I discovered an interesting fact in reading yesterday’s Washington Post (reg. req.) letters to the editor section (Letters to the Editor: Expanding the Definition of Marriage). In December of 1912, an amendment to the Constitution was introduced to abolish racial intermarriage:
Intermarriage between negros or persons of color and Caucasians . . . within the United States . . . is forever prohibited.
This history of the amendment is rather interesting as described here: The Socio-Political Context of the Integration of Sport in America:
Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, he held the heavyweight title for seven years before losing it Jess Willard in Cuba in 1915. [The famous James Earl Jones’ movie “The Great White Hope” was based on Johnson’s life.] Johnson had a profound effect on race relations. His flamboyant personality and his incessant appetite for confrontation and white women ultimately led to his demise. Johnson married three white women and had numerous affairs with others. He was fearless and had little respect for the conventions of the day (Wiggins, 1993, p.27).
It was this behavior that earned him the name “Bad Nigger.” A Bad Nigger, in black folklore, was a black man who did not play by the rules of convention; they dressed well and had unquenchable sex drives. They lived hedonistic lifestyles with a blatant disregard for death or danger. The term was used a badge of reverence among blacks (Roberts, 1983, p69).
In December of 1908, Johnson beat Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia for the heavy weigh title. In 1910, he beat former heavyweight champion, Jim Jeffries so badly that it humiliated whites. Not only did he beat him, but he taunted him and rubbed in the face of white Americans. Race riots ensued all over America as a result of this event (Rust and Rust, 1985, p.147).
Because of Johnson’s arrogance and love for white women, many whites considered him a serious threat to racial order. After Johnson married Lucille Cameron (a white woman), two ministers in the South recommended lynching him (Gilmore, 1975, p.107). In a reaction to the Johnson-Cameron marriage, in 1911 Rep. Seaborn Roddenberry of Georgia introduced a constitutional amendment to ban interracial marriages. In his appeal to congress, Roddenberry stated that
“Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant. It is subversive to social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately this slavery to black beasts will bring this nation to a fatal conflict” (Gilmore, 1975, p.108).
Influenced by Roddenberry and others, miscegenation bills were introduced in 1913 in half of the twenty states where this law did not exist.
The historical similarities are obvious.