1920s: “a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school.” (Foley, The White Scourge)

Miscegenation laws forbade the marriage of blacks with whites, but because Mexicans were often regarded as nonwhite, even if they were legally white, they were rarely, if ever, prosecuted.[13] In one particular case the law was applied for entirely different reasons than that of intermarriage. During the 1920s a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school. Mexican children in this township attended the white school in separate classrooms for the first two or three years; afterwards, only a token few, usually the ones Anglo teachers singled out as being “clean” and “not like the others,” were permitted to continue their education. A judge from Dimmit County, where the case was tried, told Paul Taylor: “The Negroes with Negro-Mexican children and the Mexicans wanted to send their children to the white school, so when that started… they just indicted and tried them for violating the law against intermarriage. Then they tipped off the women that if they had nigger blood they could not put the men in jail.”[14] Lemmon’s Mexican [209] wife confessed that she must be part black in order to have charges dropped against her husband for marrying a white person. This “proved that all the Mexicans were black,” reported one county resident, “so we put the Mexicans and Negroes together in school and employed a part Negro to teach them.”[15] The judge solved the problem of segregating Mexicans from whites in a town that had only two schools for three ethnic groups by changing the racial classification of Mexicans to black.

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 208-209.

 

  1. [13]Interview with H. H. Schultz, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Austin, Texas, no. 192-363, folder “American Government Officials,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. When whites married Mexicans, especially of the “peon” class (dark-skinned), they were said to have descended “to the level of the Mexicans” (interview with Mr. Martin, county agent, El Paso County, Texas, no. 85-90, folder “Along Rio Grande,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers). For a fine study of miscegenation law and racial ideology, see Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law,” 44-69.
  2. [14]Interview with Judge Wildenthal, no. 54-644, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers.
  3. [15]Interview with John Asker, no. 42-634, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers, and interview with Bob Lemmons, no. 246-417, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. Asker told Taylor that he liked Mexicans but added, “You can’t make a rose out of an onion.”

“Racism and prejudice, it is clear, played a fundamental role in encouraging mob violence against Mexicans … [1920s] ‘I would not think of classifying Mexicans as whites'” (Carrigan and Webb)

1920s: “I would not think of classifying Mexicans as whites.” / BB&W 50 (From Taylor interviews.)

Economic competition, although a significant force, does not sufficiently explain the history of anti-Mexican or anti-black mob violence. If mobs had considered only economics, they would have been just as likely to murder or expel any group standing in their way. But, in fact, mobs specially targeted Mexicans in the southwestern United States. Racism and prejudice, it is clear, played a fundamental role in encouraging mob violence against Mexicans. Mexicans were portrayed as a cruel and treacherous people with a natural proclivity toward criminal behavior. Racist stereotypes abounded in private correspondence, contemporary literature, and the popular media. “The lower class of Mexicans, on the west coast, appear to be a dark, Indian-looking race, with just enough of the Spanish blood, without its appropriate intelligence, to add a look of cunning to their gleaming, treacherous eyes, wrote Theodore T. Johnson in 1849.[54] In April, 1872, the Weekly Arizona Miner exclaimed: “Bad Mexicans never tire of cutting throats, and we are sorry to be compelled to say that good Mexicans are rather scarce.”[55] These assumptions, legitimated by pseudoscientific research, remained prevalent well into the twentieth century. A track foreman interviewed in the late 1920s in Dimmit County, Texas, observed: “They are an inferior race. I would not think of classing Mexicans as whites.”[56]

William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, "Muerto por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown): Mob Violence against Blacks and Mexicans," in Beyond Black & White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, edited by Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 50.

 

 

  1. [54]Theodore T. Johnson, Sights in the Gold Regions and Scenes by the Way (New York: Baker and Scriber, 1849), p. 240. Another early example of Anglo prejudice against Mexicans can be found in T. J. Farham, Life, Travels, and Adventures in California and Scenes in the Pacific Ocean (New York: William H. Graham, 1846), pp. 356-57.
  2. [55]Weekly Arizona Miner, Apr. 26, 1872.
  3. [56]Paul S. Taylor, Mexican Labor in the United States: Dimmit County, Winter Garden District, South Texas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p. 446 (quote). For additional accounts of prejudicial views towards Mexicans, see Robert Lee Maril, Poorest of Americans: The Mexican Americans of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), pp. 10-11, 30, 33, 41-47, 49, 51-54, 79, 81, 151-55; Américo Paredes, “With His Pistol in His Hand,” in Chicano: The Evolution of a People, ed. by Renato Rosaldo, Robert A. Calvert, and Gustav L. Seligmann, Jr. (Malabar, Fla.: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1982), p. 101; Richard Griswold del Castillo and Arnoldo De León, North to Aztlán: A History of Mexican Americans in the United States (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996), p. 30; Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1914), vol. 1, p. 516; Mark Reisler, “Always the Laborer, Never the Citizen: Anglo Perceptions of the Mexican Immigrant during the 1920s,” in Between Two Worlds: Mexican Immigrants in the United States, ed. by David G. Gutierrez (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1996), pp. 25-29.