Memorandum Brief

BLACK HISTORY   |   Walter WHITE   |   Charles Hamilton HOUSTON   |   Karl LLEWELLYN   |   Leon RANSOM   |   Edward LOVETT

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FACTS OF LYNCHINGS "BURN LIKE ACID," TURNING "COLD LEGAL POINTS INTO POINTS OF FLAME": RARE FIRST EDITION OF THE 1933 NAACP MEMORANDUM BRIEF FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES, SHOWING "WHAT 'LAW' REALLY WAS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS"

(HOUSTON, Charles Hamilton) (LLEWELLYN, Karl). Memorandum Brief for the Attorney General of the United States. New York: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, November, 1933. Slim octavo, staple-bound as issued, original tan self-wrappers; pp. (1-3), 4-47 (1). $2800.

First NAACP edition of a seminal work chiefly authored by Charles Houston, "one of the key champions of American racial justice," triggered by the 1933 Tuscaloosa lynchings of young Black men, contending the federal government already has the "power necessary to protect people against lynching… based on the 14th Amendment and Reconstruction-era civil rights laws," with Foreword by legal scholar Karl Llewellyn and Postscript by NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White, especially rare in fragile original self-wrappers.

In the violent summer of 1933, amidst ongoing furor over the "Scottsboro Boys," three young Black men in Tuscaloosa, Dan Pippen, Jr., A.T. Harden and Elmore Clarke, were charged in the rape and murder of a white woman, Vaudine Maddox. After mobs made repeated attempts to lynch them, the sheriff arranged to move all three to Birmingham for safety. However, in what has been viewed as a suspicious midnight transfer on back roads, the police car "was intercepted by two cars of masked men." Harden, Pippin and Clarke were "lined up before a firing squad and shot. Pippin and Harden were killed outright; Clarke, shot in the arm and the thigh and left for dead, managed to break his handcuffs with a brick and drag himself to a Black family's shanty." After Clarke was returned to jail, still wounded, he "'voluntarily' signed a statement that he could not recognize any of the men who had stopped the sheriff's car and murdered his codefendants" (Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown, 319).

"The African American press and the NAACP asked for federal prosecutions, pleas that became bolder when an Alabama grand jury returned no indictments" (Brophy, Cold Legal Points, 4-5). At that time the NAACP was reaching out to Charles Houston, Dean of Howard University Law School. "One of the key champions of American racial justice in the 20th century," Houston mentored students such as Thurgood Marshall before leaving Howard to become the NAACP's first general counsel (Milano, Man Who Killed Jim Crow). He primarily drafted this 47-page Brief together with fellow Black attorneys Leon Ransom and Edward Lovett, contending the "federal government had the power necessary to protect people against lynching… based on the 14th Amendment and Reconstruction-era civil rights laws." Houston argued "that when sheriffs assisted mobs by not protecting their prisoners, then the state had, in effect, discriminated in a way that allowed the federal government to invoke the 1871 KKK Act without violating the 14th Amendment" (Waldrep, African Americans Confront Lynching, 82-3).

This groundbreaking and very elusive work "showed what 'law' really was for African Americans, the dramatic limits of civil rights law to protect them, and the ways that another 'law' was enforced through mob violence and official complicity" (Brophy, 12-14). After delivering the Brief to the Justice Department, the NAACP printed it with a Foreword by Karl Llewellyn, the preeminent legal scholar and a leading figure of American legal realism. He writes of Tuscaloosa: "behind the cold points of law is a crying need of fact." The very facts of lynchings, he notes, "burn like acid," turning "cold legal points into points of flame." To Llewellyn, when local communities turn "as a policy, against the law… the time has come for intervention of a stronger power. The statutes have provided that intervention. Will the Government act?" (emphasis in original). Walter White, NAACP Executive Secretary, writes in his Post Script to the Brief of "an alarming increase" in lynchings, as well as "murders that closely approximate lynchings—floggings, mutilations, and the driving of Negroes from their homes… Dark days loom ahead." First edition, first printing: NAACP original printed blue slip (3-1/2 by 5-inches) tipped-to front self-wrapper.

In fine condition.

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