Volume 110

When Bonds Turn to Badges

by Mary "Maggie" O'Leary

The year is 1866. One year has elapsed since the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery. Jacob Burgest, a Black Union Army veteran, has found himself in a position quite familiar to other Black people living in the Reconstruction South: in jail. Footnote #1 content: See Persecution of Colored Men., NEW ORLEANS TRIB., Sept. 23, 1866, at 3.  He had been arrested after leaving his plantation job in protest over not getting paid. Footnote #2 content: Jacob Alan Grover, One Dead Freedman: Everyday Racial Violence, Black Freedom, and American Citizenship, 1863-1871, at 91–92 (May 17, 2017) (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Kentucky) (citing Persecution of Colored Men., supra note 1), https://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/ viewcontent.cgi?article=1057&context=history_etds [https://perma.cc/2EM3-D57F].  For invoking his newly granted rights, Burgest was now in a cell under the condition of a $150 bail. Footnote #3 content: FLOZELL DANIELS, JR., BENJAMIN D. WEBER & JON WOOL, FROM BONDAGE TO BAIL BONDS: PUTTING A PRICE ON FREEDOM IN NEW ORLEANS 3 (2018) (citing Persecution of Colored Men., supra note 1), https://s3.amazonaws.com/gnocdc/reports/Daniels_bondage_to_bail_bonds.pdf [https://perma. cc/EBF9-MTJ3].  When a friend sub-sequently came to post his bail in the form of a bond, the friend was denied as a personal surety and the bail amount was tripled and contingent upon upfront payment. Footnote #4 content: Id.  Consequently, Burgest was incarcerated for “many weeks,” during which he was “covered with vermin, robbed of [his] clothes.” Footnote #5 content: Grover, supra note 2, at 92 (quoting Persecution of Colored Men., supra note 1).   He was left “lamenting the way the law was being ‘administered wholly in the interest of the white man [while] the colored people have no justice whatsoever.’” Footnote #6 content: DANIELS, JR. ET AL., supra note 3 (quoting Persecution of Colored Men., supra note 1).   

Flash forward 153 years to 2019. Dennis Edwards, a Black man, was in a posi-tion familiar to many Black men in modern America: still in jail. Footnote #7 content: Jarvis DeBerry, Opinion, Don’t Just Ask Why Inmate Died; Ask Why He Was an Inmate, NOLA. COM (July 12, 2019, 1:55 PM), https://www.nola.com/opinions/article_7b085807-495c-523f-8efe- 6e6004390808.html [https://perma.cc/23ZE-GHAT]   

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