Report on the First International Conference on Transracial Adoption, 1969

Source: Viola W. Bernard Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Library, Columbia University

This anonymous report was written by a staff member at Louise Wise Services, a prominent New York adoption agency. The final comments comparing Canada to the United States suggest that many American adoption professionals refused to place African-American children with white parents long before the famous statement by the National Association of Black Social Workers condemned transracial adoptions in 1972.

The first International Conference on Transracial Adoption met in Montreal, Canada at McGill University from May 30 - June 1, 1969. This conference was sponsored by the Open Door Society, Inc., a voluntary organization composed of parents who have adopted children of minority groups. The aim of this organization is to encourage the general acceptance of children of interracial and minority group origin. There are 24 parent groups of which 19 are in the U.S.A.

There were 400 delegates to the conference, 18 states were represented. There was one delegate from Seoul, Korea. The delegates included parents and social workers with the latter being the largest in attendance. From some states there were more parents represented than professionals. From New York there were 32 social workers and 6 parents. Many expressed the feeling that this conference could have been interesting to Board members of the agencies.

This conference focussed on the experiences of Caucasian families who have adopted racially mixed children. Although the admixtures are of a wide variety, the majority of children adopted by the members of the Open Door Society are part Black.

The guest speaker at a dinner on Friday evening was Dr. Howard McCurdy, a Black Canadian. He emphasized that there is discrimination against Blacks in Canada just as there is in the U.S.A. Although the Caucasian parent adopting a part Black child may not see his child as that different, society does. However, because the Caucasian parent has not been as “wounded” by society as the Black parent, he can better transmit positive values to the child than the Black parent. The Black child in a Caucasian family can be less suspicious of Caucasians, can trust more and, therefore, love more. The Black child from a Caucasian home is able to handle the vicissitudes of life if he understands the worth of both heritages. Because of his heritage the Black child is able to share in something that the Caucasian parents cannot and this Dr. McCurdy called “Soul.” (This is no different from what we hear from other minority groups.) However, there are many things which they can share together. Dr. McCurdy felt that Caucasian parents who adopt Black children must help to eliminate prejudice in society as a whole. I might add that this statement was made many times throughout the conference.

On Saturday there were 8 sessions which ran concurrently so that each delegate was able to attend two seminars.

I attended one on “A Question of Identity” and another on “Public Relations and Interracial Adoption.”

In the seminar on “A Question of Identity” Dr. Leighton Hutson (a Black psychologist who does vocational counselling at the Jewish Vocation Service in Montreal and who is also a psycho-therapist) spoke. The points which he emphasized were:

1. Man’s basic concern is a definition of himself. Each person is engaged in this pursuit.

2. The Black man in this country as well as in Canada has gone through different stages with an identity which was assigned to him by Caucasian society. In other words he was told what he was. He is now struggling to find an identity of his own. Dr. Hutson then traced the development of racism in this country and how it is based on the image which Caucasian society has of Blacks. Dr. Hutson emphasized that identity is based on feelings and facts. The fact of the child’s blackness must be dealt with as it is dealt with in society. It was his contention, and the experience of the members of the Open Door Society that a child who is recognizably Black has less difficulty in a Caucasian family than a mixed child. The question of how the teen-age Black child reared in a Caucasian home feels about himself in today’s society was not answered. There does not seem to have been, as yet, a pulling together of facts on this subject. . . .

 The following is a summary of points recurring in all sessions:

1. Adoption and not race is the issue in transracial placements.

2. Identity is of particular concern to an adopted child.

3. Community attitudes attribute a process of “judgment” to agencies, preventing an honest exchange of knowledge and feelings between social workers and adopting parents. The question of motivation in transracial adoption, with the possibility of having parents who are more interested in a “cause” than in their individual child is of concern to both workers and parents. In evaluating these, the social worker’s own prejudices come under question. . . .

Observations made:

1. There were no Indians in attendance at this conference. There were few Blacks.

2. There was no discussion of overseas children.

Because this initial effort was so successful, a second International Conference is planned for Boston, Mass., in the fall of 1970 or the spring of 1971.

The Canadians seem less ambivalent than Americans about transracial placements. Their emphasis is on finding more homes for these children. Here in New York City there are agencies that are no longer considering Black or interracial children for white families. This may be indicative of the amount of conflict about these placements, whether they are right or wrong and whether they are in the best interest of the children.

This issue, as is the larger racial issue in this country, is far from being resolved.

 

Source: Report on the first International Conference on Transracial Adoption, 1969, Viola W. Bernard Papers, Box 162, Folder 7, Archives and Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Library, Columbia University.

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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
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