Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Pig Farmer's Daughter and Other Tales of American Justice: Episodes of Racism and Sexism in the Courts from 1865 to the Present

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Pig Farmer's Daughter and Other Tales of American Justice: Episodes of Racism and Sexism in the Courts from 1865 to the Present

Article excerpt

The Pig Farmer's Daughter and Other Tales of American Justice: Episodes of Racism and Sexism in the Courts from 1865 to the Present. By Mary Frances Berry. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. Pp. [viii], 295. $24.00, ISBN 0-679-43611-1.)

In 1886 Annie Knuppel, the white daughter of a pig farmer, accused Albert Johnson, a black man, of rape. At Johnson's trial the white sheriff, the judge, and the county attorney testified that they believed he was innocent. Two separate juries evidently discounted their testimony and voted to convict. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, however, had the last word: it overturned both trial verdicts, and Johnson eventually went free. Although race often determined jury verdicts, in this case, class and gender trumped race at the appellate level. Knuppel was the poor daughter of a German immigrant. The appellate court upheld native white male privilege by allowing the opinions of Johnson's white patrons to overshadow Knuppel's claims to whiteness. The case of the pig farmer's daughter exposes what the author Mary Frances Berry calls "stories" that competed for dominance in American courtrooms. She argues that the law does not operate according to a strict set of formal rules. Instead, ideas about race, gender, class, and sexuality shape law's enforcement. Berry examines, through a marvelous collection of cases that revolve around sexual interaction, how pervasive social stereotypes that primarily spring from and benefit white male privilege have impeded the judicious administration of justice.

Each chapter explores a specific type of case, ranging from rape, incest, and abortion to adultery, seduction, and prostitution. Berry convincingly shows in each chapter that beliefs about race, class, and gender interacted in complex, though not always predictable, ways. Courts relied on "stories" that served to substantiate the power that white male patrons and patriarchs needed to maintain control over family members and property interests. Berry writes that, ultimately, "the stories of the powerful are the only ones that count" (p. 4). Her cases also suggest, however, that legal decisions occasionally benefited the less powerful, whether white or black. Albert Johnson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, went free after all, with his claims of innocence corroborated by white elites. …

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