Race and Partisanship in Criminal Disfranchisement Laws: Antecedents of the 2000 Election Controversy in Florida
FREEDOM RIGHTS: NEW PERSPECTIVES ON THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, p. 277, D. McGuire and J. Dittmer, eds., University Press of Kentucky, 2011
15 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2012 Last revised: 21 Jan 2013
Date Written: 2011
This essay considers court challenges to laws disfranchising for criminal conviction initiated by three African American men in the early twentieth century. Cornelius "Canary" Curtis was disfranchised in Knoxville, Tennessee, for a 1907 larceny conviction. In 1914 Curtis petitioned for the restoration of his rights of citizenship and was denied twice by the local courts. He brought his case to the Tennessee Court of Civil Appeals, which ruled in his favor. The second incident in this essay involves the 1916 presidential election in St. Louis, Missouri. Democratic party operatives in the city coordinated efforts to target African American voters that year – many of whom had recently migrated to Missouri from southern states – with stepped-up and arguably fraudulent enforcement of laws disfranchising for crime. After the election, two voters, Henry Lucas and John Sullivan, who were among those wrongfully disfranchised by false accusations of prior criminal convictions, initiated civil suits against Democratic party leaders. These cases represent some of the first court challenges by African Americans – or indeed any individuals disfranchised for crime – to the enforcement of laws disfranchising for crime. The efforts of these three men were connected to and inform our understanding of the Black Freedom Movement and the struggle for African American civil rights.
Keywords: felon disfranchisement, felon disenfranchisement, Tennessee, Missouri, In re: Curtis, Henry Lucas v. Theodore Sandman, John L. Sullivan vs. Breckinridge Long, Breckinridge Long
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