On April 18, 1946, a thirty-two-year-old Navy veteran named Davis Knight married Junie Lee Spradley, a white woman. In June 1948, the state indicted Mr. Knight for violating a law that prohibited “marriage or cohabitation between white persons and those with one-eighth or more Negro or Mongolian blood.” At trial, Mr. Knight insisted that he was white: his wife believed him to be white and his Navy service records listed him as white. The State set out to prove he was black.
The whole case turned on the race of Mr. Knight’s deceased great-grandmother, Rachel; if she was black, Mr. Knight was at least one-eighth black and guilty of the charge. As evidence of Rachel’s race, the State presented several elderly witnesses, including an eighty-nine-year-old white man who testified that Rachel had lived on his father’s plantation and was a “known Negro.” On December 18, 1948, Mr. Knight was convicted of being black and sentenced to five years in prison for marrying outside of his race.
He appealed, and on November 14, 1949, the Supreme Court of Mississippi reversed his conviction. The Court held that, in Mr. Knight’s particular case, the State had failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that Rachel was fully black, so it had not proved that Mr. Knight was at least one-eighth black.
Though the decision did not strike down the state’s miscegenation law, or prevent future prosecution of Mr. Knight or others, many white Mississippians protested the decision, hanging members of the court in effigy. The state’s ban on interracial marriage would stand for nearly two more decades, until the United States Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia struck down remaining anti-miscegenation laws in Mississippi and seventeen other states.
From the Equal Justice Initiative’s A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.