Walter Plecker, no matter how you color it, was an evil man. His actions, for decades, were reprehensible. He believed he was doing the right thing, but he was not. He is most remembered for his “Racial Integrity Act of 1924” and the persistent hounding of people of color thereafter to assure that anyone “of color” or with even a drop of what he defined as “colored” blood was listed on any document that mattered as black, or in the vernacular of that day “negro” or “colored.” However, he inadvertently did us a favor. His zeal has turned out to help the very descendants of those he so mercilessly pursued. Wouldn’t he be just mortified! You can read about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Ashby_Plecker
Plecker’s 1943 letter to Virginia hospitals, doctors and clerks of court, people who were responsible for completing and recording birth, marriage and death certificates, provided unquestionable orders for how to record births to those of mixed race, along with a list of surnames to be watching for. For us, today, his target list is a “sit up and take notice” list of those who might very well have Native American ancestry. Assuredly, these people had mixed race ancestry, or there would have been no question about how to record their information in the first place.
To read the blog about Atha Sorrells, the young woman to defy Plecker, and win, click here: https://nativeheritageproject.com/2012/03/29/atha-sorrells-the-woman-who-had-the-audacity-to-challenge-walter-plecker-and-won/
Plecker’s instructional letter and the “target list” follows:
Local Registrars, Physicians, Health
Officers, Nurses, School Superintendents,
and Clerks of the Courts
Our December 1942 letter to local registrars, also mailed to the clerks, set forth the determined effort to escape from the negro race of groups of “free issues,” or descendants of the “free mulattoes” of early days, so listed prior to 1865 in the United States census and various types of State records, as distinguished from slave negroes.
Now that these people are playing up the advantages gained by being permitted to give “Indian” as the race of the child’s parents on birth certificates, we see the great mistake made in not stopping earlier the organized propagation of this racial falsehood. They have been using the advantage thus gained as an aid to intermarriage into the white race and to attend white schools, and now for some time they have been refusing to register with war draft boards as negroes, as required by the boards which are faithfully performing their duties. Three of these negroes from Caroline County were sentenced to prison on January 12 in the United States Court at Richmond for refusing to obey the draft law unless permitted to classify themselves as “Indian.”
Some of these mongrels, finding that they have been able to sneak in
their birth certificates unchallenged as Indians are now making a rush to register
as white. Upon investigation we find that a few local registrars have been per-
mitting such certificates to pass through their hands unquestioned and without
warning our office of the fraud. Those attempting this fraud should be warned
that they are liable to a penalty of one year in the penitentiary (Section 5099a
of the Code). Several clerks have likewise been actually granting them licenses
to marry whites, or at least to marry amongst themselves as Indian or white. The
danger of this error always confronts the clerk who does not inquire carefully as
to the residence of the woman when he does not have positive information. The
law is explicit that the license be issued by the clerk of the county or city in
which the woman resides.
To aid all of you in determining just which are the mixed families, we have made a list of their surnames by counties and cities, as complete as possible at this time. This list should be preserved by all, even by those in counties and cities not included, as these people are moving around over the State and changing race at the new place. A family has just been investigated which was always recorded as negro around Glade Springs, Washington County, but which changed to white and married as such in Roanoke County. This is going on constantly and can be prevented only by care on the part of local registrars, clerks, doctors, health workers, and school authorities.
Please report all known or suspicious cases to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, giving names, ages, parents, and as much other information as possible. All certificates of these people showing “Indian” or “white” are now being rejected and returned to the physician or midwife, but local registrars hereafter must not permit them to pass their hands uncorrected or unchallenged and without a note of warning to us. One hundred and fifty thousand other mulattoes in Virginia are watching eagerly the attempt of their pseudo-Indian brethren, ready to follow in a rush when the first have made a break in the dike.
Very truly yours,
W. A. Plecker, M.D.
State Registrar of Vital Statistics
SURNAMES, BY COUNTIES AND CITIES, OF MIXED NEGROID VIRGINIA
FAMILIES STRIVING TO PASS AS “INDIAN” OR WHITE.
Albemarle: Moon, Powell, Kidd, Pumphrey.
Amherst (Migrants to Alleghany and Campbell): Adcock (Adcox), Beverly (this family is now trying to evade the situation by adopting the name of Burch or Birch, which was the name of the white mother of the present adult generation), Branham, Duff, Floyd, Hamilton, Hartless, Hicks, Johns, Lawless, Nuckles (Knuckles), Painter, Ramsey, Redcross, Roberts, Southards (Suthards, Southerds, Southers), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Willis, Clark, Cash, Wood.
Bedford: McVey, Maxey, Branham, Burley. (See Amherst County)
Rockbridge (Migrants to Augusta): Cash, Clark, Coleman, Duff, Floyd, Hartless, Hicks, Mason, Mayse (Mays), Painters, Pultz, Ramsey, Southerds (Southers, Southards, Suthards), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Wood, Johns.
Charles City: Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins.
King William: Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Custalow (Custaloe), Dungoe, Holmes, Miles, Page, Allmond, Adams, Hawkes, Suprlock, Doggett.
New Kent: Collins, Bradby, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins, Langston.
Henrico and Richmond City: See Charles City, New Kent, and King William.
Caroline: Byrd, Fortune, Nelson. (See Essex)
Essex and King and Queen: Nelson, Fortune, Byrd, Cooper, Tate, Hammond, Brooks, Boughton, Prince, Mitchell, Robinson.
Elizabeth City & Newport News: Stewart (descendants of the Charles City families).
Halifax: Epps (Eppes), Stewart (Stuart), Coleman, Johnson, Martin, Talley, Sheppard (Shepard), Young.
Norfolk County & Portsmouth: Sawyer, Bass, Weaver, Locklear (Locklair), King, Bright, Porter, Ingram.
Westmoreland: Sorrells, Worlds (or Worrell), Atwells, Gutridge, Oliff.
Greene: Shifflett, Shiflet.
Prince William: Tyson, Segar. (See Fauquier)
Fauquier: Hoffman (Huffman), Riley, Colvin, Phillips. (See Prince William)
Lancaster: Dorsey (Dawson).
Washington: Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe, Worley.
Roanoke County: Beverly. (See Washington)
Lee and Smyth: Collins, Gibson (Gipson), Moore, Goins, Ramsey, Delph, Bunch, Freeman, Mise, Barlow, Bolden (Bolin), Mullins, Hawkins. — Chiefly Tennessee “Melungeons.”
Scott: Dingus. (See Lee County)
Russell: Keith, Castell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt. (See Lee & Tazewell)
Tazewell: Hammed, Duncan. (See Russell)
Wise: See Lee, Smyth, Scott, and Russell Counties.