Clarion-Ledger clipping

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Jones, Cornelius J., 1858-1931; Supreme Court decisions; Mississippi. Constitution (1890); Civil rights; Capital punishment; African American lawyers

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Carried His Case to United States Supreme Court to Test the State Constitution.

Executive clemency has been denied to Henry Williams, the noted negro murderer who carried his case to the United States Supreme Court in 1897, and who gave the state of Mississippi one of the most spirited legal battles in its history.

It will be remembered that Williams was tried in the circuit court of Washington county in 1896 for the murder of a negress named Eliza Brown in the city Greenville on the 26th day of May of that year. The court returned a verdict of guilty and sentenced him to be hanged.

The big legal fight then commenced. Defendant first represented that the laws by which the grand jury that had brought the indictment had been selected were in violation of the spirit and letter of section 14 of the constitution of the United States granting suffrage to the negro. In other words, the defense set up was that the state constitution adopted in 1890 was illegal, citing that of the 135 members only one member was a negro, whereas there were 69,000 white voters and 190,000 negro voters in the state, nearly all of the latter being disfranchised by said constitution. Defendant further represented that the county of Washington had no registration books and that the negro had no representation on the jury.

Motion was made for a removal to the Federal court on these grounds and the motion denied. Appeal was then taken to the state Supreme Court and the case was affirmed.

Cornelius J. Jones, attorney for defendant, then secured an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, and the test of the new state constitution was on. Apprehending that there might be some danger of a reversal before that tribunal, Hon. C. B. Mitchell, of Pontotoc, one of the best constitutional lawyers in the state, was employed by the state as special council to go to Washington City and assist the Attorney General. A spirited legal battle took place, but on the 26th day of April, 1898, nearly two years after the crime was committed, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision affirming the Mississippi courts.

At its last session the state Supreme Court sentenced Williams to be hanged on the 28th day of September, 1899. Some time afterwards an appeal was made to Governor McLaurin for executive clemency. After a careful review of the case and the records therein, the Governor this morning announced that he did not feel that the facts warranted an interference, which officially closes the famous case.

Thus closes the earthly career of Henry Williams. He will be hanged at Greenville next Friday.





Clarion-Ledger, “Clarion-Ledger clipping,” Mississippi State University Libraries, accessed December 4, 2023,

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