This article examines the intersecting issues of race, identity, and colorism in African American adoptions and state adoption policies during the 1950s and early 1960s through the case study of the contested adoption of David Alexander Rowe in Richmond, Virginia, in 1959. Rowe was born to a fourteen-year-old African American mother, who, while working as a prostitute, became pregnant by a twenty-seven-year-old married white father of two. Confined to a home for wayward girls until her eighteenth birthday, the mother requested that her son be adopted by her aunt. Instead of authorizing this seemingly noncontroversial adoption, the Virginia Department of Welfare officially opposed it on the grounds that the baby was “too fair” to be adopted by a dark-skinned family member. Outraged, the aunt brought her story and her case to the black press and to the state courts. Within the complicated, legislative racial policies of 1950s Virginia, the liminal status of mixed-race children (who under antimiscegenation laws should not exist) threatened the strict racial binarism through which the state operated its segregationist policies. By placing David’s story within a larger discussion of adoption drives for foreign-born “brown babies” and the Baby-Boom commodification of white babies, this article interrogates the competing narratives about racial identities offered by state policies, adoption workers, and individual families.


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pp. 3-26
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