Aired: February 20, 2010

By Definition: The Racial Integrity Act of 1924

fallingrocksmPassed at the height of the eugenics movement, the Racial Integrity Act proclaimed the existence of only two racial categories in Virginia—”colored” and white.  The law stripped Native Americans, and members of other groups with dark skin, of their land, voting rights, and legal identity.  David Smith (Longwood University) and anthropologist Helen Rountree (Old Dominion University), discuss the Act and its legacy.  Also:  anthropologist Jeff Hantman (University of Virginia) explains the absurdity of the ‘one drop’ rule and its effect on Native Virginians.

Photo of Monacan Indian children at recess, Jackson Davis Collection, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library


Want to dig deeper? Explore Encyclopedia Virginia:

Racial Integrity Laws of the 1920s



7 Comments on “By Definition: The Racial Integrity Act of 1924”

  1. john chinn

    You have to start with where your Virginia Ancestors lived. Then search out your kin . It is a pains taking process even if you have an idea what Tribe they were from.

    Get back to the area where they lived and start talking to people who are long time residents. The local Courthouse is a good place and if you are lucky you may find the local Historian with some knowledge of the family and information such as if they had Indian Heritage.

  2. john chinn

    For those trying to search out family with possible Indian Heritage in Virginia. Remember to use the family name as it was in Virginia. Also remember it is most often difficult due to the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 drove those with Indian Blood under ground.

    The most dangerous things to be in Virginia during the Democrat reign of Terror were these:

    1- Black or American Indian or Melungeon.

    2- Be known to have the blood of any of the three.

    3- Be suspected of such a blood line and/or have a name that suggested so.

    4- Be a Republican. At that time they had been all but driven out of Politics. In Eastern Virginia being a Republican would cost you a job. In some areas get you beaten and your house burned.

    Check out web sites for Virginia Indian Tribes if you are trying to locate a blood connection to your ancestry. You may see a name there that rings a bell. Again it is hard. Most of our History has been destroyed save for a few kind Whites and the hidden records in individual families.

  3. jerry nowell

    Excellent discussion. Thank you. One point, however, may have received short shrift: native american racism. It may have been mentioned and overlooked by me (I was doing my morning chores as I listened), or perhaps it wasn’t as much of an issue in VA as it was in NC. I did graduate work in the 1990s dealing with racial politics in NC, specifically, how native americans sought to preserve their communities and collective identities over the years as laws evolved. Sometimes it served their interests to blend in with blacks, other times to stand apart. To whites on a day to day basis, “coloreds” were coloreds. The finer distinctions didn’t much matter — whites didn’twant any of them sbitting next to their daughters at church or dchool. But when asked to expou d on race, native american and whites generally agreed on one thing: coloreds of african ancestory were the bottom of the barrel. Those attitudes were still just under the surface with some of the older native americans I met. They would lower their voices and lean in — expecting me, as a white man, to understand and agree — and speak of the humiliation they felt when people treated them like “nigras.”

  4. john chinn

    The Racial Integrity Act used the most detrimental term for someone, at that time. Colored. The Act said you had to be registered as Colored. Your Children when born had to be listed on the birth certificate as Colored. The Democrat Enforcement Arm , the KKK in N.C. considered the American Indian to be the same as the “Coloreds”.

    Out in Minnesota they were chased out of Restaurants with the owner or manager, often, screaming “Prairie Nigger ” at them.

    American Indians are not fond of being equated with what Society long considered the lowest of the low.

    Even in the Nineteen Nineties in Charles City County Virginia and surrounding areas Whites would say the Chickahominy Indians were Colored. They were derided by pointing to a Black person and saying Charles City County Indian.

    References to being Black rather than Indian are not well received , even today.

    When my Tribe sought State Recognition an elderly Lady called the Chief and begged him not to do so. Her reason ? They’ll think we are colored. She did so on tears.

    The abuse from stupid, unknowing and even supposedly educated Academics with we know best and you are still a Savage is as bad as the KKK.

    It never ends.

  5. Wayne Masoka

    Brothers and Sisters of the Virginian Tribes be proud of who you are. Make and go to POW WOWS and do craft work and let the people surrounding you know of your heritage and your beliefs. DO NOT BE ASHAMED OF YOUR BLOOD AND WHO YOU ARE. There are many in the areas of the Dakotas , the wachishus (whites) and wchishu sapas ( Black white people) who call names and say bad things. Yet they like our POW WOWS and our crafts and some even dance indian and simulate with us and enjoy our times together. Thankyou for pipeline support. May your tribe flourish and grow.

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