Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Miscegenation Definition:

Interracial cohabitation or marriage.

Related Terms: Kitabia, Mulatto, Negro, Mestizo

To the perpetual disgrace of the law, this legal term corresponded to a felony in some jurisdictions such as Alabama, and even as recently as 1967 in Maryland.

In Alabama, for example, the miscegenation prohibition extended as between a person of white descent and a "negro".

In Jackson v State, a "negro or a descendant of a negro" married a Greek woman. Oh! The horror!

Anyway, circa 1930, with Justice Bricken of the Court of Appeals of Alabama presiding, word which should never of found their way into any law report let alone a court of justice were struck for posterity:

"Miscegenation, under the law of this state, is a mixture of races in marriage, or living together in a state of adultery or fornication, by a white person and a negro, or descendant of a negro; and the offence is usually made a felony by the statute."

In Virginia, circa 1966, the Virginia Code included this at §258 and §259:

"If any white person and colored person shall go out of this State, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning, and be married out of it, and afterwards return to and reside in it, cohabiting as man and wife, they shall be punished as provided in § 20-59, and the marriage shall be governed by the same law as if it had been solemnized in this State. The fact of their cohabitation here as man and wife shall be evidence of their marriage.

"If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years."

In 1967, the United States Supreme Court ruled miscegenation statutes illegal as follows:

"Virginia is now one of 16 States which prohibit and punish marriages on the basis of racial classifications. Penalties for miscegenation arose as an incident to slavery, and have been common in Virginia since the colonial period. The present statutory scheme dates from the adoption of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, passed during the period of extreme nativism which followed the end of the First World War. The central features of this Act, and current Virginia law, are the absolute prohibition of a "white person" marrying other than another white person, a prohibition against issuing marriage licenses until the issuing official is satisfied that the applicants' statements as to their race are correct, certificates of racial composition to be kept by both local and state registrars, and the carrying forward of earlier prohibitions against racial intermarriage....

"The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy."


  • Bailey v State, 193 So. 873 (1939)
  • Jackson v State, 129 So. 306 (1930)
  • Loving v Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!