The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, February 29, 2004
 

The Anti-Miscegenation Amendment


I can't pretend to understand why Bush and friends should be touting the homo-amendment, which - like the Clinton impeachment - falls woefully short of the necessary 67 votes in the US Senate [1], not to mention the 290 needed in the House, the three-quarters of states...

The futile exercise has been the occasion for much whooping and monkey-shining from the neo-McGovernites - which might have put off swing voters, had any of them been paying attention.

But it has also unearthed a historical oddity. (One I'd never heard of it before, but, then, that's scarcely saying much.)

In 1912, Rep Seaborn Roddenbery (D: GA-2) introduced an amendment to the US Constitution making inter-racial marriages illegal.

The fullest treatment online - which isn't full at all - is a 1999 piece in the Journal of African American Men (new one on me) called The Socio-Political Context of the Integration of Sport in America [2].

For Roddenbery (and many more) had got riled and stirred thus far by the antics of heavyweight boxing champion, and miscegenator on an epic scale, Jack Johnson. Whilst sticking it to Mister Charley was not, perhaps, Johnson's primary objective, he was pretty damned successful at it!

When he went so far as to marry one of his white women, one Lucille Cameron [3], blood vessels burst:
two ministers in the South recommended lynching him...

And Roddenbery [4] pushed his amendment, saying:
Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant. It is subversive to social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately this slavery to black beasts will bring this nation to a fatal conflict.

A WaPo reader supplies an exact date for the introduction (December 12 1912) and a partial text:
Intermarriage between negros or persons of color and Caucasians . . . within the United States . . . is forever prohibited.

Unfortunately, he also misspells Roddenbery's name and states that he was a Republican - in Georgia in 1912! - and I suspect that there would have been an e added to negros

There is, so far as I can see, nothing more authoritative on the Roddenbery Amendment online.

The Amendment appeared at an interesting time, of course. It was just after that arch-segregationist, Woodrow Wilson - over whom liberals were once wont to drool (it's neocons now!) - had been elected, and Jim Crow was just about at its acme (the Guinn case banning the grandfather clause came in 1915). (This was the lame-duck session of the 62nd Congress.)

It was also around this time that racial classification solidified - the process described in the Daniel Sharfstein piece I looked at on January 20.

Beyond the stuff checked here, there is nothing online about Roddenbery [5]. (There is nothing at all on Google under his name correctly spelt!)

Perhaps a by-product of the homo-amendment nonsense will be a detailed treatment of Roddenbery's claim to fame.

  1. The old saying amongst the Southern Caucus in the Senate in the 1950s was You very soon get to 33 - that is, enough to prevent the two-thirds majority then required to pass a cloture motion. (Before Alaska and Hawaii were admitted, natch.) The homo-amendment will wait till hell freezes over for its 67.

  2. Via Atrios to Corante. The piece states that the amendment was introduced in 1911, which seems wrong, since, it seems, Johnson only contracted his inter-racial marriage in December 1912.

  3. Cameron, I seem to remember, was the name of the South Carolina family in The Birth of a Nation who were force to suffer the indignities of Radical Reconstruction. And whose scion Flora was pursued by the jumped-up renegade Gus, so as to fall to her death. (My piece on December 22 2003 discusses the question whether this was suicide or accident.)

  4. Roddenbery, not Roddenberry: according to the Congressional Biographical Dictionary.

  5. He is namechecked, and nothing else, in an interesting 2001 review of a couple of books in this area, The Law of Black-White Marriage in U.S. History by Peter Wallenstein and Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law edited by Werner Sollors.

    The review mentions the late date of the word miscegenation - from memory, it was invented in 1864 and used against Lincoln and the GOP by the Copperheads in that year's election campaigns. Before it caught on, the word used for the practice was amalgamation, it says.


MORE
I can't help feeling that the insignificant Congressman from Georgia was not the only legislator to move such amendment to the US Constitution. There is no list of proposed amendments online, that I can see.

And let's not pass up the chance of remembering Miscegenists of the Year for 2003, Strom Thurmond and Carrie Butler (December 2003 archives passim). Daughter Essie Mae Washington is back in the Palmetto State this weekend speaking at Allen University [1] in support of a fund-raising dinner.

No news about a Hollywood deal yet, that I can see.

  1. One of those colleges known these days as historically black.


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