Saturday, February 27, 1926Richmond Times Dispatch
The Last Stand
The necessity for race integrity legislation in Virginia as shown by an ethnological survey of the State by congressional districts
By John Powell [writing circa 1923 in support of the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924]
Ninth Congressional District
This district consists of the city of Bristol and thirteen counties. The character of the region is wild and mountainous, peopled by the most characteristic type of the pure South Appalachian mountaineer. In the hills, illiteracy and poverty are the rule although incalculable mineral wealth, for the most part as yet undeveloped is concealed in the earth. In Tazewell we have the great Pocahontas coal fields but in the other counties, with few exceptions, the resources remained unexploited. A wonderful future lies before this section. Here too, are to be found the rich blue grass lands, but owing to the conformation of the terrain, farming on a large scale is impracticable. Hence the institution of slavery was never widely extended in this district. Consequently its negro population is at a minimum. Several of the counties make the proud boast of being 100 per cent white. Here, if anywhere, we should expect to find freedom from racial amalgamation.
Pregnant With Danger
And yet, despite the apparent security - or rather, because of it - the situation is pregnant with grave danger. These counties suffered little during the reconstruction period. Negro domination was unknown” there were not enough negroes to dominate. Union sentiment was strong. This accounts for the strength of the republican party in this region. All these circumstances have deflected the mind of the population from the racial problem, both in its political and its biological aspects. Although no district in the State excells the Ninth in zeal for racial integrity the infrequency of the danger has resulted in a proportionate relaxation of watchfulness in guarding the color line. Hence negroid near-whites from West Virginia and Kentucky and negroid mixed Indians from Tennessee and North Carolina, seeking an outlet for social ambitions. Thwarted in their native localities have found in this district easy access to the status of whites and have mixed almost unhindered with the unsuspecting population.
“Melungeons” from Tennessee. “Redbones” and self-styled “Cherokees” from North Carolina have easily succeeded in “passing.” A similar situation exists along practically the whole southern border of the State: but, although the invasions of the Second, Fourth and Fifth districts have been more numerous, they have met with correspondingly greater opposition. We have seen already how rapidly mix-breed descendants of one individual can multiply and how easily and widely they may be distributed. These phenomena are again met within the Ninth District, where their potentiality of danger is magnified by a false sense of security.
In Russell and Tazewell
Case No..1. Russell and Tazewell counties. (On file in the State records)
A.O. moved to Russell County shortly after the Civil War and settled on Orchard Ridge. He came from North Carolina. His wife had had an illegitimate child before her marriage by a negro. This girl grew up and was married to E. R. a white man. They had seven children of whom six married white people The seventh, Perlita, was not married but bore four or five illegitimate children. Another daughter, D., married C. G. and bore him eight children, all of whom married into white families. One of these children, R., marries K. S. under circumstances which will be related below. Forty-three of the descendants of E. R. and his mulatto wife are listed in the State records. The total number is far greater. These people are treated was white, attend white churches and their children go to white schools. Some of them live in Russell County, but many have crossed into Tazewell, where the majority now reside. Exclusion of these negroid children from the white schools would incur great, difficulty and even greater danger. Human life is lightly held in these counties and the mix breeds would not balk at any extreme in wreaking vengeance on any who opposed their pretensions, as the following quotation will show; “If they should learn that I am the informant, I would have to leave the community or live in fear and dread as I know my life would be in danger.”
Case No. 2. Tazewell County (On file in the State records)
The clerk of Tazewell refused to issue a license for the marriage of the above-mentioned R. G. to K. S. The couple went over into Tennessee, where they obtained a license and were married, returning immediately to Tazewell County where they now reside. The facts were presented to the grand jury by the Commonwealth’ Attorney, but the witnesses who were summoned were afraid to give evidence and no indictment was found.
Lee County Case
Case No. 3. Lee County (On file in the State records).
A birth certificate from this county has the father listed as white, the mother as questionable. She is a member of a negroid family which moved into Patrick County from North Carolina whence she removed to Lee.
Case No. IV. Lee County (on file in the State records).
This case was also brought to the attention of the Vital Statistics Bureau through a birth certificate on which both mother and father were recorded as doubtful: Both were from Tennessee. This case shows the difficulties in determining the proper racial status of the above-mentioned “Melungeons” and other mixed groups, claiming Indian extraction.
Case No V. Lee County (on file in the State records). Lee County (on file in the State records)
On another birth certificate sent in to Richmond the father, a native Virginian is recorded as white: the mother born in Tennessee, as doubtful: another “Melungeon” case.
Case No. VI Scott County (on file in the State Records)
This case will be presented by quoting from a letter from a local registrar: “There is here in Scott County a considerable number of people who go by various names such as “Melungeons,” “Gawhans,” “Malingoes.” They are a mixed race, not looked upon as Caucasian, although to my knowledge several have married whites. They object to being called negroes, but some of them claim to be part Indian. They have Indian traits, keep dogs and hunt and love wild meat. I have no way of knowing what race they belong to except by general appearance. Some of them are fairly white, while others of the same family are dark with kinky hair. I do not believe that they should be allowed to pose as white.”
Case No. VII. City of Bristol (on file in the State records)
The State Registrar received the following letter: “Will you kindly send me right away a copy of the birth certificate of F------ W------- as per enclosed card. The reason for asking is that he is attending the public school here, and there is some question as to whether he is white or colored.” The birth certificate of this child was examined. Both parents were white; both were natives of Tennessee Melungeons?
Case No VIII Washington County (on file in the State records)
In this county there is an extended group of dubious race being the same family names whose racial derivation seems well nigh indeterminable. Investigation of the records shows that of eighteen marriages of people bearing this name nine were performed on white and nine on colored licenses. Some of the members of the group claim to be of Indian extraction, but some of their neighbors insist they are colored. The difficulties of a definitive investigation seems insuperable. Meanwhile their dubious blood continues to be disseminated among whites. One of those families migrated to Goochland County where they entered their children in a white school. The negroid appearance of these children aroused protest against their attendance. The superintendent of the school wrote to the father requesting that he establish the right of his children to attend the school. The superintendent reported to the State registrar: “I never received a reply from the letter. But the children have never come back to school except to get their books.”
The cases in this district do not show the sordid degradation found in the other districts. However, the situation is none the less critical. The tide of amalgamation has risen even to the mountain tops, and the very isolation of the population has only made them the more helpless against the incursion.