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Application for Marriage License, 1924

Context

This 1924 application for marriage shows how an individual had to indicate that he or she was not "a habitual criminal, idiot, imbecile, hereditary epileptic or insane person” to be given the right to marry. In addition, an individual also had to indicate whether he or she was "white, colored, or mixed." Marriage licenses such as this one began to appear after Racial Integrity Laws introduced.

The Racial Integrity Act was introduced in 1924 in the General Assembly as Senate Bill No. 219, then as House Bill No. 311. When the act was passed, it prohibited interracial marriage and defined a white person as someone "who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian." The act was passed to preserve “whiteness” against race-mixing. The act required that individuals fill out a certificate of racial composition. Originally the act required that all individuals register their race, but many white Virginians did not want to. The act changed the requirement for individuals born before June 14, 1924 and the completion of certificates would be voluntary. In addition the cost to register was placed on the Individual, not the state. When the act was introduced, individuals with traces of American Indian were still grated the right to marry white individuals. This exception came from white elites who claimed to be decedents of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. A white person was an individual who had less than one sixty-fourth part Indian and no African American heritage.

In 1924, the act was challenged when James Conner and Dorothy Johns applied to marry in Rockbridge County, VA. The clerk A.T Shield found Conner’s race to be white but, Johns’ race was defined as part white, part colored. Under the Racial Integrity Act the clerk denied their marriage application and Johns sued immediately. Johns argued that the colored ancestry was indeed part Indian but due to the uncertainty from record keeping during the 19th century the clerk still refused to issue a marriage license. In 1926, the act was revised to remove the Pocahontas exemption, as a consequence from court cases presented by individual such as Dorothy Johns. When the act was revised, it made cases such as these impossible to win and redefined whiteness as a person in Virginia "whose blood is entirely white, having no known, demonstrable or ascertainable admixture of the blood of another race.” The Racial Integrity Act remained law until 1967 when the U.S Supreme Court found it unconstitutional in the Loving v. Virginia case.

Citations: “Application for Marriage License,” Library of Virginia, accessed September 14, 2015, https://lva.omeka.net/items/show/85. Rockbridge County (Va.) Clerk's Correspondence, 1912-1943. Local Government Records Collection, Rockbridge County Court Records. The Library of Virginia. 12-1245-002. Wolfe, B. Racial Integrity Laws (1924–1930). (2015, August 24). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Racial_Integrity_Laws_of_the_1920s.

Standards

Social Studies: VS.1, VS.9, USII.1, USII.4, USII.6, VUS.1, VUS.8, GOVT.1, GOVT.9
English: 4.7, 5.7

Suggested Questions

Political Plans: Imgaine you are a representative of the General Assemby during the 1920's. Write or discuss how you would do things, perhaps differently, if you were a politician.

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