WARREN FISKE // The Black-and-White World of Walter Ashby Plecker

The Black-and-White World of Walter Ashby Plecker – Plecker was a white supremacist and a zealous advocate of eugenics – a now discredited movement to preserve the integrity of white blood by preventing interracial breeding. “Unless this can be done,” he once wrote, “we have little to hope for, but may expect in the future decline or complete destruction of our civilization.”

Plecker’s icy efficiency as racial gatekeeper drew international attention, including that of Nazi Germany. In 1943, he boasted: “Hitler’s genealogical study of the Jews is not more complete.”

Plecker retired in 1946 at the age of 85 and died the following year. The damage lives on.

From the grave, Plecker is frustrating the efforts of Virginia tribes to win federal recognition and a trove of accompanying grants for housing, health care and education. One of the requirements is that the tribes prove their continuous existence since 1900. Plecker, by purging Indians as a race, has made that nearly impossible. Six Virginia tribes are seeking the permission of Congress to bypass the requirement.

“It never seems to end with this guy,” said Kenneth Adams, chief of the Upper Mattaponi. “You wonder how anyone could be so consumed with hate.”

It’s likely that Plecker didn’t see himself as the least bit hateful. Had he not been so personally aloof, he might have explained that he believed he was practicing good science and religion. Perhaps he would have acknowledged that he was influenced by his own heritage.

Walter Plecker was one of the last sons of the Old South. He was born in Augusta County on April 2, 1861. Ten days later, the cannons at Fort Sumter sounded the start of the Civil War. His father, a prosperous merchant and slave owner, left home to fight for the Confederate Army with many of his kin.

Some 60 years later, Plecker would recall his early days in a letter to a magazine editor expressing his abhorrence of interracial breeding. He remembered “being largely under the control” of a “faithful” slave named Delia. When the war ended, she stayed on as a servant. The Pleckers were so fond of her that they let her get married in their house. When Plecker’s mother died in 1915, it was Delia “who closed her eyes,” he wrote.

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