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Article

Christopher Phelps

a Philadelphia radio journalist who became an international icon in debates over race and the death penalty after he was convicted for the murder of a police officer, was born Wesley Cook to Edith and William Cook, migrants from the South. The family subsisted on welfare in the housing projects of North Philadelphia. As a boy Cook read avidly and sought enlightenment, attending services with his Baptist mother and Episcopalian father, then dabbling in Judaism, Catholicism, and the Nation of Islam. When he was about ten years old his father died of a heart attack, prompting him to assume a protective role toward his twin brother, Wayne, and younger brother, William.

The black liberation movement shaped Cook's coming of age. In a 1967 school class in Swahili, a Kenyan teacher assigned him the first name Mumia. In 1968 at age fourteen he and some friends protested ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

the first woman executed by electric chair in Georgia, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia, to Queenie Baker, a sharecropper, and a father whose name is unknown. Little is known about her early life. If typical of the African American experience in southwestern Georgia in the early 1900s Baker's childhood was probably one of long working hours and low expectations. Indeed, it was in the debt-ridden and desperate Georgia black belt of the early 1900s that W. E. B. Du Bois discovered the Negro problem in its naked dirt and penury Litwack 114 In an attempt to escape from that world of debt and desperation Baker began working at an early age at first helping her mother chop cotton for a neighboring white family the Coxes Like other black women in the community she also worked as a laundress and occasional domestic for white families in town Despite the legacy ...

Article

William H. Brown and Graham Russell Hodges

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with law as specifically applied to African Americans from the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century The first article discusses the development of crimes and punishments related to slavery through 1830 while the second article discusses law and legal penalties as applied to ...

Article

Eric W. Rise

The history of the criminal justice system has been closely linked to the African American experience in the twentieth century. In the wake of emancipation, southern states turned to the criminal justice system to perform social control functions previously served by slavery. After the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century, politicians used the language of crime control to signify lingering racial animosities. In the meantime blacks were arrested, convicted, and incarcerated in numbers far greater than would be predicted based on their representation in the total population. In 1940 the Uniform Crime Reports compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that the arrest rate for serious felonies was 17 per thousand for blacks compared to 6 per thousand for whites. By 1978 those rates had climbed to 100 per thousand for blacks and 35 per thousand for whites. In 1923 blacks constituted about 10 percent of the ...

Article

DeCarlous Spearman

attorney, judge, poet, and activist, was one of ten children born to Albert, a laborer, and Mary Burleson Doyle, a laundress, in a four room house in Austin, Texas. In 1928 Doyle graduated Salutatorian from Anderson High School and magna cum laude from Samuel Huston College (later Huston-Tillotson College) in 1933. After college he taught in the Austin public school system and later took graduate courses at Columbia University.

On 4 March 1947 the Texas State University for Negroes (later Texas Southern University) was established to keep Heman Sweatt, a black applicant, from entering law school at the University of Texas (UT). This new school offered something unavailable to blacks in Texas, the opportunity to attend law school in their own state. On 22 September 1947 Doyle was the first student to register at the new law school This would be ...

Article

The agency that became the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) originated on 26 July 1908 when U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte ordered nine newly hired detectives thirteen civil rights investigators and twelve accountants to take on investigative assignments in connection with the need to regulate interstate commerce One hundred years later that cadre of thirty four had increased to over thirty thousand employees including more than twelve thousand special agents and more than eighteen thousand support professionals such as intelligence analysts language specialists scientists information technology specialists and others with a budget of more than $5 billion The modern FBI headquarters is located in Washington D C and the agency also has fifty six field offices in major cities throughout the United States more than four hundred resident agencies in smaller cities and towns across the nation and more than fifty offices known as Legal Attachés in U S ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

gang and organization founder, criminal, was born Jeff Fort in Aberdeen, Mississippi, to John Lee Fort, a steel mill worker, and a mother about whom little information is available. In 1955 Jeff moved with his parents and ten siblings to the South Side of Chicago and settled down in Woodlawn, a middle-class white neighborhood prior to the influx of blacks migrating from the South, and the backdrop for Woodlawn native Lorraine Hansberry's play, A Raisin in the Sun. Jeff's father John Lee Fort had secured employment in a Chicago steel mill. Spurning hostile neighbors and a divided community, Fort, twelve years old and relatively small for his age, organized a group of boys who patrolled Blackstone Street between the corners of 64th and 66th where his family lived, to battle with white and black gangs in the area. In 1960 one year later Fort founded ...

Article

Sandra D. Harvey

Jewish businessman, convicted of murder and lynched by vigilantes in Georgia. It is believed that his case contributed to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

Leo Max Frank was born in Texas but soon moved with his parents, Rudolph and Rachel Frank, to Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Cornell University in 1906, Frank apprenticed in his uncle's factory. In 1907 Frank was given a supervisory position with the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, which had a sizable Jewish population. He met Lucille Selig there, and on 30 November 1910 they were married. Frank and his wife lived in an upscale Jewish neighborhood and were prominent members of the Jewish community.

On 27 April 1913, Atlanta police discovered the strangled and possibly raped body of a thirteen-year-old National Pencil Company factory worker, Mary Phagan. Authorities arrested the night watchman, Newt Lee ...

Article

Andre D. Vann

lawyer, educator, and first black chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, was born in Ellerbe, North Carolina, the eighth of the twelve children of Walter Frye and Pearl Motley, farmers. In the late 1920s his father sought to ensure financial security for his family by purchasing a forty-six-acre tobacco and cotton farm with the assistance of a loan from a local bank, which made him one of only a handful of blacks who owned land in Ellerbe. Later his father purchased a small sawmill from white owners. Frye attended the segregated Mineral Springs School in Ellerbe and graduated as valedictorian in 1949. In June 1953 he earned a BS in biology with highest honors from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College later North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U S Air Force and served ...

Article

Garna L. Christian

One of the deadliest race riots in the strife-ridden World War I period, the Houston Mutiny, also known as the Camp Logan riot, resulted in more than twenty deaths and the largest number of executions in the history of the United States military.

The violence occurred on the night of 23 August 1917, less than a month after the Third Battalion of the African American Twenty-fourth Infantry arrived in Houston, Texas. Companies I, K, L, and M, consisting of 645 enlisted men and seven officers under the command of Colonel William Newman, and later Major Kneeland S. Snow drew the assignment of guarding the construction site of a National Guard encampment in a wooded area five miles west of the city Houston which had rapidly developed into the largest municipality in the state had both the largest black community in Texas and a reputation for being a ...

Article

Lucinda M. Deason

Black women have been incarcerated since the beginning of this nation’s history and have constituted the largest percentage of imprisoned women throughout U.S. history. During the American colonial period jails were developed that closely mirrored those established in England, from which many of the colonists came. They brought their customs, traditions, and religious beliefs to America, which influenced the penal and incarceration systems of the colonies. As colonial society developed, prison rules became especially closely related to the religious beliefs of the settlers and were strictly enforced when applied to women offenders—a characteristic still common in today’s criminal justice system.

Slavery was another tradition settlers brought to America Slavery necessitated a large degree of social control Prior to the Civil War African American slaves were imprisoned in plantation built jails and punished by the slave master who had unlimited power including the use of capital punishment African American slaves were ...

Article

Donna A. Patterson

lawyer, politician, state senator, and U.S. congressman, was born one of nine children in Lake Providence, Louisiana, to Mose and Angelina Jefferson. His father worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and managed a sharecropping plot. After graduating from high school, Jefferson majored in political science and English at Southern University in Baton Rouge where he met his future wife, Andrea Green. There he became involved in campus politics. His activities included organizing a protest about campus living conditions; he was also elected student body president. In 1969 he received his BA, and in 1972 he was awarded a JD degree from Harvard University. In 1996 he returned to school to complete a master of laws in Taxation from Georgetown University.

He married Green in 1970. Their union produced five daughters: Jamila, Jalila, Jelani, Nailah, and Akilah His ...

Article

Daniel Donaghy

writer, songwriter, teacher, and NAACP leader. James William Johnson (who changed his middle name to Weldon in 1913) was born in Jacksonville, Florida, to James Johnson, a headwaiter in a resort hotel, and Helen Louise (Dillet) Johnson, a teacher and part-time musician. Even though Jacksonville was more progressive than many other southern cities during the Reconstruction period and, as Johnson put it in his autobiography, “a good town for Negroes” because of a need for workers in the service industry during the winter months, Johnson's parents were both fortunate to find steady jobs. They were able to provide for their children, and they stressed the importance of a strong work ethic and good education.

Johnson attended Jacksonville s Stanton Central Grammar School where his mother taught The school was segregated and did not offer high school classes so Johnson had to move to Georgia ...

Article

Samuel Brenner

Between the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twenty first century African Americans interacted with judges and the judiciary on two major levels first as objects of legal decisionmaking whether as lawyers parties or uninvolved citizens notably in cases involving civil rights and second as members of the judiciary making those decisions The later history of the first level is ironic while the federal courts led the way in the mid twentieth century in dismantling the system of Jim Crow legalized segregation the only reason it was the judiciary rather than the federal legislature that needed to do so was that in the late nineteenth century the U S Supreme Court had acted specifically to thwart Congress s probable attempt to accomplish the same goal decades earlier On the second level while at the beginning of the twenty first century the total number of African American judges remained ...

Article

Shawn Lay

First established in the spring of 1866 the Ku Klux Klan is the most notorious and enduring racial hate group in American history. Although the Klan's organizational structure and political agenda have varied over the years, the secret order has consistently maintained a commitment to white supremacy and the subordination of African Americans.

Article

Elizabeth K. Davenport

attorney and civic leader, was born in Chicago into an African American family of successful lawyers. Her father, C. Francis Stradford, was a prominent attorney on Chicago's South Side and the founder of the National Bar Association (NBA), which he established in 1925. In 1940 C. Francis Stradford successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark case Hansberry v. Lee, which abolished the restrictive covenants that had limited racial integration in Chicago neighborhoods. Her grandfather, J. B. Stradford, was a well-known lawyer in the African American community and the owner of the only black hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her mother, Aida Arrabella Carter Stradford, was an artist and a homemaker.LaFontant's indoctrination to the legal profession occurred early. As a student at Englewood Public High School in Chicago, she spent the summers working in her father's law office. In the autumn of 1939 she ...

Article

Robert A. Pratt

a housewife, whose marriage in 1958 to Richard Loving sparked one of the nation's most important civil rights cases, was born Mildred Delores Jeter, of African American and Native American ancestry. Loving was one of five children born to Theoliver Jeter, a sharecropper, and Musiel Byrd, a homemaker. She also had four half brothers. She graduated from Union High School in Bowling Green, Virginia in 1957. In 1958 she married her childhood sweetheart who was white Both Jeter and Loving were born in Caroline County Virginia an area with a well known history of black white interracial sexual liaisons As was the local custom however and true for most of the South these unions occurred under cover of darkness and without legal sanction Many states had laws prohibiting interracial marriages some with restrictions dating back to the nineteenth century While enforcement of these laws ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

Apart from slavery, lynching is perhaps the most horrific chapter in the history of African Americans. Although lynching, defined as execution without the due process of law, has been used against members of many ethnicities, the vast majority of victims have been African American men, mostly in the Southern states, during a fifty-year period following Reconstruction. Despite its stated justification—that lynching is merely a response to crime—in most cases victims had not been convicted of, or even charged with, a specific crime. As historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage has noted, lynching was not only “a tragic symbol of race relations in the American South” but also “a powerful tool of intimidation.” A constant and unpredictable threat, lynching was used to maintain the status quo of white superiority long after any legal distinction between the races remained.

Because of its unpredictability and extra legal nature black men knew that they could ...

Article

Christopher Waldrep

In 1885 the Chicago Tribune reported that ninety-seven whites and only seventy-eight “colored” persons had perished at the hands of lynchers. The next year “colored” victims outnumbered whites, seventy-one to sixty-two, according to the Tribune. The following year, 1887, black victims outnumbered white victims nearly two to one. In 1890 the newspaper headlined its annual lynching tally “How the Colored Man Has Suffered.” Lynching had become a word for white racial violence directed at African Americans. Although it is not at all clear whether the nature of mob violence actually changed, it is undeniable that white newspapers’ understanding of mob violence shifted dramatically.

Article

Christopher Waldrep

Americans invented the word lynching, but not the practice. Mob violence that might be called lynching has appeared throughout history in such diverse locations as ancient Greece, Republican Rome, Africa, China, and early modern Europe and among Native American societies in North America. Newspaper reports in the early twenty-first century have found lynchings in Africa, Iraq, Mexico, and many other countries. Lynchers act in large crowds or small bands and attack all ethnic groups. Newspapers have reported that black people sometimes joined whites in integrated lynch mobs. On other occasions, African Americans formed all-black mobs to lynch other African Americans. White Americans have lynched Mexicans and Mexican Americans in large numbers. One student of lynching in Colorado, Stephen Leonard, claims that more nonracial lynchings occurred in that state, when figured on a per capita basis, than racial lynchings in any other state.