The Identity Of The State 's Various Indian Descended People Essay

The Identity Of The State 's Various Indian Descended People Essay

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Walter Plecker expressed special skepticism in regards to the identity of the state’s various Indian-descended people. Numerous historical and anthropological reports seemed to confirm the belief that the Indians had married into white and black families. Although, in Plecker’s view, their white ancestry did not preclude them being considered Indian, his belief that one drop of black blood made one a Negro, prohibited their classification as “Indian.” “One of the most troublesome problems,” according to Plecker, “is that the first steps of groups of mulattoes is to declare themselves as Indians and after shouting for a generation or two that ‘We are Indians’ the white population becomes indifferent to the truth.”
In reality, while many of the state’s native peoples were content to exist outside the purview of their white and black neighbors, the ascendancy of Jim Crow statutes necessitated that native peoples be able to differentiate themselves from their black neighbors. Hence, when the Virginia legislature had passed a law in 1900 establishing segregated streetcars, members of the Pamunkey tribe began carrying identification cards affirming their native identity. Concern for the racial purity of the Indians was intimately tied to their vanishing status. When visiting the Pamunkey in 1907 ethnologist James Mooney noted, “Their one great dread is that their wasted numbers would lose their identity by absorption in the black race, and against this they have struggled for a full century.” This fear prompted the Pamunkey council to add their own anti-miscegenation measure to their tribal code. Sensing the shift in racial feelings regarding the state’s native peoples, both the Rappahannock (1921) and Nansemond Indians (1923) bec...


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...e license to Johns on the grounds that she was “colored” and her fiancé was “white.” For her part, Johns denied having any black ancestry and was emphatic that her ancestors were mainly Indian with some white admixture. As Johns’s lawyer pointed out, the case carried profound implications for the residents of Rockbridge: “it means that they can no longer attend the only school in the Irish Creek neighborhood, as well as the white churches, and the numerous of them who have married into absolutely white families under white marriage licenses will have their offspring classified as negroes.” Plecker called multiple witnesses, who testified that the Johns family had significant black admixture, and also showed old marriage records that listed the Johns’ ancestors as “colored.” Plecker proved victorious in this first challenge, yet his success would prove short lived.

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