Legal Progression of Marriage in America

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Legal Progression of Marriage in America

As the British colonies in North America took root, a great part of the economic growth in colonial society was predicated on the labor of imported African slaves. As the number of slaves increased significantly, especially in the southern colonies, a system of separation of the races was established. Since the beginning of the White and Black coexistence in America, Whites have suppressed the rights of Blacks in order to emphasize their racial superiority and to prohibit mixing between the races. In order to maintain their racial purity, Whites established laws making illegal the marriage of Blacks and Whites. Although anti-miscegenation laws were present in early colonial societies, the legacies have continued in the contemporary period. For example, Alabama amended its constitution in 2000 to acknowledge interracial marriages as valid and legal. For over 300 years, anti-miscegenation laws have remained generally the same, outlawing marriages between people of different races. Overtime, however, definitions of who is Black have drastically changed, reflecting the status of Blacks’ in society. Anti-miscegenation laws during the era of slavery defined Blacks as having at least one Black grandparent, or one quarter “Black blood”. Later, these same laws during the Great Migration of the twentieth century, evolved to define Blacks by the “One Drop Rule,” a rule stating that one was Black if he or she had at least one Black ancestor. These laws, as represented in this paper and based on the policies of the colony and state of Virginia, were used to maintain a separation of races and, thus, to preserve the purity of Whites and to guarantee their system of White supremacy.

Sent by King James I, The Virginia Company established the first colony in America in 1607 appropriately named Jamestown (History of Jamestown 1). It is generally accepted that the first Blacks were imported to America in 1619, only twelve years after the colony was established. At this point, no specific laws prohibited interracial relations, but societal taboos and religious doctrines were enough to separate Whites and Blacks from sexual contact. Such beliefs were noted in the proceedings between the governor and his council within the colony: In 1630, a man named Hugh Davis, accused of being sexual involved with a Black, was “to be soundly whipped before an assembly of Negroes and others for abusing himself to the dishonor of God and the shame of Christians by defiling his body and lying with a Negro” (Hall 602).
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