Walter Plecker’s Target List

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:

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:

Plecker’s instructional letter and the “target list” follows:

January 1943

Local Registrars, Physicians, Health
Officers, Nurses, School Superintendents,
and Clerks of the Courts

Dear Co-workers:

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

Page 2


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.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in History, Laws. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Walter Plecker’s Target List

  1. Bruce Crawford says:

    Hello Roberta
    I enjoyed reading your post. My name is Bruce Crawford and Peter H Mason was my ggggreat grandfather. I have not been genetically tested yet but I was wondering if you have had any genetic information regarding the Mason as well as the Sorrell

  2. Jimmy Joe (Moore) Bramblett says:

    My Family Name is Moore, we are from Wise and Dickenson counties.. It has always been known in the family, that we were Cherokee and that my Grandmothers mother was Cherokee and her Fathers father was half Black…But most of our birth certificates are marked white.. So our heritage was a thing were grew up whispering about…Of course some other in the area knew, but must have never turned us in.. I remember though growing up and hearing a remark about how easy I tanned.. They would say ” there’s a N*gger in the coal pile in that ones past.. My friends even though I can pass for all white would call me Cherokee Joe.. I hope that helps others from my area..

  3. Loretta Tyree says:

    Thank you so much I am a Tyree on my father side. Funny but I was looking for my Mothers people Morris & found my Fathers people.( I know that my Great grand Mother on my Mother side was Catawba Indian from Salem Va.) but to date have not found her on any list. I have photos of her & her son my grandfather & it is plain to see that they are not so called (white). She would often talk about being Catawba Indian, (yeh is-WAH’heh) meaning people of the river & I have found that her Husband Jeter (ne’e) Bernard Morris, first name is a Rappahannock Indian name! On my Father side (Tyree) I am from the great Patrick Henry family & now know that this side of our family would not past the one drop of blood test! I live close to Hollywood Cemetery & know that Walter A. Plecker our great list maker is buried their. I thank that it would be only fitting that I take my large dog to his grave & let him leave a small gift as a small thank you, for all his hard work & dirty deeds! AGAIN Thank You so Much for Your Help!

  4. Adam says:

    You know, this was hardly a uniquely Virginia things. My great-grandmother, had an obviously American Indian last name, kind of, family lore gets kind of interesting on that point, but it’s on her birth certificate and it is a stereotypically Indian name. Her father, was actually from Oklahoma (well, when he was born there it was Indian Territory.) although she was born in 1912 in Georgia. So, there was an obvious legal disadvantage to being Indian. So on her birth certificate, there were two choices, colored, and white. Her parents ticked the white box. If they would have ticked the colored box, that would have been very disadvantageous. I’m not saying I agree with what they did, but there wasn’t really another choice. Well, if nothing else, Virginia’s Indians had the last laugh. Plecker, was hit by a car.

  5. Moriah says:

    Hi Roberta,
    My name is Moriah, over the last 8 years I’ve been desperately attempting to find history on my ancestors. To make an extraordinarily long story short, I have searched endlessly through the Cherokee registrars (And Various other Tribal Registry’s) looking for the last name ‘Knuckles’ in an attempt to see what heritage I have. Up until now, with the above listed information, I have never crossed the name ‘Knuckles’ in any Native American Data Base. My hope here is that you may know a way to further proceed with this search? I have a plethora of other information that could be useful to my search (If only i could find something that matched up?) Ideally I would like to cross records I have with any other existing information you may have with the information on this post, to find out if anything else matches up? Sadly, and various other ancestry sites were not able to turn up any information, the above is the ONLY lead I’ve had in 8 years. And the first lead my family has had in 23 years! My mother has spent half her life searching, and before her, my grandmother searched for a couple of years. Any input you have to offer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

    -Moriah Rain Zeigler

    • Have you checked different spellings?

      • Moriah says:

        I have check every spelling I could find, I have managed to find and confirm I have a 3 times great grandmother, and grandfather as well as 1 aunt and 2 uncles with the last name spelled ‘Knuckles.’ We also know for a fact that 1 grand father had African American heritage but aren’t sure who and we still don’t know for a fact what Native American Tribe. Oddly enough, we have a Great Aunt that has the name Lahoma, and then the 3 times great grandmother went by the name Mahala.

    • Heather Pultz says:

      I think the Nuckles family was linked to the Monacan rolls. Look into Spicy Knuckles and see what turns up. Also, there are many Nuchols on the 1895-1940 rolls on I hope that helps.

      • Heather Pultz says:

        Look into relationships to Obadiah Nuchols and Susan Johns as he is a documented Monacan Native American. Nuchols/Knuckles same family line, many descendants from VA.

      • Moriah says:

        Thank you for the info, I’ll check into it!

  6. Lexi Lovee' says:

    Do you have any documents regarding the Native American/ melungeon ancestry of the Lethcoe or Worley families? I’m interested in tribal enrollment and trying to get my records together! Thank you in advance!

  7. T. Golden says:

    Thank you, Ms. Estes, for publishing this! I have been aware of Walter Plecker and his Indian “Hit List” for several years now. My ancestral family surname “Moon” of Albemarle County is the first name on the list! Our family has a standing oral history of Cherokee ancestry, though I also suspect Powhatan heritage. However, I have not found the “Moon” surname among any of the listings of surnames or the Virginia tribes other than in Plecker’s letter. There are “Moon” surnames in the Dawes Rolls, but that is certainly not Virginia. To complicate things, there is a Moon Plantation in Virginia – which means that there were enslave people of African descent who most likely took on the surname “Moon”. If any of those enslaved people were Indian or part Indian, it would be difficult to sort it out. Does you or anyone reading this have any other Virginia Indian connection with the surname Moon? Native American ancestry showed up in my personal DNA testing, so I am trying to further confirm and document it!

  8. T. Golden says:

    Please forgive my typos in my original post about the “Moon” surname. I should have proofread the post more closely before submitting it! I assure you that I know my grammar! LOL!

  9. Heather Pultz says:

    Has anyone researched the Pultz or Mayse/Mays families of Rockbridge and
    their connections to Native American or
    Mixed ethnic heritage? My dad is a Pultz
    and his family line is from Rockbridge and
    In my research they kept marrying within the
    Mays/Mayes families of that area. Any
    information would be most welcome.

    Heather Pultz

  10. Vanessa Thompson says:

    Greetings All
    A cousin shared this website with me. I am very thankful. I hope that someone can give me a lead on where to look for my great-great grandfather. HIs name is Henry Lightfoot and he married Ann Armstrong. They lived in Perquimans County, North Carolina. An earlier research by another cousin stated that he lived also in Virginia. Some documents say Isle of Wright. I though that could not be true because I thought Isle of Write was in Europe but it is a county in VA. Is Lightfoot an American Native name or not. And if not, did a Lightfoot man marry a native American. A lot of my ancestors in the census are listed as mulatto. On my father’s side, his father and grandparents were from King Williams County, VA. His cousin told me a few months ago that their grandmother was indeed Native American and that they were from the Pamunkey Indian. Their surname is Stewart. However my great great grandmother’s name was Lavinia/Luvinia Ball/Braxton. One of the children I’m told worked on the Chericoke Plantation owned by the Braxtons (I saw that the owner was an original signer of the Declaration of Independence). I’m hitting a brick wall and will accept greatly any suggestions as to where I might find some documentation.

  11. David Gibson says:

    This man was pure evil and the State of Virginia allowed him free rein it’s sad to think this happened in the 20th century, TO MY DIRECT FAMILIES….
    Mr. David Gibson

  12. I noticed my Grandparents name listed first among the names Plecker listed under Halifax county. I was wondering if you have any info on the Epps, or Neale families of the Virginia/NC Piedmont area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.