James Zacharian (J.Z.) George

One of Carroll County’s most prominent citizens was James Zacharian (J.Z.) George. George fought both in the Mexican War and the Civil War. He practiced law in both Carrollton, Miss., and Jackson. In 1879, he was made a judge on the Mississippi Supreme Court and was immediately elected to be Chief Justice. The following year, George resigned this position to become a U.S. Senator.

One of Senator George’s most significant contributions to Mississippi history was his participation in drafting the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. George is considered to be the principle author of the constitution and is specifically credited with drafting the suffrage clause.

The Mississippi Constitution of 1890 is significant to civil rights history because it established the systematic disenfranchisement of black voters that was copied across the nation. In 1890, African-Americans were not only the majority in Carroll County, but in Mississippi as a whole. As a result, the state constitutional convention undertook ways to constitutionally disenfranchise black citizens.

Previously, Mississippi law only required that a male over the age of twenty-one have lived in the state for six months and the county for one month in order to register to vote, but Article 12 of the 1890 constitution added new requirements. Section 241 increased the residency requirement to two years in the state and one year in the county. Section 243 imposed a two dollar poll tax on every inhabitant between the ages of twenty-one and sixty. The 1890 constitution also required a literacy test; before it was amended in 1954, Section 244 required that the registrant be able to read a section of the constitution, or, if unable to read, be able to understand a section of the constitution when read to him or give a “reasonable interpretation”of the section.

The 1890 constitution was successful in disenfranchising black citizens. In Mississippi, African-American voter registration was only one-tenth of white voter registration. This disenfranchisement was particularly important because many other civil rights are connected to being registered to vote, such as holding office and, until 1960, serving on juries. Most of these requirements for voter registration have now been repealed.

Sources:

Gabriel J. Chin, The “Voting Rights Act of 1867”: The Constitutionality of Federal Regulation of Suffrage During Reconstruction, 82 N.C. L. REV. 1581, 1592 (2004).

HUEY B. HOWERTON, ET AL., YESTERDAY’S CONSTITUTION TODAY, 6-7 (Edward H. Hobbs ed., University of Mississippi 1960).

Miss. Const. art. XII, § 241 (amended 1972).

Gabriel J. Chin, Rehabilitating Unconstitutional Statutes, 71 U. CIN. L. REV. 421, 422 (2002) (citing U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS: THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT: TEN YEARS AFTER, 43 (1975)).

Carroll County