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In 1965, a curious and determined group of students guided by Judge Barrett Foerster and working with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sought to prove whether capital punishment in southern rape cases had been applied discriminatorily over the previous twenty years. If their suspicions were found to be true, capital punishment in the South could be abolished as a clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

This book tells the harrowing story of their journey—its dangers and complexities—and illuminates the role the project played in the landmark Furman v. Georgia case, which led to a four-year cessation of capital punishment and a more limited set of deathlaws aimed at constraining racial discrimination.

The Editor: Michael Meltsner, the principal architect of the death penalty abolition movement in the United States, is the George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished University Professor at the Northeastern University School of Law. In early 1963, as counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Meltsner argued for the unconstitutionality of capital punishment. His ongoing efforts in the interests of abolition led to groundbreaking research on the systematic connection between racism and capital punishment, as then practiced in the U.S. penal system. Meltsner is the author of The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer and Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment.


ribbon slice image Race, Rape, and Injustice Documenting and Challenging Death Penalty Cases in the Civil Rights Era

Barrett J. Foerster

Michael Meltsner

Cloth ISBN: 978-1-57233-862-8, $39.95
eISBN 978-1-57233-922-4, $39.95
6 x 9 / 224 pages
Available Now



Michael Meltsner is available for interviews. For more information please contact Tom Post.

Watch a video with Michael Meltsner on the UT Press Youtube channel.

70 years
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