On July 23, 1910, a local African American magazine reported that a black taxi driver in Montgomery, Alabama named Mitchell Johnson was murdered. Earlier that month, Johnson had a white passenger who refused to pay Johnson the cab fare when they arrived at his home. Johnson quickly reported the incident to his employer, and the white passenger who skipped out on the fare was arrested. The passenger posted bond and was released from jail; shortly thereafter, he found Johnson and shot him dead. The passenger arrested once again for the murder of Johnson, but he asserted that he had only killed him in self-defense. Seeing no reason to hold the passenger in jail any longer, the passenger was released.
On July 11, 1910, following Johnson’s death and a string of other murders, Montgomery County Judge Armstead Brown instructed a jury to determine a defendant’s innocence based on evidence and not on class or race. He stated, “All charges of homicide should be rigidly investigated,” regardless of whether the defendant was a prominent white businessman, or a black unknown person. The Colored Alabamian magazine applauded the Judge’s remarks. “White men who murder Negroes only have to tell the Court they acted in SELF-DEFENSE, to be turned loose, whether the victim was a Negro man or a poor helpless Negro woman.”
However, despite Judge Brown’s efforts, the distrust among the black residents and criminal justice system continued to grow. The Colored Alabamian gave a warning after another black man was killed by a white man, “Watch out now for the old theory of SELF-DEFENSE.” The African American community knew that despite what anyone said, there was no protection for black people. Unfortunately, the law as they knew it enabled white people to take no accountability for their actions against African Americans.
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