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

By Christopher Waldrep | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Discovery That Race
Politicizes Due Process

DABNEY MARSHALL WAS ONE MEMBER of a three-man alliance
determined to win justice for Mississippi blacks. Willis Mollison was the sec-
ond. While Marshall enjoyed all the privileges of wealth and whiteness, Molli-
son had all the disadvantages of being born black in Mississippi. Nonetheless,
he found his opportunities where he could, studying law under a Republican
carpetbagger, the former Mississippi Supreme Court justice Elza Jeffords, and
finagling a job as clerk of the Issaquena County circuit chancery court. He ap-
parently performed his duties to the satisfaction of whites as well as African
Americans, since he won election to the job in 1883 and reelection in 1887. Ad-
mitted to the bar in 1887, he first practiced law in his hometown of Mayerville
before moving to Vicksburg, where he ran a bank, operated a newspaper, and
continued his law practice
.1

Mollison attributed the worst of white racism to politics, firmly believing
that Mississippi’s notoriously demagogic governor, James K. Vardaman, had
egged on the most evil and violent white racists to gain office. His evidence
came from his own experience: Before Vardaman became governor in 1903,
white lawyers and judges freely shared their offices and libraries with black
colleagues, a practice that ended with Vardaman’s election. Vardaman hated
Booker T. Washington’s variety of self-help since it implied that with educa-
tion blacks could be made worthy citizens. This rankled Mollison, driving him
to prove Washington right. To show black accomplishment and success, Mol-
lison published a book titled
The Leading Afro-Americans of Vicksburg,
Miss., Their Enterprises, Churches, Schools, Lodges and Societies. He gave
speeches arguing that blacks could be educated, could be successful, could be
deserving of white respect
.2

-31-

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