THE BENCH AND THE BALLOT: Southern Federal Judges and Black Voters by Charles V. Hamilton

THE BENCH AND THE BALLOT: Southern Federal Judges and Black Voters

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Charles Hamilton, coauthor with Stokely Carmichael of Black Power, is one of the most able and incisive interpreters of the black political travail in America. Here he analyzes the effectiveness of the federal court system's role during 1957-65 in implementing the voting rights legislation of 1957 and 1960 designed to register thousands of Southern blacks disenfranchised by discriminatory application of state literacy tests and a variety of extra-legal suasions. Posing such key questions as should the judiciary have been given the registration responsibility in the first place, how did the judges acquit themselves and what strategems did they employ, how did the courts respond to the tactics of economic and physical intimidation (pressures largely beyond the scope of judicial authority), and the nature of the politics of bench behavior vis-a-vis other federal departments (particularly the Justice Department whose files were used in this research), Hamilton focuses on fifteen cases in four states (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee) involving five judges. Instances of judicial aggressiveness, resistance, and gradualism are all illustrated, but overall says Hamilton ""the federal courts virtually nullified all possible legal means to deter black voting,"" noting also that especially the actions of Judge Frank M. Johnson (U.S. District Court, Alabama) ""showed that many, if not all, of the objections to the judicial approach were not valid."" But ""before it is legitimate to talk about a free vote in the South,"" Hamilton concludes, blacks must become economically independent and job secure, free from ""a white economic apparatus that wishes to protect against socio-political change."" Grassroots judicio-political history at its finest.

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 1973
Publisher: Oxford