Defying Disfranchisement: Black Voting Rights Activism in the Jim Crow South, 1890-1908 is the first major examination of African Americans’ efforts to fend off suffrage restrictions and undermine southern states’ disfranchising constitutions through grassroots political campaigns and large-scale court challenges. It is a double narrative, concentrating on voting right campaigns broadly, yet also revealing for the first time the astonishing history of Giles v. Harris (1903)–a devastating, monumental, and curiously understudied landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Initiated under the auspices of the Colored Men’s Suffrage Association of Alabama and its president, Jackson Giles, developed by the brilliant attorney Wilford H. Smith, and secretly funded by Booker T. Washington, Giles v. Harris was designed to cripple Jim Crow in his infancy, but the Supreme Court through Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. balked at the chance, allowing Alabama’s disfranchising scheme to stand. Giles v. Harris became a “Second Dred Scott,” the African American press lamented, and Holmes a “new Roger Taney.”

Indianapolis Recorder, May 2, 1903
Indianapolis Recorder, May 2, 1903

Defying Disfranchisement in the news

Gregory Downs, “Today’s Voter Suppression Tactics Have A 150 Year History.” Talking Points Memo, July 26, 2018.

Selected Reviews

Christopher Malone, Journal of American History

Xi Wang, Journal of Southern History

T. Adams Upchurch, American Historical Review

W. Lewis Burke, The Alabama Review

Washington (D.C.) Colored American, February 7, 1903