Jury Discrimination: The Supreme Court, Public Opinion, and a Grassroots Fight for Racial Equality in Mississippi

By Christopher Waldrep | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Making the Fairy Tale

THOMAS DABNEY MARSHALL WAS BORN on his father’s plan-
tation November 20, 1860, two weeks after Abraham Lincoln’s election to the
presidency. The Marshalls did not vote for Lincoln—his name was not on the
ballot in Mississippi. There is no surviving record of their vote, but the Mar-
shalls adamantly opposed secession, and most voters in and around Vicksburg
voted Whig and then Constitutional Unionist. Dabney Marshall’s parents al-
most certainly supported John Bell, the Constitutional Unionist candidate.
Dabney’s uncle went to Mississippi’s secession convention, on every roll call
stubbornly voting not to secede despite heckling and jeers from his fellow del-
egates and the crowd watching the proceedings. It is tempting to conclude that
Marshall’s family history of unionism explains—at least in part—his later
commitment to blacks’ civil rights and his willingness to call on federal au-
thorities to protect them
.1

At the University of Mississippi, Marshall’s professor L. Q. C. Lamar chal-
lenged his commitment to national rights. Lamar, the bête noire of Marshall’s
uncle at the secession convention, had been a leading congressional opponent
of the 1875 Civil Rights Act, which he denounced as an invasion of state sov-
ereignty. Even as a child, Marshall seemed precocious, perhaps brilliant, and
Lamar could not shake his commitment to national patriotism. Dabney grad-
uated in 1882 with honors and returned to Vicksburg filled with literary eru-
dition and scholarly knowledge and speaking French. At Vicksburg’s Fourth of
July celebrations, he made speeches celebrating northern soldiers’ valor along
with the Southerners’
.

Despite Marshall’s remarkable commitment to the Union, it is more likely
that history—what James Oldham has called “the fairy tale,” the popular no-
tion that defendants have a right to be tried by a jury of their peers—hardened

-7-

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