Posted on 11/05/2009

Photo taken on January  1, 1922


Washington DC
Herman Moens
A unique story in the annals of 'race' relations i
Author of 'Towards Perfect Man' written in 1922
Dutch Scientist

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The Moens Affair

The Moens Affair
Photo is from Moens 1922 book, 'Towards Perfect Man' he appears with two schoolchildren. Photographer unknown.

Between the outbreak of WWI in 1914 and the 1919 race riot in Washington, D.C., a scandal contributed to Washington's escalating racial tensions. A visiting Dutch scientist named Herman Moens used photographs of young African Americans, mostly nude women, to support his theory that persons of mixed black and white parentage combined the best attributes of both races. The study earned him the label of spy and led to his subsequent arrest on obscenity charges. The Moens Affair, as it was tagged by the press, embodied the nation's struggle with foreigners and persons of color and with the social and biological mixing of races.

Born in Holland in 1875, zoologist Herman Bernelot Moens in April 1914 came to Los Angeles, CA., where he came in contact with the African American community and developed a theory that scientifically guided mixed marriages would produce the perfect human specimen. After several excursions to Cuba and Panama, Moens returned to the States in 1916, settling in Washington, D.C., and embarking on a study of light-complected youths. He showed photographs from earlier studios to the director of the Smithsonian Institution, who was so impressed that he provided photographers and studio space. Moens befriended Charlotte Hunter, a young, unmarried Black woman who taught at the Minor Normal School for Colored Children. She later alleged that she brought young students to his studio at his request, but only with the permission or accompaniment of their parents.

Moens attracted the attention of the Bureau of Investigation (today's FBI), which, because he was a foreigner with no visible means of support who socialized with Black citizens in Jim Crow Washington while openly discussing the benefits of mixed marriage, suspected him of being a spy. On October 25, 1918, while he was detained on suspicion of spying, the bureau confiscated his papers, books, pamphlets, and notes, charging him with obscenity. He was convicted on April 1, 1919.

Moens was forced to remain in the U.S., for three more years. After returning to Europe, he published an explanation of his research and his Washington experience, titled Towards Perfect Man: Contributions to Somatological and Philosophical Anthropology. In 1928 he helped found the Society of Universal Brotherhood, then departed to start his own group, the Supra Nation. Until he died in 1938 in Morocco, Moens continued to fight against racism and for nationalism. Donna M Wells, Howard University

'Legacy: Treasures of Black History' Edited by Thomas C Battle and Donna M Wells, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center