Williams v. Mississippi, 170 U.S. 213 (1898), is a United States
Supreme Court case that reviewed provisions of the state constitution
that set requirements for voter registration. The Supreme Court did
not find discrimination in the state's requirements for voters to pass
a literacy test and pay poll taxes, as these were applied to all
In practice, the subjective nature of literacy approval by white
registrars worked to drastically decrease and essentially disfranchise
African American voters.
The Court considered the new
Mississippi constitution passed in 1890.
It upheld disfranchisement clauses which established requirements for
literacy tests and poll taxes paid retroactively from one's 21st
birthday as prerequisites for voter registration. A grandfather clause
effectively exempted illiterate whites, but not blacks, from the
literacy test by relating qualifications to whether one's grandfather
had voted before a certain date. Because the provisions applied to all
potential voters, the Court upheld them, although in practice the
provisions had discriminatory effects on African Americans.
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
The plaintiff, Henry Williams, had been indicted for murder by an
all-white grand jury, and convicted by an all-white petit jury and
sentenced to be hanged. The plaintiff challenged the jury selection as
the jury was selected from eligible voters and the plaintiff alleged
the trial was inappropriate as the "defendant's race would have been
represented impartially on the grand jury which presented this
indictment," and that he was deprived of equal protection under the
Williams' counsel, Cornelius J. Jones, attacked the indictment and
trial for violating the
Equal Protection Clause
Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment because blacks had been excluded from jury service following
their effective disfranchisement under Mississippi's constitution of
November 1890. Drafted specifically to disenfranchise black voters,
the state constitution's provisions for literacy and poll-tax
qualifications essentially eliminated African Americans as voters, and
therefore from jury roles, after 1892.
Williams' counsel contended that the state constitution discriminated
against blacks by giving unbridled discretion to election officers,
who ruled on adequate records of payment of poll taxes and
qualification of electors for literacy and understanding to be
registered to vote.
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected Williams' contention in a
9-0 vote, ruling that he had not shown administration of the
Mississippi suffrage provision was discriminatory.
Other Southern states created new constitutions with provisions
similar to those of Mississippi's through 1908, effectively
disfranchising hundreds of thousands of blacks and tens of thousands
of poor whites for decades.
Although some northern Congressmen proposed reducing southern states'
apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives to reflect the
numbers of African Americans who were disfranchised, no action was
passed. With one-party rule, white Southern Democrats had a powerful
voting block which they exercised for decades, for instance, to reject
any Federal legislation against lynching. (See Section Two of the 14th
Guinn v. United States
United States Supreme Court
United States Supreme Court cases, volume 170
^ "Williams v.
Mississippi - 170 U.S. 213 (1898)". justia.com.
^ Williams v. Mississippi, accessed 12 March 2008
Behrens, Angela; Uggen, Christopher; Manza, Jeff (2003). "Ballot
Manipulation and the "Menace of Negro Domination": Racial Threat and
Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 1850–2002" (PDF).
American Journal of Sociology. 109 (3): 559–605.
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