I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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“intended… as a clog upon the franchise:” In 1896, the Mississippi Supreme Court explains how the state disenfranchised blacks

Ratliff v. Beale, 20 So. 865 (1896), the Mississippi Supreme Court case quoted in my last post, is a case of breathtaking honesty.  Not in a good way.  There are two passages which are particularly striking that I want to post here.

The lawsuit seems to have been a set-up.

On the one side, you have J.A.P. Campbell working with the state AG.  Campbell was a congressman during the Confederacy and served for years on the Mississippi Supreme Court; he was considered one of the better justices on the court in the late 19th Century.   On the other side, you have S. S. Calhoon, J. Z. George, and Frank Johnston.  That would be James Zachariah George, who became one of Mississippi’s US Senators at the end of reconstruction, and was as prominent as lawyers and politicians got.   He was at the 1890 constitutional convention and involved in the legal defenses of that constitution.  S.S. Calhoon was the president of the 1890 convention and was within a couple of years on the Mississippi Supreme Court, writing well enough to be quoted over a hundred years later.

The dispute was over the seizure of a piece of furniture by the Hinds County tax collector.


The tax collector (represented by Campbell and the Attorney General) had seized “an article of household furniture,” by law exempt from taxation, to cover payment of a tax due; the property owner, represented by George and Calhoon, sought and obtained a permanent injunction against proceeding against the property.  They appealed on agreed facts.

What was all this legal talent doing in a fight over a chair or the like?  When nothing really was in factual dispute?