classed as negro, but many of these people are negroid, some being near-white, some having actually succeeded in getting across into the white class.
The mixed negroes are nearly all the result of illegitimate intercourse. The well known moral laxity resulting from close contact of a civilized with a primitive race makes illegitimate intermixture an easy matter. This is illustrated by the fact that the illegitimate birth-rate of Virginia negroes is thirty-two times that of Rhode - Island, while the District of Columbia rate is thirty-seven times, and that of Maryland forty-six times.
In the days when slavery was still a blight upon our state, it was quite a common occurrence for white men to father children born to the negro servants. The history, as related to me, of at least one colony of people known as "Issue" or Free issue," now spread over several counties, is that they originated in part in that manner.
It was considered undesirable to retain these mulattoes on the place, bearing the family name, and a number from one county were given their freedom and colonized in a distant county. These intermarried amongst themselves and with some people of Indian-negro-white descent, and received an additional infusion of white blood, either illegitimately or by actual marriage with low-grade whites.
At present these people are claiming to be white, or Indian, and under the former law when a person with one-sixteenth negro blood could be declared white, they were able in some instances to establish their claim legally.
These mixed breeds are not classed as white by the people of the community, and they will not associate with the genuine negroes. Five hundred or more in number they thus constitute a class of their own, and a serious problem in that county and others to which they migrate. If refused classification as white they claim to be Indian, and as such have been accepted in the birth reports to avoid listing them as white.
In a recent test case, the court upon evidence submitted from our birth records reaching back to 1853, and from the testimony of old residents, decided that these people under the new " Racial Integrity " law cannot be permitted to. intermarry with whites.
Another large colony which extends over into North Carolina probably has a similar origin. We have also compromised with these, and accept certificates as Indians, which indicates to us that they are not white.
In another county are about forty descendants of an illegitimate mating of a negro man and white woman four generations back. All of these have formerly succeeded in being classed as white, though under the new law our office has supplied to the clerks who issue marriage licenses, school authorities, commonwealth's attorneys, physicians and local registrars, a complete family tree, with the injunction to class them as colored.
Similar conditions exist in other localities, though not yet so far advanced. A case was recently discovered where a white man married a mulatto woman (probably in another state), and now has nine children, four of them being reported to our office as white. Investigation revealed the - fact that two other women bearing the same family name had mated with white men and were raising large families of children.
Another man whose birth was ' reported in 1878, both parents being registered as colored, had the court declare him a white man under the one-sixteenth law; married a white woman, and has four children reported as white by physicians.
The question of their color was referred to our office by the school authorities when the facts were discovered, and the white school advised under the new law not to receive them, though they engaged a-lawyer to assist them.
These examples illustrate the fact that even in Virginia where the questions of race and birth receive as much attention as anywhere in the country, the process of amalgamation is nevertheless going on, and in some localities is well advanced. Complete ruin can probably be held off for several centuries longer, but we have no reason to hope that we shall prove the one and only example in the history of the world of two races living together without amalgamation.
In Mexico, much of South America and the West Indies the process is practically complete, the mixture being Spanish or Portuguese, Indian and negro. Some portions of southern Europe have undergone a similar admixture. Immigrants from these lands to this country, while really negroid, are classed as white.
Several South American countries, or portions of them, still retain a considerable degree of race purity, which is being maintained by European immigration.
The immigration law recently passed by our- Congress will stop the legal admission of Mongolians and will check much, of the negroid immigration from elsewhere in the old world, but it will not prevent negro and negroid immigration from other parts of the western hemisphere. It is estimated that there are today from 500,000 to 750,000 Mexicans in the state of Texas alone, and that Mexicans compose more than half of the population of Arizona.
We come now to the question of a solution of the problem.
There is but one absolute solution which is acceptable and feasible, and that the one advocated by Lincoln and other far seeing statesmen of the past the separation of the races by gradual repatriation of the colored races. This measure .is still possible, but the longer it is deferred the greater the task.
In the lifetime of some now living we may expect the present twelve million colored population to increase to twenty or possibly thirty millions, and that perhaps to one hundred millions during the next century, to say nothing of the prolific Mongolians who are already firmly established upon our western coast. With the competition of this large number of people of low ideals and low standards of living, and the great effort to secure the means of maintaining a family up to the desired standard, the white population will to that extent be crowded out.
Virginia has made the first serious attempt to stay or postpone the evil day when this is no longer a white man's country. Her recently enacted law " for the preservation of racial integrity " is, in the words of Major E. S. Cox, " the most perfect expression of the white ideal, and the most important eugenical effort that 'has been made during the past 4,000 years." Of course this law will not prevent the illegitimate mixture of the races, although a law requiring the father to share with the mother the responsibility of the birth would have a deterring effect. When more than one man is involved, all should be held equally responsible in sharing the cost, as I am informed is the case in Norway.
But it is possible to stop the legal intermixture, and that Virginia has attempted to do in the above mentioned law, which defines a white person as one with " no trace whatsoever of blood other than Caucasian," and makes it a felony punishable by confinement f or one year in the penitentiary to make a willfully false statement as to color.
Clerks are not permitted to grant licenses for white persons to marry those with any trace of colored blood. It is needless to call attention to the sad plight of a white person who is thus imposed upon or of a white woman who under such circumstances would give birth to a child of marked negro characteristics, as will occur f rom time to time under Mendel's law.
The new law places upon the office of the Bureau of Vital Statistics much additional work, but we believe it win be a strong factor in preventing the intermarriage of the races and in preventing persons of negro descent from passing themselves off as white.
We are greatly encouraged by the interest and cooperation of physicians, local registrars, clerks, school authorities, the general public, and even the midwives. Our success during the first four months of the enforcement of this law, in securing more accurate.statements as to color on our birth certificates and in correcting previously existing errors is far beyond our expectation.
The states which now permit free intermarriage of the races, as listed in "American Marriage Laws,"1 are: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The most urgent need is the speedy adoption by these states and the District of Columbia of a law forbidding the intermarriage of the white and colored races.
We are all interested in reducing the death rate from preventable diseases, and of increasing our birth rates. Is that, however, the only thought that may occupy the mind of health workers? Is it not of greater importance to the welfare of the state to give some thought to the quality and value of its future citizens, than to lavish all of its energies and money upon prolonging the lives and increasing the number of the unfit, who are already increasing far more rapidly in proportion than the more desirable?
The white race in this land is the foundation upon which rests its civilization, and is responsible for the leading position which we occupy amongst the nations of the world. It is not therefore just and right that this race decide for itself what its composition shall be, and attempt, as Virginia has, to maintain its purity?
This is working no hardship and no injustice upon the other races; for the same effort tends at the same time to maintain the purity of their races as well.
That the mongrel races are liable to perpetuate the undesirable qualities of both their constituent stocks is abundantly demonstrated by a study of the larger and older of the mongrel groups in Virginia, as well as upon a study on a far larger scale in various other parts of the world.
The colored races therefore should be equally zealous in preventing both the legal and illegal admixture of the races. We are glad to say that the true negro of Virginia is beginning to appreciate this point and is agreeing to the wisdom of this movement. Our chief trouble is with some of the near-whites who desire to change from the colored to the white class.
By firm adherence to the standard which has been set, we believe that it is possible within a reasonable time to secure through our office an adjustment of the larger number of racial differences, and by constantly securing correction of our vital statistic records, and by stopping all further legal and much of the illegitimate intermixture, at least to hold the situation in check until Lincoln's real remedy can be adopted.
This, however, is but the beginning, and our efforts will be of less avail until every state in the Union joins in the move to secure the best marriage laws possible, and a wholesome public sentiment on this the most important of all questions confronting us as a nation.
Four hundred years ago there were nations whose ships sailed the waters of the world and whose armies and navies made England tremble with fear. They claimed continents as their own, they grew rich upon their vast trade in slaves, selling thousands of them in a day from one block.
These slaves have disappeared, not by transportation, but by assimilation. Today families of the old type are rare, and these peoples are scarcely thought of in the councils of nations.
Today the eyes of the world are turned with envy upon us, and millions crave the privilege of landing upon our shores.
We are now engaged in a struggle more titanic, and of far greater importance than that with the Central Powers from which we have recently emerged.
Many scarcely know that the struggle which means the life or death of our civilization is now in progress, and are giving it no thought.
What odds will it make in the year 2500 or 3000 to the few Caucasic remnants of our. present day Americans, when they look around upon the half billion or perhaps more brown skinned descendants of the races now occupying our land, whether the typhoid death rate of 1924 was one, or one hundred, per 100,000?
What they find in that day will depend upon how- we of -today think and act. The very existence of our race in that time is dependent upon the thought and action of us today. Let us then accept our responsibility and meet its demands with wisdom and courage.
1 American Marriage Laws, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, N.Y., 1919
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