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December 01, 2014

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Ralph Clifford

Tulsa, OK (events took place in Sapulpa, OK which is mostly in Tulsa County). The defendant is Jesse Hollins, see http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/H/HO013.html.

The biggest clue, by the way, was the Oklahoma license plate on the truck in your picture.

Alfred L. Brophy

Very well done, Ralph!

Also, you have a better monitor and/or eyesight than me. (I thought the link to the Tulsa right might give it away -- but you'd still need to know a lot to link that up to Jess Hollins.) This is the Creek County Courthouse in Sapulpa, where Hollins was sentenced to death. After the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the guilty plea because it was coerced he was tried in Okmulgee. (Also the court noted that the judge who sentenced him had testified about his concern that there would be a lynching and he cited the mob violence in Tulsa about a decade before.) This time the conviction and death sentence were upheld by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, but overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Hollins was subsequently tried again and sentenced to life in prison, where he died around 1950.

anon

Am I reading this correctly: The man was tried three times, and found guilty each time, but all the state presented was a "laughably biased prosecution"?

The implications and references here evoke a certain relevance to current events (e.g., "just like Emmett Till"). This post suggests a bit of a stronger connection to that sorry circumstance than some others we've being reading about.

Beyond bare references to the race of the accused, and the charge (rape of a white woman), and the negative allusions to the woman's character, and beyond the unquestionably railroaded judicial process that seems to have afforded Hollins three trials of the facts (the first only loosely called "a trial" to be sure), are those the only facts we need to know? might we know: what did the man do?


Interesting might be where some of the blame was placed in this issue of the "The Crisis" from 1933, written in the first person. I can't seem to find a cogent summary of the facts underlying the matter, however.

http://books.google.com/books?id=BFgEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA35&dq=jess+hollins+oklahoma&hl=en&sa=X&ei=AMB8VNb6OISBiwKb74E4&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=jess%20hollins%20oklahoma&f=false

Jack

I've long wondered what these posts have anything to do with the mission of the blog, or the reasons any of us come here. Maybe consider making another blog for historical trivia and leave this one about legal academia? It's sort of revealing this post is just Ralph and Al talking back and forth to each other! Anyway, fan of the blog, just trying to help.

Alfred L. Brophy

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense Jack. The Jess Hollins case doesn't have anything to do with law or legal scholarship.

anon

Prof Brophy

Please post comments that are perhaps stuck in the spam filter.

Thank you!

Alfred L. Brophy

Hi anon,

Thanks for your comment, which I've now fished out. The alleged crime took place on December 26, 1931. Hollins was arrested on December 28 and pled guilty on December 30 and sentenced to death the same day. He did not have a lawyer. He was sent immediately to prison. The judge who sentenced him was afraid of mob violence. This is from the ok court of criminal appeals opinion. http://law.justia.com/cases/oklahoma/court-of-appeals-criminal/1932/43838.html

Then Hollins was tried in Okmulgee. There were no African American jurors in the jury pool, nor had there ever been African American jurors so far as anyone could remember in Okmulgee. This conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Back on trial again in Okmulgee Hollins was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The Crisis article you link to is interesting for a bunch of reasons. First, because it is from Roscoe Dunjee, the editor of Oklahoma City's Black Dispatch newspaper. Dunjee was a leading figure in the African American community and a steadfast advocate for the rule of law, from before the Tulsa riot past the Brown decision. Second, it reveals divisions within Oklahoma on how to protect Hollins' rights, especially as communists wanted to take over the defense. This is another parallel to Scottsboro.

anon

Prof Brophy

Thank you for your reply and for fishing out my comment.

I too found the Crisis article interesting, in that the author was there (literally) and blamed some of the botched defense on "Communists." It seems to me that this case, like many we have seen, was used by political actors in a struggle to prove a point.

Which leads me back to my question. Rather than rephrase it, I'd like to repeat it, because I still can't find an answer in this thread, or even after searching a bit online (I haven't yet checked to see if any of the opinions are available; perhaps there I will learn about some of the evidence presented in the case.)

I've seen bare references to the race of the accused, and the accuser (white), and the charge (rape), and the negative allusions to the woman's character (one reference said she was known to "dance lewdly" as I recall). These references are all quite clearly designed to prove that the man was convicted by racists because he was black (your reference to the "all white" jury evokes this thought as well).

But beyond the unquestionably railroaded judicial process that seems to have afforded Hollins only three trials of the facts (the first only loosely called "a trial" to be sure), are those the only facts we need to know?

Might we know: what did the man allegedly do? (Actually, we might say: "What did three juries find the man did?"

Let me state the reason I inquire: In the recent Michael Brown grand jury testimony, we had recounts of the incident that were so false that many have called for perjury charges. The physical evidence simply disproved much of the most inflammatory testimony. Yet, these stories circulated and gained resonance (he was executed with a point blank shot to the head while on his knees, begging for mercy; he was running away and shot in the back; etc.)

Again, Jess Hollins was convicted three times. What did he do?

anon

Ah. I see that he pled guilty in the first "trial" to avoid mob violence, it is said.

Therefore, would it be correct that two juries found the facts justified conviction?

It is sort of curious; even the writ you linked to didn't seem to recite the facts.

What on earth did this man do?

Steven Freedman

First, I'd just like to say that I enjoy these trivia questions.

Second, here's a link that has a bit more information about the case, including what Jesse Hollins was accused of doing. If you can't find it, I just googled "Jesse Hollins Oklahoma" and found several links, of which the one below was helpful.

Based on what little we know from these links, it looks like an instance where there may not be an easy, pat history that fits our preconceptions. On the one hand it's obvious from history and the circumstances that the three trials were a gross injustice. On the other hand, I'm not sure I like the defense very much. This case possibly presents two despicable facets of US legal history, 1) an all white, overtly racist criminal justice system, and 2)the "loose woman" defense to rape accusations. Or maybe it was just communist agitation?

http://books.google.com/books?id=kVjCYM8nAXIC&lpg=PA136&ots=cMYeCdjB5l&dq=jess%20hollins%20oklahoma&pg=PA136#v=onepage&q=jess%20hollins%20oklahoma&f=false

Alfred L. Brophy

Hi Anon,

I don't remember as much of the background of this case as I'd like (there's an article in the Chronicles of Oklahoma from the mid-1980s and one in the South Atlantic Quarterly from around that time, too, which detail more of the background -- the belief of many at the time was that the relationship was consensual. I think they were neighbors.). Like you I believe that the facts matter deeply to understanding what was happening; we also have some undisputed facts regarding the prosecutions. And they are laughable. The death sentence following immediately a guilty plea while the defendant and the judge and apparently everyone else around, too, was in fear of mob violence. Even the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in 1932 thought this was inadequate. Then the conviction and death sentence in a county where African Americans had never served on a jury. This led to a unanimous reversal by the US Supreme Court.

The procedure was laughable, even if (as I intuit you're wondering) Hollins was guilty. Given the frequent mistakes surrounding the mob mentality -- Tulsa is a dramatic example of this -- the lack of procedure is even more disturbing because there was nothing to protect Hollins. This is a case in which the failure to abide even basic procedure calls the entire prosecution into question. Thanks for commenting, anon -- and for asking about this. You've got me more interested in this again. And you've also provided a good response to Jack's questioning whether this is something worth blogging about. I appreciate your participation in the conversation.

anon

Prof Brophy

Thanks, and I'm glad that you have an open mind: generalized racism and social injustice does not mean that a particular defendant (or victim) was innocent or guilty. This mistake is being tragically repeated in our modern world, over and over, as some seek examples that turn out to be less clear than the generalized hyperbole suggests.

I'm sure you understand this, and you understand, from reading the accounts at the time, that political organizations were deeply involved in the Jess Hollins matter. In fact, the NAACP and COmmunist Party were competing to be involved. Notice that in the Crisis, the director of the OK NAAP accused the Communist Party of profiting from the Jess Hollins case, bungling the defense, and leveled other accusations at the "whites" who were involved in putatively helping Jess Hollins.

Again, the links posted above notwithstanding, including those I posted, the facts are so scant and elusive. All we really have so far is sort of stereotypical references on both sides ("white trash" v. "helpless Negro"). We read, in a third hand source clearly written from a particular point of view, that the trashy white girl claimed rape when in fact the sex was consensual because she was caught in the act and made up a story. We read that she was "lewd" etc. (No complaints about those characterizations, one supposes, despite the fact that this is a fairly standard rape defense?)

What strikes me here, Prof Brophy, is your frequent references (not only to race but also) to the "failure to abide even basic procedure." My goodness, Prof Brophy, the first plea was vacated by the "all white" Court of APpeal, the second conviction overturned by none other than the "all white" the US Supreme Court. Are these laughable appeals and results?

I ask this question not meaning to sound impertinent, but, sir, would you only find a fair procedure had Jess Hollins been tried a fourth and fifth time, and endlessly, over and over, until acquitted? Were all the "white people" involved here per se untrustworthy and racists? Do you assume so?

In my view, the constant references to race do not particularly add to our understanding of this case. "All white" appellate courts quite clearly indicated that basic procedural rights were violated, and acted to correct those errors in a way that cannot be described as "laughable procedure." Unless you have statistics to show that "all white" juries in OK at the time never acquitted a black defendant, I find the repeated convictions telling, the slanted reports of the "facts" suspect, and the story too incomplete to prove anything.

For example, if there was some fault with the third trial that indicated there was a "laughable procedure" involved (other that "all white" jury), please explain.

It seems there is much being inferred here, as usual; but I've heard no description of the actual facts in evidence, from an objective source (i.e., the record).

Alfred L. Brophy

Hi Anon,

Thanks for taking the time to explain where you're coming from. I disagree with you on a couple of key points. First, about the salience of race in this; second, on the interpretation of whether the procedures afforded Hollins were laughably biased or not.

While certainly some white men were lynched in Oklahoma in this era, lynching was leveled disproportionately at the African American community. The newspapers from this time are filled with references to appeals to white supremacy and calls to keep African Americans in their place. I believe the strong-arm tactics the first time around (such as sentencing Hollins to death on the day he pled guilty and then sending him off immediately to prison in McAlester) reflect pretty much a complete breakdown of the protections for a defendant. They're laughable. Don't you think that's laughable (or may a stronger word like disgusting)?

An appellate court that was not known for its protection of criminal defendants (though on some rare occasions it provided relief) recognized the gross unfairness. That such injustice is fixed on appeal does not excuse it in the first place -- it mitigates the error, but does not mean that the initial procedure was fair (or in my colloquial language not laughable). I feel the same way about the second go-round (the first trial), where the Supreme Court reverse nine to zero. Why hadn't the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals done anything about that if it was such a fair court and this was such a clear injustice? That the third prosecution resulted in a life sentence rather than death is I think an illustration of how when someone is not at risk of death courts and lawyers may be less likely to take up the cause. (I also recall something along the lines of Hollins did not want to pursue the appeal after the third prosecution.)

It's very important, as you astutely point out, to avoid cartoon images of history. It is also, however, important to look at some events and say, wow that was unjust. And then maybe also draw some kind of assessment about the evolution of equal protection and also criminal procedure from this, because I think Hollins illustrates an advance over what happened in Tulsa, even if there was a long way left to go. (This also built on the precedent in Moore v. Dempsey, which arose from the prosecution of tenant farmers in Arkansas in the early 1920s.)

anon

"The [procedure in the first "trial" was] laughable. Don't you think that's laughable (or may a stronger word like disgusting)?"

Yes. From what I've read, the first guilty plea was coerced, and the sentencing procedure was unjust. I thought the "all white" court of appeal quite eloquently said so, while throwing it out. Wouldn't you agree?

"Why hadn't the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals done anything about [the second trial} if it was such a fair court and this was such a clear injustice?"

First, I never said the Ok Court of Criminal Appeals was "such a fair court." I pointed out that this "all white" court correctly threw out the first guilty plea and conviction, and eloquently explained its reasoning. I confess; I haven't studied the errors and procedural history sufficiently to answer about the second conviction. However, the "all white" US Sup Ct reversed it, unanimously. Was this "laughable procedure" perpetrated by a racist court?

"It is ... important to look at some events and say, wow that was unjust."

Yes, indeed it is. But, again, what did this man do? What was the evidence? What does the record show? After several attempts, I have yet to read a single reference to the evidence heard in to the courtroom.

Again, unless you have statistics to show that "all white" juries in OK at the time never acquitted a black defendant, I find the repeated convictions telling, the slanted reports of the "facts" suspect, and the story too incomplete to prove anything so far.

Again, I ask this question not meaning to sound impertinent, but, sir, would you only find a fair procedure had Jess Hollins been tried a fourth and fifth time, and endlessly, over and over, until acquitted? Were all the "white people" involved here per se untrustworthy and racists? Do you assume so?

I, apparently differently from you, reserve judgment that in this case the defendant was demonstrably innocent, because no facts as presented at trial have been demonstrated here. Not one single fact from the record has been brought forth. All we have are generalizations.

Moreover, if there was some fault with the third trial that indicated there was a "laughable procedure" involved (other that "all white" jury), please explain. I too read that the defendant "gave up" after that conviction. But, that story doesn't ring true. The battle was fought on his behalf by others; others who were motivated to make a bigger point from the example of his case. Did they "give up"? If so, why? Isn't that important to know too?

If one is attempting to make a bigger point about racism in the judicial system - which clearly has existed and still exists - what is important in my view, both in looking at "history" and current events, is to actually try to find examples to prove that actually prove that bigger point. In very recent memory, we have seen too many supposed examples of injustice that were poorly chosen; examples that, once the true facts were exposed, collapsed on the merits. This undermines the efforts of those seeking to make that bigger point, and solidifies the view of many that these persons are too quick to judge others on the basis of race.

An example of this, respectfully, is evidenced in your comment. You say: "While certainly some white men were lynched in Oklahoma in this era, lynching was leveled disproportionately at the African American community." If this is somehow the bigger point that citing the Jess Hollins case seeks to prove, then I would say that this example is a terribly unrepresentative example of that bigger point, and perhaps, an example that doesn't clearly demonstrate much of any point other than the fact that "all white" courts, even in those days, were struggling to reverse convictions unfairly obtained against black persons who were assisted in their defense by many motivated persons, both black and white.


Alfred L. Brophy

Hi Anon,

Thank you for acknowledging that the prosecution was laughably biased.

We continue to differ on our assessment of the nature of a court system that has already shown itself to be laughably biased given that two appellate courts overturned death sentences against Hollins. Whether Hollins could receive a fair trial in that environment I seriously doubt.

anon

Prof Brophy

YOu are correct: I don't understand that you insist on looking only at the negative and refuse to acknowledge that "all white" appellate courts reversed the outcome of the "prosecution" twice; on the second occasion because the jury pool wasn't sufficiently integrated. On the first occasion, an appellate court you characterize as unfair to black persons spoke quite eloquently about the due process to which Jess Owens was entitled.

I can't understand the reason that you won't simply acknowledge that "all white" courts acted to ensure due process in these instances.

You still haven't answered whether you thought those appellate decisions were "laughable." You cite the actions of the appellate courts only as proof that the first plea and sentence was unjust; you don't even mention the reason the second conviction was reversed (based on an objection to an "all white" jury). These sorts of omissions might, to borrow your phrase, sort of demonstrate a certain indication of "where you are coming from." You paint the whole process as laughable. I find that incomplete.

I have asked repeatedly (and won't ask again, as further repetition might seem unfair) that you provide any evidence from the third trial, or information about it, from which we can conclude that it was "laughable" procedure and that, as you have stated elsewhere, grounds for many to believe that Jess Hollins was "innocent." All I've seen so far is sort of, again to use your phrase, "cartoonish" depictions of the woman as a "lewd dancer" and "white trash" and the defendant as a "helpless Negro." Useless stuff, in my view.

anonymous

@anon

I think you may be alone in doubting the racist character of the Oklahoma court system at that time. Perhaps some perspective might help you:

"Once Oklahoma had Roosevelt's approval and was safely in the Union, the first legislature wrote segregation into law with Senate Bill Number One after first defining all people with any degree of African ancestry as black. The solons banned interracial marriages and miscegenation, both of which became felonies. State law also targeted ministers who performed ceremonies for mixed couples; they, too, could be charged with felonies. The legislature banned interracial schools at all levels. Many public facilities along with common carriers were segregated...Over time, legislators segregated everything from hospitals to housing to cemeteries to restaurants. In 1915 Oklahoma made national history by becoming the first state in the Union to segregate public pay telephone booths." (okstate digital library)

So, the very first law passed in Oklahoma was a Jim Crow law. In addition to those laws, blacks were not permitted to 1) serve as judges, 2) on juries, 3) as prosecutors. They couldn't vote. Dozens of blacks were lynched between 1907 and 1930. In 1921, white mobs destroyed most of the black area of Tulsa, destroying 35 city blocks and killing dozens.

Considering the well documented history of rampant racism and injustice during the Jim Crow era, I think the burden is more on you to establish that Jess Hollins received a fair trial than on Al to establish that he did not. You can nitpick details all you want, but no honest or sensible person would deny that the Oklahoma justice system was horribly racist and unjust. That was Jim Crow. That was America.

Alfred L. Brophy

Thanks Anonymous for this.

Anon, please incorporate by reference everything I've written above. What was laughable includes the absurd initial proceeding that was overturned by the Oklahoma court of criminal appeals. Then there's the exclusion of all African Americans from the jury pool in Okmulgee, which had been constitutionally infirm for, what fifty or more years by 1932. Given those shameful actions I think it's on the proponents of the Oklahoma courts in that era to come forward with evidence that the third proceeding was fair. We're already way past the laughable part of this.

anon

Very interesting, Alfred. Suffice it to say that you have steadfastly avoided:

1. Giving any credit to the "all white" courts that struggled to find in Jess Hollins' favor on procedure, including on the "all white" jury matter that you repeatedly mentioned (while omitting this moniker with respect to courts that acted FOR Jess Hollins and while failing to mention that that was the grounds upon which the US Sup Ct reversed the second conviction) - in fact, you won't even say that the courts that found in favor of Hollins weren't engaged in "laughable" procedural acts;

2. Giving any credit to the many white people who helped Jess Hollins bring the numerous appeals he brought, including a successful Supreme Court Appeal - in fact, you won't even say that you don't believe that all the "white people" involved here were per se untrustworthy and racists (it seems by implication that you do, as you refuse to acknowledge that the verdict in the third trial may have been justified on the facts and law);

3. Proving ANY sense of what Hollins said at the third trial, what the woman said, what other evidence may have been presented, etc. - in fact, you have written elsewhere that many thought Jess Hollins was "innocent," but you haven't even begun to discuss any facts of the case beyond truly cartoonish statements about the players that would support that conclusion;

and

4. That is the point: are you satisfied that the woman involved was a "lewd dancer" and "white trash" and that Jess Hollins was a "helpless Negro"? If you still think in those terms, Professor, I wonder if you believe in fairness at all to anyone involved in this story. Even if she was a lewd dancer who frequently associated with "Negros" can you say that the evidence did not show that she was raped? Based on what? It seems you rely solely on your assumption that every white person involved was a racist: which is demonstrably - some might say risibly - false.

Again, simply repeating that errors were made, while ignoring that those errors were corrected by "all white" courts, and all the rest of it, including all the help Jess Hollins received from well motivated white people, in my view, requires some studious effort to avoid critical examination.

I'll leave it at that.

anon

Anonymous

"I think you may be alone in doubting the racist character of the Oklahoma court system at that time."

It is becoming increasingly obvious that behind all the fomenting about the evils that unquestionably existed about one hundred years and fifty years ago in Oklahoma (and more recently as well), some folks just won't pause to consider the efforts of so many well intentioned white people both in the courts and in assistance to Jess Hollings.

It is also likely that no one yet posting on this thread has a clue what evidence was presented at Hollins' third trial, what procedural errors were made in that trial that made it laughable, and what cogent reasons there are to smear every person involved in it as racist. That isn't history. Sorry. That's guessing based on bias and prejudice.

In the final analysis, it seems that many don't really seem to care a whit what happened in that third trial and are simply arguing by implication that no result other than an acquittal would have been satisfactory, whether Jess Hollings was a guilty or not, to vindicate notions of hatred of the bigotry and prejudice that existed at that time in Oklahoma. This reasoning so divisive and faulty that it beggars the imagination that anyone would engage in it.

I don't see it that way. Sorry. If Jess Hollings raped a girl, I find it problematic that any fair minded scholar would trash his victim based on basically nothing, label every person involved in his third trial a racist, claim that it was "laughable" and ignore completely what really happened in service of a bigger point. I don't say that Prof Brophy has done that: to his credit.

But, some comments here demonstrate something that is going wrong, terribly wrong, in our country today and, hint: it isn't that all the progress this country has made (and was making then) in correcting the injustices of slavery is being recognized to an untoward extent. And again, if the point is to focus on examples to prove the negative nature of a system, then let the examples be good examples, not poorly chosen.

Jess Hollings was railroaded to plead guilty to rape and immediately sentenced to death. Many came to his aid and that result was vacated. He was retried and convicted: but, the jury pool was not sufficiently integrated and the US Supreme Court vacated his conviction. He was then tried a third time, and once again convicted.

If there is a basis to claim the procedure in the third trial was laughable, if the evidence marginal or absent, if the jury members wer "all white" and "all racists," then I would certainly keep an open mind and might conclude that Jess Hollings was indeed innocent.

But, all I have now to work with is the court docs I've read and the smears leveled against the girl by Hollings' supporters in certain third hand accounts, and these do not, in my view, establish Hollings' innocence.

To so state does not mean that you can legitimately attack my position as supporting every racist in history and does not mean you need to legitimately lecture me on the evils of racism. Sorry. That is unnecessary and unresponsive.

(Note: isn't it interesting that Prof Brophy tells us that by 1880 or even before, just fifteen years or fewer years after the conclusion of the Civil War, it was the law that jury pools needed to be integrated! ["Then there's the exclusion of all African Americans from the jury pool in Okmulgee [the second trial], which had been constitutionally infirm for, what fifty or more years by 1932."

Let's make sure to put "all white" after every such court action that favored the cause of justice, not just after the decisions that didn't. Can we be fair and even handed and yet still be supporters of justice?

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