Miscegenation

Miscegenation is the combining of different racial groups by marriage, procreation, or cohabitation. In the past, the term “miscegenation” was thought of more negatively. In modern times, the terms “interracial” and “cross-cultural” are more commonly used to describe such relationships. Nowadays, the only time the term “miscegenation” is used is when someone is describing it in the historical sense. To explore this concept, consider the following miscegenation definition.

Definition of Miscegenation

Noun

  1. The marriage or cohabitation between two people of different races.
  2. The interbreeding of races.

Origin

1864                From Latin miscere (“to mix”) + genus (“race”)

Allegedly first coined in the U.S. by journalist David Goodman Croly in a pamphlet that was published anonymously

What is Miscegenation

Miscegenation is the blending of different races, whether by marriage, cohabitation, procreation, or sexual intercourse. Miscegenation has been outlawed in the past, but over time society became more tolerant and accepting of the idea to the point where the term “miscegenation” has a negative connotation today. “Miscegenation” is all but eliminated from the modern vocabulary, with terms like “interracial” and “cross-cultural” now replacing the racist and archaic “miscegenation.”

Anti-Miscegenation Laws

Anti-miscegenation laws were laws that supported racial segregation by making it a crime for interracial couples to get married. Anti-miscegenation laws sometimes even applied to those interracial couples who weren’t married but who merely engaged in sexual intercourse with each other. These laws were first introduced in the late 17th century, and remained in effect in much of the United States until 1967. This was the year that anti-miscegenation laws were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Throughout the history of miscegenation, there were never any nationwide anti-miscegenation laws in the United States. However, there were anti-miscegenation laws at the state level, particularly in the southern and plains states. In these states, miscegenation was considered a felony, and so the laws prohibited weddings between people of different races, as well as the officiation of those weddings. Individuals of different races who attempted to marry would often be charged with the felony charges of adultery or fornication, as opposed to miscegenation, because their marriage was deemed invalid.

All of the anti-miscegenation laws that existed in the U.S. specifically banned marriages between anyone who was white and anyone who was “non-white.” This primarily meant black people, but Native Americans and Asians were also prohibited from marrying whites as well. In many states, it was also a crime for whites and non-whites to live together or engage in sexual relations with each other.

Examples of miscegenation laws that were less common included:

  • In 1908, Oklahoma had a law on the books that banned the marriage between someone of African descent and someone not of African descent.
  • In 1920, Louisiana banned marriage between African Americans and Native Americans.
  • In 1935, Maryland banned Filipinos from marrying blacks.

History of Miscegenation

Relationships between white women and black men were initially tolerated. However, as time went on they became increasingly frowned upon until they went from being the subject of disapproval, to being completely repressed. This was because it had become commonplace for white men to have children with black slaves, and society was seeking a way to “draw the line” to prevent this from continuing. After the North’s victory in the Civil War, and the emancipation of the slaves, the South looked for a different way for whites to show their superiority in both the legal and social senses.

In the U.S. history of miscegenation, this was done by outlawing interracial relationships, which was an attempt to limit the possibility that a white man could have a child with a non-white woman and thereby “threaten whiteness” by producing another non-white human being. The idea was to limit the possibility that a man could father a child who could ultimately “pass for white.” Alabama in particular kept a firm stance on their prohibition of miscegenation.

In Alabama, interracial sex was not allowed due to the problems it could potentially cause for the white man. The state was also terrified of the idea that a black man could partake in “forcible sex” with a white woman. If a black man raped, or attempted to rape, a white woman, he would be legally subject to the death penalty. Additionally, if a white person and a black person were discovered to be living together, married, or even engaging in sexual relations with each other, then each of them would be imprisoned and sentenced to hard labor for between two and seven years.

It also did not matter if someone had several white relatives. If he had one black relative in his family, then he was considered “a Negro.” Anyone found attempting to officiate a marriage between a white person and a “Negro” could be fined between $100 and $1,000, and would be risking either imprisonment, or being sentenced to hard labor, for up to six months.

Thankfully, these laws throughout the history of miscegenation depended solely on society’s perceptions of race and racism in order to survive. Once the social landscape began to change, and more people became accepting of interracial relationships, then laws like the ones above simply fell apart and were harder to enforce.

Miscegenation Example in a Landmark Court Case

There is perhaps no better example of miscegenation being taken to court than the case of Loving v. Virginia, which became a landmark civil rights court case in 1967. The case concerned Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard Loving. While Richard was white, Mildred was African-American, and had Native American ancestry.

When Mildred was 18 years old, she became pregnant with Richard’s child. In June of 1958, the couple traveled from their home in Virginia to Washington, D.C., in order to dodge Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 so they could get married. (The Act made marriage between whites and non-whites a crime in Virginia.)

Upon returning to Virginia, the Lovings’ home was raided by local police, who had received an anonymous tip. Police who had hoped to find the couple having sex, which was also outlawed in Virginia, so they could arrest them. What the police did find was the couple sleeping in their bed, and Mildred showed the officers the Lovings’ marriage certificate, which was hanging on their bedroom wall. The officers told them that their certificate was not valid in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Lovings were charged with multiple crimes. The first pertained to their being an interracial couple who got married out of state and then returned to Virginia. The second was for miscegenation, which was considered a felony, and which was punishable by imprisonment for between one and five years.

The couple pled guilty to “cohabiting as man and wife,” and were sentenced to one year in prison. However, the sentence was suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia and not return together for at least 25 years. Upon their conviction, the couple moved to the District of Columbia.

Five years after their conviction, Mildred wrote in protest to the Attorney General on the grounds that the couple was frustrated about being unable to travel together to visit their families in Virginia. Additionally, they were socially isolated and experiencing financial difficulties as a result of their situation in Washington. The Attorney General referred Mildred to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed a motion to have the Lovings’ sentences set aside on the grounds that the Virginia miscegenation laws violated the Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Lovings lost their case, and so they appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Judge upheld their criminal convictions but directed that their sentences be modified. The Lovings, with the ACLU’s continued support, then took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned the Lovings’ convictions. The Court ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The Court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were discriminatory in general, and that the sole purpose for their enactment had been to preserve white supremacy.

The Lovings’ case has been used as a positive example of miscegenation issues in other court cases as well. In 2010, the federal district court overturned California’s Proposition 8, which restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples. Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who presided over the case, cited Loving v. Virginia when he concluded that:

“the [constitutional] right to marry protects an individual’s choice of marital partner, regardless of gender.”

Richard Loving died in 1975 when a drunk driver hit his car. However, Mildred – who lived until 2008, when she succumbed to pneumonia – issued a statement in June of 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in her case:

“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.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Cohabitation – The state of living together as a married couple, without actually being legally married.
  • Felony – A crime, often involving violence, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are usually punishable by imprisonment more than one year.
  • Officiate – Perform a religious service or ceremony.

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