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Book Displays: Equal Justice Initiative 2022: Jul

Virtual displays based on the annual A History of Racial Injustice calendar.

July's Topic - White Juries and Racial Terror

Emmett Till's mother stands by his open casket

Calendar photo caption: Mamie Till-Bradley weeps over the open casket of her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, who was brutally lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The two white men charged with torturing and murdering Emmett were acquitted by an all-white jury. They later admitted their guilt. (Associated Press)

Calendar Text

Black people were barred from serving on juries in the U.S. well into the 20th century. As a result, Black victims found little protection in the courts. White perpetrators of racial violence were rarely arrested or charged, and when they were, all-white juries routinely delivered acquittals despite overwhelming evidence of guilt.

After a white mob in South Carolina killed Frazier Baker in protest of his appointment as the area's first Black postmaster, an all-white jury presented with ample evidence of guilt nonetheless refused to convict any of the defendants. The mob had burned the Baker home and riddled it with bullets, killing Mr. Baker and his infant daughter and leaving Mrs. Baker and the couple's five surviving children wounded and traumatized.

In Mississippi in 1955, an all-white, all-male Mississippi jury acquitted J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant of abducting, torturing, and murdering Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old Black boy visiting from Chicago. Within months, the two white men confessed to the crime in a paid magazine interview.

For generations, Black Americans charged with crimes have been denied juries of their peers, and acts of racial terror have gone unpunished, giving Black people little reason to expect justice from the legal system. 

In April 2021, when a diverse Minneapolis jury convicted the white police office who killed George Floyd, a Black man, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes, many felt relief and cautious hope. "Given the history of these kinds of cases, I was surprised," Mr. Floyd's brother, Terrence, said after the verdict. "I know there's still more work to be done."