The Code Noir

F. Leon Wilson
January 1999

The much discussed "one drop of black blood" rule deems that any person who has one drop of black blood will be classified as Black (not African American). The rule of "one drop of black blood" has its formal origins in provisions of the Code Noir (the "Negro Code") of 1685. This Code Noir is more than a plantation owner/slavemaster attempt to preserve the "purity" of the white race by ferreting out all who had "tainted" blood. It is a scientific attempt to "control" and "manage" the growing concern of miscegenation as a threat to the global system of white supremacy. The threats of miscegenation were identified long before Europeans began to imported Africans to be used as slaves in the Americas.

The union of European and African stock posed both moral and philosophical dilemmas for those trying to better their lives through the establishment of a non-white slave system.

Throughout history, there has been many attempts to solve the moral and philosophical dilemma. Ranging from the religious level with the biblical story of HAM, to the use of the (white created) legal system to legislate what race is and is not, the nomenclature by which racial classifications were established was set forward.

The degree of genetic mixture from the various unions of non-white people with white people, or people who classified themselves as white, were no longer calculated merely by simple visual observations, as was done in the Spanish Americas or Brazil. The methods became mathematically exact.

Individuals were thought to be composed of 128 separate units, which is to say that the ethnic admixture was traced to the eight generation, thus providing a system of classification which permitted no ambiguity, and made possible equations such as the following:

Parts White Parts Non-White Term
64 64 Mulattre
72 56 Sacatra
88 40 Marabou
96 32 Quarteron
127 1 Sang Melee

One could, however, play with combinations. For example, a quarteron need not result solely from the mulattre union of a "128 parts" white mating with a mulatto. The same result could also be obtained as follows:

72 parts white + 56 black mating with 120 parts white + 8 parts black = quarteron

Or again:

88 parts white + 40 black mating with 104 parts white + 24 parts black = quarteron

However, in practice, many persons not sufficiently adept at such calculations took to applying the nomenclature somewhat more loosely, and took, for example, to describing as a quarteron not only individuals resulting from the union of pure white with mulatto, or the mathematical equivalent, but also the result of mixing "128 parts" white and sacatra ( that is, darker than a certified quarteron ), as well as the result of mixing "128 parts" white and marabou (that is, lighter than a certified quarteron). Human nature required quicker terms of reference than the law provided, even at the cost of oversimplification. Hence the "one drop of blood rule."

There is obviously much more that could be added to this short discussion. If you have information/documentation that collaborates or refutes the origins, development and use of the "one drop" rule, or the above information, please direct that information to my attention.

F. Leon Wilson <>