Lesson
Duration:
2 class periods

Resistance to Anti-Miscegenation Laws

Overview

This lesson outline explores both the emergence of, and reaction to, racist and anti-miscegenation laws during the Progressive Era. Readings from Race and Membership in American History are used in conjunction with several new videos available from Facing History's Lending Library.

Learning Goals

Students will begin to:

  • critically view and analyze written texts, including proposed legal statutes and letters of protest, dealing with the concept of race in US society in the early 1900s.
  • understand the role that law played in the construction of racial identity and in the construction of American identity
  • recognize the protest strategies taken by a few individuals during the early part of the 20th century
  • compare these strategies with other examples of resistance

Context

This lesson fits well with the readings in Chapter 4, In an Age of Progress, in Race and Membership in American History. Together, they develop a rich context for understanding the varied currents of the Progressive Era. During this period, we see a renewed energy around the creation of anti-miscegenation legislation. Several states rewrite their laws and others create new statutes. In the resource book, you will find some materials on the Virginia Law revised in 1924. Part of this lesson outline includes statutes written and proposed in 1913.

It is important to note that the influence of Jim Crow laws on the development of marriage as a public institution and the relationship to public health and wealth.

Materials

Activities

1. Select readings from Chapter 4 of Race and Membership in American History to set a context for the Progressive Era. Recommended readings include the following: "A Celebration of 'Progress", "Progress", Civilization, and "Color-Line Murder'", "Doors to Opportunity," "Taking Up the 'White Man's Burden", and "Rumors and Fears"
For each reading, have students comment on the following questions either in a small group discussion or their journals:

  • What are some of the dominant themes and tensions explored in the selection?
  • According to the reading, what roles did the concept of race play during this period?


2. Introduce the 1924 Virginia Racial Integrity Act (p. 189) and the Revision of Ohio General Law, 1913 and the Revision of NY State Penal Code, 1913. As students read these laws, have them consider the following:

  • What words and phrases stand out?
  • What does "white" mean within this context? black or Negro?
  • How are these identities defined?
  • What are the consequences of being white?
  • What are the consequences of being black or "colored"?
  • What role does gender play within these laws?
  • What are the implications of these laws?
  • What title might you give to these laws to describe what they do/seek to do?

For more background information on the Virginia Racial Integrity Act and U.S. anti-miscegenation legislation, go to the Facing History Eugenics Online Module.

3. Have students read the Telegram from NAACP Leaders to House Judiciary Committee, 1915; letter from Charles Chesnutt to W.E.B. DuBois, 1913; and the NAACP Statement, 1915. Either within small groups or individually, have students consider the following questions:

  • What is the primary argument in each letter?
  • What does the letter suggest to you about strategies for resisting anti-miscegenation legislation?
  • Within NAACP statement of 1915, what argument does the NAACP make to protest these laws.
  • What does the NAACP mean when it says that the NAACP does not advocate intermarriage?
  • Why is that statement a part of their protest?
  • Does the NAACP make a strong case in your opinion?


4) Ask students to propose counter-legislation to the Virginia Act as well as for the revisions to the Ohio and New York codes. They should then write a reflection:

  • What were the challenges in creating their proposed legislation?
  • How would they promote it and enforce it, considering the time period in which these laws would have been proposed?

For more reflection questions, view the "Connections" section from "Eugenics in America: Anti-Miscegenation" on Facing History's Eugenics Online Module.

Extensions

1) Research the lives and work of Monroe Trotter or Charles Chesnutt. Use whatever background information available to more deeply interpret the documents and their messages.

2) If you continue your study of the eugenics movement, you might revisit this lesson when you reach Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court decision that finally took anti-miscegenation legislation off the books.

2) The Nazis drew on US anti-miscegenation legislation in the creation of the Nuremberg laws. You might consider exploring this topic in greater detail and looking for similar examples of protest within the German context.

Assessment

1) Based on the readings in this lesson, ask students to write an essay on race and membership in the US. What does it mean to be an American?

2) Students could explore popular representations of interracial intimacy by looking at films including Birth of a Nation, Pinky, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and Jungle Fever. How are these relationships depicted? What are the effects and implications of these representations? What do they suggest about what it means to be an American?

3) Ask students to research the various anti-miscegenation legislation that was proposed from 1900-1967 in various states. Have them compare the language, definitions and penalties used. What does this suggest about what race means in the US? How does race change meaning over time and what are the implications of that?

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