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A Legal History of Mississippi - Race, Class, and the Struggle for Opportunity

A Legal History of Mississippi

Race, Class, and the Struggle for Opportunity

By Joseph A. Ranney
Hardcover : 9781496822574, 246 pages, 4 b&w illustrations, 7 charts, April 2019

A direct legal study of the state stretching from the origins of Mississippi charters to our modern mandates


In A Legal History of Mississippi: Race, Class, and the Struggle for Opportunity, legal scholar Joseph A. Ranney surveys the evolution of Mississippi’s legal system and analyzes the ways in which that system has changed during the state’s first two hundred years. Through close research, qualitative analysis, published court decisions, statutes, and law review articles, along with unusual secondary sources including nineteenth-century political and legal journals and journals of state constitutional conventions, Ranney indicates how Mississippi law has both shaped and reflected the state’s character and, to a certain extent, how Mississippi’s legal evolution compares with that of other states.

Ranney examines the interaction of Mississippi law and society during key periods of change including the colonial and territorial eras and the early years of statehood when the legal foundations were laid; the evolution of slavery and slave law in Mississippi; the state’s antebellum role as a leader of Jacksonian legal reform; the unfolding of the response to emancipation and wartime devastation during Reconstruction and the early Jim Crow era; Mississippi’s legal evolution during the Progressive Era and its legal response to the crisis of the Great Depression; and the legal response to the civil rights revolution of the mid-twentieth century and the cultural revolutions of the late twentieth century.

Histories of the law in other states are starting to appear, but there is none for Mississippi. Ranney fills that gap to help us better understand the state as it enters its third century.


"Each chapter features succinct, revealing portraits of the people who shaped Mississippi’s legal system, an arrangement that not only shows that the law is built by and upon human action but one that also makes the book more than a dry recitation of cases. Legal historians will not find here a model that fundamentally advances the ways that they write about the interaction of law and society. But that was not Ranney’s goal. Instead, he provides a solidly researched, readable account of a state system that embodies very southern and very American contradictions. "

- Trent Brown, Missouri University of Science and Technology, The Journal of American History