Chesnutt's Works




Related Links


Chesnutt in the Classroom

Site Info

Miscegenation: Marrying of Whites and Blacks

(This page was developed by a Berea College student as part of a course on Chesnutt)

The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.
-W.E.B. DuBois

Negro, slave Mother and Daughter
(Above is a photo of two typical, negro women who lived in Montgomery, Alabama which appeared in The American Magazine in April 1908.)

Racial Classification:
As shown above, the typical idea of what physical characteristics that whites thought Negroes should have differs greatly with the physical characteristics of the mulatto girl below.  According to A.L. Kroeber, the author of Anthropology, a common way of classification between the colored and whites is that Negroes have darker skin, fuller lips, the broadest noses, rounder heads, and frizzier hair.  Caucasians, on the other hand, are said to have  lighter skin, straighter hair, longer faces, thinner lips, and narrow noses.

Mulatto girl studying at University
(Photo taken from The American Magazine April 1908.)

During the Restoration, the animosity against mulattos and miscegenation in the South became very powerful, reaching it's peak in 1907.   Hostility was expressed in the 1850's about who was and was not a Negro, and about mulattos passing as white.  Census' taken during the time show that mulattos increased from 11.2 percent of the black population in 1850 to 20.9 percent in 1910.  (Both were based on visible white ancestry, so may be an undercount.)   Due to the mulatto African black unions, there was an increase in the number of mulattos, although some white-black liaisons continued in the South, mainly between white men and black women.

 The character Jim Crow   Stereotyped beliefs began to escalate about the mulattos as never before, the analogy to the mule, for example, received much attention.  Many of the same white men who fought to protect white women, helped to mold the Jim Crow practice of sexually exploiting black females by white males, which contributed to the miscegenation they were so vehemently fighting against.  By reinforcing the one drop rule, as had been done on the plantation, they defined mixed children born to black women as black.

With the passing of the post Reconstruction laws on racial intermarriage, pressure was put on the state legislatures to define what constituted being a "Negro."  Louisiana courts usually defined "persons of color" to mean those who are visible black, and many mixed people continued to go around being defined as white.  Fourteen of the remaining Southern states adopted the one-drop rule as a definition of what a Negro was; anyone of black ancestry.  In 1910 Virginia abandoned the one-fourth rule and finally settle for the one-sixteenth, which assumed that lesser amounts could not be detected.  Not until the 1930's did Virginia adopt the one-drop rule, which said that "any Negro blood at all" makes a person black.
Centuries on miscegenation had produced large populations of mulattos who appeared to be white and who passed whenever they wanted to.  Passing white promised a better job, and some who passed white on the job live a black life at home.  Some lived in the North as white part of the year and then in the South as black the rest of the year.  Men passed more often then women.  Some mulattos passed by taking Latin American names and moving to the appropriate location.  But the vast majority of the black population would not pass on a permanent basis due to family separation, fear of whites, condemnation from the black community which would lead to a loss of the security of the black community.
 During the Jim Crow laws era, black throughout the North and South shared the belief that black-white sexual contact with each other occurred only with the irresponsible underclass of both groups.  Even the black scholar, Carter Woodson said that only the weaker members of both races, ethically or biologically, engaged in such acts of miscegenation.  A popular belief spread through the black population that the mixing of whites with blacks lead to an alleged weakness which produced a certain "high" yellow color-thus called the "yellow niggers."  Lighter mulattos were considered to more preferred among white urban owners of theaters and nightclubs, which allowed the lighter mulatto girls as chorus girls, singers, and even prostitutes.  Soon the lighter mulattos began to be associated with sin and degradation.  Many in the black community became worried about lightness as white were about blackness. (excerpts taken from: Who Is Black?  F. James Davis)


 Back to top

  Page created January 1999
Last update: Jan, 29 1999
For more information on this site Click Here.