Inherently Unequal NPR coverage of Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903 by Lawrence Goldstone. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
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Inherently Unequal

The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903

by Lawrence Goldstone

Hardcover, 242 pages, St Martins Pr, List Price: $26 |


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Inherently Unequal
The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903
Lawrence Goldstone

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Book Summary

The author of Dark Bargain evaluates the role of the late-19th-century Supreme Court in setting the stage for the Jim Crow era, documenting the overturning of 1875's Civil Right's Act and subsequent migrations of black citizens to less prejudiced regions.

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Walker and Company

The Supreme Court's Failure To Protect Blacks' Rights

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Excerpt: Inherently Unequal

Inherently Unequal

The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865–1903

Walker & Company

Copyright © 2011 Lawrence Goldstone
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1792-4


PROLOGUE A Death in Georgia..........................................................1CHAPTER 1 Construction and Reconstruction: Two Great Experiments.....................14CHAPTER 2 Beyond Party or Politics: The Capitalists Ascend...........................31CHAPTER 3 Another Reconstruction: The Lincoln Court..................................39CHAPTER 4 Siege: Congress Counterattacks.............................................51CHAPTER 5 Bad Science and Big Money..................................................61CHAPTER 6 Corporate Presidency: Ulysses Grant and the Court..........................73CHAPTER 7 Equality Frays: Cruikshank and Reese.......................................88CHAPTER 8 1876: Justice Bradley Disposes.............................................99CHAPTER 9 A Jury of One's Peers: Strauder and Rives..................................111CHAPTER 10 Deconstruction: The Civil Rights Cases....................................118CHAPTER 11 Floodgates: The Rebirth of White Rule.....................................130CHAPTER 12 Blurring the Boundaries: The Expansion of Due Process.....................137CHAPTER 13 Confluence: Plessy v. Ferguson............................................152CHAPTER 14 One Man, No Vote: Williams v. Mississippi.................................171CHAPTER 15 Mr. Justice Holmes Concurs................................................177CHAPTER 16 Movement..................................................................186EPILOGUE A Charade of Justice........................................................195Notes................................................................................201Bibliography.........................................................................223Index................................................................................231


A Death in Georgia

On April, 11, 1899, twenty miles southwest of Atlanta, Georgia, just outside Palmetto in Coweta County, a laborer named Sam Hose approached his employer, a wealthy farmer named Alfred Cranford. Hose asked for his accrued wages and permission to visit his mother, Mary Wilkes. Mrs. Wilkes, who lived in a cabin on a farm forty miles to the south, was a near-invalid, forced to care for another son who was retarded. Sam Hose had that day received a letter informing him that she had taken a turn for the worse. Hose, who was about twenty-five years old, had taught himself to read and write, the better to provide support for his family.

Cranford refused either to pay his employee or allow him time off. Sam Hose made the mistake of talking back. Cranford, known for a hot temper, stalked off. He seethed all night at the unimaginable slight.

Sam Hose, of course, was black. Alfred Cranford was white.

The next day, Cranford walked out to where Sam Hose was chopping wood. Cranford drew a gun and announced that he intended to shoot his disrespectful field hand dead on the spot. As they both knew, such a crime would have drawn not the slightest recrimination from the local authorities. In the unlikely event Cranford did go to trial, his acquittal by an all-white jury was a certainty. Sam Hose was a small man, only five feet eight inches tall, weighing not more than 140 pounds. In fear for his life, he flung his ax, striking the white man in the head and killing him instantly. He then fled in terror.

For the previous three months, a series of suspicious fires had plagued Palmetto. Two businesses and a home had gone up in flames. County officials insisted Palmetto Negroes were responsible and, further, that the fires were part of a grand conspiracy. White leaders would be murdered and the entire town burned to the ground. Local citizens were frantic.

In March, nine local black men had been arrested. All were later described by an outside investigator as "hard-working and intelligent." No evidence against any of them was ever produced, and each claimed to be able to easily prove his innocence. Palmetto had no jail, so the men were incarcerated in a local ware house, to be guarded, at least in theory, by sheriff's deputies. The night of their arrest, before any formal proceedings could be initiated, a group of concerned citizens, 150 white men, visited the prisoners. With the guards either ignoring the mob or joining it, eight of the nine were shot. Four died, and the others were seriously wounded.

Although the fires ceased—actually, they had stopped weeks before the arrests—talk of insurrection by marauding Africans continued to spread panic throughout Palmetto. The day after the shootings, for example, an Atlanta newspaper reported, "All business has been suspended, the town is under military patrol, and every male inhabitant is armed to the teeth, in anticipation of an outbreak which is expected to-night." Although no uprising ever took place, news, a month later, of Alfred Cranford lying dead outside his home with an ax in his head revived fears of an impending race war. Bloodhounds were set on Sam Hose's trail.

Sensational as the killing already was, rival newspapers in Atlanta, the Journal and the Constitution, decided that the story should be made even more lurid. Making no effort what ever to determine the actual facts of the case, they competed with each other for maximum embellishment and, one assumes, maximum sales. Sam Hose therefore became "a monster in human form." This "beast," the Journal reported to its readers, had burst in on the Cranford family during dinner, attacking the farmer from behind, cleaving his head in two. The Constitution took up the story from there. After brutally murdering the husband with the ax, Sam Hose then repeatedly raped Cranford's wife, Mattie, on the kitchen floor, "within arm's reach of where the brains were oozing out of her husband's head." What's more, this rampaging savage was afflicted with syphilis, which he intended to pass on to the pitiable widow. Not content with what he had done to the adults, Sam Hose then set upon either a Cranford infant, or two young Cranford children depending on which account one read. The infant was dashed to the ground. Or the young children were assaulted. The details of this final outrage were kept from the Journal's God-fearing readers, but the clear implication was that the assault was "unnatural."

For ten days, Sam Hose was tracked by a posse said to number as many as three hundred men. During the hunt, on April 18, the Constitution's headline read CIRCLE OF VENGEANCE SLOWLY CLOSING ON FLEEING SAM HOSE. HUNDREDS OF ARMED MEN ARE BEATING THE COUNTRY FOR THE MURDERER OF ALFRED CRANFORD. HE CANNOT ESCAPE, THEY SAY DETECTIVE BEDFORD HAS FOUND THE MURDERER'S DISCARDED SHOES. ONE NEGRO CAPTURED SEVERAL TIMES. THE ENTIRE SECTION THROUGH WHICH HE IS SUPPOSED TO BE MAKING HIS ESCAPE IS UP IN ARMS, DETERMINED TO LYNCH HIM. The article went on to say, "When Hose is caught he will either be lynched and his body riddled with bullets or he will be burned at the stake." The newspaper added, "There have been whisperings of burning at the stake and of torturing the fellow low, and so great is the excitement, and so high the indignation, that this is among the possibilities." Two days later, the Constitution added, "Several modes of death have been suggested for him, but it seems to be the universal opinion that he will be burned at the stake and probably tortured before burned." Clark Howell, the editor of the newspaper, offered a $500 reward, an amount matched by Georgia's new governor, Allen D. Candler. The town of Palmetto added $250 more.

On April 22, Sam Hose was finally apprehended at his mother's cabin. He was taken by train to Newnan, the Coweta County seat, which, unlike Palmetto, had its own jail. He was repeatedly questioned, both at the time of his arrest and during the train ride. Described later by white deputies as "free from excitement or terror," he "told his story in a straightforward way, said he was sorry he had killed Cranford [in self-defense], and always denied that he had attacked Mrs. Cranford."

On the night of April 22, Sam Hose was again questioned, this time in the Newnan jail. There are no witness accounts of this session, but, at its conclusion, the white jailers reported that "Hose made a partial confession, acknowledging that he killed Mr. Cranford, and said that the murder had been instigated by a colored preacher [Lige Strickland] who had paid him $12 to commit it." A later investigation by the Chicago private detective found this to be hogwash. "I did not talk with one white man," the investigator reported, "who believed that Strickland had anything to do with [Hose]. I could not find any person who heard [Hose] mention Strickland's name. I talked with men who heard [Hose] tell his story, but all agreed that he said he killed Cranford because Cranford was about to kill him, and that he did not mention Strickland's name."

Word of Sam Hose's capture spread through Georgia with remarkable speed. By early the next morning, Sunday, April 23, plans for his execution were complete. Such was the demand to witness the spectacle that a special excursion train was arranged to carry eager Georgians from Atlanta to the promised execution. In the meantime, Lige Strickland had been snatched up in Palmetto.

As noon approached, a huge crowd had gathered in an open green, one mile from the Newnan town square. At least 2,000 were present, although a dispatch to the New York Times claimed "one special and two regular trains brought nearly 4,000 people to Newnan." At the station in Atlanta, conductors cried out, "Special train to Newnan! All aboard for the burning!" The Constitution noted that "the spot selected was an ideal one for such an affair, and the stake was in full view of those who stood about with unfeigned satisfaction."

Into this festive atmosphere, men arrived in Newnan accompanied by their wives and even their children. "Ladies clothed in their Sunday finery watched from carriages, gazing excitedly over the heads of men carrying small children on their shoulders as the ritual began." Not every white citizen was in favor of what was to take place. Former Georgia governor William Y. Atkinson, a Newnan native who had recently completed his second term before being replaced by Allen Candler, was appalled. He rode to the site and stood in a buggy, pleading for the crowd to leave and let the law take its course. Atkinson was shouted down.

Finally, Sam Hose was brought in a wagon from the jail. He was dragged to the center of the mob of thousands of jeering whites. He was stripped of his clothing and tied to a small sapling. Wood was stacked around him and soaked with kerosene. Hose himself was smeared with oil. Before the match was struck, however, one of "the cool, determined men who went about arranging to burn him" walked up to Sam Hose and sliced off his left ear. Then his right. His fingers were cut off, then his genitals. Still before the fire was lit, one of these cool, determined men stood next to Sam Hose and skinned his face. (Reports filtered out that during this process Sam Hose made a full confession, admitting to both the rape of Mattie Cranford and the complicity of Lige Strickland, but a subsequent investigation proved this to be a fabrication as well.)

Finally, a match was thrown on the pyre.

"The stake bent under the strains of the Negro in his agony and his sufferings cannot be described, although he uttered not a sound," the Constitution faithfully reported. As the heat rose, Sam Hose's eyes popped from their sockets and his veins burst. "At one juncture, before the flames had begun to get in their work well, the fastenings that held him to the stake broke and he fell forward partially out of the fire." The men around him extinguished the flames, retied the victim, again doused him with oil, after which Sam Hose "was kicked back and the flames renewed. Then it was that the flames consumed his body and in a few minutes only a few bones and a small part of the body was all that was left of Sam Hose."

Before the body had cooled, the crowd was upon it. According to the New York Tribune, "It was cut into pieces, the bones were crushed into small bits and even the tree upon which the wretch met his fate was torn up and disposed of as souvenirs. The Negro's heart was cut into several pieces, as was also his liver. Those unable to obtain ghastly relics directly, paid more fortunate possessors extravagant sums for them. Small pieces of bone went for 25 cents and a bit of liver, crisply cooked, for 10 cents." Proper southern Christians deposited their souvenirs in pickle jars or handkerchiefs, later to be displayed as trophies in places of business or private homes.

That night, it was Lige Strickland's turn. "Just after dusk," another group of white men gathered at the town square, and soon the preacher was brought forward, hands tied and a noose hung around his neck. Strickland's employer, a Confederate war veteran and former state senator, Major W. W. Thomas, argued with the mob that Strickland was innocent, and he would not leave until the men promised that they would hand the black man over to local authorities until the charges could be investigated. Finally, after threat and argument failed, the mob reluctantly agreed. But Strickland, married and the father of five children, had aroused the enmity of local whites with some outspoken remarks; "had inflamed negroes in the neighborhood," as a newspaper report phrased it. As soon as Major Thomas departed to return home, the men loaded Strickland into a wagon, tightened the noose, and drove him out of town.

They stopped about a mile away, then dragged Strickland from the wagon to a sturdy tree. They threw the rope over a branch and pulled until it was taut. They demanded that Strickland confess. When he did not, they pulled him up. How long they left him off the ground is not known, but the white men eventually lowered him down and once again demanded a confession. Once again, Strickland refused. The white men again pulled on the rope.

When they were done, Lige Strickland had been hoisted three times into the air. Before being raised the third and last time, his ears and little finger on one hand were sliced off. Given one final opportunity to own up to his crime, he reportedly said, "I have told you all I know, gentlemen. You can kill me if you wish, but I have nothing to tell."

When Lige Strickland's body was discovered the next morning, "swinging from the limb of a tree," the New York Times reported:

On the chest of the negro was a piece of blood-stained paper attached by an ordinary pin. On one side of the paper was written:

"New York Journal: We must protect our ladies 23-'99"

The other side of the paper contained a warning to the negroes of the neighborhood. It read as follows.

"Beware all darkies. You will be treated the same way."

In the wake of the executions, Governor Candler issued a statement, printed verbatim in the Chicago Daily Tribune: "The whole thing is deplorable," the governor began. Lest anyone think that he was about to indict those who had perpetrated the torture and execution, Candler quickly added, "Hose's crime, the horrid details of which have not been published, is the most diabolical in the annals of crime. The negroes of that community lost the best opportunity they will ever have of elevating themselves in the estimation of their white neighbors ... the perpetrator was well known and they owed it to their race to exhaust every means of bringing Hose to justice. I want to protect them in every legal right and against mob violence, and I stand ready to employ every resource of the State in doing so, but they must realize that in order to inherit and receive the protection of the community, they must show a willingness to at least attempt to protect the community from lawless elements of their own race ... To secure protection against lawless whites, they must show a disposition to protect white people against lawless blacks."

Both the burning of Sam Hose and the lynching of Lige Strickland were reported throughout the nation, front-page news in most northern and western newspapers. Although few other northern newspapers carried Governor Candler's statement, the incidents were, by and large, reported with a complete lack of outrage. The New York Times, which had been ferocious in its editorial condemnation of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, spoke not a word of genuine disapproval against the burning of Sam Hose. As for Lige Strickland, the Times headline did read GEORGIA MOB KILLS INNOCENT MAN? as though, had Strickland been guilty, the actions of the mob would have been appropriate. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in an editorial, decried the killings, noting, "On this occasion, white humanity disgraced itself ... behaving quite as badly as Indians were ever known to behave." But the Daily Eagle added, "The black man is even more ignorant and passionate, and when he gives way to temptation he becomes indeed a terror to the community. As to the result of a lynching, it is without doubt restraining."

Nor were the identities of those who perpetrated the crime a secret. In the case of Sam Hose, the names of prominent witnesses and even those who incited the murder of the black man were widely reported. (Clark Howell had made his sentiments known to everyone who read his newspaper.) In fact, the reason for the wealth of material on these crimes was the utter lack of timidity by those involved to brag about it.

With all that, not one person was ever detained, arrested, or even officially questioned about either incident. When United States attorney general John W. Griggs, from New Jersey, was asked if he planned to investigate the lynchings, he said that "the case had no federal aspect, and therefore the government would take no action what ever in regard to it."

State pride for these crimes was certainly not unanimous among Georgia's whites. Some voices were raised in outrage. The Savannah Morning News wrote, "The method of [the lynching] was in keeping with the spirit of a savage rather than a civilized and Christian community. It provokes a spirit that is likely to lead to other crimes." The Savannah city attorney called the incidents "unspeakably horrible and shameful." A local judge added, "The whole thing is too horrible to think of. I don't want to talk about it. It is terrible in all its hideousness. I am sorry it happened in Georgia."

The day after the incidents, Governor Candler paid $600 of the reward to J. B. Jones, a farmer who had spotted Sam Hose and organized the posse that captured him. Later that day, "a man named Moss" presented a "good-sized piece of Hose's heart" to the governor as a trophy.

Two days after the killings, W. E. B. DuBois, then teaching at a black college in Atlanta, wrote out "a careful and reasoned statement concerning the evident facts," including a plea for racial reconciliation. He set out for the offices of the Atlanta Constitution to deliver the letter to Joel Chandler Harris, author of the popular "Uncle Remus" stories, whose work appeared in the newspaper. On his way, he was told that just down the street was a grocery store in which, on prominent display in the front window, were Sam Hose's severed knuckles.

DuBois turned back and headed home.