“I am not a slave,” declared Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight-boxing champion. Under national scrutiny for his seeming propensity for marrying white women, Johnson claimed, “I have the right to choose who my mate shall be without the dictation of any man. I have eyes and I have a heart, and when they fail to tell me who I shall have for mine, I want to be put away in a lunatic asylum.”1
Johnson’s declaration articulates a unique moment in the policing of interracial sexuality in the twentieth century. Black men were no longer slaves; they were moving to Northern cities in profound numbers during the Great Migration (1915-1960), and were establishing new relationships of power, including sexual and marital ones. In the twentieth century, activists and interracial couples such as the Johnsons increasingly protested heightened white anxiety over interracial marriage and procreation. Segregationalists saw the repression of intermarriage necessary to prevent “the mongralization of our children and grandchildren!”2 Gunnar Myrdal’s monumental 1944 study, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, agreed. Myrdal asserted that angst over interracial sex between black men and white women was the motivating factor for Southern whites to maintain school segregation, thus making the study of interracial marriage and procreation essential to United States twentieth-century race relations. Historian David A. Hollinger insists that teachers should teach and write about “amalgamation as a major theme in U.S. history,”3 rejecting the rhetoric of the melting pot that implies a “relaxed intimacy” in which interracial procreation was “celebrated.”4
This article focuses on the regulation of black and white marriages in the United States during the twentieth century, while noting that in any given year at least one state restricted marriage choices of other racial categories such as anti-Asian or Native American marriage laws. The focus by historians on the history of black/white marriages is for several reasons. First, laws in the United States policing interracial marriage between white and black partners are the most prolific when compared to other racial pairings and are a legal feature distinctive to the United States. State laws were concerned with policing marriage (in 1940, thirty-one states prohibited marriage while only six barred interracial fornication).5 Its policing extends from a ban in Colonial Maryland in 1661 through the June 12, 1967 Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia, which establishes a profound temporal legacy spanning three centuries, or the majority of United States history.6 As late as 1967, three years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, sixteen states still maintained and actively invoked anti-miscegenation laws banning marriage between white and black citizens.7
As Harvard scholar Werner Sollors points out, the fear of amalgamation was “peculiarly American” as both South Africa’s anti-miscegenation laws and the Third Reich’s Nuremberg Laws were modeled after the U.S.8 Secondly, due to slavery and its legacy, fear of white and black amalgamation has unique, deep-rooted characteristics that have changed over time. To clarify these shifts, it is necessary to widen the scope of people impacted by this legislation in the twentieth century by examining historiography focused on interracial marriage beyond the traditional Southern focus. Thirdly, the categories of “Latino” and “Asian” often fell under the legal definition of “whiteness” in various phases of the twentieth century. The 1948 Perez v. Sharp case personifies the continually changing legal definition of whiteness. Los Angeles County Clerk W.G. Sharp denied a Mexican American woman, Andrea Perez, and her black fiancé, Sylvester Davis, a marriage license stating that the California Civil Code Section 60 banned intermarriage between white citizens, which then included Mexicans due their European ancestry. Therefore, when looking at the black and white binary and the legal construction of race as associated with anti-miscegenation laws, alternative racial categories are still being addressed.9
Why have historians focused on the policing of marriage?
According to historian Peggy Pascoe, interracial sex is too commonplace to police, and was less threatening to the American gender-racial hierarchy.
NYU historian Martha Hodes insisted intermarriage and amalgamation during slavery, specifically “when children were born to a white woman and a black man” put “so much more at stake.”10 The Colonies and the United States had a race-based system of slavery that required racial distinctions. Furthermore, “the rule that children were to take the status of their mothers” meant that interracial descents from a white woman could contest for freedom, while interracial children with a black mother, in the words of fugitive slave Harriet Jacobs, were “unblushingly reared for the market.”11
During the Jim Crow Era, there was a rampant fear that intermarriage would automatically result in amalgamation (as one of the primary features of marriage in this context was procreation), which spurred the policing of marriage to prevent the blurring of the fixed binary of racial categories. Segregation attempted to “allay white anxieties about the integration of blacks and whites in places frequented by both sexes,” while clearly delineating physical and imagined spaces through the legally enforced separation of “whites” and “blacks,” stifling African American access to political and economic power.12 Historian Grace Elizabeth Hale argues that visual spectacles that painted blacks as inferior beings through caricature and exclusion allowed the social order to be habitually performed. This system would only work if blackness was immediately detectable, thus explaining the fear of the racial dilution through amalgamation. Additionally, marriage was a way to try and “claim the public respectability and the property and inheritance rights that went with marriage.”13 Preventing intermarriage was the ultimate way to sculpt white supremacy as marriage legally “links citizens and their dependents to the state” while possessing an “extraordinary power to naturalize some social relationships, and to stigmatize others as unnatural.” This was especially true as a woman assumed her husband’s surname and entered his kinship, thus potentially making a white woman black through association, which affected a wide network of people beyond the couple.14
Martha Hodes’ 1997 book, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South, is a paramount text for understanding the policing of interracial sexuality and racial amalgamation in the nineteenth century. Her interpretation of consensual interracial sexuality is the dominant narrative adopted by historians to show what happened during Reconstruction, which set the stage for the Jim Crow Era. Hodes’ argument, rooted in the Southern context and limited to couples composed of white women and black men, is broken into two parts: “Neighborhood Dramas” and “Escalating Violence.” This structural framework highlights ways interracial marriage and sexuality in the Antebellum South were localized sensations accepted “with a measure of toleration.” Only with black freedom did interracial marriages culminate “in the tremendous white violence of the 1890s and after.”15 As emancipation jeopardized white supremacy, the most assured way to maintain power was to escalate the fear of amalgamation to ensure “people of African ancestry and people of European ancestry did not have children together.”16
The exploration of marriage cases such as that of white servant Irish Nell and her 1681 marriage to the African slave, Negro Charles, whose enslaved offspring contested their bondage as descents of a white woman, highlight the delicate and tenuous position of whiteness. Amalgamation, then, was an important issue in the nineteenth century as it “confused issues of freedom, slavery, and labor.”17 Due to the all-consuming definition of blackness in the one-drop rule, as historian Barbara Fields bluntly argued, this “convention considers a white woman capable of giving birth to a black child, but denies that a black woman can give birth to a white child.”18
Within the context of emancipation, Hodes argues that when the federal government determined the status of freedom for African Americans, amalgamation became a nationalized issue, turning local stories about infidelity, bastardry, and the confusion over slave status into “larger social and political chronicles. Sex between black men and white women now became a frequent and direct topic in the arena of national politics.”19 This argument is foundational in the study of interracial sexuality and marriage, as Hodes clearly articulates the dominantly understood narrative when it comes to the Southern-rooted policing of interracial sexuality. With a focus on white women and black men, policing interracial sexuality was a solidifying factor in the creation of “whiteness” propagated by white men. During Reconstruction, when racial rigidity was less definable after emancipation, white men believed that the political and economic freedoms granted black men threatened white patriarchy and racial control afforded white males during slavery. This conflated issues of black progress with “the dangers of black male sexuality,” as male citizenship in the United States had long been synonymous with manhood, virility, and sexual power.20 White men maintained dominance in the gender-racial hierarchy by characterizing black men as sexually aggressive against which whiteness needed protection as a way to stifle simultaneously their political and economic power through the sexualization of politics. To halt interracial relations that could lead down a trajectory towards amalgamation required the protection of all white women, characterized through sexual restraint and purity, regardless of class status. Ruling class white men viewed black male/white female sex akin to vengeful race rebellion set to destroy whiteness through the breakdown of family units and blood corruption, even if it was consensual. Therefore, during the transition towards freedom, “black men were terrorized and often murdered, and white women were subjected to extreme abuse” in an effort to prevent amalgamation which would weaken the racial binary.21
Renee Romano’s 2003 book, Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America, used interviews with interracial couples, newspapers, law, literature, and memoirs to expand the policing of intermarriage out of the traditional Southern lynching narrative and into the history of the North and West.
- A 1958 gallop poll showed that only four percent of whites nationwide approved of marriages between blacks and whites; there was an even lower one percent approval rating in the South.
- In 1997, the approval rating skyrocketed to sixty-one percent.22
- In 1960, in which the United States Census reported interracial marriages for the first time, the census revealed 157,057 interracial marriages.
- The 2000 census documented over one million interracial marriages.23
Romano therefore sought to document the political, cultural, and social history of intermarriage, and its increasing acceptability, post-World War II. Romano opposes Hode’s belief that reconstruction nationalized the fear of amalgamation, insisting that the Great Migration nationalized the problem of intermarriage, as movement outside of Southern surveillance allowed greater interracial contact and sexual freedom. Romano supports her argument by stating there was an attempted national ban on interracial marriage, as evidenced by the “twenty-one laws to prohibit interracial relationships that were introduced into the U.S. Congress” by 1930.24 Although not the focus of her project (as the Great Migration largely occurred before World War II), Romano opens the door for future research to track the sexualized rhetoric in battles over redlining and homeownership associations resultant from this mass exodus, as fears of amalgamation “were used to justify denying blacks’ jobs and keeping them out of white residential neighborhoods.” Using similar scare tactics through the sexualization of black politics prevalent in the Southern narrative, interracial contact that had been successfully avoided in the segregated South was now “accompanied by a panic over the possibility of ‘racial mixing’” nationwide.
Romano rightly resisted writing a narrative of racial progress while trying to track the ways in which intermarriages increased in number. She shows instead the relationship between progression and repression. For example, although liberal ideology and the Courier’s Double Victory campaign of World War II heightened racial consciousness, within the context of the genocide of European Jewry when racial science began to fall out of vogue, racial progress usually inspired backlash. Directly after World War II, the Cold War and the 1950s’ focus on gender roles and the traditional family heightened the fear of amalgamation.25 Due to this consciousness, local segregation in the 1940s and 1950s tightened to prevent amalgamation. Segregation was largely successful, as “de jure and de factor segregation made it unlikely that an individual would meet someone of another race in a situation that fostered the development of a personal relationship” long enough to lead to marriage.26 Romano argues that counter cultures such as beatniks, artists in Greenwich Village, the Communist Party, and the burgeoning Civil Right Movement brought people together through protest and the creation of egalitarian or alternative living ideologies that fostered interracial relationships.27 However, these groups were stigmatized heavily as seeking to promote racial amalgamation as their hidden agenda in which a “quest for sexual gratification” was the goal.28 A Georgia Governor, for example, exclaimed that the NAACP’s ultimate goal was “the complete intermingling of the races…even in marriage.”29 Jim Clark characterized Selma marchers as “filthy, promiscuous, degenerates.” This shows how in the 1950s, when segregation and racial order was under attack, a similar sexualization of politics during the Civil Rights Movement emerged that mirrored delegitimizing tactics used during Reconstruction.30 Ironically, activist couples denied the ability to marry their partners had children to try to prove the longevity of their domestic fidelity, which often backfired by opening the door to aggressive amalgamation rhetoric and hostility by white opponents.
Beyond the legal policing of intermarriage, Romano’s substantial contribution to the history of intermarriage is her revelation of the ways in which countrywide social policing prevented intermarriage on a personal rather than a state level. Romano presents harrowing stories in which white families put daughters trying to marry black fiancés into insane asylums, disowned their children after a successful intermarriage in a state that allowed it, and in extreme causes forced abortions and adoptions of mixed race children even after marriage to prevent shaming of would-be grandparents, aunts, and uncles.31 Similarly, non-governmental institutions such as private colleges forbid interracial dating and marriage.32 The guidance counselors at Earlham College in Indiana, for example, frequently confronted biracial couples with threats of expulsion, forcing students to choose between higher education and private relationships.
Romano continues the trope of black blood overpowering white blood within the twentieth century. In addition to its connection to the racial binary, Romano reads the metaphor of racial contamination and amalgamation as a largely gendered form of policing to control white women under white patriarchy. As black semen was the often-invoked bodily symbol of the black blood contamination of future whiteness and its cleanliness, white men who had sex with black women were free to exercise interracial sexuality and in some cases, socially acceptable marriage. The remerging fixation with blood made white men’s transgressions therefore have no social consequences, while tainting white women with significant ramifications.33 Although Romano uses patriarchy and the metaphor of contamination, she, like the other historians in the field, have yet to provide a substantial reason for why policing white women and black men was the main impetus for segregation, after slavery and issues of matrilineal legal status.
Finally, perhaps the most interesting argument Romano offers the historiography is the ways in which segregation entrenched amalgamation fears, as evidenced by the convergence of sexualized politics, protest, and backlash surrounding reactions to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Opponents claimed the “decision would lead to an explosion of interracial sex.”34 The Daily News of Jackson Mississippi summarized the increasing connection between amalgamation and the need to maintain segregation quite pointedly: “White and Negro children in the same schools will lead to miscegenation. Miscegenation leads to mixed marriages and mixed marriages lead to mongralization of the human race.”35 Similarly, Mississippi Senator James Eastland, a leader in the resistance to the desegregation of schools, ten days after the decision’s announcement told Congress that America’s “racial purity and maintenance of Anglo-Saxon institutions” was on the line. The upholding of segregation was therefore to prevent what fellow Senator Theodore Bilbo warned as “the maelstrom of miscegenation, interbreeding, intermarriage, and mongralization.”36 Romano very convincingly rereads the torture, disfigurement, and lynching of Emmett Till within the larger context of anti-Brown violence and rhetoric as a metaphorical attempt to educate young black boys about the consequences of trying to initiate racially mixed relationships, therefore linking the perceived Southern fear of illicit sex and rape directly to the fear of amalgamation.37 In her conclusion, Romano argues that the primary difference that allowed an increased number of intermarriages is “the fundamental truth that integration does lead to increased interracial marriage.”38 This link is a significant clarification in the history of illicit sex and intermarriage that shows how the fear of intermarriage and its policing to prevent amalgamation fed into the upkeep of the system of segregation.
In 1991, Peggy Pascoe’s article, “Race, Gender, and Intercultural Relations: The Case of Interracial Marriage,” attempted to redefine the research parameters of interracial marriage by rejecting the strict white/black binary, widening the geography beyond the South, and arguing for the need to extend the chronology into the twentieth century. Pascoe emphatically stressed three overarching historical concerns: (1) the need for scholastic exploration of the relationship between gender and race in interracial marriage; (2) the need to view both gender and race as social constructions; and (3) the need to select an assumable definition of culture when writing on intercultural history. To comprise a coherent case study of these topics, Pascoe briefly analyzed court cases of the American West that sought to null longstanding marriages with twentieth-century miscegenation laws, thus serving as a legal façade for the reversal of wills. These cases raised by white men trying to annul the marriages of their deceased white male relatives with a woman of color, penetrated the gender hierarchies within racial order that converge in interracial-marriage laws through the legal stipulation of the wife’s race.39 Pascoe’s attempted intervention in the hope that there would be a migration towards this multiracial examination did not materialize beyond Romano’s pulling the story out of the South.
As a result, in 2009, Pascoe returned to the topic of interracial marriage to fill the narrative gap herself with her new book, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America. In an attempt to bridge Martha Hodes’ story with the twentieth century, this substantial work looks at miscegenation laws from the year 1860 to 2008. Pascoe includes the policing of Asian Americans and Mexican immigrants and their descendants in the West to show the crucial relationship between these laws and white supremacy while refocusing the historical lens nationally.40 Pascoe insists that since the Colonial Era, there is a historical precedence of policing interracial marriage outside of the South, therefore rejecting Hodes and Romano’s timeline, insisting that it has been a national issue since the colonial era. Beginning with Massachusetts in 1705 followed by Pennsylvania in 1726, Northern and Southern states passed anti-miscegenation laws, with twenty-eight states passing variations by the onset of the Civil War. Pascoe insists the Northern component was significant, as it gestured to the blanketed colonial gender roles in marriage that gave husbands “de facto property rights in their wives’ sexuality” as well as their property in the system of covertures. This “transferred a woman’s civil identity to her husband at marriage, giving him use and direction of her property throughout the marriage.”41 Within the institution of slavery, these laws “never stopped sex” but “prevented masters from turning slaves they slept with into respectable wives,” thus denying them access to citizenship, freedom, inheritance, family property, or any other advantage that could undermine a race-based slave system.”42
Pascoe boldly employs the term “miscegenation” instead of the less pejorative terms other historians adopted to show rhetorically how these laws actively participated in racial construction by delineating who fell into each racial category. The legal system realized the need to make racial distinctions obvious, as evidenced by its painstaking efforts to determine race, such as in the 1924 “Rhinelander Case” in which Leonard Rhinelander, a white New York socialite, attempted to prove his light-skinned wife’s blackness to end their marriage without economic repercussions. The need to quickly and correctly identify race to prevent intermarriage and the catastrophic potential for amalgamation led to bizarre spectacles of courtroom racial science in attempts to categorize features of blackness, such as the size of one’s nail beds, the supposedly telling “color of palms,” or if one had “kinky hair” or “protruding heels.”43 Therefore, miscegenation laws and their enforcement literally took a proactive role in creating the racial binary. Pascoe primarily examines instruments of the state used to regulate and categorize race and marriage, such as marriage licenses and court cases, to show how myths assisted with the propagation of the unnaturalness of interracial sexuality.
Pascoe provides two illuminating arguments that demonstrate how miscegenation laws were not just a component of “race segregation practiced between 1880 and 1930, but the foundation for the larger racial projects of white supremacy and white purity.”44 First, she uses the policing of other racial categories to reveal the all-consuming goals of white supremacy while expounding the belief that interracial marriage between white citizens and non-white citizens was unnatural. Second is her thorough investigation of how “Miscegenation laws depended on judges drawing lines between legitimate marriage and illicit sex, then branding interracial relationships of all kinds as illicit sex.”45 This is a process that she calls the “sexualization of miscegenation law,” which stigmatized devoted and loving couples as immoral and illegitimate. By banning all interracial marriages, any biracial couples attempting to build lives together would be subject to laws of fornication, prostitution, and bastardry. As a result, “Judges began using the traditional divide between illicit sex and illegitimate marriage to describe all interracial relationships as being, by definition, illicit sex.”46 This significant discovery directly shows how the conflation of interracial sex was not merely heated language mobilized to instill fear about the sexual nature of black men or amalgamation, but was a product of its legal framing and identification of intermarriage at the state level. The Supreme Court then nationalized this notion in 1883 when it upheld the constitutionality of Alabama’s anti-miscegenation statutes in the Pace v. Alabama case, as under the fourteenth amendment requirement, both participants in the crime were punished equally, and therefore not discriminated against. In their Opinion, the Supreme Court stated, “The evil tendency of the crime of living in adultery or fornication is greater when it is committed between persons of the two races than between persons of the same race.”47 By embedding racial distinctions within the offense itself, labeling all marriages as void and therefore fornication, the Supreme Court both racialized and sexualized the equal protection clause and made “miscegenation something real, definable, and punishable.”48
Although Pascoe convincingly argues that the policing of intermarriage was the basis of segregation in that “white supremacists defended miscegenation laws as the natural foundation of the entire framework of racial segregation,” we do not get a clear sense of its systematic construction, especially outside of the South where she attempts to draw our focus.49 Pascoe’s shortcoming is that while examining interracial marriage within a national framework to argue for its deep-rooted connection to white supremacy and segregation and the wave of twenty-nine laws introduced into state legislatures from 1913 to 1929 provides little historical analysis and absolutely no contextualization within the framework of the Great Migration. The Great Migration allowed millions of Southern blacks to move North and West, forming the first black industrial labor class in United States history. This in turn created new sites of interracial contact outside of the tightly regulated Jim Crow South, presumably posing new threats to amalgamation, which Pascoe does not mention or explore. Pascoe cites an increased Midwestern presence in this period of the Ku Klux Klan, but does not account for why the KKK was there in the first place.50
Pascoe stems her unique passages on the unnatural qualities of interracial marriage from communications with Fay Botham, who was writing a dissertation on the correlation between religion and the policing of marriage. In 2009, Botham published her dissertation as a cultural history of the law in a book entitled, Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, & American Law. Botham seeks to discover the historical origins of Judge Bazile’s statement in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia landmark civil rights case in which the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924” was unconstitutional. On January 6, 1959, Mildred Loving, a woman of African and Native American heritage and her white husband, Richard, pled guilty to the felony of marrying in another state and then returning to Virginia. Under Section 20-58 of the law, they were sentenced to prison (or with a suspended sentence if they fled the state). Jude Leon Bazile asserted, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Botham approaches the policing of intermarriage through the Loving case and the 1948 Perez v. Sharpcase (in which the Supreme Court of California recognized that interracial bans on marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution) through the lens of US religious history. As such, the prevention of amalgamation through segregation and the denial of interracial marriage is a prominent component of her argument. Botham argues that the background and contextual stories of Perez and Loving cases illustrate that Christian beliefs were central factors to the lawyers and judges on both sides. For example, the Perez case took place in the multiracial context of a Los Angeles Catholic parish where Attorney Daniel Marshall from the Catholic Interracial Council used Catholic beliefs directly in his legal arguments, claiming that the Perezes were denied religious freedom while conversely arguing that religion was a significant motivator behind laws created to prevent amalgamation.
Botham tracks the divergent understandings of race and its relationship to marriage through Catholicism and Protestantism, showing that Catholics in the 1950s-1960s often fought or countered amalgamation laws, as they widely opposed segregation, especially when justified with Christian theology by Protestants.51 Catholics did not believe in separate races, but rather that “God had created all humanity in God’s own image, united the human family in Adam and Eve, and redeemed it through Christ.” (Ibid, 117)) Marriage was a Catholic sacrament, and without a Catholic understanding of separate races, Catholics had a theological basis from which they could argue for intermarriage as an element of religious practice with the legal system. Protestants recognized marriage as sacred, but not a sacrament in that “marriage was an earthly rather than heavenly institution” with “civil rather than ecclesiastical authorities.” Therefore, marriage laws and “the state held all responsibility for the legal regulation of marriage.”52 Botham’s interpretation is innovative, but lacking nuance. She does not give any examples of Catholic priests or parishes that deviated from this model and similarly, does not mention Protestant churches such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which almost certainly had a more diverse viewpoint on this issue. Finally, although Catholics attempted to intervene for the Lovings when they were brought to court, giving evidence of their activist stance on the matter, the Lovings were actually Protestant. Therefore, presumably, either the Lovings’ church married them or they attended a church that accepted them, complicating this bifurcated narrative.
Protestants, citing Old Testament stories such as the curse of Noah, argued as early as antebellum America for the re-separation of the races, which escalated in prominence during reconstruction. The widely circulated Buckner Payne 1867 pamphlet “What Is His Ethnological Status?” argued that the biblical flood in the story of Noah was punishment for miscegenation as in 6 Genesis the “sons of God” married “daughters of men” which was a “crime in the sight of God.”53 Similarly, Charles Stanley, the Los Angeles County attorney remarked, “the Bible is not silent upon the question of the mingling of races,” citing how Abraham made his son swear he would never marry the “daughters of the Canaanites.”54 The handing down of this narrative in Protestant churches throughout the South gave religious validation to segregation, which sought to prevent interracial marriage and amalgamation. Reverend G.T. Gillespie while addressing the Synod of Mississippi of the Presbyterian Church admitted, “the chief reason for segregation is the desirability of preventing such intimacies as might lead to intermarriage and the amalgamation of the races.”55 Gillespie further stressed that “if God had deemed racial separation as the divine plan, then humans must enact legal rules preventing any violation of that plan. Failure to uphold God’s wishes constituted a direct affront to God.”56 Hence, anti-miscegenation statutes were by products of the theology of separate races. The judge in the Lovings’ case was a Roman Catholic married to a Southern Baptist woman. This placed Judge Leon M. Bazile in a professionally precarious position in the twentieth-century American South, which caused him to use the logic of his community to rule against the Lovings.57
In the last few years historians have successfully begun to show real connections between the rhetoric of illicit sex and its direct legal connections to the policing of intermarriage and amalgamation in the twentieth century. Additionally, they have successfully shown that within the confines of the first half of the twentieth century, historical subjects substantially believed that the point of segregation was to prevent amalgamation, which was the almost certain result of intermarriage. With the initiation of fleshing out the connection between language and legal distinctions of illicit sexuality and intermarriage, historians need to seriously consider issues of class; intergenerational memory; cultural representations of race; the Great Migration; why the white woman/black man model continued to be so prevalent in the twentieth century; and African American perspectives.
The unique experiences and struggles of poor and working class interracial couples have been analyzed successfully in the nineteenth-century model epitomized by Martha Hodes’ The Sea Captain’s Wife. Hodes shows that it was more advantageous for some marginalized, poor white women to cross the color line to marry a wealthy or even middle-class black man, as it afforded the woman social mobility. Historians have ignored issues of class play in the policing of interracial marriage in the twentieth century, most likely due to the legal focus that takes analytical precedent in the historiography. A class analysis might expand our understanding of how social policing occurred. Whether it’s the way popular music, jazz, blues, and rock and roll concerts allowed interracial mixing, or the way cultural construction of racial fantasy operated in relationship to segregation, research needs to push the boundaries of culture and its role with generating fear and acceptance of amalgamation. The twentieth century saw the advent of mass consumerism and commercial media that both informed and entertained the public, while often misconstruing black racial politics and conveying black life in stereotypical representations often sexualized or desexualized as evidenced by the leering, overtly sexual “coon” and asexual “mammy” motifs that plagues popular culture. The first box office success, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent film, Birth of a Nation, epitomized much of the sexualized black politics these historians reference, influencing public thought through caricature and narrative. We need to ask how popular and consumer culture disseminated fear of amalgamation and intermarriage and how did this relates to the politics of the everyday in relation to interracial intimacy. The American “Motion Pictures Production Code” of 1934 stated, “Miscegenation (sex relationship between the white and black races) is forbidden” in film.58 However, the visual and narrative rhetoric in major motion pictures such as Showboat and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner continued to be distributed and viewed by millions of theatergoers arguing divergent opinions on intermarriage. What significance do film, visual art, and literature bring to the continued policing of interracial marriage at the cultural level?
The timeline presented by both Romano and Pascoe shows that enormous insurgences of anti-miscegenation laws were passed between 1910 and 1930. The reform laws fixated with racial purity during the Progressive Era and new sites of interracial contact due to the Great Migration therefore need serious consideration. Racial regulation of the geographic and spatial landscapes in the urban North that were previously segregated in the South tried to map segregation into the typography of cityscapes through redlining and the development of black districts and ghettos. How did sexual and emotional interactions within this physical world play out and how did they contribute to the ever-increasing fear of amalgamation and intermarriage?
Nearly every book examined in this historiography paid exclusive attention to the policing of interracial marriages of white women and black men, completely circumnavigating any confrontation as to why this is. Considering the fact that the Loving couple who brought the case that overturned the legal banning of interracial marriage to the Supreme Court was composed of a white man and his black wife makes this pervasive issue difficult to ignore within the twentieth century. Historians absolutely need to push against this model to obtain a fuller picture of the people being policed while exploring why there even was an infatuation with this model.
For more information:
- Pascoe, Peggy. What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, 175 [↩]
- Romano, Renee Christine. Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America.Cambridge, Mass:HarvardUniversity Press, 2003, 149 [↩]
- Hollinger, D. A. 2003. “Amalgamation and Hypodescent: The Question of Ethnoracial Mixture in the History of the United States.” American Historical Review. 108: 1363-1390, 25 [↩]
- Ibid, 26 [↩]
- Romano, 5 [↩]
- Sollors, Werner. Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law.Oxford:OxfordUniversity Press, 2000, 4 [↩]
- Romano, 2 [↩]
- Sollors, 138-139 [↩]
- Hollinger, 17, 19 [↩]
- Hodes, Martha Elizabeth. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South.New Haven,CT:YaleUniversity Press, 1997, 95 [↩]
- Sollors, 118; Hodes, 3 [↩]
- Hodes, 200 [↩]
- Pascoe, 12 [↩]
- Ibid, 2 [↩]
- Hodes, 2 [↩]
- Ibid, 174 [↩]
- Ibid, 28 [↩]
- Hollinger, 7; quoted from Barbara Fields, “Ideology and Race in American History,” in Morgan Kouser, et al., Region, Race, and Reconstruction, 49 [↩]
- Hodes, 125 [↩]
- Ibid, 6 [↩]
- Ibid, 6 [↩]
- Romano, 45 [↩]
- Ibid, 3 [↩]
- Ibid, 7 [↩]
- Ibid, 45 [↩]
- Ibid, 119 [↩]
- Ibid, 114-117 [↩]
- Ibid, 195 [↩]
- Ibid, 97 [↩]
- Ibid, 195 [↩]
- Ibid, 61, 70, 75 [↩]
- Ibid, 64 [↩]
- Ibid, 47 [↩]
- Ibid, 146 [↩]
- Ibid, 148 [↩]
- Ibid, 149 [↩]
- Ibid, 159 [↩]
- Ibid, 266 [↩]
- Pascoe, 6, 7 [↩]
- Pascoe is very inclusive, by integrating into her argument the ways in which the policing of Asian Americans in the West (specifically California and Oregon) regulated sexuality and contributed to white supremacy. Through the limiting of land grants to white men only, Oregon sought to maintain white supremacy and racial purity in the spatial confines of the state while also denying property ownership rights that could be inherited by mixed race children. [↩]
- Pascoe, 23 [↩]
- Ibid, 27 [↩]
- Ibid, 127 [↩]
- Ibid, 6 [↩]
- Ibid, 12 [↩]
- Ibid, 66 [↩]
- Ibid, 66 [↩]
- Ibid, 69 [↩]
- Ibid, 176 [↩]
- Ibid, 180 [↩]
- Botham, Fay. Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, & American Law. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009, 120. [↩]
- Ibid, 7 [↩]
- Ibid, 102-3 [↩]
- Ibid, 91 [↩]
- Ibid, 109 [↩]
- Ibid, 129 [↩]
- Ibid, 161 [↩]
- Sollors, Werner. Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, 5 [↩]