Project Overview

In May, 1999, The University of North Carolina Press published as one of the first two books in its John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture, The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-World War II South. Eight years in the making, this book won the American Historical Association's Littleton-Griswold Prize for the best book in the history of American law and society in the year 2000. In part, the book captured interest because it used a riveting event known as the first "race riot" after World War II (WWII) as a vehicle for analyzing the impact of the war on African Americans and their relationship with the criminal justice system. (Though little known today, this episode, which occurred forty-three miles south of Nashville in Columbia, Tennessee, garnered widespread attention at the time. Note in the photograph the headline on the back of the newspaper that Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel are reading.) 

The book also became a prizewinner, because a vast array of primary materials related to the "race riot" surfaced. These included Investigative Reports & Pamphlets produced by several concerned organizations; Governor's Papers which included a transcript of the interrogation of black suspects by local and state officials, and an investigative report by an assistant state attorney general; FBI Case 44-1366 which was declassified before stringent Freedom of Information Act regulations were enacted; Federal Grand Jury Records obtained via a federal court order; and a state Trial Transcript, thought not to exist and mailed to me unexpectedly by the district attorney in the case. Along with oral interviews and other primary sources, such as attitude surveys of black and white soldiers during WWII, these documents provided a rich lode of materials for analysis.

Some of the documents such as the investigative reports and pamphlets, and the report by the assistant state attorney general, are reproduced here in their entirety. Others have been excerpted. Together, they provide an exciting opportunity for students of history to conduct their own analyses and form their own interpretations. See Teaching Suggestions.

PLEASE NOTE:  All underlining and hand-scribbled notes on the documents are my own.