Monday, March 16, 2009

Peggy Pascoe's "What Comes Naturally"

Peggy Pascoe is Beekman Professor of Northwest and Pacific History and Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Oregon.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, and reported the following:
I have to confess that page 99 wouldn’t be my first choice for revealing the essence of What Comes Naturally. I’d prefer page 69, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Alabama’s ban on sex and marriage between whites and blacks; or page 71, in which judges insist that interracial marriage is “unnatural”; or page 133, in which county clerks act as gatekeepers of white supremacy by assigning each marriage license applicant a “race or color.”

Still, page 99 does demonstrate two crucial points: 1) that between 1860 and 1967, American states banned marriages between whites and blacks, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, American Indians, Hindus and Native Hawaiians and 2) that lawmakers and judges showed more sympathy for marriages between white men and black or Indian women than for marriages between white women and black or Asian American men.

Page 99 takes place in the 1860s. The state legislatures of Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona have just finished banning whites from marrying Chinese, and now they hesitate over adding Indians to this list. Lawmakers knew that many pioneer men had married Indian women, and they worried that they ought, as one Oregon representative put it, to be “more liberal to that class of our citizens who, coming here at an early day, married Indian women and have raised families by them.” As a result, the law Oregon passed set special blood quantum standards for Indians: it banned whites from marrying “any negro, Chinese, or any person having one fourth or more negro, Chinese, or kanaka blood, or any person having more than one half Indian blood.” (Kanaka was their term for Native Hawaiians.)

On the bottom of page 99 is a map that shows the half-dozen American states that banned marriage between whites and Indians. But this map is more than just an illustration; as part of a series of maps that show the history of miscegenation laws in a nutshell, it really does touch the heart of my book. Designed especially for What Comes Naturally, these ten maps trace the passage and repeal of the laws, track changes over time in state and regional patterns, and tell what racial groups were affected in which states. My hope is that readers who pick up the book will be able to see at a glance the history of laws against interracial marriage in any state they choose.
Learn more about What Comes Naturally at the Oxford University Press website.

What Comes Naturally
has just been awarded two prizes by the Organization of American Historians: the Lawrence Levine Prize for the best book on American cultural history, and the Ellis Hawley Prize for the best book on political economy and American institutions.

Available online: Pascoe's recent article, "The Election of Barack Obama and the Politics of Interracial and Same-Sex Marriage."

--Marshal Zeringue