Racial Integrity or `Race Suicide’

Racial Integrity or `Race Suicide’: Virginia’s Eugenic Movement, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the Work of Walter A. Plecker.
Negro History Bulletin
April-Sept, 1999
by Derryn E. Moten

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when key Virginia state officials and academics began to explore the subject of eugenics as a policy issue. On January 15, 1913, University of Virginia (UVA) professor Harvey Earnest Jordan delivered a lecture titled “Eugenics: Its Data, Scope and Promise.” Jordan defined eugenics as the “science of good birth” and noted that eugenics sought “to improve the [white] race by encouraging greater reproductivity among [its] racially fitter.” Alternatively, eugenics also would “prevent contamination and degeneration [of the white race] by prohibition of parenthood to the … grossly unfit.” Thirteen years later, a high ranking Virginia official reiterated Jordan’s premise and declared that “It is necessary for the State or Nation, by education and by law, to prevent the marriage or, illegitimate mating of feeble-minded, epileptic, criminal individuals of members of the white race with those of any other race. The preservation of the white race is a true eugenic measure.” These early beginnings point to a historical movement that involved leading Virginia intellectuals and public officials who became angst ridden over the issue of miscegenation. Historian Richard Sherman summed up the stance of white eugenicists and noted that “The race problem, they argued, was no longer political; it was biological.” The efforts of Virginia eugenic proponents culminated in 1924 when the state’s General Assembly passed Senate bill 219, An act to preserve racial integrity.(1)

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