Life for Black Americans not so long ago

Supreme Court cases give insight into practices of the recent past

"Race of children" treated worse than dogs


Mob violence often threatened the lives of black men in America. These U.S. Supreme Court rulings from 1923, 1936, and 1940 describe in graphic detail the type of justice a black man could expect. Torture was routinely used, often over several days, to get "voluntary" confessions that led to sentences of death. State courts gave no protection at all to the victims of these practices. The US Supreme Court, which was then a champion of justice, fearlessly protected the poor victims of injustice. Today, of course, the Supreme Court considers its highest goal to champion the right of prosecutors to not have to try a case a second time. For further information on this point, see our Report on Finality.

The boldness and honesty of the old Supreme Court rulings is refreshing. "The record of the testimony shows that the signs of the rope on his neck were plainly visible during the so-called trial." "It is interesting to note that in his testimony with reference to the whipping of the defendant Ellington, and in response to the inquiry as to how severely he was whipped, the deputy stated, 'Not too much for a negro; not as much as I would have done if it were left to me.'"

What is also refreshing is that the rulings reflect a time when the US Supreme Court actually cared about justice. The rulings in these cases could not have been made today, not in a judicial system where judge-created technicality frequently says you cannot go to court at all, regardless of the injustice, and, even if you can get there, deference to state court rulings is the order of the day.

Especially shocking is the dissent in Moore v. Dempsey. Blacks holding a peaceful private meeting in a church were set upon by a mob of violent whites who began firing into the church, killing several people. In the ensuing disturbance, one white man was killed, requiring several more blacks to die for daring to defend themselves. After the arrests, there was a horrifying application of mob domination and torture, with a lynching held off only by the promises of local officials to execute the "negroes" legally. The son of a white lawyer who came to town to help the accused barely escaped town with his life. A local lawyer was appointed to make sure the accused could not present a defense.

The trial took 45 minutes, and the deliberations by the all-white jury of local townspeople took less than 5 minutes. The "lawyer" did not speak to the accused before trial, called no witnesses, even though they were available, and did not permit the accused to testify they were innocent. Two justices actually wanted to uphold these convictions and death sentences. Many of the justifications they used are strikingly similar to those used by Supreme Court justices today to validate injustice:

"The delays incident to enforcement of our criminal laws have become a national scandal..."

"It follows as a logical consequence that where, as here, a criminal prosecution has proceeded through all the courts of the state, including the appellate as well as the trial court, the result of the appellate review cannot be ignored when afterwards the prisoner applies for his release on the ground of a deprivation of federal rights sufficient to oust the state of its jurisdiction to proceed to judgment and execution against him..."

"But the state may supply such corrective process as to it seems proper..."

"I am unable to say that the District Judge, acquainted with local conditions, erred when he held the petition for the writ of habeas corpus insufficient."

Yet, some things were different. Racism was far more blatant and open than it is today. Justices McReynolds and Sutherland, for example, referred to comments about "the ignorance and superstition of a race of children" as being "certainly not intemperate."

So, take your pick, and learn about REAL American history:

Moore v. Dempsey (1923)
Brown v. Mississippi (1936)
Chambers v. Florida (1940)

Slave Cases

During the days of slavery, judges who had to approve the atrocities or settle disputes over the "property" often revealed the facts of the savagery and arrogance inherent in stealing people's liberty and binding them to labor for life. Visit the Slave Cases page to read more, in the judges' own words.

See our Report on Finality
Read about slavery throughout the world today.
Read about corporations using prison slave labor.
Visit the website of the American Anti-Slavery Group.
See how the court system treats blacks today.
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