Saturday, May 15, 2021
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Yes…Times Change But History Doesn’t


There was a time in Virginia when a man named Walter Plecker, the state registrar of vital statistics, had the power to decide whether a person would be treated as a citizen or as a person who "polluted" the "racial purity" of America. There also was a time when a man who was deeply involved in the passage of the law that gave Plecker so much power had his name on a building at Radford University. Finally, justice has been done and John Powell's name will no longer grace that building.

A recent vote to strip Powell's name from Radford's arts and music building was the result of a unanimous vote of the school's board of visitors, five years after Radford history professor Richard Straw and his class discovered that John Powell wasn't merely a composer and musician but also was an important white supremacist, the man who founded the Richmond chapter of the Anglo-Saxon Club of America. Powell was instrumental in the passage of the 1924 legislation that gave Walter Plecker the authority to decide who was "undesirable," "feeble-minded," or a "mongrel."

For example, using the power of that act, Plecker reclassified all members of Virginia Indian tribes as "colored," thus excluding them from then-segregated public schools and other state institutions.

The Radford University building wasn't named for John Powell in the Twenties when racist eugenics policies were fairly common in America. Instead, it happened in 1967, the year when the state 1924 Racial Integrity Act was overturned by the U. S. Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia, the court case that also outlawed any state prohibition against inter-racial marriage. However, when it was in force, the Racial Integrity Act didn't simply refuse equal marriage rights to all state citizens. It resulted in actions by the state far, far worse...