Goldsby v. Harpole

(1954) Another concern about the disenfranchisement of African-American citizens was their exclusion from serving on juries. Bryant Nelms and his wife Moselle McCorkle Nelms were shot on September 4, 1954 at Nelms’ gas station and dairy bar near Vaiden, Mississippi. The Nelms, who were both white, were shot by one or more African-Americans firing from a car after Nelms asked them to leave. Mrs. Nelms was killed in the incident. Robert Lee Goldsby, among others, was arrested later that day. Goldsby was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Goldsby appealed to the Fifth Circuit asserting the systematic exclusion of African-Americans from the jury lists. The court considered this issue in Goldsby v. Harpole. The Fifth Circuit found that more than 57% of the population of Carroll County, Mississippi, was non-white at the time of the 1950 Census. Furthermore, none of the Carroll County officials called as witnesses could recall any African-Americans being on jury lists and the only two proven African-Americans who were registered to vote in the county died before 1954. From this evidence, the court concluded that African-Americans were systematically excluded from serving on the jury. The court gave the state eight months to retry Goldsby and mandated that “[any] such re-trial must of course be before a jury from which Negroes have not been systematically excluded, or before some court or tribunal so constituted as not to violate his constitutional rights.”

Sources:

Goldsby v. Harpole, 263 F.2d 71, 73 (5th Cir. 1959).