Miscegenation Laws: Not Just Black and White by Alecia Caballero

Peggy Pascoe offers a glimpse into the complicated legal world of miscegenation laws of the United States in the 20th century with “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of Race in Twentieth-Century America.” These laws, created in the early 18th century, were originally written with the intent to prevent marriage between white and black but were ultimately expanded to include Native Americans and Asians. Pascoe highlights four court cases in the fight to remove these outdated laws from state statutes: Kirby v. Kirby, Estate of Monks, Perez v. Lippold, and Loving v. Virginia. With the first two, Kirby v. Kirby and Estate of Monks, the miscegenation laws of Arizona were upheld, whereas Perez v. Lippold and Loving v. Virginia helped rule them unconstitutional. In all cases, the women concerned were identified as or were African American, and their husbands were caucasian or passed as Caucasian. But race in America is not just a case of black and white, as evidenced by the amendments to the original miscegenation laws, and extended as an issue beyond just marriage to citizenship itself.

Miscegenation laws were interpreted to include Chinese, Japanese, and Indian Americans as non-white by the early twentieth century, but the first attempts at restricting marriage, and therefore reproduction, of “undesirable” immigrants from Asia, began in 1875 with the Page Act, which effectively barred single Chinese women from entering the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese and other Asian immigration completely and declared them ineligible for citizenship, leaving Chinese men without potential spouses they were legally allowed to marry. [1] With the passage of the Expatriation Act of 1907, which made a woman’s citizenship dependent upon her husband’s, all women were effectively discouraged from marrying Asian men. Chinese-American women, in particular, those born on American soil, were stuck between a rock and a hard place. They were outlawed from marriage with a white man but would be stripped of their citizenship if they married a Chinese man. One such case if that of Fung Sing, an American-born Chinese woman who married a Chinese man and was refused entry into the nation of her birth upon his death because she had been married to a man racially ineligible for citizenship. [2]

Overall, miscegenation laws served as a deterrent to keep minority groups out of majority white spaces. For the Chinese immigrant community, they also attempted to destroy the community by restricting avenues of legal marriage and therefore reproduction, as well as citizenship and citizenship opportunities. The laws were ultimately overturned, but the early 20th century sought to keep white communities white, black communities black, and Asian communities nonexistent.

[1] Lisa Marie Cacho, “Asian Women, US Immigration, and Citizenship,” http://publici.ucimc.org/asian-women-us-immigration-and-citizenship/

[2] Martha Gardner, “When Americans Are Not Citizens,” in The Qualities of a Citizen: Women, Immigration, and Citizenship, 1870-1965, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 121

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