From slave to litigant: African Americans in court in the postwar south, 1865–1920

Milewski, Melissa (2012) From slave to litigant: African Americans in court in the postwar south, 1865–1920. Law and History Review, 30 (3). pp. 723-769. ISSN 0738-2480

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This article draws on more than 600 higher court cases in eight southern states to show that African Americans succeeded in litigating certain kinds of civil cases against white southerners in southern appellate courts between 1865 and 1920. While historians have often concentrated on cases involving issues of race, the much more common, seemingly prosaic civil suits African Americans litigated against whites over transactions, wills, and property also had important implications for race relations. Through these suits, black southerners continued to successfully assert the legal rights they gained during Reconstruction long after Reconstruction had ended. Moreover, I found that black litigants won the majority of civil cases litigated against white southerners in higher state courts – not only during Reconstruction, but, astonishingly, during the post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras as well. I examine how the legal system itself, and the varied actions of participants in the legal system, allowed African Americans to litigate, and win, such cases. This article has important implications for our understanding of the judicial system’s relationship with politics and race and for its insights into the role of the courts in African Americans’ centuries-long struggle for rights.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: slave, litigant, ex-slave, African American, law, Reconstruction, U.S. South, courts, civil cases, state supreme courts, black southerners,
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Subjects: E History America
E History America > E151 United States (General) > E0300 Revolution to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861
E History America > E151 United States (General) > E0456 Civil War period, 1861-1865
E History America > E151 United States (General)
K Law
K Law > KF Law of the United States
K Law > KF Law of the United States
Depositing User: Melissa Milewski
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2016 15:39
Last Modified: 05 Mar 2017 23:39

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