The historical taboo among American whites surrounding white-black relationships can be seen as a historical consequence of the oppression and racial segregation of African-Americans.
In many U.S. states interracial marriage was already illegal when the term miscegenation was invented in 1863. The first laws banning interracial marriage were introduced in the late 17th century in the slave-holding colonies of Virginia (1691) and Maryland (1692). Later these laws also spread to colonies and states where slavery did not exist.
The bans in Virginia and Maryland were established at a time when slavery was not yet fully institutionalized. At the time, most forced laborers on the plantations were indentured servants, and they were mostly white. Some historians have suggested that the at-the-time unprecedented laws banning interracial marriage were originally invented by planters as a divide and rule tactic after the uprising of servants in Bacon’s Rebellion. According to this theory, the ban on interracial marriage was issued to split up the increasingly mixed-race labor force into whites, who were given their freedom, and blacks, who were later treated as slaves rather than as indentured servants.
By forbidding interracial marriage, it became possible to keep these two new groups separated and prevent a new rebellion.
Repealing the Anti-miscegenation Laws
Most states in the Northeast, Northern-Midwest, and Western states with these laws repealed them by 1967 with some, including Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Maine, and Ohio, within a generation of the end of the US Civil War.
The final blow to these laws came with Loving v. Virginia, a landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court, that 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 determined that this prohibition was unconstitutional and ended all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.
In 2013, it was cited as precedent in U.S. federal court decisions holding restrictions on same-sex marriage in the United States unconstitutional, including in the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges.
Ku Klux Klan, [between 1965 and 1980]
There are still plenty of non-governmental organizations opposed to interracial relationships.
Bob Jones University banned interracial dating until 2000 and segregationists (yeah, they still exist), including modern Christian Identity groups, have claimed that several passages in the Bible should be understood as referring to miscegenation with certain verses expressly forbidding it. Most theologians interpret these verses and references as forbidding inter-religious marriage, rather than interracial marriage.
This excerpt from a statement to his congregation by Dr. Witty, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida on the topic of segregation appeared in the December 1957 issue of The Citizen’s Council – a pro-segregation newsletter based in Jackson, Mississippi.
This letter highlights the way anti-communist rhetoric was threaded through the thoughts and positions held by many people opposed to integration of schools and other institutions.
First, I believe God made the races as distinct human groups. Though “red, yellow, black and white are precious in his sight”, the fact also remains that God made man “red, yellow, black, and white.” When man works to destroy these God-given distinctions he opposes part of God’s plan. I am opposed to any attempted destruction of the racial differences which God established and nature has long preserved.
Bayonets build no brotherhood and rifle-butts can not knock love into the heart. To follow the pattern of normal affinity is not racial discrimination but rather normal determination.
Voluntary association of these races, while preserving their distinctions, is the normal pattern of a related world, but forced associations destroy the quality of existence, deprive the compelled of their liberties, and make their happiness impossible.
The answer to the race problem is not physical closeness but spiritual understanding and mutual respect.
As a Christian I am dedicated to good-will among men. For years, a portion of my time has been invested in improving race relations. The first negro local religious broadcast came by my efforts. With other ministers I participated in an institute for negro pastors. I preached in the local negro college and in negro churches and negro settlement works. A negro minister preached from my pulpit on one occasion and negro choirs sang before our church.
Good will and Christian concern were increasing. But these dearly bought advances have been swept aside by pressure groups and politicians. Right and understanding relationships between black and white grow only voluntarily and are destroyed into animosities by force.
These selfish, if not communist inspired pressures, forget that the answer to the race problem is not physical nearness but mutual respect and spiritual understanding.
May God give us strength to rebuild with patience what selfish politicians, with callous disregard for born races, have destroyed to satisfy their greed for power.
This soft sell for maintaining segregation was not unusual for its time. When we look at the attitudes and practices of our ancestors, I think it is important to understand that they were living inside a sort of insular culture where their own political and spiritual leaders supported ideas that seem quite radical today.
I have always been fascinated with pre-World War II America’s flirtation with eugenics. We were well on our way to a pretty horrific state of affairs (by today’s standards) and I strongly suspect we would still be recovering from that dark detour were it not for Nazi Germany’s actions giving the world a strong distaste for governments being that involved in the reproduction rights of their citizens.
Many of the European ideas and approaches to the problems of society, class, and race broached by Francis Galton, Cesare Lombroso, and numerous others were exported to the United States around the turn of the twentieth century.
These concepts influenced such fields as philanthropy, sociology, and criminology; hereditarian concepts of criminality and its control were systematized by Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso.
The University of Missouri’s Special Collections and Rare Books department has an excellent timeline of publications influencing the movement.
Growing up in both the North and the South, I was exposed to a lot subtle and not-so subtle views about the Civil War, but about the South’s side in particular. One recurring theme I picked up from adults, at an almost subconscious level, was a sort of dismissive view of the moral and ethical standards of Southern whites and reasons why the Civil War and slavery were not REALLY their fault.
The idea I absorbed was that they should all be forgiven because they did not know any better. Slavery was just part of their world. They inherited it and took it for granted for the most part.
Either that, or they were actually benevolent altruists who were taking hell-bound savages from Africa and teaching them the gospel alongside employment skills all while and feeding and clothing them and keeping them out of trouble.
To be honest, I think many of the adults I picked this up from did not really know any better themselves. My schools did a pretty lousy job of teaching anything about life in the south beyond that of the wealthy landowners. Everything possible was done to make live in the 19th century South happen in the passive voice. There were slaves and there were plantation owners but the fact that people owned slaves was incidental… “James Smith owned and operated a large cotton plantation in Mississippi… and oh yeah, he also owned some slaves. ”
My schools taught me little or nothing about the scale of slavery in the South. We never learned how many slaves were needed to produce the kind of wealth enjoyed by the Southern aristocracy. The way I was taught made it easy for me to accept the narrative that slavery was on its way out and that the South was not really fighting for the right to own slaves in the Civil War.
Diving into primary sources from the mid-19th century changed all that. There is plenty of evidence that there were concerted efforts in place designed solely to bolster the slave-owning status quo. The article below penned by a judge in Mobile, Alabama provides an excellent example of the mindset held by some in the South at the time.
It proposes a way to increase support for the institution of slavery among non-slave owning whites by legislating a mandatory class division between blacks and whites by ensuring that black labor is only used for farm work (and presumably domestic work) so mechanical or trade work would be open exclusively to lower classes of white citizens.
Judge Hopkins is very clear in his proposal that creating this divide should win support for slave-ownership by giving white people in the trades a position in society firmly above that held by black workers. (more…)
Sunday schools began in England around 1780 to provide a basic education to the children of the poor on their day off. By 1810 Sunday schools and Sunday school societies were springing up in the Eastern United States. To reinforce the lessons taught on Sunday, many of the Sunday schools created libraries full of the “right kind” of books to improve the morals of the children.
The use of alcohol and tobacco were widely considered vices in the United States in the 19th century. Sunday school lessons often included commentary on those evils such as the small pamphlet, The Deadly Cigarette. In this tract, directed at boys, smoking is portrayed as a gateway habit to drinking and drinking was depicted as one of the greatest moral and cultural dangers of the era.
Influencing the behavior of kids by scaring the hell out them has a long history in America as you can see here:
“Let’s see what auntie says.” Presently two little boys came in.
“Please, Aunt Sarah,” asked James, “has anyone ever been known to be injured by cigarette smoking? We have learned,” he went on, “what the text-book says, and the teacher tells us it is ruinous; but some of the boys do smoke them, and say it doesn’t hurt at all.”
Aunt Sarah looked lovingly into the earnest faces upturned to hers, as she replied:
“Yes, my dears, I do know of boys ruined by cigarettes, ‘harmless’ ones, too, the dealer called them.”
“During the summer vacation three boys but little older than you, began smoking them. Before the fall term of school ended two were obliged to leave, Charlie having convulsions, and Edward, sore throat, both caused by tobacco poisoning, the doctors said. A few weeks later Charlie died; while Edward, in spite of the most skillful care and nursing that love and money could supply only lingered till early spring.”
“And the other boy, Auntie,” asked Harry, “what of him?”
“Well,” resumed Aunt Sarah, “he says ‘Tobacco never hurt me,’ but from being at the head of his class he has dropped down near the foot. Instead of being the industrious, ambitious, wide-awake boy of one year ago, he is now idle, careless, apathetic, enjoying nothing as much as what he calls a good smoke with some one as dull as himself.”
Nicotine poisoning shows itself in many forms, and often is not so quickly visible as in the cases I have mentioned; but you may be sure it is a viper that never forgets to bite. Like the alcohol curse there is no safety save in total abstinence from tobacco using. Avoid it as you would a deadly reptile.
–Word and Work