Sheldon Reed, Dight Institute for Human Genetics to R.T. Wilbur, Des Moines, Iowa Division of Child Welfare, November 26, 1957

Source:, Permission to use from American Philosophical Society

This undated newspaper clipping reports on a Carnegie Institution study disproving “the popular notion that a 'pass-for-white' person married to a pure white may have a negro child.” Concerns about whether traits like dark skin might reappear in future generations were prominent in the adoptions of mixed-race children.

Dear Mr. Wilbur:

Thank you very much for your letter of inquiry about the Dight Institute and the relationship of genetics to adoption practices. . . .

The question of adoptability of children with some Negro heredity is one which results in my seeing babies practically every week to determine whether there is actually an appreciable amount of Negro blood present and if there is, what type of placement would be likely to be satisfactory.

The general principle which you inquire about is concerned with the mechanism of heredity of Negroid traits. They behave in a very straight-forward fashion and are not concealed in the recessive condition as are such traits as albinism and blue eyes. Thus, if a Negro marries a white person his African ancestry will show in some or all of his children and the degree to which the African traits show will depend upon the proportion of their father’s Negro heredity which each child received. No child can received more Negro heredity than the Negro parent possessed. Therefore the child cannot be any more Negroid than his Negro parent. Generally he will only receive a part of the Negro heredity and will therefore be less Negroid than the Negro parent.

If two Negroes marry the children can get some Negro heredity from both parents which may add together to give a more Negroid child than either parents as well as less Negroid children who got a large proportion of the white heredity from their Negro parents. . . .

If you would like to collect some of the babies with alleged colored blood together on some one day in January or February, I would be glad to give a short talk and examine them, pointing out the diagnostic characteristics which are useful. I am willing to give my time but under the circumstances would expect Iowa to pay my traveling expenses. I have given an Institute on Genetics and Adoption to the Pacific Child Welfare Groups in Los Angeles and have been asked to repeat it for them in March.

If I can be of further help to you in any way, please let me know.

Very sincerely yours,

Sheldon Reed
Director, Dight Institute on Human Genetics
University of Minnesota


Source: Sheldon Reed to R.T. Wilbur, November 26, 1957, International Social Service, American Branch Papers, Box 10, Folder: “Adoption Plans of Racially Mixed Children 1954-1965,” Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota.

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