Unknown to many people are the ties that binded the Native Americans of this nation to enslaved and freed Africans who were brought to this country against their will.
The following articles attest to the severe attacks that native First World People and Black American people suffered in America due to racist white supremacy to annihilate any trace of African blood as well as to destroy any alliances that had occurred between native people and Black Americans.
In the case of the state of Virginia—and the racist demagogue Walter Ashby Plecker—they succeeded.
BATTLES IN RED, BLACK, AND WHITE
VIRGINIA’S RACIAL INTEGRITY LAW OF 1924
Walter Ashby Plecker was unassuming in appearance: a small-town doctor whose penchant for number-crunching earned him the position of registrar in Virginias Bureau of Vital Statistics in 1912. But appearances were indeed deceiving. With Plecker at the helm, the bureau went on an all-out war against “amalgamation”.
Plecker was not the author of the Racial Integrity Law of 1924–Virginia’s infamous “one drop” statute, which created two racial categories, “pure” white and everybody else. But he–and allies such as John Powell of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America–pushed hard to enforce the act’s provision for “ancestral registration”.
Virginians shied away from compliance in that area, according to J. David Smith in The Eugenic Assault on America: Scenes in Red, White, and Black. Indeed, “passing” might have been commonplace among whiter-skinned African- Americans since at least 1662, when the first anti-miscegenation laws were passed in Virginia, but even for allegedly “pure” whites, proof of racial purity might have been difficult to obtain.
And at least one group of whites who had been proud of their so-called impurity lobbied successfully to have the act revised. The aristocratic descendants of Pocahontas– resentful of being lumped in with “Negroes, Mongolians, American Indians, Malayans, or any mixtures thereof, or any other non-Caucasian strains”–twisted arms until the legislature decreed that persons with no more than one-sixteenth Native American ancestry might still be considered white.
But Plecker’s power to grant birth, death, and marriage certificates gave him unprecedented and awesome powers over Virginians who had less clout than the Pocahontas contingent. With the stroke of a pen, Plecker could write an individual into “Negro” status–and legal and social oblivion. Plecker was only too willing to exercise that power, thus making him a figure of dread to Indians in general, but particularly to the Powhatan remnants in Rockbridge and Amherst counties, until his retirement and subsequent death in 1946.
According to Helen Rountree, a Old Dominion University professor who has written extensively on Virginia’s Powhatan tribes, Plecker believed that all Indians had “polluted” their blood by mingling it with free African-Americans–or “free issues”, in the local vernacular. Plecker thus saw those who claimed Indian ancestry as opportunists seeking what Rountree called a “way station to whiteness”– in other words, he saw all Indians as blacks attempting to “pass.”
Plecker’s beliefs placed him squarely in the mainstream of the American eugenics movement, which assaulted the rights of poor whites as vigorously as those of racial minorities. (Compare, for example, the case of Carrie Buck, an 18-year-old Caucasian girl from Lynchburg who was believed, it now appears erroneously, to be “feeble- minded.” In a case that went before the Supreme Court, the state vigorously pursued and won the right to sterilize Buck to prevent her from passing on her “imbecility.”) But the desire to make Native Americans simply “vanish,” whether into the African-American population or into thin air, had much deeper roots.
Peter Houck, author of Indian Island in Amherst County, cites Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 as the first sustained and coordinated effort in Virginia to drive the Powhatans from their land. But we cannot forget that the nation’s Indian removal policy was formulated by that great defender of liberty Thomas Jefferson and carried out by that great defender of the common man Andrew Jackson. Indeed, long before Ulysses S. Grant had developed “vanishing” into an official “Peace Policy,” Virginians had mastered the mechanics.
“In time, you will be as we are,” Jefferson promised in his 1809 Indian address. “You will become one people with us. Your blood will mix with ours; and will spread with ours over this great Island…” Absorption into the white race–a consummation devoutly to be wished from one perspective–was the lure Jefferson tossed before the tribes.
As for those who “mingled their blood” with African-Americans, they, too, would be absorbed–though they might not like the consequences. Let us consider the example of the Gingashins. This eastern tribe had two strikes against it: Its members refused to give up their traditional lifeways; even worse, they intermarried freely and unashamedly with blacks.
This was anathema to Virginia elites. Intermarriage with whites could be, and was, tolerated. Intermarriage with blacks, however, was an intolerable challenge to the arbitrary color line that had been in place since the first chattel slavery law passed in 1661. Thus, in 1813, the Gingashins made their way into the history books, becoming the first U.S. tribe to be terminated.
Needless to say, Gingashin identity did not die with the legal decree. As late as 1855, Rountree notes, county maps showed an “Indian Town,” an Indiantown Creek, and a settlement of seven houses. Eventually, however, white antagonism, not to mention opportunism, forced the Gingashins to merge into a sympathetic African-American community. Tribes such as the Pamunkeys, Mattaponis, Upper Mattaponis, Nansemonds, Rappahannocks, and Chickahominies took note of the lesson–and learned how to resist.
A century later, armed with the awesome power of the state, Plecker declared war on these people. Consulting a listing of surnames associated with Native American ancestry– such as Beverly (from beaver), Sparrow, Penn or Pinn, Fields, Bear, and so on–and drawing his authority from century-old census records that were likely to list Indians as “mulattoes”–particularly if the census were taken in summertime, Houck notes– Plecker embarked on a crusade to re-classify every Native American in the state as an African-American.
Plecker intimidated mid-wives, wrote threatening pamphlets, editorialized in newspapers, and trained an entire generation of county clerks and health service workers in his methods. When all else failed, he simply changed records to suit his prejudices, striking out the designation “Indian” and replacing it with “Negro” or “colored” or “mulatto”–or writing notations on the back.
But while Powhatans suffered under Plecker’s tyranny, they refused to vanish. When necessary, they sacrificed both family ties and good will in the African-American community by refusing to attend Jim Crow schools or segregated churches.
These isolationist tactics cost them–Indian communities in Amherst were often poor and poorly educated–but they appear to have worked. It is worth noting that Amherst Indians who successfully held themselves aloof from “black contamination” regained tribal recognition in the 1980s. Another group, also living in Amherst County, which proudly claimed African, Native, and Caucasian ancestry–the Buffalo Ridge Cherokee–did not.
RACIAL INTEGRITY ACT OF 1924
AN ACT TO PRESERVE RACIAL INTEGRITY
1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia, That the State Registrar of Vital Statistics may as soon as practicable after the taking effect of this act, prepare a form whereon the racial composition of any individual, as Caucasian, negro, Mongolian, American Indian, Asiatic Indian, Malay, or any mixture thereof, or any other non-Caucasic strains, and if there be any mixture, then the racial composition of the parents and other ancestors, in so far as ascertainable, so as to show in what generation such mixture occurred, may be certified by such individual, which form shall be known as a registration certificate. The State Registrar may supply to each local registrar a sufficient number of such forms for the purpose of this act; each local registrar may personally or by deputy, as soon as possible after receiving said forms, have made thereon in duplicate a certificate of the racial composition as aforesaid, of each person resident in his district, who so desires, born before June fourteenth, nineteen hundred and twelve, which certificate shall be made over the signature of said person, or in the case of children under fourteen years of age, over the signature of a parent, guardian, or other person standing in loco parentis. One of said certificates for each person thus registering in every district shall be forwarded to the State Registrar for his files; the other shall be kept on file by the local registrar.
Every local registrar may, as soon as practicable, have such registration certificate made by or for each person in his district who so desires, born before June fourteen, nineteen hundred and twelve, for whom he has not on file a registration certificate, or a birth certificate.
2. It shall be a felony for any person wilfully or knowingly to make a registration certificate false as to color or race. The wilful making of a false registration or birth certificate shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for one year.
3. For each registration certificate properly made and returned to the State Registrar, the local registrar returning the same shall be entitled to a fee of twenty-five cents, to be paid by the registrant. Application for registration and for transcript may be made direct to the State Registrar, who may retain the fee for expenses of his office.
4. No marriage license shall be granted until the clerk or deputy clerk has reasonable assurance that the statements as to color of both man and woman are correct.
If there is reasonable cause to disbelieve that applicants are of pure white race, when that fact is stated, the clerk or deputy clerk shall withhold the granting of the license until satisfactory proof is produced that both applicants are “white persons” as provided for in this act.
The clerk or deputy clerk shall use the same care to assure himself that both applicants are colored, when that fact is claimed.
5. It shall hereafter be unlawful for any white person in this State to marry any save a white person, or a person with no other admixture of blood than white and American Indian. For the purpose of this act, 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 have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons. All laws heretofore passed and now in effect regarding the intermarriage of white and colored persons shall apply to marriages prohibited by this act.
6. For carrying out the purposes of this act and to provide the necessary clerical assistance, postage and other expenses of the State Registrar of Vital Statistics, twenty per cent of the fees received by local registrars under this act shall be paid to the State Bureau of Vital Statistics, which may be expended by the said bureau for the purposes of this act.
7. All acts or parts of acts inconsistent with this act are, to the extent of such inconsistency, hereby repealed.
Alexander Francis Chamberlain, A.M., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Clark University…says: “In some regions considerable intermixture between negroes and Indians (Science, New York, Vol. XVII, 1891 pp. 85-90), has occurred, e.g., among the Pamunkeys, Mattoponies, and some other small Virginia and Carolinian tribes.” “It is also thought probable that many of the negroes of the whole lower Atlantic coast and Gulf region may have strains of Indian blood.” This probably accounts for the increasing number of negroes who are now writing to our Bureau demanding that the color on their birth certificates and marriage licenses be given as “Indian.”
The Amherst-Rockbridge group is the most notable example.
WALTER PLECKER LETTER TO LOCAL OFFICIALS
Local Registrars, Physicians, Health
Officers, Nurses, School Superintendents,
and Clerks of the Courts
Our December 1942 letter to local registrars, also mailed to the clerks,
set forth the determined effort to escape from the negro race of groups of “free
issues,” or descendants of the “free mulattoes” of early days, so listed prior to
1865 in the United States census and various types of State records, as distin-
guished from slave negroes.
Now that these people are playing up the advantages gained by being
permitted to give “Indian” as the race of the child’s parents on birth certifi-
cates, we see the great mistake made in not stopping earlier the organized pro-
pagation of this racial falsehood. They have been using the advantage thus gained
as an aid to intermarriage into the white race and to attend white schools, and
now for some time they have been refusing to register with war draft boards as
negroes, as required by the boards which are faithfully performing their duties.
Three of these negroes from Caroline County were sentenced to prison on January 12
in the United States Court at Richmond for refusing to obey the draft law unless
permitted to classify themselves as “Indian.”
Some of these mongrels, finding that they have been able to sneak in
their birth certificates unchallenged as Indians are now making a rush to register
as white. Upon investigation we find that a few local registrars have been per-
mitting such certificates to pass through their hands unquestioned and without
warning our office of the fraud. Those attempting this fraud should be warned
that they are liable to a penalty of one year in the penitentiary (Section 5099a
of the Code). Several clerks have likewise been actually granting them licenses
to marry whites, or at least to marry amongst themselves as Indian or white. The
danger of this error always confronts the clerk who does not inquire carefully as
to the residence of the woman when he does not have positive information. The
law is explicit that the license be issued by the clerk of the county or city in
which the woman resides.
To aid all of you in determining just which are the mixed families, we
have made a list of their surnames by counties and cities, as complete as possible
at this time. This list should be preserved by all, even by those in counties and
cities not included, as these people are moving around over the State and changing
race at the new place. A family has just been investigated which was always
recorded as negro around Glade Springs, Washington County, but which changed to
white and married as such in Roanoke County. This is going on constantly and can
be prevented only by care on the part of local registrars, clerks, doctors, health
workers, and school authorities.
Please report all known or suspicious cases to the Bureau of Vital
Statistics, giving names, ages, parents, and as much other information as possible.
All certificates of these people showing “Indian” or “white” are now being rejected
and returned to the physician or midwife, but local registrars hereafter must not
permit them to pass their hands uncorrected or unchallenged and without a note of
warning to us. One hundred and fifty thousand other mulattoes in Virginia are
watching eagerly the attempt of their pseudo-Indian brethren, ready to follow in
a rush when the first have made a break in the dike.
Very truly yours,
W. A. Plecker, M.D.
State Registrar of Vital Statistics
SURNAMES, BY COUNTIES AND CITIES, OF MIXED NEGROID VIRGINIA
FAMILIES STRIVING TO PASS AS “INDIAN” OR WHITE.
Albemarle: Moon, Powell, Kidd, Pumphrey.
Amherst (Migrants to Alleghany and Campbell): Adcock (Adcox), Beverly (this family is now trying to evade the situation by adopting the name of Burch or Birch, which was the name of the white mother of the present adult generation), Branham, Duff, Floyd, Hamilton, Hartless, Hicks, Johns, Lawless, Nuckles (Knuckles), Painter, Ramsey, Redcross, Roberts, Southards (Suthards, Southerds, Southers), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Willis, Clark, Cash, Wood.
Bedford: McVey, Maxey, Branham, Burley. (See Amherst County)
Rockbridge (Migrants to Augusta): Cash, Clark, Coleman, Duff, Floyd, Hartless, Hicks, Mason, Mayse (Mays), Painters, Pultz, Ramsey, Southerds (Southers, Southards, Suthards), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Wood, Johns.
Charles City: Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins.
King William: Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Custalow (Custaloe), Dungoe, Holmes, Miles, Page, Allmond, Adams, Hawkes, Suprlock, Doggett.
New Kent: Collins, Bradby, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins, Langston.
Henrico and Richmond City: See Charles City, New Kent, and King William.
Caroline: Byrd, Fortune, Nelson. (See Essex)
Essex and King and Queen: Nelson, Fortune, Byrd, Cooper, Tate, Hammond, Brooks, Boughton, Prince, Mitchell, Robinson.
Elizabeth City & Newport News: Stewart (descendants of the Charles City families).
Halifax: Epps (Eppes), Stewart (Stuart), Coleman, Johnson, Martin, Talley, Sheppard (Shepard), Young.
Norfolk County & Portsmouth: Sawyer, Bass, Weaver, Locklear (Locklair), King, Bright, Porter, Ingram.
Westmoreland: Sorrells, Worlds (or Worrell), Atwells, Gutridge, Oliff.
Greene: Shifflett, Shiflet.
Prince William: Tyson, Segar. (See Fauquier)
Fauquier: Hoffman (Huffman), Riley, Colvin, Phillips. (See Prince William)
Lancaster: Dorsey (Dawson).
Washington: Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe, Worley.
Roanoke County: Beverly. (See Washington)
Lee and Smyth: Collins, Gibson (Gipson), Moore, Goins, Ramsey, Delph, Bunch, Freeman, Mise, Barlow, Bolden (Bolin), Mullins, Hawkins. — Chiefly Tennessee “Melungeons.”
Scott: Dingus. (See Lee County)
Russell: Keith, Castell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt. (See Lee & Tazewell)
Tazewell: Hammed, Duncan. (See Russell)
Wise: See Lee, Smyth, Scott, and Russell Counties.
“Racial Integrity or ‘Race Suicide’: Virginia’s Eugenic Movement, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the Work of Walter A. Plecker”, Derryn E. Moten, Negro History Bulletin, April-September 1999, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1157/is_1999_April-Sept/ai_70872606/pg_2
“THE BUFFALO RIDGE CHEROKEES (AN EXCERPT): http://www.aagsnc.org/columns/mar99col.htm