Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Walker on Emmett Till and the Modernization of Law Enforcement in Mississippi

The Violent Bear it Away: Emmett Till & the Modernization of Law Enforcement in Mississippi is a beautifully written new article by Anders Walker, Saint Louis University School of Law. The article is forthcoming in the San Diego Law Review, and is part of a forthcoming book by Walker, The Ghost of Jim Crow: How Southern Moderates Used Brown v. Board of Education to Stall Civil Rights. Here's the article abstract:
Few racially motivated crimes have left a more lasting imprint on American memory than the death of Emmett Till. Yet, even as Till's murder in Mississippi in 1955 has come to be remembered as a catalyst for the civil rights movement, it contributed to something else as well. Precisely because it came on the heels of the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Till's death convinced Mississippi Governor James P. Coleman that certain aspects of the state's handling of racial matters had to change. Afraid that popular outrage over racial violence might encourage federal intervention in the region, Coleman removed power from local sheriffs, expanded state police, and modernized the state's criminal justice apparatus in order to reduce the chance of further racial violence in the state. Though his results proved mixed, many of Coleman's reforms lived on, contributing to the end of public torture and lynching as an accepted mode of punishment in the state. This article discusses those changes, suggesting that they not only influenced the fight for civil rights, but encouraged the modernization of criminal justice in the South.
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