In 1924, the Virginia General Assembly enacted the Racial Integrity Act. The Act reinforced racial segregation by prohibiting interracial marriage and classifying as “white” a person “who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian.” The Act, an outgrowth of eugenist and scientific racist propaganda, was pushed by Walter Plecker, a white supremacist, and eugenist. He held the post of registrar of the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics.
The Racial Integrity Act required all birth certificates and marriage certificates in Virginia to include the person’s race as either “white” or “colored.” In addition, the Act classified all non-whites, including Native Americans, as “colored.” The Act was part of a series of “racial integrity laws” enacted in Virginia to reinforce racial hierarchies and prohibit the mixing of races. Other statutes included the Public Assemblages Act of 1926 (which required the racial segregation of all public meeting areas) and a 1930 act that defined any person with even a trace of African ancestry as black (thus codifying the so-called “one-drop rule”).
In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Racial Integrity Act and the Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924 (the forced sterilization of over 7.000 “mental defectives”) in their ruling on Loving v. Genealogy Los Angeles Virginia. In 2001, the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution that condemned the Racial Integrity Act for its “use as a respectable, ‘scientific’ veneer to cover the activities of those who held blatantly racist views.”


Pocahontas by Simon van de Passe 1616THE POCAHONTAS EXCEPTION

The Racial Integrity Act was subject to the Pocahontas Clause (or Pocahontas Exception), which allowed people with claims of less than 1/16th American Indian ancestry to still be considered white, despite the otherwise unyielding climate of one-drop rule politics. The exception regarding Native blood quantum was included as an amendment to the original Act in response to concerns of Virginia elites, including many of the First Families of Virginia, who had always claimed descent from Pocahontas with pride, but now worried that the new legislation would jeopardize their status.

Most of the proven descendants of Pocahontas have the surname Bolling. One of the most well-known Bolling’s was the wife of Virginia native President Woodrow Wilson, Edith Bolling Galt.


Walter Plecker (see link below), who was the force behind the law, created a list of names that he thought were Native American in origin. I am not sure how Nelson came to be the family name of many members of the Rappahannock tribe. However, I surmise that the name came in honor of Virginia’s founding father and Governor Thomas Nelson (see link below).

To the right is a picture of a leader of the tribe, “Old Bob Nelson.” Also, my mother’s English-sounding surname was on the list (see image at the top). Do you see your surname or familiar surnames on the list? Fortunately, my grandparents did not live in Virginia. I am not sure it would have mattered that our Nelson’s came from Sweden in the 1880s, as there was no appeal process.

There is a tendency for people to think that discrimination from the horrors of Hitler to our wrongs here in America affects others but not me. However, the story above shows that it’s not that hard to end up on the wrong list. A list that created from a law that was in effect from 1924 to 1967.


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