Race, Rape, and Injustice: Documenting and Challenging Death Penalty Cases in the Civil Rights Era

Race, Rape, and Injustice: Documenting and Challenging Death Penalty Cases in the Civil Rights Era

by Barrett J. Foerster
     
 

This book tells the dramatic story of twenty-eight law students—one of whom was the author—who went south at the height of the civil rights era and helped change death penalty jurisprudence forever.
    The 1965 project was organized by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which sought to prove statistically whether capital

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Overview

This book tells the dramatic story of twenty-eight law students—one of whom was the author—who went south at the height of the civil rights era and helped change death penalty jurisprudence forever.
    The 1965 project was organized by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which sought to prove statistically whether capital punishment in southern rape cases had been applied discriminatorily over the previous twenty years. If the research showed that a disproportionate number of African Americans convicted of raping white women had received the death penalty regardless of nonracial variables (such as the degree of violence used), then capital punishment in the South could be abolished as a clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
    Targeting eleven states, the students cautiously made their way past suspicious court clerks, lawyers, and judges to secure the necessary data from dusty courthouse records. Trying to attract as little attention as possible, they managed—amazingly—to complete their task without suffering serious harm at the hands of white supremacists. Their findings then went to University of Pennsylvania criminologist Marvin Wolfgang, who compiled and analyzed the data for use in court challenges to death penalty convictions. The result was powerful evidence that thousands of jurors had voted on racial grounds in rape cases.
    This book not only tells Barrett Foerster’s and his teammates story but also examines how the findings were used before a U.S. Supreme Court resistant to numbers-based arguments and reluctant to admit that the justice system had executed hundreds of men because of their skin color. Most important, it illuminates the role the project played in the landmark Furman v. Georgia case, which led to a four-year cessation of capital punishment and a more limited set of death laws aimed at constraining racial discrimination.

A Virginia native who studied law at UCLA, BARRETT J. FOERSTER (1942-2010) was a judge in the Superior Court in Imperial County, California.

MICHAEL MELTSNER is the George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University. During the 1960s, he was first assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. His books include The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer and Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This book addresses difficult topics in the context of civil rights history. The late Foerster (1942–2010; law, Northeastern Univ.), who was one of 28 interns who participated in an NAACP research project covering 11 states in 1965, died after drafting this book’s manuscript; it was edited by his colleague Michael Meltsner (law, Northeastern Univ.; Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment). The NAACP project’s staff collected data for a death penalty study done by renowned criminologist Marvin Wolfgang, who found that convictions of black-on-white rape resulted in significantly more death penalty decisions than any other racial configurations. The author argues that this research had a profound influence on Supreme Court death penalty cases and sentencing reform. Early chapters describe the pervasive racism that infected the Southern states at that time. Subsequent chapters discuss legal issues, revealing how Wolfgang’s statistics crept into groundbreaking opinions including Maxwell v. Bishop in 1968 and Furman v. Georgia in 1972.

Verdict This book is ideally suited to students of law and society, but it should also appeal to general readers interested in the history of the 1960s. Recommended as a deftly written intellectual contribution and a worthy tribute to lesser-known warriors in the civil rights struggle.—Antoinette Brinkman, formerly with Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781572338623
Publisher:
University of Tennessee Press
Publication date:
11/15/2012
Edition description:
1
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
1,205,169
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

MICHAEL MELTSNER is the George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University. During the 1960s, he was first assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. His books include The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer and Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment.

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