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Reply #123: Eugenics, the racial purity laws, and the "one-drop" rule [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-29-08 03:24 PM
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123. Eugenics, the racial purity laws, and the "one-drop" rule
Sir Francis Galton, a relative of Charles Darwin, first coined the term eugenics in 1883. Put simply, eugenics means well-born. Initially Galton focused on positive eugenics, encouraging healthy, capable people of above-average intelligence to bear more children, with the idea of building an improved human race. Some followers of Galton combined his emphasis on ancestral traits with Gregor Mendels research on patterns of inheritance, in an attempt to explain the generational transmission of genetic traits in human beings.

Negative eugenics, as first developed in the United States and later in Germany, played on fears of race degeneration. At a time when the working-class poor were reproducing at a greater rate than successful middle- and upper-class members of society, these ideas garnered considerable interest.

The center of the American eugenics movement was the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Biologist Charles Davenport established the ERO, and was joined in his work by Director Harry H. Laughlin. Both men were members of the American Breeders Association. Their view of eugenics, as applied to human populations, drew from the agricultural model of breeding the strongest and most capable members of a species while making certain that the weakest members do not reproduce. The pseudo-science of eugenics and its proponents would have incredible and far-reaching influence on politics and social policy for decades to come.

Three major laws passed in 1924 would forever change the racial landscape and the American experience for non-whites and mixed-race individuals. They were: The Immigration Act of 1924, Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act, and Virginia Racial Purity Act.

The Immigration Act of 1924 lowered that percentage of immigration by nationality to 2 percent of their population in the U.S. based on the 1890 census. That lowered the total amount of new immigrants permitted each year to approximately 150,000 and introduced new restrictions on the immigration of certain nationalities, severely curtailing immigration from southern and eastern Europe and essentially banning immigration from Asia entirely, as well as making those of Asian descent already in the United States ineligible for naturalization.

Virginia's Eugenical Sterilization Act provided for involuntary sterilization of anyone deemed an imbecile or feeble-minded. The famous Supreme Court case Buck vs. Bell was the test case for this law. Along with Dred Scott and Plessy vs. Ferguson, these three decisions are considered among the Courts worst. The plan was that the eugenicists would use this law to sterilize minorities to in the name of racial purity. In accordance with the Sterilization Act, biologically defective or deficient groups were given the choice of segregation or sterilization. Note: Carrie Buck (of the Buck vs. Bell case), her mother, and her daughter were all sterilized in accordance with this law.

Virginia's Racial Purity Act was by far the worst and most damaging. It required that the racial makeup of persons be recorded at birth, with the purpose of preventing intermarriage between races, and thus the degradation of the gene pool of one of the races was white. An interesting side note is that in the original version of the bill, Indians were considered one of the inferior races. However, many influential Virginia families were proud of their descent from Pocohantas, and thus the legislators cleverly devised the Pocohantas exception, exempting white (or nearly white) descendants of Pocohantas from the Indian racial classification. Virginias Racial Purity Act was the source of the infamous one-drop laws. The Racial Purity Act and Eugenical Sterilization Act were the basis of similar eugenics laws that would be passed by 30 states.

The leading proponent of the Racial Purity Act was Walter Plecker. He was a physician and a white supremacist and a zealous advocate of eugenics. Unless this can be done, he once wrote, we have little to hope for, but may expect in the future decline or complete destruction of our civilization.

Plecker was the first registrar of Virginias Bureau of Vital Statistics, which records births, marriages and deaths. He accepted the job in 1912. For the next 34 years, he led the effort to purify the white race in Virginia by forcing Indians and other nonwhites to classify themselves as "colored". It amounted to bureaucratic genocide. He worked with a vengeance.

One of the requirements of federal recognition of any Indian tribe is that the tribe must prove its continuous existence since 1900. Plecker, by purging Indians as a race, has made that nearly impossible. Without those documents, the efforts of Virginia tribes to win federal recognition and a trove of accompanying grants for housing, health care and education will be nearly impossible. Six Virginia tribes are seeking the permission of Congress to bypass the requirement.

During the 1940s, however, eugenical theory came under increasing criticism because of its racial prejudices and its lack of scientific foundation, but the damage had been done. Eugenics policies and Plecker's work helped codify the binary racial caste system into American social consciousness.

Writers Note: The union of Pocahontas (d. 1617) and John Rolfe (d. 1622) left only one son, Thomas, who grew up in England after his mother died. He moved to Virginia and claimed the lands left by his father, and married a colonist, Jane Poythress, with whom he had one daughter, Jane. Jane Rolfe married John Bolling, and that union produced seven children. One cannot help but be appalled by the racist aspect of honoring the good Indian princess that saved John Smith from execution (another incident exaggerated by time and racist revisionism) and disqualifying all other Indian tribes. This writer would definitely question any alleged descent from Pocahontas without proper documentation.
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