Harriet Fricke, “Interracial Adoption: The Little Revolution,” 1965

Source: Courtesy of Joseph and Jan Rigert, from Joseph Rigert, All Together: An Unusual American Family (New York: Harper and Row, 1973).

Jan and Joe Rigert began adopting African-American and mixed-race children in 1962. Jan was a founding member of the Open Door Society, one of many new parent-led organizations founded during the 1960s to promote the adoptions of special needs and hard-to-place children. “Our family was not conceived or calculated to prove anything,” Joe wrote in All Together, a book about their family. “A multiracial family, by its very nature, is an experiment in human relationships.”

Two and a half years ago a committee of Minnesota social workers decided to promote the adoption of Negro children by white families. This decision, however, was made with misgiving, since it represented a sharp break with traditional philosophy and practice and opened the door to potential problems foreign to the adoption service. None of the committee members could consider himself an expert on Negro-white placements. Indeed, the usual “review of the literature” failed to produce even a mention of the subject.

Yet today it appears that much of the misgiving was unnecessary. Placements have been made and contemplated problems did not occur, while the concept of Negro-white adoptions has gained relatively wide acceptance, publicly and professionally. To date some twenty Negro children have been successfully placed with white families. These placements have been made by seven of Minnesota’s thirteen private agencies as well as the Department of Welfare in conjunction with several county welfare departments. Given an opportunity, at least some of the remaining agencies would be willing to undertake similar placements. While not all agencies can be classified as ardent supporters, there has been no attempt to curtail the promotion of Negro-white adoptions.

With few exceptions, the children placed are youngsters readily identifiable as Negro. Although most have light complexions, there is no policy—official or otherwise—on pigmentation. It so happens that Minnesota’s Negro population includes only a small percentage of very dark-skinned persons—a fact that is reinforced by the group of children available for adoption. Actually, the degree of color was not (and currently is not) an issue in Minnesota’s Negro-white adoption program. The author knows of only one situation in which it arose: a worker decided against placing a particular child with one white family because “The child is too light, my family wants a Negro child.”

Minnesota’s new program was the result of happenstance. Several years ago Minnesota’s adoption agencies initiated a united publicity campaign designed to publicize the need for adoptive homes for Indian, Mexican, and particularly Negro children. The emphasis on Negro children resulted from the well-known fact that homes for this group are in shortest supply.

When the campaign was planned, no thought was given to the possibility—much less the practicality—of recruiting white homes for Negro youngsters. Composed of representatives of various agencies, the campaign committee naturally assumed that white couples would apply for Indian and Mexican youngsters, and Negro couples would apply for Negro youngsters. Several months after the campaign began, however, this assumption was disproved when a few white families applied for Negro children.


Source: Harriet Fricke, “Interracial Adoption: The Little Revolution,” Social Work 10 (July 1965):92-93.

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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3118
E-mail: adoption@uoregon.edu
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