APRIL 25, 1898

Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Just two years after ruling “separate but equal” was constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled there was no racial discrimination in Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution, which required all voters to pay poll taxes and pass literacy tests. 

This ruling came despite the framers of the new state Constitution publicly proclaiming how these changes would disenfranchise Black voters and preserve white supremacy. 

When congressional candidate Marsh Cook of Jasper County spoke out and urged Black voters to organize against this plan, a mob ambushed him, shooting him 27 times. His killing received national attention, but no one was ever prosecuted. 

“If men are to be shot down like dogs for the exercise of those high prerogatives of freedom of thought and speech, which are their inalienable right; then our boasted liberty is a delusion and snare, and our enlightened civilization a myth,” the Mississippian wrote. 

“The heartless killing,” another newspaper penned, “did more to create a sentiment favorable to a federal election law than the thousands of political murders in which Afro-Americans were the victims, that have taken place in the South since Reconstruction times.” 

Many Southern states followed Mississippi’s lead in adopting constitutions that sought to bar Black voters.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.