I am working to complete two new monograph projects: one a study of Jim Crow-Era popular constitutionalism (Politics, Anti-Democracy, and Jim Crow Constitutionalism, 1890-1915) and the other a legal biography of Booker T. Washington (The Litigious Mr. Washington).

Politics, Anti-Democracy, and Jim Crow Constitutionalism, 1890- 1915 tackles the dark jurisprudential and intellectual threads from which was woven disfranchisement. Having already established African Americans’ resistance role, the task now is to tease out the substance of the “constitutionalist” arguments and counter-arguments offered by the disfranchisers and their opponents.

Moulton (Ala.) Advertiser, 14 November 1901. John B. Knox presided over Alabama’s 1901 constitutional convention and appeared set for a glittering political career. Yet, he would become one of Southern history’s great losers, bested in every race by the 1901 Constitution’s Democratic opponents.

Disfranchisement was deeply unpopular among southern white voters, it was opposed broadly and loudly by Populists, African Americans, and by renegade white Democratic factions, yet, in later years, opposition politicians—namely, Democrats—bore no stigma and suffered no lasting defeats for their stance. Never mind the prominent role African Americans and Populists played in opposition efforts, the fact Democrats could survive politically despite their apostasy tells us to look beyond longstanding debates about a fait accompli, a revolt from the lower orders, a Bourbon coup d’etat, and whether disfranchisement primarily was racially-motivated or a partisan imperative. All of those can be true, and o yet fail to capture the whole story.

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Wilford H. Smith, the brilliant, ambitious, and largely unknown attorney behind Booker T. Washington’s comprehensive legal assault against Jim Crow.

The Litigious Mr. Washington is my second work-in-progress. Over the twenty-plus years I’ve spent in this material, Booker T. Washington has recurred as a leading character, and he is the subject of my second in-progress monograph project, , which is under contract with the University of Georgia Press. Washington was an ambitious, sly legal strategist. He and his associates were the key players in the anti-disfranchisement fight, and my research for Defying Disfranchisement hinted at something larger afoot, that something being a comprehensive legal assault against Jim Crow.

I am loath to characterize this as a direct reply or rejoinder to any of Washington’s previous biographers, for I’m dealing with new material. Neither will The Litigious Mr. Washington revisit his entire biography. Reexamining his battle against Jim Crow in proper detail and context opens wide a long-sealed window on the broader world of “nadir period” African-American activism and resistance.

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Francis Benjamin Johnston portrait of Booker T. Washington in his Tuskegee, Alabama study. image courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, LOC.