Judge Thomas M. Norwood’s Views on Miscegenation

…These emerging beliefs provided the legal community with a framework within which to justify increasingly rigid separation between blacks and whites and increasingly stringent definitions of blackness. One clear example may be found in Judge Thomas M. Norwood‘s remarks in 1907, entitled “Address on the Negro,” in which he reflected upon his experiences dealing with black defendants over the years. After detailing the inferiority of the black race, Norwood explained to his audience that miscegenation was a horrible threat to the nation. Even though the law forbade interracial sex, having legal prohibitions on the books was not sufficient to curb the evil: “illicit miscegenation thrives and the proof stalks abroad in breeches and petticoats along our streets and highways.” This proof was the mixed-race issue of such unions.

Norwood’s beliefs about black inferiority did not permit him to blame “pure” blacks for the increases in racial mixing. He placed the blame squarely on white men, who made and enforced the laws against miscegenation and prevented black men from crossing the color line, while simultaneously “wallow[ing] with dusky Diana with impunity.” This practice by white men, in Norwood’s view, was particularly damaging to white women. Women married to men who engaged in interracial sex would bear the shame of knowing that their children had black half siblings. Their white daughters would flinch at having to acknowledge a black child’s salute of them as sisters.

While Norwood saw “full-blooded Negroes” as childlike, easily led, humble, and nonthreatening, he believed that mulattoes, due to the admixture of whiteness, were a genuine threat both in their prominence and in their attitudes. He argued that all prominent black persons in the United States had white or Native American ancestry to thank for their abilities and that all were hostile to whites. His solution to this problem, which would have been unconstitutional even under the prevailing racist standards, was to “Draw a dead line between the races. Tell the Negro, when he crosses it the penalty is death. Tell the white man, when he crosses it the penitentiary is there.” …

Julie Novkov, “Racial Constructions: The Legal Regulation of Miscegenation in Alabama, 1890–1934,” Law and History Review Summer 2002.