Law and Local Activism: Uncovering the Civil Rights History of Chambers v. Mississippi

76 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2013

See all articles by Emily Prifogle

Emily Prifogle

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: April 1, 2013


Countless academics have examined and discussed the importance of Chambers v. Mississippi in a multitude of areas including compulsory due process, admission of hearsay, third party guilt evidence, false confessions, racial evaluations of hearsay and witnesses, and morally reasonable verdicts. In contrast, this Comment attempts to excavate the account of a rural Mississippi community’s struggle for rights that underlies the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Chambers. On its face, the case has no link or reference to the civil rights movement. However, this Comment reveals that local civil rights activists took armed, direct economic action for equal rights in Woodville, Mississippi, and that activism characterized the events that precipitated the June 14, 1969, killing of Officer Aaron Liberty — Woodville’s black police officer. The article concludes by developing two interrelated claims: in the narrative — which takes place in the gap between secured rights and local realities — law is both everywhere and nowhere. National litigation influenced the terms of exchange between the local movement and white opposition, while micromobilizations of the law through local law enforcement continually operated to suppress civil rights activity. At the same time, there was an absence of legal protections for the black community, who in response mobilized an extralegal self-defense group to bolster the power of boycotts and protect black neighborhoods.

Keywords: legal history, civil rights, evidence, social movements

Suggested Citation

Prifogle, Emily, Law and Local Activism: Uncovering the Civil Rights History of Chambers v. Mississippi (April 1, 2013). California Law Review, Vol. 101, p. 445, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Emily Prifogle (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States


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