Special Collections Blog of the Bounds Law Library

The Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library

The editors welcome this post from our colleague, Dr. Julie Seraphina Griffith, that offers a glimpse into the home study of United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black through descriptions of its furnishings and numerous books.

The Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library

The Hugo L. Black Collection consists of over one thousand books, personal correspondence, tapes and transcripts of interviews, descriptions of court decisions, office materials, biographical and bibliographical information, photographs, student papers, lecture notes, and personal memorabilia. The collection is stored in several different locations throughout the Bounds Law Library. Hugo Lafayette Black (1886-1971) was born in Clay County, Alabama, and is one of the most distinguished graduates of the University of Alabama’s law school. He served two terms as a United States Senator from 1926-1937, and was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1937 until 1971. Black died shortly after his retirement.

The Hugo L. Black Collection books are located in the Hugo Black Study, which was dedicated 40 years ago during ceremonies that celebrated the relocation of the School of Law in 1978 to a new building.

An image of the Hugo Black Study.

The Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library

Renovations made in 2015 include lighting that makes the room and its contents much more visible. Photographic portraits of the Supreme Court can be seen adorning the tops of two walls. Black’s tennis racket is propped against the fireplace and his golf clubs are on the left. Items on Black’s desk include an exquisite black ocean globe, an Art Deco inspired design in which the color black represents the water rather than traditional blue. A smaller globe with blue oceans sits atop a typist’s desk placed by a wall of bookshelves. The Hugo Black Study is centrally located on the main floor of the library, adjacent to the Circulation and Reference Desks. Visitors are able to view the entirety of the study through a partial door that provides a full view of the room and its contents. The study is a replica of Black’s home study in Alexandria, Virginia. It was designed and built to accommodate all the original contents—everything is just as it was when Black was working there on a daily basis.

While the furnishings from Black’s home study in Alexandria, Virginia, were shipped to the library in 1973, most of his favorite books did not arrive until 1983. The study contains over one thousand books, including primary and secondary legal materials, a large collection of historical writings, and other genres. There are, of course, numerous works on law-related topics as well as many other books that reveal his broad reading interests. These range from Thomas Jefferson to poetry to tennis and instructions for playing bridge. Hugo Black was a well-read man.

The books have been catalogued and are now arranged on the shelves, not according to Black’s original shelving preferences but by Library of Congress call number order so that the books can be easily located for research purposes. [1] All the books are accessible via online catalog searches. These books have a location code that indicates their placement in the Hugo Black Study, and another code indicating that they are part of the larger holdings of the library’s John C. Payne Special Collections. [2]

Distinguishing features of Black’s books are the broad subject matter, variation of format—cheap paperback copies are juxtaposed with valuable rare books—and the fact that he read and reread the materials regularly. In some books, his written comments reveal an ongoing conversation between Black and the author.

Black's signature under F. Guiterman's bookplate.

Black’s signature underneath the former owner’s bookplate in this example of browsing second-hand bookstores

In addition, Black wrote to himself as he reread the books, providing examples of how his thought developed regarding certain topics. Black valued content over container and regularly perused used bookstores and catalogs. Roger K. Newman’s biography of Black contains an entire chapter, entitled “Books Are My Friends,” devoted to Black’s reading habits in which he discusses Black’s literary friendships with Will Durant, Carl Sandburg, and Alfred Knopf, among others. For example, Knopf published a book of Black’s opinions and he “usually took Black to dinner” several times each year. [3]

The classics were a significant influence on Black’s mindset, ideas, and interpretations. He studied Latin and Greek at Ashland College in Clay County, Alabama. This lifelong interest began when, as a law student, he sat in on an undergraduate English course taught by Dr. Charles H. Barnwell. This course prompted his “ever-increasing interest in the literature, philosophy and history of ancient Greece and the Greek way of life.” [4] Biographer Howard Ball comments that Black’s books by and about Greek philosophers, poets, and historians “are worn from repeated use, underlined and replete with marginalia, [and] indicative of the personal conversations Black had with the authors of these books.” [5]

Black also gave these books to his grandchildren, and had both his wives and his law clerks read Pericles and Aristotle, among many other Greek authors. While Aristotle was Black’s “favorite author,” Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way was Black’s favorite book and the first required reading that he assigned to new law clerks. [6] He was so fond of the works of Hamilton that he “literally coerced his children into reading them, with further admonitions to read Livy or Plutarch when the boys were in college or in the military.” [7] The books in Black’s study include two, five-volume sets of Plutarch’s Lives and Writings; one singular Modern Library edition; and a five-volume set of Essays and Miscellanies, with an introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. [8]

Among the vast array of valuable Hugo Black resources held by the Bounds Law Library is an autographed copy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book, Stride Toward Freedom. The library has shown this inscription to a variety of interested patrons, including local elementary schoolchildren and visiting legal scholars. The inscription reads; “To Justice Hugo Black, In appreciation for your genuine good-will, your perceptive vision, your broad humanitarian concern, and your unswerving devotion to the noble principles of our democracy, with warm regards, Martin King, Jr.”

Inscription from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Black.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inscription to Justice Black in Stride Toward Freedom

The Hugo Black Study is extraordinary. In its totality, the study exists apart from its surroundings as an intact historical artifact.  One of Black’s former law clerks, David Vann, upon seeing the study after it was relocated to the library, said that it was “kind of a shock really,” to see the study again. [10] Due to the careful preparation and design that went into the planning of the space, the room’s original furnishings, and the magic of Black’s books, the Hugo Black Study captures an authenticity of spirit that is as when Black used it almost fifty years ago. The essence of its atmosphere remains the same.

Julie Seraphina Griffith

[1] Griffith, Julie. “Digital Description and Access: The Hugo Black Collection at the University of Alabama School of Law Library.” A “New Voices” Award-Winning Paper presented at the 2002 Joint SCLA/SELA Conference. The Southeastern Librarian 51:3 (2003): 26-30.

[2] The Bounds Law Library Special Collections is named after former law professor John C. Payne.

[3] Newman, Roger K. Hugo Black: A Biography. 2nd edition. New York: Fordham University, 1997: 451-452.

[4] Black, Hugo L. “Reminiscences” Alabama Law Review 18:1 (1965): 3, 7.

[5] Ball, Howard. Hugo Black: Cold Steel Warrior. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996: 7.

[6] Newman, 445-446.

[7] Ball, 7.

[8] Plutarch’s Lives: the Translation called Dryden’s. Corrected from the Greek and revised by A. H. Clough. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1974: 5 volumes.  Plutarch’s Lives: the Translation called Dryden’s. Corrected from the Greek and revised by A.H. Clough. New York: Colonial, 1905: 5 volumes. Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Translated by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: Modern Library, 19-?. Plutarch’s Essays and Miscellanies: Comprising all his Works Collected under the Title of “Morals.” Translated from the Greek by several hands, Corrected and revised by William W. Goodwin. New York: Colonial, 1905: 5 volumes.

Image of Pandora's Box from Plutarch's Essays and Miscellanies.

A reproduction of Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s 1871 Pandora’s Box is the frontispiece on volume one of Plutarch’s Essays and Miscellanies [9]

[9] Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s gorgeous illustration of Pandora’s Box provides a particularly appropriate example of Black’s treasured classics collection as well as many situations he encountered during his long career as a public servant. Pandora (meaning “all-gifted” in Greek and Black was certainly a gifted man) was given a beautiful box by Jupiter to present to her husband, Epimetheus, who was the brother of Prometheus. When Epimetheus opened the box, only hope remained, after “a multitude of evils and distempers…dispersed themselves all over the world.” Black remained ever hopeful as he addressed a multitude of controversial issues throughout his career.

[10] Pruitt, Paul M., Jr. “The Return of Hugo Black: the Significance of the Hugo Black Collection at the University of Alabama” Alabama Law Review 43:1 (1991): 301.

 

2018 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction: An Exhibit

The winner of the 2018 Harper Lee Prize for legal fiction is C.E. Tobisman’s Proof.  Tobisman is an author and appellate attorney living in Los Angeles, California. She is the eighth author to win the prize, authorized by the late Harper Lee, for a book-length work of fiction that best illuminates the power of lawyers to effect change in society.Cover image of Proof by C.E. Tobisman

The prize was first awarded eight years ago to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Lee’s world-famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a joint award of the University of Alabama School of Law and the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal. This year’s winner was chosen by a distinguished panel of writers and scholars, including Dr. Hilary Green of the University of Alabama’s Gender and Race Studies Department; attorney and UA Law graduate Jini Koh; Tony Mauro, U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for Law.com and The National Law Journal; and Dr. Sena Jeter Naslund, author and former Director of the Spalding University MFA in Writing.

The Selection Committee praised Proof for answering Lee’s charge to recognize legal fiction that shows lawyers making positive changes in society. Dr. Green wrote that “Proof best captures the spirit of iconic characters [and] the role of the legal profession in addressing social issues.” The book’s protagonist Caroline Auden, wrote Green, “is the perfect cross between lawyer Atticus Finch and the grown-up Scout.”

Dean Brandon congratulates 2018 recipient C.E. Tobisman

Dean Mark Brandon congratulates 2018 recipient C.E. Tobisman

Mr. Mauro added that “Proof proves that a true page-turner can also have substance. He also noted that character Caroline Auden “takes on elder abuse and corporate skullduggery with quick-witted determination. In the tradition of Harper Lee, Tobisman shows that lawyers can effect societal change.”

“It’s exciting to see this award go to a practicing attorney who’s relatively new to the fiction scene,” said Molly McDonough, editor and publisher of the ABA Journal. “We also love seeing attention being drawn to the important field of elder law.”

Tobisman responded: “I am honored, humbled, and frankly, totally stunned.” She further stated that “The spirit of To Kill a Mockingbird is the spirit of one person’s ability to make the world a little more fair. That the selection committee saw that spirit in my book is something that I will treasure forever.”

The 2018 prize was awarded on August 30 at the Library of Congress in conjunction with the National Book Festival.

In Memoriam, Donald Richard Bounds

We regret to report the passing, on June 22, of Donald Richard Bounds, aged 89 years. Born November 13, 1928 in Illinois, Mr. Bounds graduated from UMS High School in Mobile and was a 1951 graduate of the University of Alabama. After receiving his undergraduate degree, he served in a medical unit of the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Mr. Bounds graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1956; in law school he was a member of the Alabama Law Review.

In 1958 Donald Richard Bounds and Robert T. Cunningham, Sr. founded the law firm of Cunningham Bounds, LLC, which would become one of the most prominent and successful plaintiff’s law firms in the nation. Subsequently Mr. Bounds would serve as president of the Mobile Bar Association, president of the Alabama Trial Lawyers’ Association, and member of the Board of Governors of the Association of Trial lawyers of America. In addition he was a fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and a member of the International Society of Barristers, the American College of Trial Lawyers, and the American Bar Foundation. In the midst of this exemplary service to the legal profession, Mr. Bounds found time for many charitable activities. The School of Law benefitted from his generosity, including the endowment of a student scholarship in memory of his son Donald Richard Bounds, Jr. In 1998 the Bounds Law Library was named in memory of Donald Richard Bounds, Jr. and Russell Hampton Bounds.

Mr. Bounds is survived by his wife Anita Chamberlain Bounds, his sister Dorothea Bounds Long, and several nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews. A service in his memory will be held at 1:00 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church in Fairhope, Alabama.

An Exhibit: Early Statutory Compilations and Codes

The books presented in this post may seem to be nothing more than dusty old lawbooks, but they are in fact the mortal remains of Alabama’s frontier period. The energetic, mostly young men who made up Alabama’s legislatures faced the issues—national and local—of Jacksonian America. In response they spelled out their attitudes, self-interests, and startling biases for future generations to ponder. So in the adventurous spirit of that time, we invite our readers to read the signposts of what were once new ideas. We encourage you to visit our physical exhibit “Early Statutory Compilations and Codes” located in the main hall of UA’s Law Library.

Early Statutory Compilations and Codes

Occupying a parallel universe to Alabama’s case law, the state’s early statutory laws were diligently compiled every ten years. The legislature gave this task to highly regarded lawyers and judges who made every effort to produce volumes that would be intelligible to lawyers and lay persons. These compilers and codifiers kept in mind the frontier conditions prevailing over most of the state; they knew that these volumes were going to be packed in saddlebags and carried “on circuit.”

1823:  The state of Alabama’s first statutory compilation was assembled by Harry Toulmin, a long-tenured territorial judge who had previously published “digests” of legislation for Kentucky (1802) and the Mississippi Territory (1807). Toulmin’s 1823 Digest of the Laws of the State of Alabama . . . is an important source of Mississippi legislation—relevant to early Alabama lawyers since Alabama had been, from 1798 to 1817, the eastern half of the Mississippi Territory. Arranged alphabetically, Toulmin’s Digest was the final masterpiece of a long life of service. Assisted by the distinguished attorney Henry Hitchcock, Toulmin worked confidently, subdividing statutes, adding historical notes, and omitting obsolete sections.

Image of Toulmin's Digest title page.

Toulmin’s Digest title page

Image of Toulmin's Digest detail.

Toulmin’s Digest detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1833:  John G. Aikin published the state’s first decennial digest in 1833. Aikin followed the same alphabetical arrangement as Toulmin, with helpful marginal notes and a copious index. In addition he provided an appendix containing the “Rules of Proceedings and Practice in the Courts.” The latter was needed, since in 1832 the legislature had created a three-judge Supreme Court, replacing the banc of circuit judges who had previously served as the state’s appellate tribunal. Aikin reissued his Digest with a supplement in 1836. Attorney and belletrist Alexander B. Meek published Meek’s Supplement in 1841, containing a militia code and important changes in chancery practice that had been adopted by the Supreme Court in January 1841.

Image of Aikin's Digest detail.

Aikin’s Digest detail

Image of Aikin's Digest title page.

Aikin’s Digest title page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1843:  Alabama’s second decennial compilation was published in 1843. Its author was Clement Comer Clay, one of the state’s most notable and controversial Jacksonian Democrats. Clay served as governor from 1835 to 1837; from 1837 to 1841 he was U.S. senator from Alabama. The result of his labors was strikingly similar to that employed by Aikin. Like Aikin he included court rules—in Clay’s case, rules for the Supreme Court, circuit courts, county courts, and chancery courts, as well as treatments of judicial procedures in common law and chancery.

Image of Clay's Digest title page.

Clay’s Digest title page

Image of Clay's Digest detail.

Clay’s Digest detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1852:  The 1840s witnessed a national discussion of codification, culminating in New York’s celebrated Field Code. In 1849 Governor Henry W. Collier proposed creation of an Alabama code commission. Lawmakers complied and a commission headed by Collier’s former colleague John J. Ormond set to work. In February 1852 the legislature adopted the code they had produced. The 1852 Code of Alabama was controversial because of the modifications its authors made in the state’s common law pleading. Yet their work provided the foundation for Alabama codes for many decades.

Image of 1852 Code of Alabama detail.

1852 Code of Alabama detail

Image of the 1852 Code of Alabama title page.

1852 Code of Alabama title page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tax Collection in 1818 Alabama

Editors’ Note

This post represents the first installment in a new category that we hope will be an occasional feature of our blog. Posts in this category, 200 Years Ago in Alabama, will feature items of interest from Alabama’s past in anticipation of the state’s upcoming bicentennial celebration on December 14, 2019.

Tax Collection in 1818 Alabama

As tax day in the United States draws near, Litera Scripta highlights a territorial act that defined the assessment and collection of taxes 200 years ago in Alabama.  Fortunately, the 1818 act does not reflect the method of filing taxes today. It is interesting to note the “double tax” assigned to late filers and defaulters!

Image of 1818 Alabama territorial act.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image of 1818 Alabama territorial act.

Acts of Alabama, 1818, 2nd Session, 55-56.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“An act to alter the mode of assessing and collecting taxes” was approved in the second session of the territorial legislature and represented a modification of a similar act during the first session.

 

Alice in Court: An Exhibit Taken from Editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Take the opportunity to visit our exhibit “Alice in Court” located in the main hall of UA’s Law Library before it is replaced. The following post, “Alice in Court,” seeks to describe the legal aspects of one of the world’s great fantasy stories–Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The exhibit includes works in a Lewis Carroll collection assembled by Litera Scripta co-editor Paul M. Pruitt, Jr.

Summary and Commentary:

On the afternoon of July 4, 1862, Charles Dodgson of Christ Church and Robinson Duckworth of Trinity, young Oxford dons, rowed three miles up the river Isis. They were accompanied by three young daughters of Christ Church dean Dr. H.G. Liddell and by Miss Prickett, the girls’ governess. By most accounts it was a golden afternoon.

Certainly it was golden for Dodgson—for in the course of rowing and picnicking he spun a long story in which the ten-year-old Alice (his particular favorite) followed a White Rabbit down a rabbit hole into the realm of Wonderland.

Image of the Alice in Court exhibit.

Alice in Court Exhibit

At her request he wrote and rewrote the tale, publishing it in 1865 under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It has since appeared in many editions, not to mention some three dozen films or tv shows.[1]

Carroll’s purpose, to be sure, is to entertain, yet his Alice must deal with a series of animal and human characters who are self-willed, indifferent to her well-being, even dangerous—just like certain types of people who inhabit what we are pleased to call the real world. At the same time Alice’s new acquaintances may be poignantly bizarre, relentlessly and wrong-headedly logical, and (more often than not) determined to recite poetry or hear it recited. Beyond the inspired nonsense that Alice hears and speaks, there are grown-up dimensions to several of these encounters. Many of Carroll’s episodes summon up topical issues (of law, psychology, and social class, among others) that are very much alive today.

It was Carroll’s genius to place the challenging scenes of Wonderland in a dreamlike setting and to seed his story with rollicking puns, jokes, and verses. All of these elements are heightened by Alice’s childlike candor and inquisitiveness. The story is told from her perspective, which allowed Carroll to make excellent use of the “real” Alice Liddell’s independent-minded personality. Surely, Carroll was a pioneer in following a child’s path through a satirically informed world. Mark Twain (another pseudonymous writer) would not perfect his master creation, Huckleberry Finn, for another twenty years.

Carroll was acutely aware that children, more than the rest of us, experience abrupt physical transformations. In the course of the narrative, Alice must cope with sudden changes in her own size, beginning with her first explorations at the bottom of the rabbit hole. There she experiences sudden shrinkage after drinking from a bottle labeled “DRINK ME” and rapid growth after eating a cake marked “EAT ME.” After shedding copious tears, she shrinks again (the result of holding the White Rabbit’s fan) and finds that she is swimming in a pool of her own tears. There Alice meets number of animals, including a Dodo—widely assumed to be a self-caricature of Dodgson. They all dry off by means of a “Caucus Race” (a jab at Parliamentary politics), at the conclusion of which the Dodo announces: “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”[2]

 

Read the rest of this entry »

George Robertson and Book Consumers in Early 19th Century Kentucky

The following is a post by our friend Kurt X. Metzmeier containing commentary on a letter from our collection.

George Robertson and Book Consumers in Early 19th Century Kentucky

by Kurt X. Metzmeier

In an interesting 1820 letter, Kentucky lawyer George Robertson illustrates some of the difficulties of a book consumer on the expanding American frontier:

Lancaster 6th July 1820

Gentlemen,

You have written to me twice that you had rec’d two boxes of books for me and sent them to Jas Anderson and Co. in Lexington.  Since the reception of this information I have sent three times to Mr. Anderson but can’t find the boxes. They say they never rec’d them.

I’m very anxious to get them—and fear that you did not send them. It is the third attempt I have made to get books here and have never succeeded yet. There is something very strange in the fatality that befalls my books.

Be so good as to examine and if you have them, send them on as soon as possible—or let me know what has become of them.

Respectfully &c

G. Robertson

Robertson Letter, 1820

The letter is a nice find. It involves one of the towering figures in Kentucky legal history at an early point in his life. It also shines a light into the book trade on the American frontier and does so in the middle of an economic crisis.  Finally, the tone of the letter is relatively mild but you can faintly discern the rumblings of a legendary temper, one that would lead to one of the more famous fits of pique in Civil War history, a stubborn conflict that would involve governors, state and federal courts, and President Lincoln’s own wallet.

George Robertson (1790-1874)

George Robertson, whose portrait hangs in the courtroom of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville, served on Kentucky’s highest court 1829 to 1834, when he resigned to resume his private practice. He returned to the court to serve from 1864 to1871.[1] For a quarter-century, he led the prestigious law department at Transylvania University, teaching men like John Marshall Harlan the rudiments of jurisprudence.[2] His decisions on issues of criminal law and tort law were widely cited, and Kentucky histories and bar tributes mark him as a leading figure in the pantheon of state judges.[3]

George Robertson

However, in 1820 this was all in the future. Robertson was at this time a journeyman lawyer (he had been practicing law since he turned 19-years-old) and a U.S. Congressman serving his third term. He had just completed a term as chair of the public lands committee and, in the prior year, had successfully sponsored a bill which he wrote to establish the territorial government of Arkansas.[4] However, being “poor and having a growing family,” he would soon quit his seat to concentrate on the practice of law.[5]  Perhaps the two boxes of books he purchased were the working law library he needed to establish his new law office.

The Kentucky Book Market in 1820

From his home in the Bluegrass, Robertson would have had many opportunities to assemble a well-balanced library and legal collection.[6] Nearby Lexington was the intellectual capital of Kentucky for its first half century. As noted by pioneer William A. Leavy (whose 1873 manuscript memoir depicts a commercial life in pioneer Lexington), in 1820 it already had several booksellers.[7] Most had long associations with the publishing centers in Philadelphia and Cincinnati.[8]

As the letter suggests, many Kentuckians also purchased books by post. In “Nursery of a Supreme Court Justice,” Peter Scott Campbell and I examined probate records of books in the library of Robertson’s neighbor from nearby Danville, James Harlan.[9] We found Harlan owned many titles from the “Law Library.” Set up like the old Book-of-the Month Club, the Law Library was published by Philadelphia firm of T. & J.W. Johnson, which reprinted English legal treatises and mailed them out regularly to subscribers. Read the rest of this entry »

Hugo Black and the Classics: An Exhibit

Hugo Black and the Classics is an exhibit in the University of Alabama School of Law Library’s Hugo Black Study that offers insight into Justice Black’s strong interest in Greek and Roman classical works. The collection shown here represents one component of the more than one thousand volumes of Black’s books held at the Bounds Law Library.

HUGO BLACK AND THE CLASSICS

Hugo Lafayette Black (1886-1971) was a native of Clay County, Alabama, and a 1906 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law. Elected to the United States Senate in 1926, Black proved to be a reformist senator and leading New Dealer. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him to the United States Supreme Court.

Confirmed despite a furor over his earlier brief association with the Ku Klux Klan, Black served on the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, promoting the First Amendment, working to make the Bill of Rights applicable to the States, and supporting the landmark civil rights decisions of the Warren Court.

Both as Senator and Justice, Black sought to follow programs of reading and self-education. He found Will Durant’s 1929 article, “One Hundred Best Books,” to be particularly useful. Durant’s vision of history was anchored firmly in the Greek and Roman classics, and the writers of antiquity likewise appealed to Black.

In part this was because Black enjoyed the dignity and measured tone of the classics in translation, but even more because he viewed human nature as essentially unchanging. To his mind, the historians and philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome had set forth many observations perfectly applicable to mid-twentieth century America. Daniel J. Meador, who was a Supreme Court clerk for Justice Black in 1954, later commented on Black’s interest in the classics in Mr. Justice Black and His Books (1974), “If there is any single book out of the hundreds he owned which might be said to have been the favorite, it is Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way…. Law clerks over a span of many years recall having The Greek Way recommended by Black in their initial interview with him, or in the early days of the clerkship…. More than any other single book, The Greek Way is essential reading for anyone attempting to understand the mind of Justice Black.”

In his quest for the classics, Black frequented the various out-of-print bookshops of the Washington, D.C. area. He was also a dedicated reader of dealers’ catalogues. Preferring older editions, he assembled a collection of more than forty volumes on the classics.

Numerous volumes contain Black’s annotations and underlined passages. These books, many of which reflect the height of Victorian classical scholarship, can be considered the cornerstone of Black’s larger library of more than one thousand volumes.

Image of Black's underlinings and marginal notes.

Black’s underlinings and marginal notes in Aristotle’s Politics

Accompanying this post are images of several pages featuring Black’s underlinings and annotations.

Black habitually wrote in his books, commenting on passages that he liked or disliked, summarizing texts, and pointing out ideas, facts, or passages for future reference. The pages seen here from Black’s copy of Aristotle on Government reflect his lawyerly interest in practical abstractions. See page 98 for his brief observations: “City—object of law,” “Object of Government to live well and happily,” and “Rulers should be best, not richest.”

Image of Black's underlinings and marginal notes.

Black’s underlinings and marginal notes in Aristotle’s Politics

As Aristotle turns to practical instructions concerning governance (p. 210), Black’s marginalia matches the philosopher’s didactic mood: “Laws not men” (for a passage arguing against giving magistrates discretionary powers), “Pay all Officials,” and most pointedly, “No life terms.” This last annotation, sadly, gives us no idea what Black, the holder for a lifetime appointment, actually thought about Aristotle’s advice.

Image of Black's underlinings.

Black’s underlinings and notation in Edith Hamilton’s, The Greek Way

Reading Hamilton’s commentary on Thucydides (p. 187), Black singled out a passage of some eight lines which eloquently discusses “greed, that strange passion for power and possession”—a complicated emotion that is, according to the author, at the root of all wars. Similarly in The Greek Way (p. 202), Black singles out a passage which, though written in Hamilton’s conversational style, constitutes a solemn warning to the powerful Democratic states of Black’s times—or of our times.

Image of Black's underlinings.

Black’s underlinings in Edith Hamilton’s, The Greek Way

“She [Athens] had reached the point where she did not care to use fine words about ugly facts, and the reason was that they had ceased to look ugly to her.”

Debt and Default on the Alabama Frontier: Notes on a 19th Century Justice’s Ledger

The subject of this blog post is a ledger used by Justices of the Peace in Clarkesville, Alabama during the 1820s and 1830s. Justices of the Peace used ledgers like this one to record developments in the cases they heard. This ledger specifically deals with the complaints filed between neighbors for outstanding debts. In it, we see the financial mechanisms of an early 19th century Alabama frontier society. Thanks to Hudson Cheshire, our former research assistant and newly-minted J.D. for this post.

Debt and Default on the Alabama Frontier: Notes on a 19th century Justice’s Ledger

Hudson Cheshire

The subject of this blog post is a ledger used by Justices of the Peace in Clarkesville, Alabama during the 1820s. The ledger is about 200 pages long, with cardboard panels and a badly deteriorated leather spine. It is 14 ½ inches in length, 6 ¼ inches wide, and 1 ¼ inches deep.[1]

William A. Robinson, a Justice of the Peace of Clarkesville County, Alabama, began recording cases in this ledger in June of 1824.

Image of first page of Justices' Docket.

First page of Justices’ Docket

The last case recorded is from August of 1830. During this period, the docket went into the hands of at least two successive justices: Samuel Beckham, from July of 1827 to May of 1828, and Kendrick Ford from September 1828 to July of 1830. The successive justices continued to record developments in the cases first handled by their predecessors. The contents of this book were not, in all likelihood, a matter of public record, but instead a mechanism for recording, for future reference, whether disputes had been resolved. Thus, there is little in the ledger by way of common law precedent or factual background for any of the legal disputes.  In that respect, it is closer to an accounting notebook than a legal document. Still, it sheds light on the legal lives of Alabamians in the 1820s. To best contextualize the ledger’s contents, a few words are in order regarding Clarke County circa 1825 and the Justices’ legal duties.

Clarke County is located in southwest Alabama, just below the Black Belt and west of Monroe County, the hometown of author Harper Lee and inspiration for the setting of To Kill A Mockingbird. In the novel, narrator Scout Finch credits the events of the book to Andrew Jackson: “If General Jackson hadn’t run the Creeks up the creek, Simon Finch would never have paddled up the Alabama, and where would we be if he hadn’t?”[2] If the Creek War of 1813 accounts for the origin of Lee’s fictional town of Maycomb, it also seems to have been a major catalyst for population growth in Clarke County. While Alabama historian Thomas Owen writes that by the time of the Creek War, Clarke County was populated enough to “furnish many soldiers to Gen. F.L. Claiborne’s army,” he also notes that the greatest population growth occurred in the decade after the war. According to Owen, a tannery, shoe factory, water mill, “iron screw” (for cotton packing), and a sawmill were all erected in Clarke County between the war’s end and 1821.[3]

The Justices who kept this ledger lived in Clarkesville, which, in the years the ledger covers, was the county seat (in 1831 the citizens voted for the county seat to be moved to Grove Hill, “the geographic center of said county”).[4] That in this time Clarkesville was the seat of a rapidly growing county is interesting because this particular ledger is almost exclusively devoted to cases involving debt and financial obligations. Through the ledger, we see the financial interdependence of a growing rural community. We see the Justice of the Peace, not just as a public servant, but also as a tradesman, who played the role of facilitating financial transactions between the citizens of his community. Read the rest of this entry »

Jessie Gillis Parish: A Woman Voter of Barbour County, Alabama

Jessie Parish Voter Registration Certificate

Jessie Parish Voter Registration Certificate

In response to our recent posting of D. Pierson’s 1902 “Lifetime” voter registration certificate, our friend David E. Alsobrook sent us an image of his great grandmother’s 1929 certificate. As you can see, it was issued to Jessie Gillis Parish of Barbour County, Alabama, on January 3, 1929. Jessie Parish is one of the individuals discussed in Alsobrook’s forthcoming book Southside: Eufaula’s Cotton Mill Village and Its People, 1890-1945 (Mercer University Press). Following a path blazed by Dr. Wayne Flynt and others, this work will provide “an in-depth-examination of life, loss, and work in a self-contained Southern cotton mill village.” Such studies are necessary if we are to understand the legacies—cultural, political, and religious—left to us by “ordinary” Alabamians. We asked David to give us some background on Jessie Parish, who after all was a member of Alabama’s first generation of women voters. Here is what he said:

Photograph of Jessie, Mallie, and Oma Parish

Jessie, Mallie, and Oma Parish, c. 1909

Although Jessie Parish’s voter registration certificate indicates that she was born on August 18, 1872, this date probably is incorrect.  Her tombstone in Eufaula’s Fairview Cemetery records her date of birth as 1871.  However, U.S. Census records for Barbour County reveal that she was born in 1869, in Glennville, Alabama, a few miles north of Eufaula.  Her parents were Malcolm D. Gillis and Queen Ann Stephenson, who had three other children born between 1873 and 1881.  Malcolm Gillis was a Confederate veteran and a cotton overseer in Glennville.  Jessie married Thomas Mallie Parish in Eufaula in 1898. They had a daughter, Oma Parish Alsobrook (1899-1969), my grandmother.  Jessie, Mallie, and Oma all worked at Donald Comer’s Cowikee Mills in Eufaula.  The accompanying photo of the Parishes was taken around 1909.  The Parishes were typical of the families who eked out a subsistence living in the cotton mills and lived in the village known as “Southside.”  Jessie Parish probably was the first woman in her family to cast a ballot in Alabama. 

Jessie Parish died in Eufaula on October 19, 1939. I only knew her from my grandmother’s occasional comments. However, her mother, Queen Anne Gillis, lived for many years afterward, and my grandmother remembers her well.  I suspect that Jessie probably met her future husband, Thomas Mallie Parish, on the job in old Eufaula Cotton Mill, owned by Capt. John Tullis.  

Jessie was a straight-laced Baptist her entire life, and her husband Mallie was a Methodist.  At her funeral, the ministers from the two Southside “mission” churches officiated–Washington Street Methodist and Second Baptist.  After Donald Comer acquired the “busted” Eufaula Cotton Mill in 1909 and changed its name to Cowikee Mill, Jessie and Mallie continued to work together there or possibly later at Cowikee Mill No. 3 in Eufaula.  These are the only basic details I know involving Jessie Gillis Parish.  She and Mallie were typical mill operatives–they worked hard all of their lives, and the debilitating nature of the work took a toll on their bodies, and their daughter Oma eventually joined them in the mill.

Like so many other mill families in Eufaula, the Parishes are rather invisible and anonymous in historical annals.  As you’ll see in the pages of Southside, my grandmother Oma told me a lot about her father Mallie and the other Parishes, but for whatever reason, she seldom talked about her mother.