The Fight for Interracial Marriage

As California voters decide on the fate of Proposition 8, a ballot measure to ban gay marriage, it is well to consider the fory-first anniversary of a Supreme Court ruling that also had a profound effect on the institution of marriage in the United States.  In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Loving Versus Virginia that the state of Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage (known as the Racial Integrity Act) were unconstitutional and went against the Fourteenth Amendments’ principle of equality.  At the time 17 states enforced laws prohibiting marriage between whites and nonwhites.    This ruling overturned a long history of a horrible injustice that was inflicted on African Americans, Filipinos, Native Americans and Asians for simply trying to marry a loved one who was of a different race.  Much of this information is from the wikipedia post  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-miscegenation.

The banning of interracial marriage is known as the miscegenation laws.  The first miscegenation laws were enacted in 1664 was a law in Maryland that banned the marriage of whites with black (and mulatto) slaves and indentured servants.  Virginia in 1691 enlarged the scope of the ban to include free whites and blacks and it was soon followed in other colonies.    In 1776, seven out of the thirteen colonies had laws outlawing interracial marriages. 

Some effort was made to combat miscegenation laws.  In 1780, Pennsylvania overturned miscegenation laws as part of a larger effort to gradually abolish slavery within the state.  After the Civil War, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina and Alabama temporarily legalized interracial marriage for some years during the Reconstruction period.  After conservative white Democrats took political power again after Union troops left the South, they reestablished  miscegenation laws and Jim Crow laws to segregate blacks from whites. 

Many reasons were used to justify miscegenation laws.  Some took a racist reading of the Bible, using the passages of Phinehas in Exodus and the Curse of Ham in the book of Genesis as biblical justification for the banning of interracial marriage.  In an internet post (http://hnn.us/articles/4708.html), Peggy Pascoe, an Associate Professor and Beekman Chair of Northwest and Pacific History at the University of Oregon, found four reason often given to support a ban on interracial marriage:  first, judges claimed that marriage belonged under the control of the states rather than the federal government;  second, they began to define and label all interracial relationships (even longstanding, deeply committed ones) as illicit sex rather than marriage;  third, they insisted that interracial marriage was contrary to God’s will;  fourth, they declared that interracial marriage was somehow “unnatural.”   In the 1883 Supreme Court case Pace versus Alabama, the Court ruled that the Alabama miscegenation laws did not violate the fourteenth amendment because both parties suffered under interracial marriages and interracial sex.

African Americans were a primary target of the miscegenation laws.   In the great Ken Burns documentary Unforgivable Blackness on Jack Johnson, the African American heavyweight boxing champion of the early twentieth century, Burns chronicles the outrage of white Americans when Johnson had marriages to white women, first to Etta Duryea and then to Lucille Cameron.  As a direct result of Johnson’s marriages, Representative Seaborn Roddenberry introduced an amendment in 1912 to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit interracial marriages.    Native Americans and Asian immigrants also were subject to miscegenation laws.  These laws not only restricted white and nonwhite marriages;  it also outlawed marriages of couples of different nonwhite races.  So African Americans weren’t allowed to marry Native Americans or Asians, and visa versa.  It was all part of an ideology of racial purity that was accepted by a majority of white Americans.

Filipino immigrants faced special harassment in California during the 1920s and 1930s.  In Carlos Bulosan’s book America Is In the Heart, it chronicles a period betwen 1907 to 1926 when 150,000 Filipinos immigrated to the United States to find employment, with a majority of the group landing in Hawaii and California.  The Filipinos in California were mostly young unmarried men with little education and few skills, and they hoped to stay for a little while in America, make money, then return home to the Philippines.  Filipinos of this time faced harassment from white Americans because they were not as averse as other minorities to date and marry white women.  Ronald Takai’s history of Asian Americans, Strangers From A Different Shore,  documents organizations like Native Sons of the Golden West, the Commonwealth Club and prominent figures like former president of the University of California Dr. David P. Barrows testifying before Congress of the threat of Filipino men mixing with white women.  In Watsonville, California, in 1930, four hundred white men attacked a Filipino dance hall where Filipino men danced with white women and many Filipinos were beaten and one was shot to death.  In 1930 a white man testified before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, “The Filipinos are… a social menace as they will not leave our white girls alone and frequently intermarry…”  As a result of all this white pressure, thirteen states prohibited marriages between whites and Filipinos.

In 1963, Richard and Mildred Loving, an African American and white interracial couple, decided to challenge the miscegenation laws of Virginia and this eventually lead to a Supreme Court ruling that overturned the ban on interracial marriages in the United States.   The Lovings married in Washington D.C. to avoid Virginia’s miscegenation laws, but when they returned to their home state, they were arrested in their bedroom for living together as an interracial couple.  The judge suspended the case as long as the Lovings left Virginia for 25 years.   They eventually took their case to the Supreme Court and in 1967, the Court unanimously decided that miscegenation laws was against the Fourteenth Amendments’ goals of equality.

I am a Filipino American.  My wife is white.  Fifty years ago, I would’ve been sentenced for up to ten years in prison for  marrying Lisa.   A 1958 Gallup poll showed that 96 percent of white Americans dissapproved of interracial marriage.  Now one fifteenth of all American marriages are interracial marriages.  The change in attitudes towards interracial marriage makes me confident of the capacity of average Americans to grow and become more tolerant. 

In my ears, the past arguments against interracial marriage are no different from today’s arguments against gay marriage.  People argued that interracial marriage would harm the institution of marriage, that interracial marriage was contrary to God’s will, that interracial marriage would cause a decline in public morality.  In the 40 years since Loving versus Virginia and interracial marriage has become more common, the institution of marriage has survived intact, churches now accept interracial weddings without controversy, and no one questions the effect of interracial couples on public morality.   I have confidence that the course of gay marriages will follow the same course that interracial marriages blazed in the recent past.

If you’re a Californian and you read this post, please vote no on Proposition 8.

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About angelolopez

I’ve wanted to be an artist all my life. Since I was a child I’ve drawn on any scrap of paper I could get a hold of. When I went to San Jose State University, I became more exposed to the works of the great fine artists and illustrators. My college paintings were heavily influenced by the humorous illustrations of Peter De Seve, an illustrator for the New Yorker magazine. I also fell under the spell of the great muralists of the 1930s, especially Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. I graduated with a degree in Illustration. Since my time in college, my goal has been to be a successful children’s book illustrator. I’ve illustrated 3 books: Two Moms the Zark and Me by Johnny Valentine in 1993; Night Travelers by Sue Hill in 1994; and Cherubic Children’s New Classic Story Book Volume 2 for Cherubic Press in 1998. I’ve painted murals for Lester Shields Elementary School in San Jose, the Berryessa branch of the San Jose Public Library, and Grace Community Church in Los Altos. I’ve had a few illustrations published in South Bay Accent Magazine and I will have an illustration published in the January/February issue of Tikkun magazine.
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