1925 Daily Press editorial urged further racial separation in extreme terms
A column by editor W.S. Copeland warned that social integration would annihilate the Anglo-Saxon race.
Tony Gabriele, Daily Press (VA), May 30
During most of the civil rights and integration struggles of the 20th century, the Daily Press more or less reflected the mainstream opinions of Virginia’s white majority.
But there was one notable incident when the Peninsula newspaper moved out in front on a racial issue - in the cause of even stricter segregation.
The year was 1925, a time when Jim Crow laws were being tightened, the Ku Klux Klan was enjoying a major revival, and some white Virginians were developing an obsession with “racial purity.”
On March 15 that year, the Daily Press published an editorial — startling to modern eyes — titled “Integrity of the Anglo-Saxon Race.”
“Powerful influences are at work,” wrote the newspaper’s owner-editor W.S. Copeland, “throughout the United States, in the Southern States as well as in the Northern States, to wipe out the color line and place the two races upon terms of absolute equality. And the ultimate aim of that movement is amalgamation; absorption of the negro race by the white race.
“And that must be the cherished ambition of the negro race — to use the blood of the Anglo-Saxon race to rid the negro race of objectionable characteristics in their form and features.”
The immediate cause of Copeland’s consternation was the policy of Hampton University (then called Hampton Institute) of not separating the races at on-campus programs, where “the whites are informed that if they attend the entertainments they must come on the same terms as the negroes, and no distinctions made.”
The editorial praised Hampton Institute — albeit patronizingly — for having well-behaved, law-abiding students and a faculty of “high character and exemplary conduct.” Then it added: “But all that enhances the danger which this article is designed to point out.”
The danger, it claimed, was that in the integrated schools in the North and West, “the children of both races are thrown together on terms of perfect equality, they play together, they become ‘pals,’ and why not ‘sweethearts’?
“Contact between white and negro children will tend more and more to break down racial instinct and obliterate racial lines. And that is what the present generation of whites must guard against,” it went on, concluding:
“The Anglo-Saxon race has no moral right to amalgamate with any colored race, for in doing so it would destroy itself . . . Amalgamation would mean the destruction of the Anglo-Saxon race in America and the substitution of a race of mulattoes.
“Rather than that we would prefer that every white child in the United States were sterilized and the Anglo-Saxon race left to perish in its purity.”
Copeland’s editorial ire had consequences. Working with the “Anglo-Saxon Clubs” that had sprung up around Virginia and whose rhetoric Copeland borrowed, the editor continued his attack. His efforts resulted in the proposal of state legislation requiring segregated seating at all public assemblies.
The proposal - dubbed the Massenburg Bill, after the local legislator who introduced it - got a dubious response from many of Virginia’s white opinion-makers, according to historian J. Douglas Smith’s book “Managing White Supremacy.” While all agreed with segregation by custom, some thought the law unnecessary and inflammatory, or they doubted the state’s right to tell a private institution what it could do inside its own halls.
Nonetheless, by pushing the hot button of “social equality,” Copeland and his allies fanned racial fears to the point where the bill easily passed the General Assembly in 1926. Virginia was the only state to have such a law.
Hampton Institute responded by redefining all of its functions as private. The law’s effect was to shut out of campus cultural events whites who could not get a “guest pass” to performances.
Copeland died in 1928. The paper continued to favor segregation — but in less inflammatory terms.