Document Type


Original Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

1995 Meeting of the American Sociological Association

Date of Submission

November 2014


This paper examines Virginia's "Racial Purity Laws" enacted to deny equal opportunity to black men and women who could "pass" as whites from the early 1600s to the U. S. Supreme Court decision (Loving v. Virginia) in 1967. When physi­cal charac­teristics failed to match the legal definition of race, the state used records of vital statistics for boundary mainte­nance. Birth certificates, in particu­lar, served as "internal passports" to school assignments, work eligibility, and marriage, denying citizens defined as "Negro" life chances available to whites. It was also found that over time the definition of "Negro" was expanded to include citizens with smaller proportions of African or even Native American blood in their ancestry. An example is presented illustrating how racial identity was defined and enforced.

Is Part Of

VCU L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Publications