Earnest Sevier Cox Scientist and Explorer

Earnest Sevier Cox (1880–1966)

Earnest Sevier Cox was a committed white supremacist who advocated on behalf of anti-miscegenation laws and in 1922 cofounded with the composer John Powell the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, a Richmond-based, nationwide organization devoted to maintaining a strict separation of the races. In 1923, Cox published White America, a book that described his travels in Africa and argues that race-mixing would result in the collapse of "white civilization." He also wrote extensively on eugenics, a now discredited scientific movement aimed at proving the superiority of the white race. Together with composer Powell and Virginia state registrar Walter Plecker, Cox played an influential role in lobbying the Virginia General Assembly to pass the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a strict anti-miscegenation law, and later the Massenburg Bill, which banned racial mixing in all public places. In 1924, Cox formed an unlikely alliance with the black nationalist Marcus Garvey based on their shared belief that the only way to save the races was for African Americans to relocate to Africa. Cox retired from the real estate business in 1958 and died in Richmond in 1966. MORE...

 

Earnest Sevier Cox was born on January 24, 1880, near Knoxville, in Blount County, Tennessee, and was the son of Ann Maria Earnest Cox Cox and her second husband, Samuel Thompson Cox (who was the brother of her first husband). His father, a farmer and sometime Methodist preacher, died when Cox was about twelve years old. Cox attended private schools in Blount County. After receiving a BS in 1899 from Roane College, an unaccredited Tennessee institution, he spent time in Georgia, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Cox took a business course, considered studying law, and worked as a schoolteacher, loan officer, and reporter. In 1902 he enrolled in the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where he trained as a public speaker and street-corner preacher. A year later, he moved to Nashville and continued his theological education at Vanderbilt University. Although Cox soon found his own fundamentalism at odds with the teachings of the faculty, he remained at Vanderbilt for three years and devoted all available time to preaching. He was forced to rethink his career aspirations when a chronically sore throat prevented him from earning steady income as a preacher.

After leaving Vanderbilt in 1906 without a degree, Cox enrolled in the graduate course in sociology at the University of Chicago. As a result of the coursework he had completed at Roane and at Vanderbilt, the University of Chicago determined that he had earned the equivalent of a bachelor's degree. During his three years at Chicago, Cox began to articulate racial views that consumed him for the remainder of his life. He fervently believed in the inferiority of the black race, an assumption held by many other whites at the time, but he also insisted that whites and blacks could not coexist. The only solution, he concluded, was the removal of blacks from white society.

During the summers of 1907, 1908, and 1909 Cox traveled to Chicago, Norfolk, and Pittsburgh giving lectures that accompanied the presentation of cycloramas, panoramic paintings with biblical and Civil War themes. He left the University of Chicago in 1909, again without a degree. Encouraged by a Chicago professor, he decided to visit Africa in order to compare the living conditions of blacks in Africa and in the United States and also the racial policies of colonial powers in Africa with those developed by authorities in the United States. Setting sail in February 1910, Cox began a five-year trip that enabled him, in subsequent decades, to present himself as an ethnographer and expert in racial matters. Earning money along the way by working in the South African gold and diamond mines, he traveled from Cape Town to Cairo and then to Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippines. After a brief respite in the United States, Cox continued his travels in Central and South America. He returned to the United States in 1915 and began supporting himself by lecturing and writing newspaper articles on his travels.

After spending about six months in Alexandria, Virginia, Cox in 1917 joined the United States Army and earned promotion to captain. A year later his commanding officer in France found him unfit to serve on the front lines because Cox's subordinates refused to take orders from him. Removed to the support lines, Cox nevertheless received an honorable discharge in September 1919. He subsequently entered the reserves and rose to the rank of major in 1920 and lieutenant colonel in 1929.

In January 1920 Cox moved to Richmond, where he began selling real estate. Before long, he fell in with John Powell, a Richmond native, University of Virginia professor, and world-renowned composer and pianist who shared Cox's extreme racial views. In September 1922 Cox and Powell founded the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America. The organization, headquartered in Richmond, eventually encompassed more than two dozen chapters in Virginia and also included several in northern states. Deriving intellectual sanction from the burgeoning eugenics movement, Cox and Powell warned that an increase in miscegenation threatened to destroy white civilization by wiping out all its desirable, racially exclusive traits and characteristics. Cox cited Egypt, South Africa, and other countries that he had visited as evidence that interracial mixing always led to the destruction of the superior race. Consequently, the pair asserted that white Americans must enforce a rigid color line. To that end, Cox and Powell led a vocal band of supporters who in 1924 convinced the General Assembly to pass the Virginia Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, probably the nation's strictest anti-miscegenation statute. Two years later, the legislature, again acting at Cox and Powell's urging, passed the so-called Massenburg Bill, a measure sponsored by Delegate George Alvin Massenburg that mandated the separation of the races in all places of public assemblage.

By the time Cox testified before the General Assembly on behalf of the Racial Integrity Act, he had become a local celebrity with the publication of White America (1923). Based entirely on Cox's own travels and observations, White America developed the thesis that white civilizations could not survive an influx of nonwhites. Cox concluded that whites were faced with two choices: amalgamate and eventually cease to exist, or separate completely. Although hardly novel at the time in warning of the dangers of interracial mixing, Cox went a step further than most of his contemporaries and argued that effective separation would occur only when black Americans had been repatriated to Africa. He reiterated White America's central themes in subsequent books, pamphlets, and broadsides, including The South's Part in Mongrelizing the Nation (1926), Lincoln's Negro Policy (1938), Three Million Negroes Thank the State of Virginia (1940), Teutonic Unity (1951), Unending Hate: Supreme Court School Decision a Milestone in the Federal Program to Break the Will of the White South in Its Dedicated Purpose to Remain White (1955), and Herman's Brother, a speech published in The Monument to Herman: Whom the Romans Called "Arminius" (1959).

In September 1924 Cox entered into an unlikely alliance with Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican-born black nationalist who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Garvey's black nationalism stood in stark contrast to Cox's racial views, but Garvey nonetheless shared Cox's belief that the repatriation of blacks to Africa offered the only viable solution to the nation's racial issues. For his part, Garvey had concluded that blacks would never receive a fair chance in the United States and thus must leave. Cox wrote an open letter read at a UNIA meeting and dedicated his booklet Let My People Go (1925) to Garvey. The partnership between Cox and Garvey ended in 1927 when federal authorities deported Garvey after his conviction for mail fraud.

Cox then formed an alliance of convenience with the Peace Movement of Ethiopia, a little-known African American group, based in Chicago, that advocated federal assistance for the repatriation of blacks to Africa. In 1936 he prevailed on the General Assembly to recommend that the federal government provide such funds. Cox and the PME soon joined forces with Theodore Gilmore Bilbo, a United States senator and unapologetic racist from Mississippi, who introduced legislation to provide federal funds for repatriation. Bilbo's bill unmistakably bore the influence of White America. For nearly a decade Bilbo reintroduced his bill while Cox urged the senator to temper his language in order to ensure the support of both blacks and whites. After Bilbo's death in 1947, Senator William Langer, of North Dakota, repeatedly sponsored similar legislation, and on at least two occasions Cox testified before congressional committees as an expert on the subject. Langer's death in 1959 signaled the end of congressional attempts to introduce such legislation.

In 1958 Cox retired from the real estate business that had provided him a modest income. He published Black Belt around the World at the High Noon of Colonialism (1963), an autobiographical account of his early life and travels in the 1910s, and sent copies to every member of Congress and to prominent federal officeholders. In his later years he remained popular in white supremacist circles. Earnest Sevier Cox, who never married, died in a Richmond hospital from complications related to emphysema on April 26, 1966, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery two days later.

Major Works

  • White America (1923)
  • Let My People Go (1925)
  • The South's Part in Mongrelizing the Nation (1926)
  • Lincoln's Negro Policy (1938)
  • Three Million Negroes Thank the State of Virginia (1940)
  • Teutonic Unity (1951)
  • Black Belt Around the World at the High Noon of Colonialism (1963)

Time Line

  • January 24, 1880 - Earnest Sevier Cox is born near Knoxville, in Blount County, Tennessee.
  • 1899 - Earnest Sevier Cox receives a BS from Roane College, an unaccredited Tennessee institution.
  • 1902 - Earnest Sevier Cox enrolls in the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where he trains as a public speaker and street-corner preacher.
  • 1903 - Earnest Sevier Cox moves to Nashville and continues his theological education at Vanderbilt University.
  • 1903 - Earnest Sevier Cox moves to Nashville and continues his theological education at Vanderbilt University.
  • 1906 - Earnest Sevier Cox leaves Vanderbilt University without a degree, and then enrolls in the graduate course in sociology at the University of Chicago.
  • 1909 - Earnest Sevier Cox leaves the University of Chicago, again without a degree.
  • February 1910 - Earnest Sevier Cox sets sail for Africa. He will spend the next five years traveling from Cape Town to Cairo.
  • 1917 - Earnest Sevier Cox joins the U.S. Army and earns promotion to captain.
  • 1918 - Earnest Sevier Cox's commanding officer in France finds him unfit to serve on the front lines because Cox's subordinates refuse to take orders from him. Cox will receive an honorable discharge in September 1919.
  • January 1920 - Earnest Sevier Cox moves to Richmond, where he begains selling real estate.
  • September 1922 - Earnest Sevier Cox and John Powell found the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, warning that an increase in miscegenation threatens to destroy white civilization by wiping out all its desirable, racially exclusive traits and characteristics.
  • 1923 - Earnest Sevier Cox publishes White America, a book that argues that for the white race to survive, black Americans should be repatriated to Africa.
  • March 1924 - Earnest Sevier Cox and John Powell lead a vocal band of supporters who convince the General Assembly to pass the Virginia Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, probably the nation's strictest anti-miscegenation statute.
  • September 1924 - Earnest Sevier Cox enters into an unlikely alliance with Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican-born black nationalist who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, based on their shared belief that the repatriation of blacks to Africa offered the only viable solution to the nation's racial issues.
  • 1926 - Earnest Sevier Cox and John Powell persuade the General Assembly to pass the Massenburg Bill, a measure that mandates the separation of the races in all places of public assemblage.
  • 1927 - The partnership between Earnest Sevier Cox and Marcus Garvey ends when federal authorities deport Garvey after his conviction for mail fraud.
  • 1936 - Earnest Sevier Cox prevails on the General Assembly to recommend that the federal government provide federal assistance for the repatriation of blacks to Africa.
  • 1958 - Earnest Sevier Cox retired from the real estate business that had provided him a modest income.
  • April 26, 1966 - Earnest Sevier Cox dies in a Richmond hospital from complications related to emphysema, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery two days later.

References

Further Reading
Smith, J. Douglas. "Cox, Earnest Sevier." In Dictionary of Virginia Biography, vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, 500–502. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Smith, D., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Earnest Sevier Cox (1880–1966). (2013, September 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Cox_Earnest_Sevier_1880-1966.

  • MLA Citation:

    Smith, Douglas and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Earnest Sevier Cox (1880–1966)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Sep. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: October 12, 2009 | Last modified: September 23, 2013


Contributed by Douglas Smith and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Douglas Smith is an adjunct assistant professor of history and American studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. This entry is excerpted from chapter six of his book, Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).