Saturday, November 15, 2008


Walter Ashby Plecker is one of the subjects of the last lecture of this semester's class on Chesapeake Indians at Stevenson University. This seemingly mild-mannered small town physician directed Virginia's Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 until 1945, just two years before his death.

Walter A. Plecker at the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics

The class has read a little about him (or at least they are supposed to have) in a book by Helen Rountree and E. Randolph Turner on Virginia Indians. This man of science promoted institutional racism, supporting and enforcing Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924...a law that categorized the state's citizens as white or black and that prohibited interracial marriage. Few people have so energetically applied science...warped science...then or since. But he wasn't alone. He was merely a local manifestation of the international eugenics movement, racial supremicism masquerading as a science to improve the human condition and that was promoted by many prominent individuals and charitable organizations until Nazi rhetoric brought it into disfavor in the 1930s.

While the movement is largely dead, its effects ramify into the present. The practices instituted by Plecker and by many states played a significant role in the destruction of Native American culture and history. Those practices still pose a significant hurdle in attempts by Maryland and Virginia Indians to achieve state and federal recognition.

It is my hope that the PTAP team will work with the Indian peoples of Southern Maryland to help restore some of this lost past using the seemingly rich resources identified by our surveys and initial testing.


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