Anti-Miscegenation Laws, Racial Difference, and Multiracial Activism (by Hans Chaumont)

Overview: The goal of this lesson plan is to have students critically analyze the motivations and effects of anti-miscegenation laws and how these laws acted to shape societal understandings of race and racial difference.

Framework: Through work in small groups and collective discussion, students will be asked to analyze historical documents relating to both anti-miscegenation laws and the goals of multiracial activists. Students will learn about the history of anti-miscegenation laws and analyze the motivation and implementation of these laws. Students will then be asked to consider the effects of these laws on different racial groups and on multiracial individuals. Through this analysis, students will critically examine popular notions of race and tie this to the goals and motivations of multiracial activism.

Essential Understanding: Anti-miscegenation laws were used to shape and reinforce societal understandings of racial differences, which multiracial activists later came to challenge.

Essential Questions:

  1. What were anti-miscegenation laws, and in what ways do they provide insight into how people understand race and racial difference?
  2. What were the motivations for prohibiting interracial marriage?
  3. What were the arguments used against anti-miscegenation laws?
  4. What effects did anti-miscegenation laws and the Loving v. Virginia case have on multiracial individuals?
  5. In what ways was multiracial activism linked to anti-miscegenation laws?

Glossary:

Anti-miscegenation Laws: Laws prohibiting marriage between people of different races.

Multiracial: People whose ancestries come from multiple races.

Introduction:

In June of 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, a black woman and white man, left their home in Virginia to get married in Washington, D.C.. A few weeks later, after they had returned to Virginia, they were awakened by police in their bedroom, were arrested, and sent to jail. They were charged with breaking a Virginia law prohibiting interracial marriage. Laws prohibiting marriage between people of different races and seeking to prevent the births of mixed-race children date back to 16911.

After living outside of Virginia for several years, in 1963 the Lovings consulted with ACLU lawyers and prepared a case to challenge their conviction. The case made it to the Supreme Court of the United States and on June 12, 1967 it was ruled that anti-miscegenation laws like the one violated by the Lovings were unconstitutional.

Anti-miscegenation laws have had the effect of denying the existence of multiracial individuals. By outlawing interracial marriage, the state makes the mere existence of multiracial individuals a legal anomaly. Furthermore, historical “one-drop” rules have had the effect of providing any multi-racial individual with a “non-white” label. The acknowledgement of only nonwhite-white marriages and the exclusion of nonwhite-nonwhite interracial marriages by anti-miscegenation laws suggests that their use is in maintaining a clear definition of who is and isn’t white.

After the Loving v. Virginia ruling, multiracial families and individuals became more common. In the late 1970s and the 1980s multiracial organizations began to form. Some of the more active ones were I-Pride (Interracial/Intercultural Pride), BFN (the Biracial Family Network), IFC (the Interracial Family Circle), and MASC (the Multiracial Americans of Southern California)2. Each of these organizations acted primarily on a local level, and functioned as support groups for multiracial or “culturally blended” couples, families, and individuals.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, organizations began to advocate for the issues of multiracial people on the national level. The two most important organizations were Project RACE and AMEA (the Association of MultiEthnic Americans). The goal of Project RACE was to achieve a “multiracial classification on school, employment, state, federal, census, and medical forms requiring racial data.3” Project RACE was able to successfully do this in several different states. AMEA had similar general objectives, but advocated for a “check one or more” format to racial identification on forms. These groups were able to successfully lobby for a “check one or more” format of racial identification on the 2000 Census.

Materials:

ABC Report on Loving v. Virginia

Filipino Resistance to Anti-Miscegenation Laws in Washington State

AMEA Testimony Before House Subcommittee

Activities:

Preface this lesson by informing students that they’ll be analyzing anti-miscegenation laws and consider how they are used to racialize different groups of people. Begin by having students watch the ABC Report on Loving v. Virginia, which provides some background on the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia. Before screening the video, write the following questions on the blackboard and tell students to keep them in mind while watching the video:

  • What effects did Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law have on the Lovings and their family?
  • What are some possible reasons or rationales for the existence of these laws?
  • How did the news report frame the situation of the Lovings and how did it frame the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision?

Then call on students to discuss and provide answers to each of the questions.

Students can then be given a copy of the secondary source “Filipino Resistance to Anti-Miscegenation Laws in Washington State”, and given a period of 10 or so minutes to read the article. Students should then break up into groups of three or four. Each group should then be asked to discuss the following questions. Have one student in each group volunteer to record and write down the group’s answers.

  • What are some of the reasons politicians in Washington state wanted to enact anti-miscegenation laws?
  • What sort of perceptions about Filipinos in Washing state did these laws reinforce?
  • Why were Filipinos in Seattle able to effectively prevent these laws from being passed?
  • What are the problems that Filipinos identified in these anti-miscegenation laws, and what are the arguments that were used to resist the passage of these laws?

After ten to fifteen minutes of discussion within the groups, go group by group, and have the students provide their written answers to these questions.

End the lesson by telling students that for homework they’ll be looking at a document written by a multiracial activist, and tell students that this person was advocating for the ability to “check one or more” on the racial category section of governmental forms like the Census. For homework have students read the historical primary source of the AMEA’s oral testimony before the House subcommittee and have students write a page responding to the following questions:

  • What effects might anti-miscegenation laws have had upon multiracial individuals?
  • What importance might the Loving v. Virginia case have had in the development of multiracial activism.
  • What are the goals expressed by the author of this document?
  • How might these goals be related to or motivated by anti-miscegenation laws?

Additional Sources:

Wallenstein, Peter. “The Right to Marry: Loving v. Virginia.” OAH Magazine of History 9, no. 2.

Brown, Nancy G., and Ramona E. Douglass. “Evolution of Multiracial Organizations: Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going.” In New Faces in a changing America: Multiracial Identity in the 21st Century, Loretta I. Winters and Herman L. DeBose, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003.

Williams, Kim M. “From Civil Rights to the Multiracial Movement.” In New Faces in a changing America: Multiracial Identity in the 21st Century, Loretta I. Winters and Herman L. DeBose, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003.

Standards:

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

References

1 Wallenstein, Peter. “The Right to Marry: Loving v. Virginia.” OAH Magazine of History 9, no. 2.

2 Brown, Nancy G., and Ramona E. Douglass. “Evolution of Multiracial Organizations: Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going.” In New Faces in a Changing America: Multiracial Identity in the 21st Century, Loretta I. Winters and Herman L. DeBose, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 113-115.

3 Ibid, 116.

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