Jim Crow Jury Law’s Last Stand in Louisiana
If you’re a person of a certain age and skin color, you’re familiar with Jim Crow laws in America, particularly in the American South. If you’re unfamiliar, the term “Jim Crow” derisive term for a black man. It would later be adopted as the name of any state law passed in the South that established different rules or laws for blacks and whites. These laws were based on white supremacy and were done in reaction (or retaliation, depending on whose take you’re getting) to the Reconstruction period after slavery was “outlawed.”
The legacy of Jim Crow continues today in the United States. The Atlantic recently published a documentary from Brooklyn-based filmmaker and visual artist Sean Mattison called “Jim Crow’s Last Stand.”
In 1898, a constitutional convention successfully codified a slew of Jim Crow laws in a flagrant effort to disenfranchise black voters and otherwise infringe on their rights. “Our mission was to establish the supremacy of the white race in this State to the extent to which it could be legally and constitutionally done,” wrote Judiciary Committee Chairman Thomas Semmes.
One of these laws sought to maintain white supremacy in state courtrooms. In response to the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which required the state to include black people on juries, Louisiana lawmakers and voters ratified a nonunanimous-jury law. This meant that a split jury—a verdict of 11–1 or 10–2—could convict a defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The law was designed to marginalize black jurors on majority-white juries, and many believe that it has contributed to the state’s status as the prison capital of the world. (Until 2017, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate in the nation.)
“Jim Crow’s Last Stand” captures the efforts of the Unanimous Jury Coalition to pass Louisiana Amendment 2, a bipartisan measure on the midterm ballot to eliminate nonunanimous-jury convictions in felony trials. In November, 64 percent of Louisianans voted yes.
Watch “Jim Crow’s Last Stand” below.