Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (State legislature of Virginia)

Posted in Definitions, Law, Media Archive, United States, Virginia on 2011-08-06 04:44Z by Steven

Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (State legislature of Virginia)

The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 of Virginia, United States, was a law that had required the racial makeup of persons to be recorded at birth, and prevented marriage between “white persons” and non-white persons. The law was the most famous ban on miscegenation in the United States, and was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 1967, in Loving v. Virginia.

  • 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…
  • …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…

To read the complete text, click here.

Registration of Birth and Color, 1924.
Rockbridge County (Va.) Clerk’s Correspondence [Walter A. Plecker to A. T. Shields], 1912–1943.
Local Government Records Collection, Rockbridge County Court Records. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

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Posted in Articles, Definitions, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery on 2011-07-26 02:14Z by Steven


Freedom’s Story: Teaching African American Literature and History
National Humanities Center
April 2010

Trudier Harris, J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English, Emerita
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Definition and Background

In the past couple of decades, the word pigmentocracy has come into common usage to refer to the distinctions that people of African descent in America make in their various skin tones, which range from the darkest shades of black to paleness that approximates whiteness. More specifically, the “ocracy” in pigmentocracy carries with it notions of hierarchical value that viewers place on such skin tones. Lighter skin tones are therefore valued more than darker skin tones. Such preferences have social, economic, and political implications, as persons of lighter skin tones historically were frequently—and stereotypically—viewed as being more intelligent, talented, and socially graceful than their darker skinned black counterparts. Blacker blacks were viewed as unattractive, indeed ugly, and generally considered of lesser value. Europeans standards of beauty thus dominated an African people for most of their history in America.

Although the word pigmentocracy may have come into widespread usage fairly recently, the concept extends throughout the history of Africans on American soil. During slavery, black people who were fathered by their white masters often gained privileges based on their lighter coloring. Indeed, one reported pattern is that blacks of lighter skin were reputedly selected to work in the Big Houses of plantation masters while blacks of darker hues were routinely sent to the fields. Moreover, one of the origins of the Dozens, the ritual game of insult in African American culture, is reputed to have developed as a result of slurs darker skinned blacks who worked in the fields hurled at lighter skinned blacks because their mothers had given birth to children sired by white masters. Some masters who recognized their paternity publicly sometimes sent their partially colored offspring to the North to be educated. This practice explains in part the belief that blacks of lighter skin were more intelligent (they simply had more educational opportunities). It was convenient to the mythology of slavery to suggest this pattern as well, for even without formal admission, whites were aware that some blacks looked more like them than others. Since many theories of bestiality and dehumanization were aligned with darker skinned blacks, it was perhaps preferable to be more tolerant of the lighter skinned ones. Even this, however, was not a consistent pattern, for theories also developed about mongrelization, that is, the mixing of black and white blood, leading to extreme anti-social behavior in persons so endowed.

Value based on skin tones led to some interesting historical developments both within and outside African American communities. To prevent blacks fathered by white masters from making claims on their masters, children born to enslaved women were legally designated to take the status of those women. Blond-haired, blue-eyed enslaved persons, therefore, could not change their condition through any legal process. To ensure that this pattern could not be broken, anyone determined to have had black blood in one of their ancestors five generations removed was still designated “Negro.” Mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons, sextaroons [hexadecaroon?], and whatever word would define a person who had 1/32 black blood [dotriacontaroon??] were all designated to be fully black by laws of American society. “The mighty drop” of black blood, as some scholars refer to it, was powerful enough to control generations of persons legally classified as black who might otherwise have been classed as white or who might have passed for white…

Read the entire article here.



Posted in Definitions on 2011-06-26 18:12Z by Steven

Mestizaje is an ideology which believes that the fusion of various cultural traditions (including language, religion, food, music, etc.) in the Americas created a new and better mestizo race. This idea gained strength after the Mexican Revolution, and José Vasconcelos popularized it in his 1925 essay La Raza Cósmica (The Cosmic Race).

Source: Marc’s House of Knowledge (http://www2.truman.edu/~marc/resources/terms.html)


Coloured (Southern Africa context)

Posted in Definitions on 2010-09-30 01:20Z by Steven

In the South African, Namibian, Zambian, Botswana and Zimbabwean context, the term Coloured (also known as Bruinmense, Kleurlinge or Bruin Afrikaners in Afrikaans) refers or referred to an ethnic group of mixed-race people who possess some sub-Saharan African ancestry, but not enough to be considered Black under the law of South Africa. They are mixed race and often possess substantial ancestry from Europe, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaya, Mozambique, Mauritius, Saint Helena and Southern Africa. Besides the extensive combining of these diverse heritages in the Western Cape—in which a distinctive ‘Cape Coloured’ and affiliated Cape Malay culture developed—in other parts of Southern Africa, their development has usually been the result of the meeting of two distinct groups. Genetic studies suggest the group has the highest levels of mixed ancestry in the world.


Punjabi Mexican American

Posted in Definitions, Mexico on 2010-09-22 16:02Z by Steven

The Punjabi Mexican American community, the majority of which is localized to Yuba City, California is a distinctive cultural phenomenon holding its roots in a migration pattern that occurred almost a century prior. The first meeting of these cultures occurred in the Imperial Valley in 1907, near the largest irrigation system in the Western hemisphere…


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Code Noir (The Black Code)

Posted in Definitions, History, Law, Slavery on 2010-09-11 04:25Z by Steven

The Code Noir (French language: The Black Code) was a decree passed by France’s King Louis XIV in 1685. The Code Noir defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire, restricted the activities of free Negroes, forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism, and ordered all Jews out of France’s colonies. The code has been described by Tyler Stovall as “one of the most extensive official documents on race, slavery, and freedom ever drawn up in Europe.”

…2 of the 60 articles, the document specified that:

  • married free men will be fined for having children with their slave concubines, as will the slave concubine’s master. If the man himself is the master of the slave concubine, the slave and child will be removed from his ownership. If the man was not married, he should then be married to the slave concubine thus freeing her and the child from slavery (art. 9)
  • children between a male slave and a female free woman are free; children between a female slave and a free man are slaves (art. 13)

Read all 60 articles (in French) here.



Plessy v. Ferguson

Posted in Definitions, Law, United States on 2010-09-11 03:53Z by Steven

Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the jurisprudence of the United States, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in private businesses (particularly railroads), under the doctrine of “separate but equal”.


Comments by Steven F. Riley:

The Plessy decision is significant in that it not only gave constitutional legitimacy to Jim Crow segregation, it also effectively codifed the so-called “one-drop rule” which designated anyone with any known quantity of African ancestry—no mater how small—as black.   Homer Plessy, (of one-eighth African ancestry) was by all appearances  “visibly white” and in fact had to announce his appearance on the railroad car in which he was traveling.



Posted in Definitions on 2010-08-09 19:25Z by Steven

Hyperdescent is the practice of classifying a child of mixed race ancestry in the more socially dominant of the parents’ races.

Hyperdescent is the opposite of hypodescent (the practice of classifying a child of mixed race ancestry in the more socially subordinate parental race). Both hyperdescent and hypodescent vary from other methods of determining lineage, such as patrilineality and matrilineality.


triracial isolates

Posted in Definitions, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2010-07-09 20:50Z by Steven

Triracial isolates represent some two hundred communities scattered throughout the eastern United States, particularly in the southeast, of varying combinations and degrees of European American, Native American, and African American descent.

The triracial isolates are known by a wide variety of names. New York is the home of the Van Guilders, the Clappers, the Shinnecock, the Poospatuck, the Montauk, the Mantinecock, and the Jackson Whites.  In Pennsylvania, they are called Pools; in Delaware, Nanticokes; in Rhode Island, Narragansetts; in Massachusetts, Gay Heads and Mashpees; in Ohio, Carmelites. Maryland has its Wesorts; West Virginia its Guineas; and Tennessee its Melungeons.  There are the Ramps, Issues, and Chickhominy in Virginia; the Lumbees, Haliwas, Waccamaws, and Smilings in North Carolina; Chavises, Creels, Brass Ankles, Redbones, Redlegs, Buckheads, and Yellowhammers, all in South CarolinaLouisiana is the home of a host of triracial communities.

G. Reginald Daniel, More Than Black? Multiracial Identity and the New Racial Order (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, December, 2001) 68-69.


Posted in Definitions on 2010-06-23 16:51Z by Steven

plaçage was a recognized extralegal system in which white French and Spanish and later Creole men entered into the equivalent of common-law marriages with women of African, Indian and white (European) Creole descent. The term comes from the French placer meaning “to place with”. The women were not legally recognized as wives, but were known as placées; their relationships were recognized among the free people of color as mariages de la main gauche or left-handed marriages. Many were often quarteronnes or quadroons, the offspring of a European and a mulatto, but plaçage did occur between whites and mulattoes and blacks. The system flourished throughout the French and Spanish colonial periods, and apparently reached its zenith during the latter, between 1769 and 1803. It was not limited to Louisiana, but also flourished in the cities of Natchez and Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; St. Augustine and Pensacola, Florida; as well as Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). Plaçage, however, drew most of its fame—and notoriety—from its open application in New Orleans. Despite the prevalence of interracial encounters in the colony, not all Creole women of color were or became placées…