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Blue Laws and Black Codes

Conflict, Courts, and Change in Twentieth-Century Virginia

Peter Wallenstein

Publication Year: 2013

Women were once excluded everywhere from the legal profession, but by the 1990s the Virginia Supreme Court had three women among its seven justices. This is just one example of how law in Virginia has been transformed over the past century, as it has across the South and throughout the nation.

In Blue Laws and Black Codes, Peter Wallenstein shows that laws were often changed not through legislative action or constitutional amendment but by citizens taking cases to state and federal courtrooms. Due largely to court rulings, for example, stores in Virginia are no longer required by "blue laws" to close on Sundays.

Particularly notable was the abolition of segregation laws, modified versions of southern states’ "black codes" dating back to the era of slavery and the first years after emancipation. Virginia’s long road to racial equality under the law included the efforts of black civil rights lawyers to end racial discrimination in the public schools, the 1960 Richmond sit-ins, a case against segregated courtrooms, and a court challenge to a law that could imprison or exile an interracial couple for their marriage.

While emphasizing a single state, Blue Laws and Black Codes is framed in regional and national contexts. Regarding blue laws, Virginia resembled most American states. Regarding racial policy, Virginia was distinctly southern. Wallenstein shows how people pushed for changes in the laws under which they live, love, work, vote, study, and shop—in Virginia, the South, and the nation.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-7

Maps and Tables

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pp. viii-8

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pp. ix-xi

In the 1980s I returned to Virginia after many years away and began teaching at Virginia Tech, where I found an abundance of intriguing yet neglected topics in Virginia history. At that point I was finishing a long-term project on public policy in the Deep South in the nineteenth century, and I soon turned my attention to similar matters for the...

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pp. 1-14

Lawyers are men. “Colored” people cannot marry “white” people. Public amusements must remain closed on Sundays. On these and other matters, popular beliefs and public policy underwent changes so dramatic in the past hundred years, Virginia in the 1990s was hardly the same place as Virginia in the 1890s. This book explores the transformation...

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1. The Case of the Laborer from Louisa

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pp. 15-35

Reverend Littleberry James Haley (1832–1917) wrote in mid-January 1882 that he had stayed at home in Louisa County on both Wednesday and Thursday that week: “The roads are too awfully muddy to travel.”1 He is one of three central Virginians whose stories illustrate how people traveled before the twentieth century and how the...

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2. Necessity, Charity,and a Sabbath

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pp. 36-59

The alleged crime—playing professional baseball on a Sunday— took place on the playing field of the Portsmouth Truckers, who were playing the Richmond Colts. Frank D. Lawrence, half owner and president of the Truckers, had offered free admission that day— May 17, 1925—in hopes of generating greater interest in baseball and...

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3. These New and Strange Beings

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pp. 60-81

In 1848 every attorney in Virginia was a white man. In that regard Virginia was representative of the South, indeed of virtually the entire nation. Over the next century and a half, much would change, and albeit in very different ways, Virginia would once again typify regional and indeed national...

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4. The Siege against Segregation

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pp. 82-113

Between the end of slavery in the 1860s and the civil rights laws of the 1960s, the world of “Jim Crow” racial discrimination characterized much of America. With even greater force it characterized the South. Black southerners everywhere were subject to the various dimensions of racial segregation: limited access to, even utter exclusion from...

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5. To Sit or Not to Sit

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pp. 114-141

In the early 1960s Ford Johnson was an undergraduate at Virginia Union University in Richmond. So was his sister, Elizabeth. On Saturday, February 20, 1960, they headed downtown to participate in sit-ins directed at the segregated seating arrangements of the eating venues in the department stores that lined Broad Street. The Civil Rights...

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6. Racial Identity and the Crime of Marriage

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pp. 142-169

One night in July 1958, two newlyweds suddenly awoke at their home in Caroline County, Virginia, startled by the sound of men in their room and the glare of flashlights on their faces. One of the three intruders demanded to know who they were and what they were doing in bed together. Mildred Loving murmured, “I’m his wife,” and Richard...

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7. Power and Policy in an American State

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pp. 170-197

The date was Tuesday, June 16, 1964. Page 1 of the Richmond Times-Dispatch offered all kinds of evidence that the Virginia of U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. found itself under assault. Among the frontpage headlines that day, two reported on federal courts and segregated schools. “Negro Pupils Assigned to 3 White Schools Here,” warned one...

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8. From Harry Byrd to Douglas Wilder

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pp. 198-209

James W. Wilder and Agnes W. Johnson were the parents of thirteen children. They were slaves in Virginia when they married in 1857 and when their older children were born but had long since gained their freedom when their youngest child, Robert Judson Wilder, was born in Richmond in 1886. Robert Wilder and his wife, Beulah, had ten...

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pp. 210-216

In 1889 a mixed-race American writer, Charles W. Chesnutt, took aim at laws that restricted people’s opportunities and behavior on the basis of their racial identities. Such laws were very real at the time he wrote, but he hoped for a time when they would be no more: “Some day they will, perhaps, become mere curiosities of jurisprudence; the ‘black...


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pp. 217-254


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pp. 255-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780813924878
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813922607

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013