Dangerous Liaisons: Sex and Love in the Segregated South

Posted in Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2010-12-29 18:24Z by Steven

Dangerous Liaisons: Sex and Love in the Segregated South

The University of Arkansas Press
160 pages
Paper: 1-55728–833-X (978-1-55728-833-2)
Cloth: 1-55728-755-4 (978-1-55728-755-7)

Charles F. Robinson II, Associate Professor of History, Vice Provost for Diversity, and Director of African American Studies program
University of Arkansas

In the tumultuous decades after the Civil War, as the southern white elite reclaimed power, “racial mixing” was the central concern of segregationists who strove to maintain “racial purity.” Segregation—and race itself—was based on the idea that interracial sex posed a biological threat to the white race. In this groundbreaking study, Charles Robinson examines how white southerners enforced anti-miscegenation laws. His findings challenge conventional wisdom, documenting a pattern of selective prosecution under which interracial domestic relationships were punished even more harshly than transient sexual encounters. Robinson shows that the real crime was to suggest that black and white individuals might be equals, a notion which undermined the legitimacy of the economic, political, and social structure of white male supremacy.

Robinson examines legal cases from across the South, considering both criminal prosecutions brought by states and civil disputes over marital and family assets. He also looks at U.S. Supreme Court decisions, debates in state legislatures, comments in the U.S. Congressional Record, and newspaper editorials. He not only shows the hardening of racial categories but assesses the attitudes of African Americans about anti-miscegenation laws and intermarriage.

Dangerous Liaisons vividly documents the regulation of intimacy and its fundamental role in the construction of race.

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Forsaking All Others: A True Story of Interracial Sex and Revenge in the 1880s South

Posted in Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2010-08-20 16:09Z by Steven

Forsaking All Others: A True Story of Interracial Sex and Revenge in the 1880s South

University of Tennessee Press
160 estimated pages
Cloth ISBN: 978-1-57233-724-4; 1572337249
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-57233-740-4; 1-57233-740-0

Charles F. Robinson, Vice Provost for Diversity; Associate Professor of History and Director of African American Studies
University of Arkansas

The electronic book (E-Book) is available now.

An intensely dramatic true story, Forsaking All Others recounts the fascinating case of an interracial couple who attempted—in defiance of society’s laws and conventions—to formalize their relationship in the post-Reconstruction South. It was an affair with tragic consequences, one that entangled the protagonists in a miscegenation trial and, ultimately, a desperate act of revenge.

From the mid-1870s to the early 1880s, Isaac Bankston was the proud sheriff of Desha County, Arkansas, a man so prominent and popular that he won five consecutive terms in office. Although he was married with two children, around 1881 he entered into a relationship with Missouri Bradford, an African American woman who bore his child. Some two years later, Missouri and Isaac absconded to Memphis, hoping to begin a new life there together. Although Tennessee lawmakers had made miscegenation a felony, Isaac’s dark complexion enabled the couple to apply successfully for a marriage license and take their vows. Word of the marriage quickly spread, however, and Missouri and Isaac were charged with unlawful cohabitation. An attorney from Desha County, James Coates, came to Memphis to act as special prosecutor in the case. Events then took a surprising turn as Isaac chose to deny his white heritage in order to escape conviction. Despite this victory in court, however, Isaac had been publicly disgraced, and his sense of honor propelled him into a violent confrontation with Coates, the man he considered most responsible for his downfall.

Charles F. Robinson uses Missouri and Isaac’s story to examine key aspects of post-Reconstruction society, from the rise of miscegenation laws and the particular burdens they placed on anyone who chose to circumvent them, to the southern codes of honor that governed both social and individual behavior, especially among white men. But most of all, the book offers a compelling personal narrative with important implications for our supposedly more tolerant times.

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Racial Constructions: The Legal Regulation of Miscegenation in Alabama, 1890–1934

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2009-12-08 03:52Z by Steven

Racial Constructions: The Legal Regulation of Miscegenation in Alabama, 1890–1934

Law and History Review
Volume 20, Number 2 (Summer 2002)
DOI: 10.2307/744035

Julie Novkov, Associate Professor of Political Science and Women’s Studies
State University of New York, Albany

For over one hundred years–from the post–Civil War era to the post–Civil Rights era–the state of Alabama maintained a legal and social commitment to keeping blacks and whites from engaging in long-term sexual relationships with each other. Recent studies addressing the laws that barred miscegenation have shown that investigating governmental reactions to intimate interracial connections reveals much about the interplay between legal and social definitions of race as well as about the development of whiteness as a proxy for superior social, political, and legal status. As scholarly interest in whiteness as an ideological category has grown, historians have sought the roots of modern conceptions of whiteness as an oppositional category to blackness in legal, social, and economic relations in the southern United States during the era of Jim Crow.

Prosecutions for miscegenation were an important component in the process of defining race and entrenching white supremacy.  Interracial sexual relationships challenged the boundaries between white and non-white in the most fundamental way by subverting the model of the white family and often by threatening to produce or producing mixed-race children. In most southern states, even before the rise of the so-called “Redeemer” governments and the establishment of Jim Crow, lawmakers in the new postbellum legislatures moved quickly to bar specifically marriages between blacks and whites. By doing so, they sent a signal that even if the national government were intent upon imposing civil and political equality, so-called social equality would not result from emancipation or constitutional reform. The struggle against miscegenation was at bottom a struggle to establish and maintain whiteness as a separate and impermeable racial category that all observers could easily identify. While individuals whose race could not easily be determined threatened this system, the greater threat was the establishment of the miscegenic family. A black man with a white wife, as well as a white man with a black wife, not only had the potential to produce racially ambiguous children but also undermined white supremacy, and thus whiteness itself, by openly melding black and white into the most fundamental unit of society, the family.

Thus, keeping black and white separate required preventing individuals from being able to challenge the boundary between them. In order to do so, however, understandings of what constituted blackness and whiteness had to be in place. Prior to the Civil War, these had rested largely in social context and interaction; whiteness was intimately connected to performance and its constitution depended upon an individual’s ability to do the things that whites characteristically did. While free blacks posed a problem for this schema, their existence did not challenge the fundamental nature of the system in place, which became increasingly stringent and rigid as sectional conflict increased. In the wake of the Civil War, both whiteness and blackness had to be renegotiated and reconstructed, since slavery was no longer a yardstick. Some legislators and legal actors turned to science both to define blackness and whiteness and to understand their significance for public policy. Defining “race” was always in the background of the prohibition against miscegenation, but during the period when genetic understandings of race were most popular, the question of defining blackness was central in Alabama.

Because of the wealth of data, studying Alabama’s regulation of miscegenation is particularly helpful in understanding the generation and shifting of ideological conceptions of race. Other Southern and Western states were also grappling with these questions, as evinced by appellate decisions regarding convictions for miscegenation, but Alabama’s appellate courts were particularly engaged with these questions. They produced thirty-eight opinions concerning miscegenation–more reported decisions on the appellate level than any other state–between the end of the Civil War and the U.S. Supreme Court’s invalidation of such statutes in 1967. The number of individuals charged with violating a statute and convicted of violations is a significant measure of the law’s importance. But reviewing appellate litigation reveals more about the questions that were settled and in flux at particular historical moments.  Charles Robinson speculates that Alabama had significantly more cases than any other state both because of its large black population from the postbellum era to the present and because Alabama’s prohibitionary law was more broadly framed than comparable laws in neighboring states; a legal climate in which appeals were sometimes successful probably also contributed to the frequency of litigation.  Because of the large number of appellate cases, more information is available about the development of legal and social questions regarding miscegenation in Alabama than anywhere else.

This article focuses on a subset of these cases, analyzing the development of racial definitions in the law through the interplay between changing scientific understandings of race and legal actors’ manipulations of these understandings. In the 1890s and early 1900s, appeals of convictions for miscegenation raised evidentiary questions that set the stage for a struggle over proving race in the courts that began in 1918 and continued into the 1930s. In the appellate cases, the focused contention over racial definitions partially resulted from and coincided with the growing presence of eugenic theories about race in public and legal discourse. The science of eugenics captured the popular imagination shortly after the turn of the century and provided a new framework for arguing in terms of scientific expertise that non-whites were inherently and irremediably inferior to whites. This shift toward eugenic explanations of race and racial definition paralleled and partially initiated a shift from evidentiary concerns in the courts to a direct confrontation with questions about racial definition. The new focus on genetic framings of race, however, had an ironic result: criminal defendants convicted of miscegenation were able, often successfully, to challenge their convictions on the ground that the state had not adequately proven that they were black. This temporarily undermined the state’s efforts to maintain whiteness as a separate and impenetrable category.

As background to this argument, the article first addresses the evolution of the prohibition of miscegenation and the scope of appellate litigation that it generated. It then explains the evidentiary battles of the turn of the century and outlines the rise of eugenic theories and their impact on the law. With this legal, social, and scientific context established, the article turns to the question of how defense attorneys were able to exploit genetic framings of racial definitions for their clients convicted of miscegenation…

Read the entire article here.

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