Virginia Controversies

The Pocahontas Exception, Race Relations, & Red Power

This week’s assorted readings all focused on controversial topics related to Native Americans in the state of Virginia, specifically addressing events like the Eugenics Movement, the Racial Integrity Act, and the Pocahontas Exception. I’d like to start off by saying I was aware of most of these topics to some extent. I had an idea just how far these issues went back in U.S. history, but it is different reading articles like these that blatantly point it out versus piecing things together. I already was well versed in the hypocrisy that is the Pocahontas Exception thanks to my project topic and from reading Pure America, but I cannot help but touch on it some more. To think that these elite Virginia families sought to maintain “pure” blood by discriminating against Native Americans, yet wanted to hold onto their “Indian Princess” lineage is one of the craziest and most hypocritical things I have ever heard of.

Going off of that, and into the reading about racial classification, how crazy is it that white Virginians are allowed to recognize their Native American heritage (only if it’s in relation to Pocahontas, or “”one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian”) yet members of tribes who married African Americans were not allowed the same privilege? I understand the race factor here, but it still blows my mind that they thought they say it was okay for them to do it, but not for others. This also brought me back to one of the issues in Loving v. Virginia, since Mildred Loving identified as a member of the Rappahannock Indian Tribe, yet Virginia labeled her as black. This seems to have been a common thing, since Virginia apparently took to the habit of calling anyone not of the upper-class, pure Caucasian background as black. It didn’t matter if they were African American, Native American, Italian, Irish, or Slavic! If you didn’t fit into their version of “white” then you got lumped together with everyone else.

Lastly, the reading on the Red Power Movement presented me with something I was not familiar with. It makes me sad that history like this doesn’t get told to people in elementary and high school. And looking back, I don’t know why I never considered there being a social movement about self-determination for Native Americas. Considering the various movements, including Civil Rights, eugenics, Jim Crow segregation, and more, it makes sense that Native Americans also participated in their own social movement. The fact that it took so long for tribes like the Mattaponi, Pamunkey, and Rappahannock to be federally recognized is sad. And they are still facing troubles associated with that today, which makes this even worse.

What factors of racial segregation continue to affect Native Americans?

Is recognition enough? What are some efforts Virginia should make to work with Native American tribes? Could these efforts be supported, considering the political messes Virginia continues to get itself involved in?

Consider Thomas Jefferson’s involvement in race-relations with Native Americans. Jefferson seems to be a common theme in many of our readings. How does his legacy continue to matter, especially in relation to Virginia Native American tribes?


Maillard, Kevin Noble. “The Pocahontas Exception: The Exemption of American Indian Ancestry from Racial Purity Law.” Michigan Journal of Race & Law 12, no. 107 (2007).

Murray, Paul T. “Who Is an Indian? Who Is a Negro? Virginia Indians in the World War II Draft.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 95, no. 2 (1987): 215–31.

Woodard, Buck. “An Alternative to Red Power: Political Alliance as Tribal Activism in Virginia.” Comparative American Studies an International Journal 17, no. 2 (March 9, 2020): 142–66.

One Comment

  • Sellers

    That contrast between the one-drop rule and the Pocahontas Exception is definitely striking. Glad you caught the Mildred Loving connection here, too. There is a long history of Native activism even before Red Power emerged as an explicit term encompassing it, and of course we see one strain of that activism continuing independent of Red Power. I will note that there were Virginia Indians who joined organizations like AIM (or other regional groups) and seem to have participated in events like the occupation of Wounded Knee and the BIA building in DC, among other things. I think your questions abotu the role Natives play today in Virginia are excellent–and in fact something the tribes and the state government are working through over the last few years.

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