The Post-WWII Cleansing of White Supremacist Racial Science from American Society

While many who embrace Critical Race Theory claim that “systemic racism” exists in America, there is little discussion about why scientific racial views no longer exist in mainstream thought. White supremacy wasn’t merely a hateful perspective that was drummed up by backwoods KKK members, evangelical fundamentalists, or ignorant southern hicks. It was the cutting-edge scientific view held by the most intelligent thinkers for over one and a half centuries. For example, most of the Enlightenment thinkers were scientific racists, and those who were inclined to embrace the latest science (such as evolutionary Darwinism or Mendelian genetics) were most likely to hold white supremacist views.

Christian abolitionists cried out against this “enlightened, scientific truth,” saying that it conflicted with Acts 17:26 which says God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” They proclaimed that all people were descendants of Adam and Eve, and that all were created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27).

And yet the greatest scientists of the day flocked to this anti-biblical racial theory. University of Pennsylvania professor Samuel George Morton was a polygenist (the belief that the different races had parents other than Adam and Eve, therefore they could be classified as a sub-species of humanity). He also believed in and studied phrenology. This was the concept that skull size and shape could indicate the intelligence and characteristics of a particular ethnicity. His disciples, Josiah Nott and George Glidden, would write Types of Mankind (or Ethnological Research). According to the Charleston Medical Journal, commenting on Morton’s death, “We of the South should consider him [Morton] as our benefactor for aiding most materially in giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race.”

Unfortunately, many believers, such as Harvard Professor and geologist Louis Agassiz and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and president John A. Broadus even embraced polygenism. It was a view supported by most of the major universities and even the American Academy of Natural Sciences.

During the period before the Civil War, the debate between science and Christianity raged. Christian abolitionists such as John Rankin and Frederick Douglass opposed scientific racism. The Ethnological Society of London, would also form with the express purpose of battling polygenism. Their motto, ab uno sanguine (“from one blood”), would counter scientific views on the origin of humanity and lift up the biblical view. Its membership included many from the Clapham Sect, a group of evangelicals who worked with William Wilberforce to successfully abolish slavery in the British Empire. John Newton, author of the great hymn “Amazing Grace,” was a former slave trader who came to Christ and worked as an ally in their cause.

England abolished slavery without a war, but Americans fought a civil war and hundreds of thousands of people shed their blood over the issue of slavery. Unfortunately, even though the slaves were emancipated, the scourge of racism didn’t end after the Civil War. In the last half of the 19th century, polygenism would be replaced with “social Darwinism” as a justification for white supremacy. So now instead of racism being based on the belief that blacks were a sub-species of humanity, the darker races were considered inferior because they were less evolved.

In both America and Europe, racial science remained a stronghold all the way through the first half of the 20th century. Social Darwinism was initially used as a justification for white supremacist views, but eventually Mendelian genetics was blended with social Darwinism to form eugenics. Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the term and developed the “scientific” concept that intentional breeding could create a better world. In this view, the lighter races had genetically superior blood, and mixing blood through intermarriage would lift up the darker races . . . or bring down the white race. Thirty-one states created laws against racial intermarriage because of this “scientific” view.

Unfortunately, Adolph Hitler closely followed American science and used it to develop a blend of racial science and Hegelian philosophy that he self-righteously lived out and believed was moral and humane. But since his views developed outside of any scriptural imperative, he had no ability to see the truth. Even when millions were starved, gassed, and tortured, he had no ability to see the horrors of the holocaust as sin.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the first to recognize that social Darwinism/eugenics had led to the horrors of the Holocaust. She saw that segregation and Nazism were rooted in the same racial science and argued that if America continued to honor Jim Crow, then “America would have defeated fascism abroad only to defend racism at home. America’s great sacrifice would have produced a shallow victory.” (1)

After World War II she served as the chairperson to the United Nation’s drafting committee who wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Article 1 it states the biblical view that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They were endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” (2) The reference to “brotherhood” was inferred from the belief that all of humanity had common parents in Adam and Eve.

Martin Luther King, Jr. also acknowledged the battle against the false science of white supremacy in his 1963 sermon “Love in Action.” He explained that the motivation for slavery was rooted in three sins. The first was greed. The second was false doctrine. The third was false science.

Men convinced themselves that a system which was so economically profitable must be morally justifiable. They formulated elaborated theories of racial superiority. Their rationalizations clothed obvious wrongs in the beautiful garments of righteousness. This tragic attempt to give moral sanction to an economically profitable system gave birth to the doctrine of white supremacy. Religion and the Bible were cited to crystallize the status quo. Science was commandeered to prove the biological inferiority of the Negro. (3)

As the sermon went on though, King found hope in changing attitudes and knowledge concerning the science of white supremacy. He pointed to the work of Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Melville J. Herskovits who were proving that there were no innate biological differences between the races. He called the old science of white supremacy “pseudo-scientific” and belittled racists for not knowing that it had been discredited.

Pressed for a justification of their belief in the inferiority of the Negro, they turn to some pseudo-scientific writing and argue that the Negro’s brain is smaller than the white man’s brain. They do not know, or they refuse to know, that the idea of an inferior or superior race has been refuted by the best evidence of the science of anthropology. Great anthropologists, like Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Melville J. Herskovits, agree that although there may be inferior and superior individuals within all races, there is no superior or inferior race. And segregationists refuse to acknowledge that science has demonstrated that there are four types of blood and these four types are found within every racial group. They blindly believe in the eternal validity of an evil called segregation and the timeless truth of a myth called white supremacy. (4)

The attempt to discredit white supremacist racial science had already begun in the 1930s through the work of Franz Boas (whose books were burned in Nazi Germany). (5) He had helped Frederick Ward Putnam to develop the display of the evolving races at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but regretted it, and went on to become an opponent of scientific racism. He also held several debates with Madison Grant (author of Passing of the Great Race-a.k.a. “Hitler’s Bible”). One of Boaz’s students was Ruth Benedict–who was mentioned by King.

Benedict was an anthropologist who, along with Gene Weltfish, wrote a 1943 booklet (“Public Affairs Pamphlet No. 85”) entitled the Races of Mankind, which explained why the science of white supremacy was false. It sold 750,000 copies and was passed out to the military, Sunday schools, classrooms, and other places where it could be influential in society. (The booklet was even made into a short film as a way to encourage black and white auto workers to get along.) (6)

Writing at the height of WWII, Benedict described how people of all races were fighting in a 34-nation alliance “against one enemy.” (7) Her pamphlet then went on to explain that “the Bible story of Adam and Eve, father and mother of the whole human race, told centuries ago the same truth that science has shown today: that all peoples of the earth are a single family and have a common origin.” (8) If only the world would have remained true to this biblical teaching right from the beginning . . .

Derek Bell, one of the founders of Critical Race Theory, argued that the reason America went through this cleansing process was simply because it benefited our foreign policy. He argued that “it helped to provide immediate credibility to America’s struggle with Communist countries to win the hearts and minds of emerging third world peoples.” (9) Our enemies were using American racism as a club against us, encouraging nations whose populations had darker skin colors to align with them. Therefore, because “it would ill serve the U.S. interests if the world press continued to carry stories of lynchings, racist sheriffs, or murders like that of Emmett Till. It was time for the United States to soften its stance toward domestic minorities. The interests of whites and blacks, for a brief moment, converged.” (10) While there is truth to this theory of “interest convergence” (as upheld by the research of Mary Dudziak) (11) even though in one way it presents a cynical view of the motivations of Americans, in another way it proves that the cleansing took place!

One way the cleansing took place was through changing the content of American education. Public school textbooks were awash with the science of “eugenics.” On his web site, Textbook History, Ronald Ladouceur documents this process of removing the pseudoscience of eugenics from American biology texts. (12) Eugenics first made an appearance in the 1914 textbook, A Civic Biology. (13) The reason it was entitled a civic biology was because in the early 20th century, biologists considered it their role to help create a better society. They believed they could apply their knowledge of Mendel’s genetics to that of perfecting humanity.

American students continued to learn about eugenics until after WWII, when biology texts, such as Adventures with Animals and Plants (1950), began the process of discrediting the claim that the Nordic races were superior and that the Jews or “Negroes” were inferior. It explained that there were four blood types and these types appeared in all races, so any person could receive blood from a person of any skin color. (14) In 1956, the Kallikak study was finally dropped completely from being mentioned in new texts. The last high school biology text to even mention eugenics at all was the 1963 Modern Biology text.

According to Ladouceur, the cleansing of biological racism/eugenics from American society was so complete, that after WWII, biologists, who were accustomed to their civic role in advising on how to create a better society, were lost for a while and had to get their bearings. Biologists were also in a quandary over the role they could now play in order to remain relevant. (Their new cause was “the population explosion.”)

For some, like anthropologist Ashley Montagu, a student of Franz Boas and author in 1942 of “Mankind’s Most Dangerous Myth,” the sudden delegitimization of racist discourse at the end of WWII represented a great triumph. But for others–their careers, reputations, and sense of self, dependent on the idea that their science’s social purpose was at least in part to understand and manage “racial development”–this shift was extremely unsettling as it undermined arguments upon which they based their claims to cultural authority. (15)

After WWII, just as the attempt to cleanse away racial science was happening, Martin Luther King, Jr. began leading the Civil Rights Movement, after which there was a heartfelt attempt to weed out systemic racism from our legal system (1964 Civil Rights Act), voting laws (1965 Voting Rights Act), housing laws (1968 Fair Housing Act), and employment laws (1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act).

The last vestige of scientific racism/eugenics still exists in one place in America, though, and that is in the pro-abortion ideology. The founder of Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, was Margaret Sanger, an unashamed eugenicist. Recently, the Greater Planned Parenthood of New York disavowed Sanger, saying:

“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” Karen Seltzer, the chair of the New York affiliate’s board, said in a statement. (16)

Planned Parenthood rejects Sanger’s legacy now because they view the world through the lens of Critical Race Theory. and anti-racism is in vogue, but, grievously, since they don’t view the world through the biblical lens, they aren’t able to see the immorality of shedding the blood of innocent babies.

America continues to move on from the science of white supremacy, but many people don’t even realize that racist views were rooted in science! Why? Because it involves criticism of Darwin. The attempt to bring out this truth has been consistently hindered by the scientific community. For example, Sharon Weston Broome, a legislator who was serving in the Louisiana House in 2001, submitted Resolution 74 which pointed out Darwin’s role in the scientific justification for racism:

WHEREAS, the writings of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, promoted the justification of racism, and his books “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” and “The Descent of Man” postulate a hierarchy of superior and inferior races; and,

WHEREAS, Adolf Hitler and others have exploited the racist views of Darwin and those he influenced, such as German zoologist Ernst Haekel, to justify the annihilation of millions of purportedly racially inferior individuals,

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby deplore all instances and ideologies of racism, does hereby reject the core concepts of Darwinist ideology that certain races and classes of humans are inherently superior to others, and does hereby condemn the extent to which these philosophies have been used to justify and approve racist practices. (17)

Broome’s proposal caused an uproar and one of her opponents said that her resolution was a “product of creationists and Christian supremacists” and that “Christian supremacism was a hate-based ideology.” (18) The resolution passed, but only after all references to Darwin were removed.

In another case, the Kansas Board of Education standards originally called for teaching that revealed ways that science had been abusive in the past (i.e. eugenics, scientific racism, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment), but in 2007 the standards changed so that only the benefits of science could be mentioned. (19)

The scientific community would like to hide or cover up its contribution to white supremacy. They would rather the faith community take the blame for slavery and racism. But the truth is that the scriptures never supported racism or white supremacy. It was only those in the church who went along with the scientific perspective (such as John Broadus of the Southern Baptist Convention) who failed people of color.

On the other hand, those who held to the scriptures were proven right. Christians are not opposed to scientific discovery (as I show here, the Scientific Revolution was started by Christians), but history has shown us that we must not compromise or give precedence to any science that conflicts with the truth of the Word. Humanity suffers when we do.

Notes:

  1. Allida M. Black, “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Wartime Campaign Against Jim Crow.” National Council for the Social Studieshttps://socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/publications/se/6005/600508.html.
  2. “Declaration of Human Rights by Eleanor Roosevelt.” Dec. 9, 1948 (Article 1 starts at 2:40 mark.) https://www.unmultimedia.org/avlibrary/asset/1093/1093412/.
  3. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Love in Action” 1963 sermon found in Strength to Love (Boston: Beacon Press, 2019), 37.
  4. Ibid., 38.
  5. R. A. Pathe, “Gene Weltfish: 1902-1980,” as found in Women Anthropologists: Selected Biographies, eds. Aisha Khan, Jerrie McIntyre, Ruth Weinberg, Ute Gacs  (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), 375.
  6. “The Brotherhood of Man – Post-WWII Animated Cartoon Against Prejudice and Racism (1946),” YouTube, Nov. 12, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fnrxbkajy9M&feature=emb_logo.
  7. Ruth Benedict and Gene Weltfish, The Races of Mankind (Eastford, CT: Martino Fine Books, 2020), 1. (Later, this booklet would be suppressed for being a source of communist propaganda. It would be subjected to the inspection of Joseph McCarthy and his Un-American Activities committee. Gene Weltfish would be blacklisted and even lose her teaching position at Columbia University. From: A. Campbell, “Influence and Controversy. The Races of Mankind and The Brotherhood of Man.” Social Welfare History Project. http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/wwii-1950s/influence-controversy-races-mankind-brotherhood-man/.
  8. Benedict, The Races of Mankind, 3.
  9. Derek A. Bell, Jr. “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest Convergence Dilemma.” Harvard Law Review, Jan. 11, 1980, Vol. 93:518. https://harvardlawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/1980/01/518-533_Online.pdf.
  10. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 18-20.
  11. Mary L. Dudziak, “Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative,” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 41, Nov. 1988, 61-120.
  12. Ronald Ladouceur, “Database: Eugenics in High School and College Biology Textbooks,”  https://textbookhistory.com/database-eugenics-high-school-college-biology-textbooks/. Link found in Ronald Ladouceur, “Eugenics in High School and College Texts Graphed,” June 26, 2014, Textbook Historyhttp://txtbookhistory.wpengine.com/eugenics-high-school-college-texts-graphed/.
  13. George William Hunter, A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems (New York: American Book Co., 1914), https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Civic_Biology/v1AAAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22civic+biology%22+hunter&printsec=frontcover.
  14. Elsbeth Kroeber and Walter H. Wolff, Adventures with Animals and Plants: A General Biology (Boston: D. C. Heath and Co., 1950), 573-577.
  15. Ronald Ladouceur, “All with Theories to Sell: Carleton S. Coon, Bentley Glass, Marston Bates, and the Struggle by Life Scientists in the United States to Construct a Social Mission after World War II.” Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Empire State College State University of New York, March 8, 2008. https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/13393598/all-with-theories-to-sell-textbook-history. Incidentally, Ladouceur says the new cause of displaced biologists became the “population explosion” (p. 10).
  16. Nikita Stewart, “Planned Parenthood in N.Y. Disavows Margaret Sanger Over Eugenics,” July 21, 2020, The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/nyregion/planned-parenthood-margaret-sanger-eugenics.html?fbclid=IwAR3lFHz8qLERzz5h-xQpbCvnMzRZqdH6isFRC86DxMbZRvnZPUBu8YSi7j4.
  17. Representative Sharon Weston Broome, “Louisiana House Concurrent Resolution 74,” Regular Session, 2001. https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=7732.
  18. “Human Zoos: America’s Forgotten History of Scientific Racism,” Feb. 17, 2019, Discovery Science. (At the 46-minute mark.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nY6Zrol5QEk&feature=emb_logo.
  19. Ibid.

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