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Strauder v. West Virginia

African Americans And The Jury System

Although many people perceive a summons to jury duty as a burden, the opportunity to serve on a jury is in fact a right. As such, it was denied to many African Americans until 1968.

The Supreme Court had ruled as early as 1808, in United States v. Mullany, that African Americans could act as competent witnesses in court, but most jurisdictions (particularly in the South) either flatly denied African Americans the right to testify, or subjected the testimony of a black person to extraordinary suspicion and scrutiny. The right to serve as a juror was closely tied with that of acting as a witness, and states found loopholes for withholding both of these civil rights from African Americans despite court rulings that deemed unconstitutional any systematic efforts at eliminating blacks from juries.

Provisions for enforcement came only with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, whose victories included the passage by Congress of the Jury Selection and Service Act. The act, passed in 1968, established specific provisions for inclusion of all citizens in the jury pool, and the Court's decision in Duncan v. Louisiana that year extended Sixth Amendment jury-trial provisions to the states.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Strauder v. West Virginia - "a Brand Upon Them", African Americans And The Jury System, Further Readings