How a long-dead white supremacist still threatens the future of Virginia’s Indian tribes
Virginia’s Indian tribes have faced numerous obstacles in their decades-old quest for federal recognition. But one person has long stood in their way — and he’s been dead for 68 years.
Walter Plecker — a physician, eugenicist and avowed white supremacist — ran Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics with single-minded resolve over 34 years in the first half of the 20th century.
Though he died in 1947, Plecker’s shadow still lingers over the state, a vestige of a vicious era when racist practices were an integral part of government policy and Virginia officials ruthlessly enforced laws created to protect what they considered a master white race.
For Virginia’s Indians, the policies championed by Plecker threatened their very existence, nearly wiping out the tribes who greeted the country’s first English settlers and who claim Pocahontas as an ancestor. This month, the legacy of those laws could again help sabotage an effort by the Pamunkey people to become the state’s first federally recognized tribe.
Obsessed with the idea of white superiority, Plecker championed legislation that would codify the idea that people with one drop of “Negro” blood could not be classified as white. His efforts led the Virginia legislature to pass the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a law that criminalized interracial marriage and also required that every birth in the state be recorded by race with the only options being “White” and “Colored.” ...