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Law and Society in the South

Law and Society in the South: A History of North Carolina Court Cases

John W. Wertheimer
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Law and Society in the South
    Book Description:

    Law and Society in the South reconstructs eight pivotal legal disputes heard in North Carolina courts between the 1830s and the 1970s and examines some of the most controversial issues of southern history, including white supremacy and race relations, the teaching of evolution in public schools, and Prohibition. Finally, the book explores the various ways in which law and society interacted in the South during the civil rights era. The voices of racial minorities-some urging integration, others opposing it-grew more audible within the legal system during this time. Law and Society in the South divulges the true nature of the courts: as the unpredictable venues of intense battles between southerners as they endured dramatic changes in their governing values.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5018-5
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Early in the twenty-first century, when many educated Americans can name all nine U.S. Supreme Court justices but struggle to identify even a single member of their home state’s highest court, it may seem odd to devote an entire book to scenes from the legal history of a single state. But there are good reasons to do so.

    Prior to the dramatic increase in the scope and power of federal law during the twentieth century, state law was prominent. As late as 1936, when Harvard Law School dean Roscoe Pound compiled a list of the ten top judges in American...

  5. Part I Drawing Lines:: From Old South to Jim Crow

    • Chapter 1 White Couples and “Mulatto” Babies: Jacksonian Age Divorce and Democratization
      (pp. 13-26)

      For centuries, from the colonial period at least through the Jim Crow era, North Carolina law buttressed racial hierarchy. Elite whites, such as those who adopted North Carolina’s slave codes, authored most of North Carolina’s legalized racism. But the nature of Tar Heel democracy was such that even non-elite whites could attempt to inscribe racial distinctions into law. This chapter concerns two such attempts from the 1820s and 1830s, launched by two non-elite white men: Marville Scroggins and Jesse Barden.

      Marville Scroggins was a white yeoman farmer in Buncombe County, North Carolina. Late in the 1820s, he came to a...

    • Chapter 2 A Former Slave and His White Wife during Reconstruction: The Case of Pinkney and Sarah Ross
      (pp. 27-42)

      Two alleged sexual relationships between black men and white women played important off-stage roles in the previous chapter. In this chapter, another such relationship—a marriage, in fact—takes center stage. The setting is the 1870s, after the Civil War, by which time white opposition to intimate relationships between black men and white women was even more intense than it had been prior to emancipation. Some Reconstruction-era whites used mob violence to suppress interracial liaisons. Others, such as those described below, used the legal system.¹

      On 31 March 1873, “amidst the firing of guns, the ringing of bells, the waving...

    • Chapter 3 De Jure Housing Segregation in Progressive Era Winston-Salem: The Case of William Darnell
      (pp. 43-60)

      The instances of legal “line-drawing” discussed in the two previous chapters concerned the most basic of social institutions: the nuclear family. The present chapter suggests that, as North Carolina society grew more complex, attempts to inscribe racial lines into North Carolina law grew more complex, too. This chapter concerns a residential segregation ordinance adopted by the city of Winston, North Carolina, in the second decade of the twentieth century. The story reflects the tangible impact on North Carolina life and law of such broad social forces as industrialization, urbanization, Progressive Era “reform,” and the era’s highly contagious impulse to separate...

  6. Part II Modernity and Tradition:: Cultural Conflict between the World Wars

    • Chapter 4 Evolution and Defamation: The Case of Reverend J. R. Pentuff
      (pp. 63-88)

      “Probably never before in the history of Charlotte,” that city’sObserverreported in 1922, “has there been such a surprise as was experienced by the congregation of Calvary Methodist church Sunday night.” The surprise came when three men, “robed in the costume of the Ku Klux Klan,” approached Reverend J. A. Sharp during a service, handed him a letter, and silently departed. The Klan’s letter commended Reverend Sharp for persistently preaching against “all forms of vice and immorality.” Sharp frequently sermonized, as he had that Sunday, against “local vice and immoral conduct, including dancing to jazz music, drinking, licentiousness and...

    • Chapter 5 “Escape of the Match-Strikers”: The Samarcand Arson Case of 1931
      (pp. 89-106)

      In his KKK-approved sermon to Charlotte’s Calvary Methodist Church in 1922, Reverend J. A. Sharp foreshadowed the previous chapter by urging that there be more God and less atheism in the public schools. He also foreshadowed the present chapter by lamenting modernity’s effect on young women. In the Jazz Age, Reverend Sharp lamented, young women “park their corsets on the outside of the pavilion and throw decency to the wind, exclaiming: ‘Come on, boys, the sky is the limit.’”¹

      Reverend Sharp’s concerns reflected fundamental transformations in what it meant to be a young woman, including an unruly young woman, in...

    • Chapter 6 Padlocking Greenwich Village: Urbanization and Public Nuisance Law
      (pp. 107-124)

      The KKK-approved sermon that Reverend J. A. Sharp delivered in 1922 condemned jazz, drinking, and “licentiousness.” Historians of this period regularly situate such sentiments within a “rural-versus-urban” framework. “Rural America and urban America had eyed each other warily since the nineteenth century,” reads one typical survey of American history. Following the Great War, “suspicion turned to outright hostility…. In the eyes of many country folk, the cities stood for everything that rural areas stood against…. Increasingly, the nation divided along the line drawn between the country and the city.”¹

      Like most bits of conventional wisdom, this one contains much truth....

  7. Part III Civil Rights:: The Paradigm Shifts, 1956–1980

    • Chapter 7 Reading and the Right to Vote: James R. Walker Jr. and North Carolina’s Literacy Test
      (pp. 127-164)

      The social and ideological changes sparked by America’s involvement in World War II breathed new life into the struggle for African American civil rights. This book’s final two chapters explore two central themes of the resulting civil rights movement: voting rights (this chapter) and school desegregation (the following chapter). Both chapters explore the mix of “bottom-up” and “top-down” factors that characterized the era’s rich legal history. The national government looms much larger in these chapters than in previous ones. Partly as a result, nonwhite North Carolinians were able to exert unprecedented agency within the state’s legal system. We begin with...

    • Chapter 8 Native Americans and School Desegregation: The Chavis Case in Robeson County
      (pp. 165-190)

      The post–World War II battles of African American civil rights activists such as James R. Walker Jr. inspired a host of other individuals, including many who were not African American, to resist what they viewed as oppression. Braxton Chavis, a housepainter and construction worker from Robeson County, North Carolina, is a case in point. As of mid-1978, when Robeson County education officials prepared school assignments for the next academic year, Chavis had been sending his children to Prospect School for seventeen years. He was determined to see his three youngest children continue at Prospect, where he, too, had studied....

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-194)

    The preceding eight chapters challenge two common assumptions regarding the nature of American law. The first assumption—no longer widespread among scholars, perhaps, but influential nonetheless—portrays the American legal process (litigation) as an impartial and apolitical form of dispute resolution. Reassuringly, the North Carolina legal system portrayed in these pages sometimes resembled this “rule of law” ideal. Some judgeswerewilling to defy popular (and personal) prejudices in order to enforce legal rules and precedents, as when the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1877 felt “compelled” to uphold the validity of Pinkney and Sarah Ross’s interracial marriage, even though...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 195-266)
  10. Index
    (pp. 267-282)