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

By Christopher Waldrep | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Privileges and Immunities
in the Supreme Court

ON AUGUST 9, 1895, DABNEY MARSHALL put himself outside
the law when, accompanied by two cousins, he shot and killed Rufus Tilford
Dinkins at the train depot in Brandon, Mississippi
.1Through the newspapers,
Dinkins had circulated a rumor that Marshall had committed acts so un-
speakable they could not be printed. What the newspapers would not say,
though most readers must have realized, was that Dinkins was accusing Mar-
shall of homosexual acts. Marshall believed he had no choice but to confront
and shoot the man saying such things about him. Although Marshall followed
the South’s code of honor and enjoyed a measure of public support for doing
so, he nonetheless went to jail and faced the death penalty at trial. For his en-
emies, though, this was not enough. They wanted to orchestrate those “cir-
cumstances of overwhelming humiliation” so characteristic of a shaming rit-
ual
.2Newspaper etiquette did not permit open discussion of homosexuality;
it could only be implied or suggested. Marshall’s enemies had to find another
way to blacken his name. Though Marshall had been in the news because of
his writing, his erudition, and his promising political career before the shoot-
ing, no journalist had ever before described his physical appearance. Now the
silver press reported that he weighed less than ninety pounds, was “very frag-
ile,” and had a most unfortunate nickname in a hyper-masculinized culture:
“the Little Shrimp.” Marshall wore thick glasses but even with correction saw
so poorly that he had to ask Dinkins to identify himself before shooting him
.3
Dinkins, by contrast, seemed a pillar of masculinity, athletic, married twice,
father of children, and able to make an engine or build a house
.4

Marshall’s obvious guilt and effeminate appearance did not necessarily
mean that the majority of white Mississippians would agree that he had

-103-

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