Some of the leading families of Virginia, who took pride in claiming descent from John Rolfe and Pocahontas, took umbrage at being classified as inferior non-whites.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-05-11 03:33Z by Steven

Political considerations forced [John Leslie] Powell and [Walter Ashby] Plecker to amend their iron-clad, white-supremacy law [The Racial Integrity Act of 1924] that defined as white only a person with no trace of non-white blood. Some of the leading families of Virginia, who took pride in claiming descent from John Rolfe and Pocahontas, took umbrage at being classified as inferior non-whites. This concern led to the creation of the “Pocahontas clause” which classified as white those individuals with no other non-caucasic blood than one-sixteenth or less the blood of the American Indian. Following this amendment, the bill sailed through the legislature. Thus, once all “historically-white”, upper-class Virginians were protected, the law gained tremendous support. Racism, science, and social control interacted to mediate the law’s provisions. The law would remain in effect, unchanged, for 43 years. Throughout that time it would be enforced by vigilant county court clerks and local vital statistics registrars. As late as 1945, Plecker lobbied a lawyer to push for a conviction under the miscegenation statute: “We attach great importance to this case, and we hope that you will fight it to a finish in the effort to secure an annulment for miscegenation, not for desertion or any other cause.” Plecker sought validation of the law through strict racial classification and a mass of successful precedent-setting prosecutions.

Gregory Michael Dorr, “Principled Expediency: Eugenics, Naim v. Naim, and the Supreme Court,” The American Journal of Legal History (Volume 42, Number 2, April, 1998), 127-128.

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Principled Expediency: Eugenics, Naim v. Naim, and the Supreme Court

Posted in Articles, Law, Media Archive, United States, Virginia on 2013-05-10 23:07Z by Steven

Principled Expediency: Eugenics, Naim v. Naim, and the Supreme Court

The American Journal of Legal History
Volume 42, Number 2 (April, 1998)
pages 119-159

Gregory Michael Dorr, Visiting Assistant Professor in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought
Amherst College

In March 1956, the Supreme Court refused to hear Naim v. Naim, a suit contesting the constitutionality of Virginia’s antimiscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. The Court’s two per curiam decisions in this case sparked a debate surrounding Supreme Court adjudication. Did the Court act on legal “principle,” or in response to political “expediency,” in refusing to find a properly presented federal question in Naim? Examination of the available evidence shows that the court was not unanimous in avoiding Naim. Ultimately, Felix Frankfurter’s intra-court politicking preventing the Court from deciding Naim. Frankfurter convinced the brethren that avoiding Naim was possible, despite the fact that its appellate status tapped the Court’s “obligatory jurisdiction.” To understand the “principle” that undergirded Frankfurter’s “expedient” action, one must consider the background of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Eugenical theory provided the state with a colorably rational basis for racial restrictions in Virginia’s marriage law. As counsel never directly challenged the reasonableness of the racial classifications—never challenged the eugenical precepts supporting the law—Frankfurter was able to convince his colleagues that the Court could not consider the constitutional issue in “clean cut and concrete form unclouded.” Then, following the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal’s defiance of the Supreme Court’s remand order, Frankfurter urged that the Court could defer the case for lack of “a properly presented federal question.” In so doing, Frankfurter extended the life of miscegenation statutes eleven years—until the Court struck them down in Loving v. Virginia.

It is unlikely that Chinese sailor Ham Say Naim ever heard the word miscegenation before he jumped ship in 1942. Eleven years later Naim, still a Chinese national, sat in Judge Floyd E. Kellam’s Portsmouth, Virginia Circuit Courtroom. His wife of twenty months, Ruby Elaine Naim, a white woman, sought a divorce on the grounds of adultery. Choosing not to rule on the divorce action, Kellam granted Ruby Elaine Naim an annulment under part of the Virginia Code entitled, “An Act to Preserve Racial Integrity.” These statutes decreed interracial marriage—because of its result, miscegenation or racial intermixture—illegal and “void without decree” in Virginia. Ham Say Naim’s counsel appealed the case, through the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, to the United States Supreme Court in the October Term of 1955. In a surprising series of events, the case bounced between the Supreme Court and Virginia’s highest court. The case ended in March 1956 when the Supreme Court, in a cryptic memorandum decision, ruled, ‘The decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia [reaffirming their support of Judge Kellam’s decision] leaves the case devoid of a properly presented federal question.” With this action, the United States Supreme Court effectively upheld a state’s right to restrict marriage between the races. A decade passed before the Court again considered racial classifications in marriage law. In Loving v. Virginia, another challenge to Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, the Court struck down antimiscegenation statutes, removing the last legally-enforced barrier facing Americans of color.

June 12, 1997 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Loving. As scholars commemorate Loving, it seems appropriate to reconsider Naim to understand the longevity of antimiscegenation statutes. Naim v. Naim represents more than a historical footnote to Loving: Naim reveals the complex interplay of eugenical ideology, constitutional jurisprudence, the internal politics of the Supreme Court, and the Court’s relationship to American society. Indeed, Naim illustrates that the line between “principle and expediency” in Supreme Court adjudication was less sharply defined and more hotly contested than many commentators have imagined. Both contemporary and subsequent historical treatments ascribe particular importance to Naim only in so far as its disposition appeared to reflect the Justices’ concern that any action on interracial marriage would exacerbate tensions created by the Brown decisions.

This paper, however, argues for a reassessment of Naim v. Naim‘s significance on two grounds. First, digging beneath surface impressions one sees that Naim, while sharing a kinship with other antimiscegenation cases, belongs also within the rarefied family of eugenics case law that began with Buck v. Bell and appeared to end with Skinner v. Oklahoma. Earlier antimiscegenation laws in Virginia, like many that persisted in other states, based their strictures not upon a “science” of racial improvement, but on the splenetic racism and negrophobia of the Redemption Era. Virginia eugenicists, however, promoted the Racial Integrity Act in the name of scientifically-validated social engineering. The Racial Integrity Act’s enactment as a scientific measure to preserve the state’s “health” supplied the legal justifications that upheld the statute in Naim. Eugenics provided the state with a “rational basis” for the exercise of its police power in restricting interracial marriage. Ultimately, eugenical social policy used science to garner legal imprimatur for the deep-seated southern cultural taboo against interracial sexuality.  This certification formed a bond between statutory social control and the law that proved difficult to break.

Legal debates concerning the confluence of judicial review and social policy suggest a second reason Naim should be reconsidered. Probing the records of various Supreme Court justices, it becomes apparent that their actions in disposing of Naim did not represent simply a collective dodge. Behind closed doors, the justices waged a pitched battle. Ultimately the issue was resolved not only in light of political considerations, but also as a result of the swirling jurisprudential debate over what Morton J. Horwitz terms “the central ideological question before the Supreme Court” in the twenty years after World War II: the debate between judicial activism and judicial restraint. In this intra-court battle, the personality and beliefs of Justice Felix Frankfurter take center stage. Examining the synergy between the Racial Integrity Act’s eugenical rationale and jurisprudential debates trammeling the Supreme Court helps explain why it took another eleven years to strike down antimiscegenation statutes.

This reconsideration of Naim v. Naim proceeds in four parts. First, a brief history of eugenics and the elite Virginians who integrated eugenical precepts into the legal, medical, and educational infrastructures of Virginia provides Naim‘s background. Parts II and III focus on the progress of Naim through the Portsmouth Circuit Court and the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, respectively. These sections develop the social and cultural history of Naim v. Naim, elucidating the ways in which southern sentiment regarding issues of class, race, and gender aligned with thirty year-old eugenical precepts and the law to determine the case. Special attention is given to how eugenical arguments cropped up explicitly in the statements of counsel, the state attorney general, and the opinion of the courts. Part IV takes up the battle over Naim within the United States Supreme Court, revealing the intra-court politics that decided the case. The paper concludes with a brief consideration of Naim v. Naim‘s role as precedent for the lower court decisions in Loving v. Virginia. The conclusion assesses how the Racial Integrity Act failed only when two conditions were met: 1) counsel directly challenged the “rational basis” of the eugenical underpinnings of the Racial Integrity Act; and, 2) the doctrinal/theoretical debate among the Supreme Court justices was resolved, in part as a result of Felix Frankfurter’s retirement, in favor of judicial activism for civil rights. The fulfillment of these two conditions set the stage for the recalibration of legal and cultural scales…

Read the entire article here.

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Segregation’s Science: Eugenics and Society in Virginia

Posted in Books, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States, Virginia on 2012-04-26 03:57Z by Steven

Segregation’s Science: Eugenics and Society in Virginia

University of Virginia Press
November 2008
312 pages
6.125 x 9.25
Cloth ISBN: 9780813927558
Ebook ISBN: 9780813930343

Gregory Michael Dorr, Visiting Assistant Professor in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought
Amherst College

Blending social, intellectual, legal, medical, gender, and cultural history, Segregation’s Science: Eugenics and Society in Virginia examines how eugenic theory and practice bolstered Virginia’s various cultures of segregation—rich from poor, sick from well, able from disabled, male from female, and black from white and Native American. Famously articulated by Thomas Jefferson, ideas about biological inequalities among groups evolved throughout the nineteenth century. By the early twentieth century, proponents of eugenics—the “science” of racial improvement–melded evolutionary biology and incipient genetics with long-standing cultural racism. The resulting theories, taught to generations of Virginia high school, college, and medical students, became social policy as Virginia legislators passed eugenic marriage and sterilization statutes. The enforcement of these laws victimized men and women labeled “feebleminded,” African Americans, and Native Americans for over forty years. However, this is much more than the story of majority agents dominating minority subjects. Although white elites were the first to champion eugenics, by the 1910s African American Virginians were advancing their own hereditarian ideas, creating an effective counter-narrative to white scientific racism. Ultimately, segregation’s science contained the seeds of biological determinism’s undoing, realized through the civil, women’s, Native American, and welfare rights movements. Of interest to historians, educators, biologists, physicians, and social workers, this study reminds readers that science is socially constructed; the syllogism “Science is objective; objective things are moral; therefore science is moral” remains as potentially dangerous and misleading today as it was in the past.


  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: “You Are Your Brother’s Keeper!”
  • 1. “The Sacrifice of a Race” Virginia’s Proto-eugenicists Survey Humanity
  • 2. “Rearing the Human Thoroughbred” Progressive Era Eugenics in Virginia
  • 3. “Defending the Thin Red Line” Academics and Eugenics
  • 4. “Sterilize the Misfits Promptly” Virginia Controls the Feebleminded
  • 5. “Mongrel Virginians” Eugenics and the “Race Question”
  • 6. “A Healthier and Happier America” Persistent Eugenics in Virginia
  • 7. “They Saw Black All Over” Eugenics, Massive Resistance, and Punitive Sterilization
  • Conclusion: “I Never Knew What They’d Done with Me”
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Dispensing of Heart Drug Not ‘Black and White’

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-04-26 03:45Z by Steven

Dispensing of Heart Drug Not ‘Black and White’

University of Alabama Research Magazine

Chris Bryant

Think we’ve advanced too far in Civil Rights issues and medical care to resort to making health judgments based on skin color? Don’t be so sure, says Dr. Gregory Dorr, an assistant professor of history at The University of Alabama, who has joined scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology researching so-called “designer medicines” and the possibilities they could lead to racial medicine.

When a recent study of a heart medicine claimed to show the drug reduced the mortality rate of blacks with severe cardiac disease by 43 percent, but had no effect on whites, controversy erupted.

“According to the study, BiDil (the cardiac disease drug) gave a marked increase in lowering the morbidity rates among black patients with end-stage heart disease,” Dorr said. “White people didn’t show any benefit from it. There were problems with the way the study was done that seemed to suggest that it may not be so clear cut.”…

…“In order to understand pharmacogenetics, you have to understand the longer history of race and medicine in America and how they interacted over time,” Dorr said. “I think there is a lot of potential good in genetic medicine. But, when people conflate race and genetics, we get into a very dangerous and murky area.”

Read the entire article here.

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