Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving
Interracial Marriage Laws - A Short Timeline History - Definition of Miscegenation - Same Sex Lawyers focus on old California Law for "basis"
MEMPHIS TN (IFS) -- While watching CNN this morning, I was a little surprise that the attorneys for the Same-Sex party would raise the cases of Old California Law regarding interracial marriage. For the Love of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving in 1947, just one year before I was born, that this couple who wanted to be married were denied by state laws. Loving Vs. Virgina is a real love story that shook the foundations of the United States Constitution. - khs
Miscegenation refers to sexual relations between people from different racial groups. It stems from the Latin words "miscere" and "genus," which mean "to mix" and "race," respectively. Various American states prohibited miscegenation, also referred to as race-mixing, until the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that anti-miscegenation laws violated the 14th Amendment.Definition of Miscegenation.
b-days: Loving vs. Virginia events celebrate the legalization of interracial Lovin’
photo courtesy of lovingday.org
Who’s to say who you can and cannot fall in love with?
At one point U.S. marriage laws did just that. In fact, “Loving Day” was created in honor of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving (we couldn’t have picked a better last name), a couple who went to court to fight the interracial marriage laws in Virginia in 1958 in Loving vs. Virginia.
In case you don’t know, here’s their shockingly recent story and ways to celebrate the legalization. (And we know it’s long, but it’s too important to edit):
In ’58 many states in the U.S. forbade people of different races to marry each other. Not only did this hold true in Virginia, but the state also forbid couples from marrying in states where it was legal and then returning to their home state. Upon shortly returning from Washington, DC where the Lovings were married, they were awaken one night by the police in their bedroom and taken to jail for the crime of being married. When they went to trial they were found guilty and sentenced to jail for a term of one to three years. However the judge gave them an ultimatum of banishment from Virginia for a period of twenty-five years, which the Lovings accepted.
The couple was able to live legally in DC, yet discrimination was a daily struggle for them. They were not able to rent property in most parts of the city and they were often the target of bigotry and racial slurs. Life was difficult for the couple and they found themselves struggling to support their children. Mildred finally wrote a letter to the Attorney General of the United States who, at the time, was Robert F. Kennedy. The letter was then forwarded to the ACLU in New York where the couple were granted two pro-bono lawyers. Their case appeared before the United States Supreme Court in 1967, which decided unanimously in the Loving’s favor. To restrain the freedom for individuals to marry, or not marry, a person of another race was stated unconstitutional.
Finally after 9 years of struggles the Lovings won the right to live together in their home state of Virginia. Not only did they gain natural rights for themselves, the Lovings’ case granted freedom to every interracial couple in the sixteen states that had laws banning interracial couples.
Thanks to the Loving family for fighting this fight for the many couples that have come after them.
Celebrate in your love and find out more about Loving Day and check out a calendar of worldwide events throughout the month of June!
Also Known As: race-mixing
Common Misspellings: miscegination, misegenation, micegenation
Blacks and whites could not marry in early America because anti-miscegenation laws prohibited race-mixing.
Interracial Marriage Laws
A Short Timeline History
By Tom Head
Centuries before the same-sex marriage movement, the U.S. government, its constituent states, and their colonial predecessors tackled the controversial issue of "miscegenation": race-mixing. It's widely known that the Deep South banned interracial marriages until 1967, but less widely known that many other states did the same (California until 1948, for example) - or that three brazen attempts were made to ban interracial marriages nationally by amending the U.S. Constitution.
Maryland passes the first British colonial law banning marriage between whites and slaves - a law that, among other things, orders the enslavement of white women who have married black men:
"[F]orasmuch as diverse freeborn English women forgetful of their free condition and to the disgrace of our Nation do intermarry with Negro slaves by which also diverse suits may arise touching the [children] of such women and a great damage doth befall the Masters of such Negroes for prevention whereof for deterring such freeborn women from such shameful matches,
"Be it further enacted by the authority advice and consent aforesaid that whatsoever freeborn woman shall intermarry with any slave from and after the last day of this present Assembly shall serve the master of such slave during the life of her husband, and that the [children] of such freeborn women so married shall be slaves as their fathers were. And be it further enacted that all the [children] of English or other freeborn women that have already married Negroes shall serve the masters of their parents til they be thirty years of age and no longer."
This leaves unaddressed two important questions:
This law draws no distinction between slaves and free blacks, and
This law doesn't say what happens to white men who marry black women, rather than vice versa.
As you might imagine, the white nationalist colonial governments did not leave these questions unanswered for long.
The Commonwealth of Virginia bans all interracial marriages, threatening to exile whites who marry people of color. In the 17th century, exile usually functioned as a death sentence:
"For prevention of that abominable mixture and spurious [children] which hereafter may increase in this dominion, as well as by negroes, mulattos, and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white women, as by their unlawful accompanying with one another,
"Be it enacted ... that ... whatsoever English or other white man or woman being free, shall intermarry with a negro, mulatto or Indian man or woman bond or free shall within three months after such marriage be banished and removed from this dominion forever ...
"And be it further enacted ... that if any English woman being free shall have a bastard child by any negro or mulatto, she pay the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, within one month after such bastard child shall be born, to the Church wardens of the parish ... and in default of such payment she shall be taken into the possession of the said Church wardens and disposed of for five years, and the said fine of fifteen pounds, or whatever the woman shall be disposed of for, shall be paid, one third part to their majesties ... and one other third part to the use of the parish ... and the other third part to the informer, and that such bastard child be bound out as a servant by the said Church wardens until he or she shall attain the age of thirty yeares, and in case such English woman that shall have such bastard child be a servant, she shall be sold by the said church wardens (after her time is expired that she ought by law serve her master), for five years, and the money she shall be sold for divided as if before appointed, and the child to serve as aforesaid."
Leaders in Maryland's colonial government liked this idea so much that they implemented a similar policy a year later. And in 1705, Virginia expanded the policy to impose massive fines on any minister who performs a marriage between a person of color and a white person - with half the amount (ten thousand pounds) to be paid to the informant.
Pennsylvania, which had passed a law banning interracial marriage in 1725, repeals it as part of a series of reforms intended to gradually abolish slavery within the state and grant free blacks equal legal status.
Massachusetts becomes the second state to repeal its anti-miscegenation law, further cementing the distinction between Northern and Southern states on slavery and civil rights. The original 1705 ban, the third such law following those of Maryland and Virginia, prohibited both marriage and sexual relations between people of color (specifically, African Americans and American Indians) and whites.
Rep. Andrew King (D-MO) proposes a U.S. constitutional amendment banning all marriage between whites and people of color in every state throughout the country. It will be the first of three such attempts.
In Pace v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules that state-level bans on interracial marriage do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling will hold for more than 80 years.
The plaintiffs, Tony Pace and Mary Cox, were arrested under Alabama's Section 4189, which read:
"[I]f any white person and any negro, or the descendant of any negro to the third generation, inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation was a white person, intermarry or live in adultery or fornication with each other, each of them must, on conviction, be imprisoned in the penitentiary or sentenced to hard labor for the county for not less than two nor more than seven years."
They challenged the conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Stephen Johnson Field wrote for the Court:
"The counsel is undoubtedly correct in his view of the purpose of the clause of the amendment in question, that it was to prevent hostile and discriminating state legislation against any person or class of persons. Equality of protection under the laws implies not only accessibility by each one, whatever his race, on the same terms with others to the courts of the country for the security of his person and property, but that in the administration of criminal justice he shall not be subjected, for the same offense, to any greater or different punishment ...
"The defect in the argument of counsel consists in his assumption that any discrimination is made by the laws of Alabama in the punishment provided for the offense for which the plaintiff in error was indicted when committed by a person of the African race and when committed by a white person ... Section 4189 applies the same punishment to both offenders, the white and the black. Indeed, the offense against which this latter section is aimed cannot be committed without involving the persons of both races in the same punishment. Whatever discrimination is made in the punishment prescribed in the two sections is directed against the offense designated and not against the person of any particular color or race. The punishment of each offending person, whether white or black, is the same."
More than a century later, opponents of same-sex marriage will resurrect the same argument in claiming that heterosexual-only marriage laws don't discriminate on the basis of sex, since they technically punish men and women on equal terms.
Rep. Seaborn Roddenbery (D-GA) makes a second attempt to revise the U.S. Constitution in order to ban interracial marriage in all 50 states.
Roddenbery's proposed amendment read as follows:
"That intermarriage between negroes or persons of color and Caucasians or any other character of persons within the United States or any territory under their jurisdiction, is forever prohibited; and the term 'negro or person of color,' as here employed, shall be held to mean any and all persons of African descent or having any trace of African or negro blood."
Later theories of physical anthropology will suggest that every human being has some African ancestry, which could have rendered this amendment unenforceable had it passed. In any case, it didn't pass.
Congress passes the Cable Act.
While most anti-miscegenation laws primarily targeted interracial marriages between whites and African Americans or whites and American Indians, the climate of anti-Asian xenophobia that defined the early decades of the 20th century meant that Asian Americans were also targeted. In this case, the Cable Act retroactively stripped the citizenship of any U.S. citizen who married "an alien ineligible for citizenship," which - under the racial quota system of the time - primarily meant Asian Americans.
The impact of this law was not merely theoretical. Following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Thind that Asian Americans are not white and therefore cannot legally become citizens, the U.S. government revoked the citizenship of natural-born U.S. citizens such as Mary Keatinge Das, wife of the Pakistani-American activist Taraknath Das, and Emily Chinn, mother of four and wife of a Chinese-American immigrant.
Traces of anti-Asian immigration law remained until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, though some Republican politicians, most famously Michele Bachmann, have suggested a return to the earlier racial quota standard.
Sen. Coleman Blease (D-SC), a Ku Klux Klan supporter who had previously served as South Carolina's governor, makes a third and final serious attempt to revise the U.S. Constitution in order to ban interracial marriage in every state. Like its predecessors, it fails.
In McLaughlin v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules that laws banning interracial sex violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
McLaughlin struck down Florida Statute 798.05, which read:
"Any negro man and white woman, or any white man and negro woman, who are not married to each other, who shall habitually live in and occupy in the nighttime the same room shall each be punished by imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, or by fine not exceeding five hundred dollars."
While the ruling did not directly address laws banning interracial marriage, it laid down the groundwork for a ruling that definitively did.
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturns Pace v. Alabama (1883), ruling in Loving v. Virginia that state bans on interracial marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
As Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the Court:
"There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy ...
"The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men ... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."
From this point on, interracial marriage is legal throughout the United States.
Following a November 7th ballot referendum, Alabama becomes the last state to officially legalize interracial marriage.
By November 2000, interracial marriage had been legal in every state for more than three decades thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Loving v. Virginia (1967) - but the Alabama State Constitution still contained an unenforceable ban in Section 102: "The legislature shall never pass any law to authorise or legalise any marriage between any white person and a Negro or descendant of a Negro."
The Alabama State Legislature stubbornly clung to the old language as a symbolic statement of the state's views on interracial marriage; as recently as 1998, House leaders successfully killed attempts to remove Section 102.
When voters finally had the opportunity to remove the language, the outcome was surprisingly close: although 59% of voters supported removing the language, 41% favored keeping it. Interracial marriage remains controversial in the Deep South, where a 2011 poll found that a plurality of Mississippi Republicans still support anti-miscegenation laws.
Gay Rights and Gay Marriage Timeline: Chronology of Events
Same-Sex Marriage in Louisiana
Gay Marriage Amendment Minnesota
Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA)
History of Sodomy Laws in the United States - A Timeline History of Sodomy ...
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), was a landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated the state's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as "white" and people classified as "colored." The Supreme Court's unanimous decision held this prohibition was unconstitutional, overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.
The decision was followed by an increase in interracial marriages in the U.S., and is remembered annually on Loving Day, June 12. It has been the subject of two movies as well as songs. In the 2010s, it again became relevant in the context of the debate about same-sex marriage in the United States.
Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States had been in place in certain states since before the United States declared independence.
Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967
The plaintiffs in the case were Mildred Delores Loving, née Jeter (July 22, 1939 – May 2, 2008), a woman of African-American and Rappahannock Native American descent, and Richard Perry Loving (October 29, 1933 – June 1975), a white man.
The couple had three children: Donald, Peggy, and Sidney. Richard Loving died aged 41 in 1975, when a drunk driver struck his car in Caroline County, Virginia. Mildred Loving lost her right eye in the same accident. She died of pneumonia on May 2, 2008, in Milford, Virginia, aged 68.
At the age of 18, Mildred became pregnant, and in June 1958 the couple traveled to Washington, D.C. to marry, thereby evading Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriage a crime. They returned to the small town of Central Point, Virginia. Based on an anonymous tip, local police raided their home at night, hoping to find them having sex, which was also a crime according to Virginia law. When the officers found the Lovings sleeping in their bed, Mildred pointed out their marriage certificate on the bedroom wall. That certificate became the evidence for the criminal charge of "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth" that was brought against them.
The Lovings were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified miscegenation as a felony, punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years. The trial judge in the case, Leon M. Bazile, echoing Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's 18th-century interpretation of race:“ Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix. ”
On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pled guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. They did so, moving to the District of Columbia.
In 1964, frustrated by their inability to travel together to visit their families in Virginia and social isolation and financial difficulties in Washington, Mildred Loving wrote in protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU filed a motion on behalf of the Lovings in the state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the grounds that the violated statutes ran counter to the Fourteenth Amendment. This set in motion a series of lawsuits which ultimately reached the Supreme Court.
On October 28, 1964, after the Lovings' motion still had not been decided, they brought a class action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. On January 22, 1965, the three-judge district court decided to allow the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Harry L. Carrico (later Chief Justice of the Court) wrote an opinion for the court upholding the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the criminal convictions. Ignoring United States Supreme Court precedent, Carrico cited as authority the Virginia Supreme Court's own decision in Naim v. Naim (1955), also arguing that the case at hand was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause because both the white and the non-white spouse were punished equally for the crime of miscegenation, an argument similar to that made by the United States Supreme Court in 1883 in Pace v. Alabama.
The Lovings, supported by the ACLU, appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. They did not attend the oral arguments in Washington, but their lawyer, Bernard S. Cohen, conveyed the message he had been given by Richard Loving to the court: "Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."
Before Loving v. Virginia, there had been several cases on the subject of interracial relations. In Pace v. Alabama (1883), the Supreme Court ruled that the conviction of an Alabama couple for interracial sex, affirmed on appeal by the Alabama Supreme Court, did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Interracial marital sex was deemed a felony, whereas extramarital sex ("adultery or fornication") was only a misdemeanor. On appeal, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the criminalization of interracial sex was not a violation of the equal protection clause because whites and non-whites were punished in equal measure for the offense of engaging in interracial sex. The court did not need to affirm the constitutionality of the ban on interracial marriage that was also part of Alabama's anti-miscegenation law, since the plaintiff, Mr. Pace, had chosen not to appeal that section of the law. After Pace v. Alabama, the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation laws banning marriage and sex between whites and non-whites remained unchallenged until the 1920s.
In Kirby v. Kirby (1921), Mr. Kirby asked the state of Arizona for an annulment of his marriage. He charged that his marriage was invalid because his wife was of ‘negro’ descent, thus violating the state's anti-miscegenation law. The Arizona Supreme Court judged Mrs. Kirby’s race by observing her physical characteristics and determined that she was of mixed race, therefore granting Mr. Kirby’s annulment.
In the Monks case (Estate of Monks, 4. Civ. 2835, Records of California Court of Appeals, Fourth district), the Superior Court of San Diego County in 1939 decided to invalidate the marriage of Marie Antoinette and Allan Monks because she was deemed to have "one eighth negro blood." The court case involved a legal challenge over the conflicting wills that had been left by the late Allan Monks, an old one in favor of a friend named Ida Lee and a newer one in favor of his wife. Lee's lawyers charged that the marriage of the Monkses, which had taken place in Arizona, was invalid under Arizona state law because Marie Antoinette was "a Negro" and Alan had been white. Despite conflicting testimony by various expert witnesses, the judge defined Mrs. Monks' race by relying on the anatomical "expertise" of a surgeon. The judge ignored the arguments of an anthropologist and a biologist that it was impossible to tell a person's race from physical characteristics.
Monks then challenged the Arizona anti-miscegenation law itself, taking her case to the California Court of Appeals, Fourth District. Monks' lawyers pointed out that the anti-miscegenation law effectively prohibited Monks as a mixed-race person from marrying anyone: "As such, she is prohibited from marrying a negro or any descendant of a negro, a Mongolian or an Indian, a Malay or a Hindu, or any descendants of any of them. Likewise ... as a descendant of a negro she is prohibited from marrying a Caucasian or a descendant of a Caucasian...." The Arizona anti-miscegenation statute thus prohibited Monks from contracting a valid marriage in Arizona, and was therefore an unconstitutional constraint on her liberty. The court, however, dismissed this argument as inapplicable, because the case presented involved not two mixed-race spouses but a mixed-race and a white spouse: "Under the facts presented the appellant does not have the benefit of assailing the validity of the statute." Dismissing Monks' appeal in 1942, the United States Supreme Court refused to reopen the issue.
The turning point came with Perez v. Sharp (1948), also known as Perez v. Lippold. In Perez, the Supreme Court of California recognized that bans on interracial marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions in a unanimous decision (dated June 12, 1967), dismissing the Commonwealth of Virginia's argument that a law forbidding both white and black persons from marrying persons of another race, and providing identical penalties to white and black violators, could not be construed as racially discriminatory. The court ruled that Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion for the unanimous court held that:“ Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State. ”
The court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to perpetuate white supremacy:“ There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy. ”
Associate Justice Potter Stewart filed a brief concurring opinion. He reiterated his opinion from McLaughlin v. Florida that "it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor."
Implications of the decision For interracial marriage
Despite the Supreme Court's decision, anti-miscegenation laws remained on the books in several states, although the decision had made them unenforceable. In 2000, Alabama became the last state to adapt its laws to the Supreme Court's decision, by removing a provision prohibiting mixed-race marriage from its state constitution through a ballot initiative. 60% of voters voted for the removal of the anti-miscegenation rule, and 40% against.
After Loving v. Virginia, the number of interracial marriages continued to increase across the United States and in the South. In Georgia, for instance, the number of interracial marriages increased from 21 in 1967 to 115 in 1970.
For same-sex marriage
Loving v. Virginia is discussed in the context of the public debate about same-sex marriage in the United States.
In Hernandez v. Robles (2006), the majority opinion of the New York Court of Appeals, that state's highest court, declined to rely on the Loving case when deciding whether a right to same-sex marriage existed, holding that "the historical background of Loving is different from the history underlying this case." In the 2010, federal district court decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which overturned California's Proposition 8 (which restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples), Judge Vaughn R. Walker cited Loving v. Virginia to conclude that "the [constitutional] right to marry protects an individual's choice of marital partner regardless of gender". On more narrow grounds, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
In June 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the issuance of the Supreme Court's decision in Loving, commenting on the comparison between interracial marriage and same-sex marriage, Mildred Loving issued a statement in relation to Loving v. Virginia and its mention in the ongoing court case Hollingsworth v. Perry:“ I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry... I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about. ”
In popular culture
In the United States, June 12, the date of the decision, has become known as Loving Day, an annual unofficial celebration of interracial marriages.
The story of the Lovings became the basis of two films. Mr. & Mrs. Loving (1996) was written and directed by Richard Friedenberg and starred Lela Rochon, Timothy Hutton and Ruby Dee. According to Mildred Loving, “Not much of it was very true. The only part of it right was I had three children.” The second film, The Loving Story, premiered on HBO on February 14, 2012.
In music, the case has been the subject of Drew Brody's 2007 folk-music Ballad of Mildred Loving (Loving in Virginia), and Nanci Griffith's 2009 song The Loving Kind. Griffith wrote the song after reading Mildred Loving's obituary in the New York Times, and received the ACLU's Bill of Rights Award for it.
White Women Forced to Marry Blacks During Slavery
by Sharon L. West
January 30, 2012
White women have been abused by white men just as women of all cultures have been abused by men of their cultures. The reasons and ways they have been are sometimes similar when it comes to oppression but then that remains a matter of begging to differ. When it comes to the Caucasian race, the differences sometimes varied because of the ever connected relationship with black and white individuals due to blacks being enslaved by whites. This difference was two fold for the American white woman who was second class to her white counterpart of being a witness to slavery; first being naturally compassionate about the plight of Africans regardless of propaganda against them because of the nurturing instill in all females and secondly being considered less than a complete person because she is female. Sometimes white women were worked brutally as enslaved Africans and they were often enslaved against their will since trickery was used to enslave them.
White men used a law passed in Maryland to support putting white women into slavery for life. In September 1664, Maryland passed a law that any white woman that married a "Negro" was to serve the owner of that Negro, for life. Men that owned slave took advantage of this new law. They coerced or convinced white women, especially if they were new to the area, to marry black men. The women being obedient to the men and or unknowing of the law were tricked by white men into a life of bondage upheld by the law for the rest of their lives to serve and do whatever their new owner wanted of them.
Free Blacks in Colonial Virginia
by Brendan Wolfe
Free blacks during the colonial period never accounted for a large proportion of the black population in Virginia, let alone the total population. But until the latter part of the seventeenth century, they enjoyed many of the same rights as free whites. Whites and blacks often worked and socialized together, and some free blacks, such as Anthony Johnson of Northampton County, apparently even owned slaves themselves. At the same time, freedom was considered to be a legitimate goal for enslaved blacks, who were able to earn money to purchase their freedom. Some, like Johnson, even had the legal acumen to argue for their rights in court. Once free, Africans and African Americans (blacks imported to Virginia from the West Indies or second- or third-generation Africans born in Virginia) were expected to live as members of the community, to become in some respects "black Englishmen." This meant owning land, voting, and paying taxes; it also meant keeping their lives separate from enslaved blacks. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, slavery had become more ensconced in Virginia and was defined almost entirely in racial terms. New laws restricted slaves' access to freedom and free blacks' ability to vote or hold positions of power. Many free blacks left or were ordered out of the colony, and those who remained tended to be poorer and identify more with enslaved blacks than with whites. This only confirmed to authorities their status as a suspect class, leading to further restrictions on their freedom.
Although slavery did not become firmly established in Virginia, either in practice or in the law, until fifty years after the first Africans arrived in 1619, the great majority of black men and women likely lived as slaves during this time, with a smaller number working as indentured servants. Both servants and slaves found ways to secure their freedom, but the number of free blacks always remained relatively small, especially when compared with the colony's total population. In 1649, about 300 Africans and African Americans accounted for only about 2 percent of the colony's total population of 15,000. By 1720, that percentage had risen dramatically, perhaps to as much as 20 percent; however, during that same period, enslaved people's access to freedom was greatly constrained. As a result, the absolute number and percentage of Virginia's free blacks likely did not rise comparably.
The records for Northampton County, in particular, provide historians with rare access to precise information about free blacks in colonial Virginia. They indicate that between 1664 and 1677, 101 Africans and African Americans lived in the county, 53 of whom were male and 47 female. Of those, thirteen were free householders—ten male and three female—comprising about 13 percent of the black population and just more than 1 percent of the county's total population. Still, when only males are considered, then almost 19 percent of the county's black population lived as freemen. And during any given year of this time span, that percentage may have been higher (29 percent in 1668, for example). If Northampton County was representative of the colony, then this likely marked the height of the number of free blacks relative to the total black population prior to emancipation in 1865.
Relations between blacks and whites in Virginia were very flexible at first. Blacks and whites often lived near one another, worked together, and socialized together. Blacks had access to the justice system and appeared to be treated equally by the courts. Some blacks even owned slaves and indentured servants themselves. At the same time, many enslaved Africans and African Americans were allowed to earn money, keep livestock, and raise crops for themselves, and they sometimes took advantage of these economic privileges to purchase their freedom.
Early in seventeenth-century Virginia, freedom was seen, even by powerful white planters, as a legitimate goal for enslaved blacks. The two most common paths to freedom were manumission and self-purchase. Rather than acting out of altruism, slave owners saw freedom as a more practical incentive than violence when attempting to motivate slaves to work hard. In Northampton County, Argall Yeardley directed in his will that a three-year-old enslaved boy be freed and given two cows on his twenty-fourth birthday. Also in Northampton, William Harman purchased his freedom from William Kendall based on an agreement the two of them signed on January 30, 1660. Kendall had just bought Harman from another planter for 4,000 pounds of tobacco. Now, Harman was responsible "for the payment of five thousand pounds of tobacco and Caske clear of grounde leaves or trash, within two Compleate years," a significant task given the average laborer's production of 1,500 pounds. Harman apparently succeeded, though, and in so doing rewarded Kendall with an easy profit of 1,000 pounds of tobacco.
Baptism was traditionally a route to freedom, and in 1656, the General Assembly ordered Elizabeth Key to be freed, in part because "shee is able to give a very good account of her faith." Key also argued that her father, Thomas Key, should count in her favor because he was white, and the assembly agreed, citing common law. Key's case suggests both that blacks could expect a fair hearing in court and that blacks were well acquainted with the law. This was especially true of African Americans, identified as either black men and women who had been imported to Virginia from the West Indies or second- or third-generation Africans born in Virginia. (Some scholars prefer the term "creole.") Because such men and women were better acclimated to English language and law, they were more successful advocates for themselves in court.
Anthony Johnson was not an African American, but this did not stop him from doing well before Northampton County judges. Possibly a native of Angola on the west coast of Africa, Johnson bought his freedom from the Bennett family and, with his wife Mary Johnson and their children, owned land and at least one slave on the Eastern Shore. After a fire destroyed their plantation, the court in February 1653 exempted the Johnsons from taxes for the rest of their lives. Later that year, Johnson sought the court's intervention in a dispute with a white man over a cow, and on March 8, 1655, Johnson accused a different white man of stealing his slave. The court found in Johnson's favor and ordered his slave returned.
Johnson was able to succeed in Virginia in large part because he owned land and livestock. In other words, the same economic tools that allowed slaves to purchase their freedom allowed free blacks to sustain that freedom. A Northampton County Court record from 1645 tells the story of Captain Taylor, a white man, and Anthony, a black man, who went out into a cornfield. When they returned, "the said negro told this deponent saying now Mr. Taylor and I have devided our Corne And I am very glad of it now I know myne owne, he finds fault with mee that I doe not worke but now I know myne owne ground I will worke when I please and play when I please." While Anthony may not have been free, it is clear that land played an important role in his conception of freedom—both economically and psychologically. Captain Taylor likely understood this fact and attempted to use it for his own advantage.
Freedom appeared to come to Africans and African Americans with the expectation that they would become full members of their communities. The historians T. H. Breen and Stephen Innes have suggested that "free blacks attempted to transform themselves into black Englishmen," which was true not only in their economic aspirations, but in their social assumptions. Free blacks, such as Anthony Longo, who lived on the Eastern Shore, expected to be treated as the equals of white small farmers and lived in no great fear of authority. When a court demanded his testimony on some matter, Longo refused, telling the court officer to "goe about your business you idle Rascall as did likewise his wife, with such noyse that I could hardly heare my owne words." The historian Philip D. Morgan tells the story of Philip Mongom, a free black and former slave in Northampton County who had numerous run-ins with the law and was similarly disinclined to always do as he was told. "Surely seventeenth-century Virginia could claim the pugnacious, truculent, and enterprising Philip Mongon as one of its very own," Morgan wrote.
If men like Longo and Mongon could be seen as black Englishmen, the reverse might also be true. Longo and Mongon took Christian first names but retained African last names, for example. In 1677, Anthony Johnson's son John Johnson purchased forty-four acres of land in Somerset County, Maryland, and named the farm Angola. Still, the earliest free blacks saw assimilation into English society as being strongly in their economic and social interests. They tended to live among whites rather than in segregated communities, and they took great pains to separate themselves from enslaved blacks. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that so many free blacks lived on the Eastern Shore, which was situated on the margins of Virginia's slave society.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, the supply of white indentured servants available to cultivate Virginia's tobacco crop declined and, likely as a consequence of this, the number of slaves imported directly from Africa increased. Over time, Virginia transitioned—to use the historian Ira Berlin's terminology—from a society with slaves to a slave society. New laws restricted enslaved people's access to freedom and began to define slavery in strictly racial terms. Even if these Africans had possessed the language skills and cultural knowledge necessary to find legal paths to freedom, those paths all but disappeared.
In 1656, Elizabeth Key won her freedom in part by citing to the court her white father and her baptism as a Christian. In December 1662, however, the General Assembly declared that "all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother." In other words, the children of slave women would be slaves. The assembly went further and doubled the fines imposed on any whites caught having sex with blacks. Then, in September 1667, the assembly passed "An act declaring that baptisme of slaves doth not exempt them from bondage." The paths Key had followed to freedom were now closed.
The law, while penalizing relations between the races, nevertheless made room for the children of a white mother and a black father to seek freedom. It did not come easy, though. In 1670, a free white woman named Katherine Jewell arranged for her mixed-race son William to be bound to the York County planter William Booth for thirty years and then freed. When he was twenty-four, William sued and won his freedom, and the court ordered his master to additionally provide him with corn and clothes.
In a September 1668 act titled "Negro women not exempted from tax," the General Assembly ordered that all black women, including free black women, were henceforth tithable. The term refers to a poll tax the government levied on all men over the age of fifteen—the people who, by working the land, produced the colony's wealth. (Masters paid taxes for their slaves.) In 1662 all working women were declared tithable; then free white women—in other words, women who did not necessarily work the land—were exempted. With all black women now taxed, a free black married couple paid twice as much tax as a free white married couple, a burden that could lead to re-enslavement.
Mixed marriages offered some kind of protection against the burdens of these race laws. Elizabeth Key married her white lawyer, William Greensted, upon winning her suit. In Northampton County, a free black man named Francis Payne married a white woman named Aymey—a financially advantageous match after 1668. Not so in the case of Francis Skiper, a white man, who in 1671 married a black woman in Norfolk County and so increased his tax rate. Twenty years later, worried about the "abominable mixture and spurious issue," not to mention the many legal complications, that accompanied such unions, the assembly outlawed mixed-race marriages altogether.
By 1705, free black men could not serve in any position of public trust, power, or authority over whites, whether ecclesiastic, civil, or military. In May 1723, the General Assembly restricted their rights even further. As part of a long act devoted to "the better government of Negros, Mulattos, and Indians, bond or free," the assembly declared "That no free negro, mullatto, or indian whatsoever, hereafter have any vote at the election of burgesses, or any other election whatsoever." This seemed unfair even by English standards and aroused the interest of a Board of Trade lawyer named Richard West, who protested to his superiors. "Altho' I agree that Slaves are to be treated in such a manner as the proprietors of them (having a regard to their number) may think necessary for their Security," West wrote, "yet I cannot see why one Freeman should be used worse than another merely upon account of his complexion."
Virginia lieutenant governor Sir William Gooch later explained that at the time the act was written, the colony's free blacks were suspected of aiding "a Conspiracy discovered amongst the Negros," and although "there could be no legal Proof, so as to Convict them, yet such was the Insolence of the Free-Negros at that time, that the next Assembly thought it necessary" to act. Gooch's explanation was accepted by the Crown and seems to suggest that, in Virginia, free blacks either no longer wanted to or no longer could maintain distance between themselves and enslaved blacks. By virtue of their skin color they were considered a suspect class and lived in what the scholar George M. Fredrickson called "quasi freedom."
In fact, in the same 1691 act that outlawed interracial marriage, the General Assembly required that all newly freed slaves leave the colony. Assembly members cited the "great inconveniences" that come with free blacks "entertaining negro slaves from their masters service, or receiving stolen goods, or being grown old bringing a charge upon the country." Rather than encourage the livelihood of free blacks, as the government did when it relieved Anthony and Mary Johnson of all taxes after the loss of their farm, Virginia now sought to rid itself entirely of them. In the increasingly unlikely event that a master freed slaves, he now must pay to have them transported out of the colony within six months. Moreover, the 1723 "better government" act restricted a master's ability to free a slave even if he so wished. Thereafter, he could only do it "for some meritorious services, to be adjudged and allowed by the governor and council."
Many free blacks like the Johnsons abandoned Virginia in search of better economic opportunities and more freedom. As a result, the colony was home to fewer free blacks relative to the total black population, and fewer of them proportionally were entirely of African descent. By the middle of the eighteenth century, free blacks of African descent likely accounted for no more than 5 percent of the black population and free blacks probably less than 20 percent. In this way, light-skinned free blacks represented a symbolic transition from black-skinned to white-skinned, from enslaved to free. They were not quite one or the other. Only the American Revolution (1775–1783), with its rhetoric of inalienable rights, would provide some hope for Virginia's free and enslaved population—a hope that ultimately would be short-lived.
Late August 1619 - The White Lion, captained by John Colyn Jope, arrives at Point Comfort, where Jope sells "20. and odd Negroes" in exchange for food. These are the first Africans to enter the Virginia colony. Four days later, the Treasurer arrives and sells an unknown number of its slaves.
1621 - An enslaved African named Antonio arrives in Virginia aboard the James. The following March, he will be one of only a handful of people who manage to survive an Indian attack on the plantation of Edward Bennett.
1622 - An enslaved African woman named Mary arrives in Virginia aboard the Margaret and John.
1649 - A census of the Virginia colony reveals about 300 Africans and African Americans (blacks imported to Virginia from the West Indies or second- or third-generation Africans born in Virginia) out of a total population of 15,000.
1650s - By this time, Anthony and Mary Johnson, two former slaves, are living in Northampton County on the Eastern Shore, where they own 250 acres. Their two sons own adjoining farms of 450 and 100 acres each.
February 1653 - The Northampton County Court exempts Anthony and Mary Johnson, free black landholders, from taxes for the rest of their lives after a fire destroys their plantation.
March 8, 1655 - The Northampton County Court rules in favor of Anthony Johnson, whose slave, John Casor, ran away and claimed to be an indentured servant. The court charges Johnson's neighbor, Robert Parker, with having "most unjustly kept" Casor, and orders him to pay Johnson's court costs.
1656 - The General Assembly orders Elizabeth Key, a woman of African descent, to be freed, in part because she is Christian and her father, Thomas Key, is white.
1660s - Anthony and Mary Johnson, both former slaves, and their two sons, all of whom own land on the Eastern Shore, move to Maryland.
January 30, 1660 - In Northampton County, a man of African descent named William Harman signs an agreement purchasing his freedom from William Kendall for 5,000 pounds of tobacco, to be paid within two years.
December 1662 - In a newly passed law designed to clarify conditions by which people are enslaved or free, the General Assembly declares that "all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother."
1664–1677 - Records indicate that during this time period, 101 Africans and African Americans (blacks imported to Virginia from the West Indies or second- or third-generation Africans born in Virginia) live in Northampton County, 53 of whom are male and 47 female. Of these, 13 are free householders—10 male and 3 female.
September 1667 - The General Assembly passes "An act declaring that baptisme of slaves doth not exempt them from bondage" in an attempt to better define the conditions by which people were enslaved or free.
September 1668 - In a newly passed law, the General Assembly orders that all black women, including free black women, are henceforth tithable, meaning that their labor can be taxed.
1670 - A free white woman named Katharine Jewell arranges for her mixed-race son William to be bound to the York County planter William Booth for thirty years and then freed.
1677 - John Johnson Jr., whose grandfather Anthony was a Virginia slave who bought his freedom, buys a forty-four-acre farm in Maryland and names it Angola, suggesting the origin of his family.
April 1691 - The General Assembly passes "An act for suppressing outlying slaves," creating penalties for unlawfully absent slaves, outlawing interracial marriage, and requiring all newly freed slaves to leave the colony.
May 1723 - As part of a long act devoted to "the better government of Negros, Mulattos, and Indians, bond or free," the General Assembly declares "That no free negro, mullatto, or indian whatsoever, hereafter have any vote at the election of burgesses, or any other election whatsoever." The law also restricts a master's ability to free his slaves.
Categories Law and Court Cases African American History Slavery Colonial History (ca. 1560–1763)
Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998.
Breen, T. H., and Stephen Innes. "Myne Owne Ground": Race and Freedom on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1640–1676. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Brown, Kathleen M. Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Hashaw, Tim. The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007.
Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: Norton, 1975.
Morgan, Philip D. Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Russell, John Henderson. The Free Negro in Virginia: 1619–1895. New York: Dover Publications, 1969 .
Wood, Peter H. Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Cite This Entry
Wolfe, B. (2012, January 18). Free Blacks in Colonial Virginia. Retrieved March 27, 2013, from Encyclopedia Virginia: http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Free_Blacks_in_Colonial_Virginia.
Wolfe, Brendan. "Free Blacks in Colonial Virginia." Encyclopedia Virginia. Ed. Caitlin Newman. 27 Mar. 2013. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. 18 Jan. 2012 <http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Free_Blacks_in_Colonial_Virginia>.
First published: October 19, 2011 | Last modified: January 18, 2012
Contributed by Brendan Wolfe, managing editor of Encyclopedia Virginia.
The Skin I’m In
review by Naeem Mohaiemen
I have recently been thinking about the blurred race politics of early Twentieth Century activist Taraknath
Das. Das was an anti-colonial Bengali organizer in British India, eventually fleeing arrest by British
authorities by immigrating to America. After landing in New York in 1907, Das carried on the Indian
Independence movement in exile and also married a white socialist named Mary Keatinge Morse, a co-
founder of the NAACP. Morse’s marriage to Das had an unusual consequence: it revoked her citizenship.
A law passed in 1922 voided citizenship for American women who married foreign men. As for Das
himself, federal law had stated that only “white persons” and persons of African ancestry could be
granted citizenship. Previously, attornies for Indian immigrants like Das had argued that Indians were of
“Aryan descent” and therefore “whites” eligible for citizenship. But a 1923 Supreme Court decision
(United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind ) voided all citizenships granted to Indian migrants by declaring
them non-white. It was not until 1946 that US immigration law finally allowed Indian-born migrants to
become citizens without having to resort to redefinitions of race.
This means that prior to the 1923 ruling, Das had stayed in the United States by virtue of a presumed
“white” identity (how actively he framed himself as such, if at all, is not clear). Given his particular
history as an anti-Imperialist activist, why did Taraknath Das not protest an unjust citizenship law that
had granted him temporary refuge as a “white” person? Was it something Das accepted for the
expediency of having a safe organizing base against British colonialism? Was it only a banal clerical