Public Wrongs, Private Rights: African Americans, Private Law, and White Violence during Jim Crow


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation explores black litigation strategies, black legal culture, and the effect of black litigation on civil law. Not only did African Americans sue white southerners and white-owned companies for white-on-black violence under Jim Crow, they shared their collective legal knowledge through a network of black newspapers and contributed to case law. Guided by specific areas of civil law, they devised strategies to convince all-white juries that their experiences warranted damages, forcing white southerners to reckon with the fact that black lives and black experiences had value. Gendered stories of unprovoked violence, claims of respectability, and appeals to common law proved beneficial in civil cases involving racial violence. The dissertation argues that black newspapers shaped and transported black legal culture, and that black newspapers and the NAACP connected black people to local lawyers and advised victims on which areas of law might be helpful in gaining recourse in civil courts.