Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Jaffe on Jonathan Jasper Wright and Reconstruction in South Carolina

We often don’t post on older articles, but I teach about African American lawyers in nineteenth-century South Carolina every year but somehow missed this one until now. Caleb A. Jaffe, a graduate of the University of Virginia’s famed JD-MA program in 2001, recently posted Obligations Impaired: Justice Jonathan Jasper Wright and the Failure of Reconstruction in South Carolina, Michigan Journal of Race & Law 8 (2003): 471-501:
J.J. Wright (wiki)
This Note considers the career of Jonathan Jasper Wright, the nation’s first African American state supreme court justice, in the context of post-Civil War reconstruction in South Carolina. It provides a close reading of Justice Wright’s published opinions in order to gain a better understanding of his judicial philosophy and how that philosophy interacted with the politics of the era. From his writings, Justice Wright appears as a cautious jurist who envisioned a governing union comprised of “men of experience” - whites and African Americans, Republicans and Democrats. During the South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1868 he asserted, “We are here, I trust, … with hatred and malice towards no man who has held a slave.” Justice Wright earned a remarkable civil rights victory in securing a seat on the supreme court in a state dominated by a hostile and unrepentantly racist culture, but his accomodationist approach while on the bench was ultimately doomed to fail. The South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1895 carried forth an explicit charge to disenfranchise African Americans and reinstate white supremacy.
Dan Ernst