Law and Local Activism: Uncovering the Civil Rights History of Chambers v. Mississippi

13 Apr 2013 11:12pm Emily Prifogle 

Countless academics have examined and discussed the importance of Chambers v. Mississippi in a multitude of areas including compulsory due process, admission of hearsay, third party guilt evidence, false confessions, racial evaluations of hearsay and witnesses, and morally reasonable verdicts. In contrast, this article attempts to excavate the account of a rural Mississippi community's struggle for rights that underlies the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Chambers. On its face, the case has no link or reference to the civil rights movement. However, this paper reveals that local civil rights activists took armed, direct economic action for equal rights Woodville, Mississippi, and that activism characterized the events that precipitated the June 14, 1969 killing of Officer Aaron Liberty-Woodville's black police officer. The article concludes by developing two interrelated claims that are supported by the recovered narrative: in the narrative-which takes place in the gap between secured rights and on the ground realities-law is both everywhere and nowhere. National litigation influences the terms of exchange between the local movement and white opposition, while micro-mobilizations of the law through local law enforcement continually operate to suppress civil rights activity. At the same time, there is an absence of legal protections for the black community, who in response mobilizes an extra-legal self-defense group to bolster the power of boycotts and protect black neighborhoods.    

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