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Jury Discrimination

Jury Discrimination: The Supreme Court, Public Opinion, and a Grassroots Fight for Racial Equality in Mississippi

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Jury Discrimination
    Book Description:

    In 1906 a white lawyer named Dabney Marshall argued a case before the Mississippi Supreme Court demanding the racial integration of juries. He carried out a plan devised by Mississippi's foremost black lawyer of the time: Willis Mollison. Against staggering odds, and with the help of a friendly newspaper editor, he won. How Marshall and his allies were able to force the court to overturn state law and precedent, if only for a brief period, at the behest of the U.S. Supreme Court is the subject of Jury Discrimination, a book that explores the impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on America's civil rights history. Christopher Waldrep traces the origins of Americans' ideas about trial by jury and provides the first detailed analysis of jury discrimination. Southerners' determination to keep their juries entirely white played a crucial role in segregation, emboldening lynchers and vigilantes like the Ku Klux Klan. As the postbellum Congress articulated ideals of national citizenship in civil rights legislation, most importantly the Fourteenth Amendment, factions within the U.S. Supreme Court battled over how to read the amendment: expansively, protecting a variety of rights against a host of enemies, or narrowly, guarding only against rare violations by state governments. The latter view prevailed, entombing the amendment in a narrow interpretation that persists to this day. Although the high court clearly denounced the overt discrimination enacted by state legislatures, it set evidentiary rules that made discrimination by state officers and agents extremely difficult to prove. Had these rules been less onerous, Waldrep argues, countless black jurors could have been seated throughout the nation at precisely the moment when white legislators and jurists were making and enforcing segregation laws. Marshall and Mollison's success in breaking through Mississippi law to get blacks admitted to juries suggests that legal reasoning plausibly founded on constitutional principle, as articulated by the Supreme Court, could trump even the most stubbornly prejudiced public opinion.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4194-1
    Subjects: Law, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The cross-examination began with the basics. “Your name is P. C. Dowan?” the white lawyer asked. That was not quite right, and Pinkard C. Dowans pointed out that his name ended with an s. Pride in his name had brought Dowans to court in the first place. In 1909, when he testified, Dowans had been a grand lecturer of the Colored Knights of the Pythians for four years. Traveling from one Mississippi black fraternal organization to the next, Dowans helped formulate and spread the values that tied black fraternalists together. Dowans not only preached moral values, but he also made...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Making the Fairy Tale
    (pp. 7-30)

    Before the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, people in the Atlantic world had already discovered through a long and complex process stretching over centuries that trial by jury was a meaningful right only when juries had a measure of independence from centralized governmental power. Jurors could represent the king or their neighbors, but there was a natural tension between the two, between the national and the local. To represent their neighbors, jurors had to at least seem to reflect the diversity of their communities. This truth took root in historical memory, mythology, and stories about the past, narratives...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Discovery That Race Politicizes Due Process
    (pp. 31-64)

    After the Revolutionary War and the Constitutional Convention, slavery and racism challenged the principles that had seemed so well established not just in the Constitution’s text but in the public imagination. Proponents of slavery argued for a kind of popular constitutionalism, the notion that the Constitution represented political compromise between the sections of the country more than an articulation of profound principle. The Fugitive Slave Law, they said, necessarily abrogated trial by jury for a political purpose, but did so for a worthy cause, preserving the Union. Abolitionists fought back, collecting a portfolio of natural-law arguments against slavery and in...

  7. CHAPTER THREE How Revolutionary Was the Civil War?
    (pp. 65-102)

    After the Civil War, members of Congress fiercely disagreed with one another, in agitated and angry words; it was the same political theater senators and representatives had always employed when debating slavery, but now they considered more fundamental questions: whether to restructure the basic tenets of the Union by taking important powers from the states. In 1866, Congress wrote what would become the Fourteenth Amendment amid a long debate over civil rights that at the outset saw members haltingly inserting themselves into the states’ police powers and concluded when Congress boldly ordered the U.S. Army to reconstitute government in the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Privileges and Immunities in the Supreme Court
    (pp. 103-152)

    The Supreme Court both interprets and constructs constitutional meanings. Interpretation is a legal process in which the judge finds meaning embedded in some legal text, the Constitution, or a statute. Sometimes, however, the text does not have the answer to the particular question that the judge must answer, and he turns to the more creative process of constitutional construction. When constructing constitutional law, the judge cannot honestly claim to have discovered some preexisting, hidden meaning but instead writes law without guidance from the text.⁹ In the case of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress made construction necessary when it finessed the public’s...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Jury Cases
    (pp. 153-200)

    Bradley’s failure to dislodge Miller from his constricted reading of the Fourteenth Amendment’s privileges and immunities clause meant that the Court would be deciding the crucial question of federal power over state juries having already conceded the major point to the states. Privileges and immunities, which some members of Congress and Bradley himself had once thought would be a mighty sword against state sovereignty, had been retired from the battlefield before the fight over all-white juries had even begun.

    At the moment this happened, as the Supreme Court deliberated the Slaughterhouse Cases, real racial progress seemed possible. In 1872, the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Getting Blacks on Mississippi Juries
    (pp. 201-230)

    After shooting and killing Rufus Tilford Dinkins, Dabney Marshall entered Mississippi’s infamous penal system. In this time before Mississippi had constructed its Parchman archipelago, Dabney Marshall’s imprisonment first took him to the state’s downtown Jackson prison (a space now occupied by the state capitol building), built in 1840 and known as “The Walls.” Yet, while the state had not yet purchased Parchman Plantation, Mississippi already took its prisoners—both black and white—to plantations, where it routinely violated its own constitution by leasing black convicts to Delta planters who literally considered the prisoners “slaves.” One scholar has called Mississippi’s prison...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-234)

    Willis mollison and dabney marshall’s campaign against Mississippi’s all-white jury system provides an opportunity to examine the connections that run through the American criminal justice system. First, and most obviously, the tendrils of racial prejudice reached into American courts and their juries. Considerable scholarly ink has been spilled on efforts to keep blacks away from the ballot box and segregate their access to public accommodations. At the end of the nineteenth century, state legislatures passed segregation laws and enacted the grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests, which removed most blacks from the voting rolls. At this historical moment, the...

  12. Appendix 1 States Discriminating by Property and Race in Their Statutes
    (pp. 235-240)
  13. Appendix 2 States Linking Jury Service to Constitutional Suffrage Requirements
    (pp. 241-244)
  14. Appendix 3 States Relying on Local Discrimination
    (pp. 245-248)
  15. Appendix 4 Members of the House of Representatives for and against the Fourteenth Amendment, Thirty-ninth Congress, First Session
    (pp. 249-268)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 269-300)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-318)
  18. Index
    (pp. 319-325)