Introducation to “Twenty-Negro Law”

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In 2015, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the state of North Carolina must stop calling people born before 1924 “those persons neither White nor Negro.” 

The term “Twenty-Negro Law” was created by

a lawyer to make it easier

 to argue against racial discrimination and segregation in public schools and other public institutions.

 Its purpose is to shift attention away from making progress towards ending the oppression of black Americans solely on the basis of their skin color; 

this shift in focus is important for understanding how institutional racism works in modern America. 

The Twenty-Negro Law leaves ostensibly discriminated against whites with no skin color to discriminate against.

In “Rethinking Race: The Limits of Racial Categories and the Potential of Interracial Identities” (1994), why did the “twenty-negro law” enrage many white southerners during the civil war?

American sociologist Thomas Sugrue argued that, “Two divergent views of race, both apparent in the years after the Civil War,

 were either side by side or twinned together:

one that sees blacks as a tribe or ‘race,’ and one that sees them as part of a social class

–a situation without an identity. The former view sees blacks as belonging to a racial group 

that shares certain characteristics.

 The latter view sees race, like other social (and legal) categories, as an artificial arrangement between groups that aim at some end.”

 In “Race and freedom: The constitutional origins of American racism” (1982), sociologist Glenn Beckner argued that the distinction between racial and class oppression 

is important in understanding the history of racial justice activism in the U.S., 

since it helps us to understand the ways in which segregation and discrimination against black people can be understood as a form of class exploitation.

At the 2013 Southern Sociological Society’s annual meeting, a symposium titled “Housing Discrimination: A Racial Divide?” .

 In his opening remarks, Professor and Chair of Sociology and 

Director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University Adrian J. Bailey asked the audience: “Is race real? 

Does it really exist? Or is it a myth?” He argued that we need to re-evaluate how we legally define racial identity in order 

to make progress towards ending racial discrimination. In his keynote address, sociologist John Mollenkopf argued

 that there are two opposing views on race. In one, “race is a biological fact” and in another “race is a social construction.” 

his paper, he argued that it would be better to think of race as

a social construction with real consequences for how people live their lives.

the summer of 2015, a case was brought against

the state of North Carolina by several civil-rights and multiracial plaintiffs.

 It was argued that the state must stop calling

people born before 1924 “those persons neither White nor Negro” 

in order to ensure that blacks and whites receive equal justice under the law. 

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) brought this case on behalf of eight plaintiffs: seven African Americans and one Latino/a. 

The defendants in the case were:

Federal Judge Thomas Schroeder, who had ruled in favor of plaintiffs’ arguments at an earlier stage of the litigation;

District Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett: a nominee for appointment to a federal district court judgeship by President George W. Bush in 2001, 

Barrett is now serving as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit;

Henry McMaster, the chief justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court; and

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, now a candidate for Governor of North Carolina.

As described by The Washington Post:

In his ruling, Schroeder:  found that the state defendants’ actions violated the Voting Rights Act and Fourteenth Amendment 

named Attorney General Roy Cooper as

an co-defendant for having signed a state law passed in 2013 

that Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. called “misguided.”

In his ruling, Schroeder wrote:  “The evidence presented in the trial demonstrated that

 these individuals [plaintiffs] were born into a world in which segregation was the law and custom; 

it was intrinsic to their everyday lives,” and that

“The practices and policies at issue in this action were not mere historical anomalies to be dismissed, 

but active encroachments on the freedoms and opportunities of black North Carolinians

 who would have been judged white under the “one-drop rule”,”

citing racial segregation as legally equivalent to racial tyranny.

 He also argued that to ignore such practices would be an exercise in futility since “separate is seldom, if ever, equal. 

other approach would fail to recognize the full harm of racial discrimination and would result in its perpetuation.”

As a response to Schroeder’s ruling, State Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine, 

introduced a bill that he named the “Twenty-Negro Law” as a way of making

 it easier to argue against racial discrimination and segregation in public schools and other public institutions.


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