The Anti-Miscegenation History of the American Southwest, 1837 To 1970: Transforming Racial Ideology into Law

The Anti-Miscegenation History of the American Southwest, 1837 To 1970: Transforming Racial Ideology into Law

Cultural Dynamics
Volume 20, Number 3 (November 2008)
pages 279-318
DOI: 10.1177/0921374008096312

Martha Menchaca, Professor of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin

This article proposes that a historical analysis of court cases and state statutes can be used to illustrate how racist ideologies were transformed into practice and used to legalize racism. To exemplify this argument, marriage prohibition laws in the United States Southwest from 1837 to 1970 are examined.  This analysis demonstrates that African Americans and Anglo Americans were not the only groups affected by anti-miscegenation legislation.  Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans were also profoundly affected and their respective histories contribute to a more indepth understanding of the policies and practices used by state governments and the courts to discriminate against people of color.  This article also reveals that most legal cases reaching state supreme courts in the Southwest involved Mexican Americans because their mixed racial heritage placed them in a legally ambiguous position.

…Afromestizos and the First Anti-Miscegenation Law in the American Southwest

The history of anti-miscegenation law in the American Southwest began after Texas obtained independence from Mexico in 1836. One year later, on 5 June 1837, the newly formed Republic became the first nation in the Southwest to prohibit people of different races from marrying freely (Marital Rights, art. 4670, 2466, in Paschal, 1878: 783). People of European blood and their descendants were prohibited from marrying Africans and their descendants. A racially mixed person could marry a White person if they had no African ancestors in the last three generations. If the law was broken, the White person was sentenced to two to five years in prison. Texan congressmen justified imprisonment by the seriousness of ‘the offense against public morals, decency, and chastity’ (Tex. Penal Code 386, in Paschal, 1878: 429).

Texas’s anti-miscegenation codes were part of the Republic’s larger body of racially discriminatory laws passed after independence. In 1836, Mexico’s liberal racial legislation was rescinded. Citizenship was no longer extended to all people and Mexico’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1829 was nullified. Only Anglo Americans and Mexicans who were not of African heritage were given citizenship (Cx. of the Repu. of Tex. 1836, art. 6, s. 6, in Laws of Tex., vol. 2, p. 1079). Slavery was also reinstated and freed Blacks who had been emancipated under Mexican law were returned to bondage…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , ,