The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-World War II South

Overview

On February 25, 1946, African Americans in Columbia, Tennessee, averted the lynching of James Stephenson, a nineteen-year-old, black Navy veteran accused of attacking a white radio repairman at a local department store. That night, after Stephenson was safely out of town, four of Columbia's police officers were shot and wounded when they tried to enter the town's black business district. The next morning, the Tennessee Highway Patrol invaded the district, wrecking establishments and beating men as they arrested ...
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The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-World War II South

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Overview

On February 25, 1946, African Americans in Columbia, Tennessee, averted the lynching of James Stephenson, a nineteen-year-old, black Navy veteran accused of attacking a white radio repairman at a local department store. That night, after Stephenson was safely out of town, four of Columbia's police officers were shot and wounded when they tried to enter the town's black business district. The next morning, the Tennessee Highway Patrol invaded the district, wrecking establishments and beating men as they arrested them. By day's end, more than one hundred African Americans had been jailed. Two days later, highway patrolmen killed two of the arrestees while they were awaiting release from jail.

Drawing on oral interviews and a rich array of written sources, Gail Williams O'Brien tells the dramatic story of the Columbia "race riot," the national attention it drew, and its surprising legal aftermath. In the process, she illuminates the effects of World War II on race relations and the criminal justice system in the United States. O'Brien argues that the Columbia events are emblematic of a nationwide shift during the 1940s from mob violence against African Americans to increased confrontations between blacks and the police and courts. As such, they reveal the history behind such contemporary conflicts as the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson cases.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A deeply textured book about the so-called race riot provoked by a white mob's attempt to lynch a young black World War II veteran.

Journal of Southern History

[An] exemplary book.

Journal of American History

Well-written, well-researched, and extremely thought-provoking.

American Historical Review

[A] model of careful and courageous scholarship and should be standard reading for students of law and justice .

Law and Politics Book Review

O'Brien's readable and well-researched account of an extraordinary story makes innovative contributions to the growing literature on American violence.

Times Literary Supplement

Library Journal
Southern race relations in the years immediately following World War II and their implications for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s have recently attracted more attention from popular and academic writers. Historian OBrien (North Carolina State Univ.) examines an averted 1946 lynching and its aftermath in the small community of Columbia, TN. Among the significant contributions of her work is the light it sheds on the connections between the events of 1946 and the communitys race relations in earlier decades; she also discusses the leadership that middle-class African Americans provided for others in Columbias black community during this crisis. The value of the book is only slightly reduced by OBriens predilection for expressing conclusions with a higher degree of certitude than the evidence appears to warrant. For history and Civil Rights collections in academic libraries.Thomas H. Ferrell, Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Gail Williams O'Brien is professor of history and associate dean for graduate studies, planning, and faculty affairs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. The Columbia Story

Part I. Racial Violence
2. The Bottom and Its Brokers
3. War, Esteem, Efficacy, and Entitlement
4. The Making and Unmaking of Mobocracy

Part II. Racial Justice
5. The Politics of Policing
6. Grand (Jury) Maneuvers and the Politics of Exclusion
7. Outsiders and the Politics of Justice

Conclusion
Notes
Sources Cited
Index

Illustrations

Map of downtown Columbia, Tennessee
James Stephenson
Whites gathered in Columbia on February 25
State guardsman turns back mob
Hollis Reynolds after his seizure by highway patrolmen
John Blackwell after beating
Black Columbians being marched to jail
Saul Blair's barbershop after the raid
First block of East Eighth Street on February 26
Gladys Stephenson, Maurice Weaver, and Saul Blair
Jesse "Peter" Harris being searched
Arrestees after the patrol raid on February 26
White civilians on the road on February 25
The four Columbia police officers who were fired upon
Sheriff James J. Underwood Sr.
Three young members of the State Guard
State Guard Commander Jacob McGavock Dickinson Jr.
Highway Patrol officers search men from the Lodge Hall
Highway patrolmen and armed white civilians
Morton's Funeral Parlor after the raid
Columbia policeman Bernard O. Stofel
NAACP defense counsel and five of the defendants
Z. Alexander Looby, Maurice Weaver, and Leon Ransom
Lawrenceburg jurors

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