Blue Laws and Black Codes: Conflict, Courts, and Change in Twentieth-Century Virginia

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Women were once excluded everywhere from the legal profession, but by the 1990s the Virginia Supreme Court had three women among its seven justices. This is just one example of how law in Virginia has been transformed over the past century, as it has across the South and throughout the nation. In Blue Laws and Black Codes, Peter Wallenstein shows that laws were often changed not through legislative action or constitutional amendment but by citizens taking cases to state and federal courtrooms. Due largely to court rulings, for example, stores in Virginia are no longer required by "blue laws" to close on Sundays.

Particularly notable was the abolition of segregation laws, modified versions of southern states' "black codes" dating back to the era of slavery and the first years after emancipation. Virginia's long road to racial equality under the law included the efforts of black civil rights lawyers to end racial discrimination in the public schools, the 1960 Richmond sit-ins, a case against segregated courtrooms, and a court challenge to a law that could imprison or exile an interracial couple for their marriage. While emphasizing a single state, Blue Laws and Black Codes is framed in regional and national contexts. Regarding blue laws, Virginia resembled most American states. Regarding racial policy, Virginia was distinctly southern.

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Editorial Reviews

J. William Harris

Wallenstein's book is designed to reach scholars, students, and general readers in Virginia history, U.S. history, and the history of the South. I recommend it because of its unique approach, wide-ranging research, and good writing, all of which are brought to bear on important questions in Virginia, southern, and U.S. history in the twentieth century.

Charles McCurdyProfessor of History at the University of Virginia
There’s nothing like this work in the literature of Virginia history.... I admire what Wallenstein has done and how he has done it. And I learned from him.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813922607
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2004
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Wallenstein teaches history at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. His previous books include Tell the Court I Love My Wife: Race, Marriage, and Law—An American History.

University of Virginia Press

Peter Wallenstein teaches history at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. His previous books include Tell the Court I Love My Wife: Race, Marriage, and Law—An American History.

University of Virginia Press

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Table of Contents

List of Maps and Tables
Introduction: Amending Virginia, Amending America 1
1 The Case of the Laborer from Louisa: Conscripts, Convicts, and Public Roads, 1890s-1920s 15
2 Necessity, Charity, and a Sabbath: Citizens, Courts, and Sunday Closing Laws, 1920s-1980s 36
3 These New and Strange Beings: Race, Sex, and the Legal Professions, 1870s-1970s 60
4 The Siege against Segregation: Black Virginians and the Law of Civil Rights 82
5 To Sit or Not to Sit: Scenes in Richmond from the Civil Rights Movement 114
6 Racial Identity and the Crime of Marriage: The View from Twentieth-Century Virginia 142
7 Power and Policy in an American State: Federal Courts, Political Rights, and Policy Outcomes 170
8 From Harry Byrd to Douglas Wilder: Gender, Race, and Judgeships 198
Epilogue: Neither Blue Laws nor Black Laws 210
Notes 217
Index 255
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