Yesterday I listened to an NPR interview with author Peter Ross Range, who’s just published the book, 1924: The Year That Made Hitler.
“This was the year of Hitler’s final transformation into the self-proclaimed savior and infallible leader who would interpret and distort Germany’s historical traditions to support his vision for the Third Reich,” reads the publisher’s description. “It was a year of deep reading and intensive writing, a year of courtroom speeches and a treason trial, a year of slowly walking gravel paths and spouting ideology while working feverishly on the book that became his manifesto: Mein Kampf.”
Why do I bring up Mein Kampf?
Because in 1924 the Jim Crow legislature of Virginia was busy writing, too. “The Racial Integrity Act was introduced in the General Assembly as Senate Bill No. 219 on February 1, 1924, and House Bill No. 311 on February 15,” notes Encyclopedia Virginia. “In its original form, it required that all Virginians fill out a certificate of racial composition to be approved by the Bureau of Vital Statistics. This certificate would be necessary in order to marry in Virginia, and it would be against the law for a white person to marry anyone but a white person.”
Encyclopedia Virginia continues, “According to the proposed law, to be white a person must have ‘no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian,’….However, people who had less than one sixty-fourth part Indian and no African American heritage would still be considered white. This exception catered to those elite Virginians who counted themselves as descendants of Pocahontas and John Rolfe.”
Additionally, the legislature passed Senate Bill 281, “An ACT to provide for the sexual sterilization of inmates of State institutions in certain cases,” which became known as the Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924.
Officials in Nazi Germany later praised these Virginia laws as model legislation for their own statutes against Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies.
When I recently posted a blog, “Skeleton in the Closet,” about the racist views of Paul Brandon Barringer, a man essential to the founding of a modern Medical School at the University of Virginia, some readers felt I was too hard on Barringer, and on myself, for being naive. We’re products of our times, after all.
And maybe those readers are right. But here’s the thing.
The pendulum of history is always swinging. Which way are we headed now?