June 26th, 1959
Prince Edward County Closes Public Schools to Prevent Integration
In 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court declared that racially separate schools were inherently unequal and violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. From 1956 to 1959, Virginia Senator Harry Flood Byrd called on the South to organize a program of massive resistance to school desegregation and refuse to fund schools that complied with the ruling. Virginia heeded that call in 1958, when Governor James Lindsay Almond, Jr. ordered the closing of public schools in Warren County, Charlottesville, and Norfolk. In January 1959, a federal district court declared Virginia's resistance efforts unconstitutional and the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals declared they violated the state constitution.
On June 26, 1959, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors nonetheless voted to close its public schools and later diverted public funds to private, white-only schools. When Prince Edward County schools closed, African American students had to attend schools in surrounding counties, leave the state to attend integrated schools elsewhere, or miss out on education altogether. Many white students attended the local private schools that opened in order to avoid desegregation. Five years later, the Supreme Court ordered the reopening of Prince Edward County public schools in Griffin v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County. In September 1964, about 1500 students, most of them black, returned to public school in Prince Edward County.
June 26th, 1844
Oregon Territory Bans Free Black People
On June 26, 1844, the legislative committee of the territory then known as “Oregon Country” passed the first of a series of “black exclusion” laws. The law dictated that free African Americans were prohibited from moving into Oregon Country and those who violated the ban could be whipped “not less than twenty nor more than thirty-nine stripes."
On December 19, 1844, the law was amended to substitute forced labor for whipping. It specified that African Americans who stayed within Oregon would be hired at public auction; the “hirer” would be responsible for removing the “hiree” out of the territory after the prescribed period of forced service was rendered. This law was enforced even though slavery and involuntary servitude were illegal in Oregon Country.
The preamble to a later exclusion law, passed in 1849, explained legislators’ beliefs that “it would be highly dangerous to allow free Negroes and mulattoes to reside in the Territory, or to intermix with Indians, instilling . . . feelings of hostility toward the white race.”
The Oregon Constitution of 1857 included racial exclusion provisions against African Americans and Asian Americans. It barred African Americans outside of Oregon to “come, reside, or be within” the state; prohibited African Americans from owning property or performing contracts; and prescribed punishment for those who employed, “harbor[ed]”, or otherwise helped African Americans.
Between 1840 and 1860, in the midst of this exclusion and discrimination, African Americans never constituted more than 1 percent of the population in the American Pacific Northwest.
June 26th, 2013
Texas Executes 500th Person Since 1982
On June 26, 2013, fifty-two-year-old Kimberly McCarthy became the 500th person executed by the State of Texas since 1982. Ms. McCarthy, a black woman, was charged with robbing, beating, and fatally stabbing a retired professor near Dallas in 1997. She was sentenced to death despite evidence that racial bias played a significant role in the case and was put to death by lethal injection.
The Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia struck down death penalty statutes across the country, including Texas's statute. The five-member majority ruled that the administration of capital punishment was arbitrary in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Justice Potter Stewart compared the random nature of death sentences to being “struck by lightning.” Under the Furman decision, the sentences of all death row prisoners throughout the country were commuted to life imprisonment.
Soon after, thirty-five states set out to create constitutionally-sound death penalty laws, using Furman as a guideline. The resulting statute adopted in Georgia was reviewed by the Supreme Court in the 1976 case of Gregg v. Georgia. The Court affirmed that the new procedures met constitutional requirements and authorized states to re-institute the death penalty. Prior to Gregg, no industrial democracy had ever reinstated the death penalty after taking steps to abolish it.
Texas resumed executions six years later, administering the state’s first lethal injection to Charles Brooks Jr. on December 7, 1982. More than 1366 people have been executed in the United States since the Furman moratorium was lifted in 1976 and more than a third of those executions have been carried out in Texas.
June 26th, 2011
James Craig Anderson Beaten, Run Over in Jackson, Mississippi, Hate Crime
On June 26, 2011, James Craig Anderson, a forty-seven-year-old African American man, was beaten and run over by a group of seven white men and women in Jackson, Mississippi. The group of young people, who lived fifteen miles away in predominantly-white Rankin County, regularly drove to Jackson where more than a third of the population is African American, to harass people of color in the community by throwing bottles and other objects at them. The group would often pick on the homeless or people they thought were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, thinking them less likely to report the assaults to police.
The night before Anderson's death, the group of white youth had been drinking at a party when they decided to drive to Jackson to assault African American residents. While driving, they spotted Anderson standing outside of his car in the parking lot of a motel and chose him as a target. After the group beat Anderson, Deryl Dedmon, a white teen in the group, reversed his Ford F-250 truck and struck Anderson with it, knocking him to the curb. Dedmon then drove off, leaving Anderson to die. Witnesses later told police that they heard someone yell “white power,” and Dedmon later used a racial slur when bragging about the event.
Police investigating Anderson’s death soon obtained the motel security footage, which depicted the group attacking Anderson and Dedmon's truck running him over. Prosecutors charged Dedmon with capital murder, but Anderson's family asked for the state not to seek the death penalty in a public letter. “We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites,” the famil wrote. “Executing James’s killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.” Dedmon was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences.
Ten other people were indicted on federal hate crime charges; six of them pled guilty and the other four have trials set for fall 2014. Anderson's family has also filed a wrongful death suit against the young people involved in his death.