Monday, December 24, 2007


MISCEGENATION Derived from the Latin miscere (mix) and genus (race), miscegenation refers to the marriage and/or sexual relations between a member of one race and a member of another race. In American history, the term generally has been reserved to describe the marital and/or sexual relations between blacks and whites.

Until recently, miscegenation was not only viewed as a social indiscretion but, in most states, as an infraction of the law. As early as the 1660's, colonial legislators were enacting laws prohibiting miscegenation. Virginia's ban against interracial liaison was passed in 1662 with Maryland following suit in 1681. Maryland's statute described miscegenation as being "al­ways to the Satisfaccion of... Lascivious and Lustfull desires, and to the disgrace not only of the English butt allso of many other Christian Nations."

Notwithstanding the law, miscegenation in the antebellum South was widespread. Black female slaves, being the absolute chattel of their owners, had little recourse but to submit to the sexual appetites of white men who justified their actions on the flimsy excuse that the chastity of venerated white womanhood was being protected. The extent to which interracial sexual liaisons occurred in the antebellum South, of course, can be measured by the large number of mulattoes, quadroons and octoroons populating the region during the mid-nineteenth cen­tury. The emergence of this racially hybrid group, constantly increasing in size and containing every shade of color, was and continues to be the enduring legacy of miscegenation.

During the twentieth century, anti-miscegenation laws were grad­ually repealed in the majority of non-southern states. Never­theless, by 1967 sixteen states still retained such laws, providing penalties ranging up to ten years imprisonment and fines up to $2,000. In that year, however, the Supreme Court of the United States in Loving v. Virginia, [388 U. S. 1] declared antimiscegenation legislation unconstitutional. The Court argued that marriage constitutes one of the "basic civil rights of man," and that "the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State." Basing its decision on the Fourteenth Amend­ment, the Court declared that there "can be no doubt that re­stricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial clas­sifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause." See also: MULATTO and PARTUS SEQUITUR VENTREM.

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