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Has Jim Crow finally been put down? Not here in Texas I am afraid. The Jim Crow legacy continues to live here in the Lone Star State. It hides in plain sight in our most public of buildings and our most public of laws.

The old cliche holds that a picture is worth a thousand words. More then, lurks below the fold.

The image:

<imgscr=href="¤t=JimCrow_wtr_ftn.jpg" target="_blank">Jim Crow I

Jim Crow still lives on in Texas in the nooks and crannies of our public places without our notice or protest. It remains in laws we do not think about, yet works in insidious ways no less effective to disenfrancise and suppress minority vote. The symbols, like the laws, simply hide in plain sight.

One of those nooks and crannys is in the Brazos County, Texas, Courthouse. The existing courthouse was built between 1954 and 1956. This remnant of Jim Crow is unmarked seperate water fountains recessed into the second floor wall. Below is how the two fountains appeared in September, 2008.<imgscr=ahref="¤t=Brazos_Co_Cthse.jpg" target="_blank">  

The hallway in which these now inoperable water fountains are located is the most heavily travelled in the courthouse. To enter the courtroom in which most criminal defendants make their first appearance it is necessary to walk past the water fountains. No markings exist informing about the irony of these inoperable water fountains in a building dedicated to supposed equal justice.

Do those with business at the courthouse realize the history behind these water fountains? Jurors sit next to the fountains week after week with with the look of mild annoyment that comes with the disruption caused by jury service. They absently read a book unaware of the history immediately beside them. Do they know? Do they care?

This courthouse is the County's sixth. The fact the identical water fountains are recessed into the wall suggest they were engineered into the planning of the structure. Ironically Texas A & M Univeristy("TAMU"), one of the largest land grant Universities in the country is located in Brazos County, minutes away from the courthouse. That would be the same university that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was President of from 2002 to 2006. More irony: many of the bored jurors sitting next to these fountains week in, week out, are TAMU faculty members.

Many in our community have been around long enough to give a history of local Jim Crow segregation. You simply have to ask. One provided me the history of Jim Crow at the Courthouse. I asked him first about the water fountains. "The one on the right had the 'Colored' sign over it" he shared.

I asked about remnants of other segregated facilities in the courthouse. "The restrooms on the third floor on the old side of the courthouse (the courthouse was expanded between 1984-86) had 'White Only' on them". "They cut the 'White' off the restroom signs sometime in the '60's and took the 'Colored Only' and 'White Only' signs down from above the water fountains about the same time".

I smiled to myself at the thought of how the sign would have read after the impromptu change - "Women Only". I conjured up an image of a 1970's era juror, blissfully unaware of the provenance of the third floor restrooms, wondering what in the name of Sam Hill kind of hanky panky was happening at the courthouse that required a "Women Only" sign being put on the restroom.

The third floor restrooms remain, but the old signage replaced. They have been swallowed off from public view by sheet rock from the ever expanding need for office space. This remnant of Jim Crow is therefore walled off, and unused by the public.

But Jim Crow has more reach than a forgotten, inoperable water fountain in Brazos County. It is in full flower among the laws of the State of Texas. That is, if a Jim Crow law is defined to include a facially neutral law that disproportionately and negatively affect minority voting (think of a literacy test). If this is Jim Crow, then Mr. Crow lives on buried in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

Individuals who have been convicted of a felony are disqualified from jury service in Texas. Two provisions of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure statutorily provide for it:

challenge for cause is an objection made to a particular juror,
alleging some fact which renders the juror incapable or unfit to
serve on the jury.  A challenge for cause may be made by either the
state or the defense for any one of the following reasons:

         *             *               *           *          *

  1.  That the juror has been convicted of misdemeanor theft or a felony;    
  1.  That the juror is under indictment or other legal accusation for misdemeanor theft or a felony;
  1.  That the juror is insane;

Art. 35.19. ABSOLUTE DISQUALIFICATION.  No juror shall be
impaneled when it appears that he is subject to the second, third or
fourth cause of challenge in Article 35.16, though both parties may

These two statues mean that if you have been convicted of a felony you are absolutely disqualified to serve on a jury in Texas. There is disagreement concerning whether a felon (or an individual convicted of misdemeanor theft) that has successfully completed probation is disqualified, but that is not really significant to make the point sought here. Even if "felony conviction" in these statutory provisons apply only to a felony convictions resulting in a term in prison, the effect is profound.

How this translate into a disproportionate effect on minority voting in Texas is as follows: Based on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice("TDCJ") approximately 68% of prison inmates ("offenders") in Texas are of either African American or Hispanic ethnicity. The statistical and demographic breakdown provided by the TDCJ is in .pdf format and can be found here. The TDCJ statistics include Substance Abuse Felony Punishment ("SAFP") offenders, but the statistic in this diary have excluded these offenders, as SAFP is considered primarily a theraputic alternative and most often imposed as a condition of probation.

The same statistical compliation by the TDCJ discloses that just about half of the almost 150,000 incarcerated in Texas prisons as of August  1, 2007 (the latest date statistics are available through the TDCJ website) are serving sentences for non-violent offenses. None of these individuals will ever be eligible for jury service, even upon completion of sentence.

Is this good public policy? Probably not. Recidivism is reduced when the offender is absorded into the civic fabric of the communtiy. The point, however, is not the policy debate, but that as a result of this disqualification A jury panel in Texas will rarely resemble the demographic of the community from which it is drawn. Instead it will be disproportonality white, older and female.  

To make it more personal, walk for a while in the shoes of a twenty year old person of color charged with possessing an amount of cocaine less than a gram, a felony grade offense in Texas. Personal use amounts. Happens everyday in courts in Texas.

This hypothetical person of color will walk into a courthouse for their first appearance in Brazos County, Texas right past those water fountains. If this person goes on to jury trial, they will look out on a jury panel from which a jury will be selected. How many faces of color representing a cross section of the community will be looking back at them? One? Two? Three? What would any twenty year old under these circumstances do? What would a person of color be thinking about equal justice in the Criminal Justice System in Texas?

If subsequently convicted placed on probation, or prison with later parole, this person is ineligible to vote under Texas Law until completion of sentence. Much has been written on felony disenfranchisment and the subject is beyond the scope of this diary. Currently Virgina and Kentucky have lifetime voting bans for felons. Other states have waiting periods before felons are eligible to vote. The Sentencing Project maintains an excllent website providing information on felony disenfranchisment and the various state by state applications. The Sentencing Project website is located here. The point of this diary is that the disqualification from jury service in Texas remains even after completion of sentence. This disqualification disproportionately effects persons of color. This forever perpetuates the cycle.

Many convicted of felony crimes incorrectly assume they cannot vote because of the conviction after completion of sentence. This is only reinforced by a felon who recieves a jury service notice because he has a driver's license (Texas summons jurors by Driver's License and Voter Registrion), but once summoned is told at the courthouse by a judge or court personal they are absolutely disqualified from jury service. "Absolutely Disqualified". Sounds intimidating, does it not?

I asked my informal historian where the old "Colored" restrooms were in the courthouse. "Basement" was his one word reply. Again, walled off and inaccessible. Access to the basement is behind a locked door off the main lobby with a sign marked "Authorized Personel Only". Walled off. Forgotten. Not talked about.

Originally posted to LosTex on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 06:53 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Molly Ivins wrote about the irony of th fountains (8+ / 0-)

    how she noticed, early on in childhood, how they were always cleaner that the white ones, and how sometimes she really wished she could use the "colored" one that didn't have chewing tobacco, gum and other residues all over the drain.

    And how she was soaked many times because she dare not get her lips within a foot of the spigot.

  •  Absent from your diary is evidence that the (4+ / 0-)

    law critiqued is actually a Jim Crow law. (ie, passed during the era for discriminatory purposes)  Isn't that an important fact when we're trying to assess the moral acceptability of the law under scrutiny?  If it were actually passed in good faith and applied equally to all races, then we'd be much more likely to see the law as an acceptable exercise of legislative power.

    We are building a team that is continuously being built. - Sarah Palin

    by burrow owl on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 07:02:35 AM PST

    •  The diary speciifically (5+ / 0-)

      addressed this..."If Jim Crow is defined as a facially neutral law that disproportionately affects minority voting.." Literacy tests were a form of facially neutral laws that had just the same type of disproportionate affect to suppress minortiy voting. Jim Crow.

      •  So we're just defining Jim Crow in truthy fashion (3+ / 0-)

        Well, OK.  In that case it loses quite a bit of force.  Lots of laws have disproportionate racial effects.  I'd wager that NYC's prohibition on open containers disproportionately impacts black people, for instance.  That fact by itself is simply not support for the law's repeal, though.

        Your comment about literacy tests misses the boat.  Literacy tests were expressly part of the Jim Crow project; they were passed during Jim Crow and were patently intended to oppress minorities.  Again, you don't offer any evidence that this same is true of the jury disqualification statute.

        We are building a team that is continuously being built. - Sarah Palin

        by burrow owl on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 07:16:33 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The statistics are in the diary (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          burrow owl, Woody, buckhorn okie

          68% of those incarcerated for felonies in Texas are Hispanic or African American. This is disproportionate to their percentages in the Texas population generally. They are forever disqualified from jury service in Texas. Literacy Tests are the analogy - regardless of whether they were "expressely part of the Jim Crow project". The analogy is complete - the literacy testing was facially neutral but still suppressed minority voting. This is the same thing. Jim Crow Project or no, the effect is the same. Jim Crow by another name....

    •  Jim Crow ended when? (0+ / 0-)

      a Jim Crow law. (ie, passed during the era for discriminatory purposes)

      What a magical definition of a racist law: an old one. If the law is recent, to Burrow Owl it obviously has no racist intent no matter its effect. ha ha ha ha ha.

  •  Ex-felons vote in Texas (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    burrow owl, princss6

    which is something I am proud of.  So they don't have to serve jury duty?  I am not sure I see the moral outrage here.  I cannot count the number of times I have to counter the I don't want to register to vote because of jury duty with the facts.  

    I think we would be better off finding a way to make the people elegible for jury duty proud to serve than to increase the number of people trying to get out of it.  To me, the biggest problem with jury trials is that one pretty much assumes that most jurors are there because they are too dumb to get out of jury duty (I do serve, by the way, when called upon without hesitation, but I bet most of us on dkos do).

    We cannot change yesterday, so why the big deal about the water fountains.  What would you prefer?  Blowing up the building to get rid of the fountains?

    I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.

    by crazyshirley2100 on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 07:16:22 AM PST

    •  Not necessarily (0+ / 0-)

      Just some possible recognition of what they are, what they were, and their presence in of all places, a courthouse

      •  Courthouses (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        burrow owl

        If they aren't in an older courthouse, then the people making/protecting the laws decided they could jolly well go thirsty.  Some commercial buildings did not provide two and made blacks do just that because drinking from the same water fountain as a white person might get you hung.

        I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.

        by crazyshirley2100 on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 07:37:19 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Actually (0+ / 0-)

          even here, the 2nd water fountain is an add on, which means it was added during the seperate but equal bs times.  Before that, either blacks were not allowed in the courthouse or they went thirsty.

          I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.

          by crazyshirley2100 on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 07:44:00 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  You know, in general I support your (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    borkitekt, stella0710

    premise in this diary, but I'm gonna have to call you out on your inflammatory "statistic" of

    many of the bored jurors sitting next to these fountains week in, week out, are TAMU faculty members.


    As of the 2000 census, Brazos Co had ~152,500 people, 20% of whom were under age 18, making them ineligible for jury duty.  That (technically) leaves 122,000, although we can be certain that not all of those people are on the jury rolls (foreign nationals, people who avoid the system, etc.)

    Texas A&M University has 3931 faculty (technically).  That number includes faculty at the Galveston and Qutar campuses, as well as who-knows-how-many non-citizen faculty, who are not eligible to serve on juries.

    Regardless, the number of A&M faculty to over-18 residents in Brazos Co comes out to about 3% of the total population.  Three bored jurors out of 100 does not in any way equate to "many". Thus your statement is pure hyperbole.  I confess, having grown up in most Civil Rights America, and in Colorado, but having lived in Brazos Co (at A&M) for 10 years and having noticed and thought odd, those two water fountains, I didn't know what they meant.

    I appreciate you teaching me what they meant, but I don't so much appreciate you using Texas A&M in such an irresponsible fashion.

    If you've got an axe to grind against A&M, find something where your stats support your accusations.

    •  "post" civil rights America, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      not "most"

    •  Just antedotal evidence but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hippie bitch

      Many of the jurors summoned to the courthouse ARE faculty members. And students. That's not an axe to grind, it is just a fact.

      Further, It's not hyperbole to point it out that among those summoned that faculty members, the most educated among us would understand what the fountains were.

      •  Sorry, but it is hypberbole. (0+ / 0-)

        Purely numerically, the numbers don't justify your dragging A&M into it.  Why not drag public school teachers into it, too?

        I have three degrees - on in history, one in political science and one in Education - and only now did you teach me the meaning.

        Blame the history curriculum in the US, don't blame some 3000 people, most of whom, like me, probably haven't been taught.

        •  The presence of TAMU (0+ / 0-)

          in Brazos County and the courthouse shouldnn't be ignored. No one, least of all me, that somehow TAMU is responsible for the decisions made at the county level.

          However, members of the TAMU faculty vote in elections and participate in jury service in the county. TAMU is the 800 pound elephant in the area.

      •  I don't see how many of the jurors could be (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        students...most student's never switch their voter registration to Brazos County (which is why the City of Bryan is able to pass zoning laws that really hurt students) and thus would never get a jury summons.

      •  well, the other innuendo, with regard to Gates, (0+ / 0-)

        is irrelevant and obsurd.

        Furthermore, maybe you missed the recent turmoil, and diary, about faculty resigning over racial turmoil, perhaps, if you are trying to connect the faculty to being part of something to do with Jim Crow- you could be more clear.

        And as someone who studied both law and architecture in Texas, and lived there for 26 years, I disagree with a lot of what you are saying and think you need to strengthen the connections and associations in your diary because they appear superficial.

        The fact the identical water fountains are recessed into the wall suggest they were engineered into the planning of the structure.

        I don't get you point, of course they were planned. Are you saying that this had something to do with the law? How do you know?

        To me, it looks like two fountains, maybe there should be three, and I don't get what the point of the first photos is.

        Yes, I know Jim Crow existed in Texas, and yes that horrible racist things are still done to this day (has a cross in my own yard once,) but, what are you saying with these fountains and with the inaccessible bathrooms below? Do you want to uncover their history? Destroy them? Have handouts explaining the history? Shame Texas, Aggies, Brazos, Bryan or College Station, faculty, or what? Do you want to burn down all the oak trees that once participated in lynchings or knock down every backdrop to bore witness to these times and events?

        The history is everywhere, and sometimes, yes it is no where to be seen passing off into the mundane, and, perhaps, these are just two innocent fountains who at least were installed at a time which is worth remembering as labor and materials are not what they were, having been made by real hands. Are they racist sinks? I doubt it. They are real objects that have been ascribed some meaning to, perhaps, but that is as silly as calling a child a bastard, and perhaps racism itself, no?

        Regarding law, I wish you were more clear to. I'd want juries to be a reflection of peers in society that are not felony convicts. Why should anyone? Just because they are a division of the populate and would accurately reflect criminals within minorities in society? Why not select minorities without felony convictions?

        And I don't follow your thought experiment with the 'personal use cocaine arrestee.' Another census number from the same 2000 census is that 82.3% of the population in Brazos is white, slightly lower than the state average, in a jury of 12 people, that would mean two minority participants. Should that number be more?

        But I will give you one point, perhaps the most important:

        The fact the identical water fountains are recessed into the wall suggest they were engineered into the planning of the structure.
        The hallway in which these now inoperable water fountains are located is the most heavily travelled in the courthouse.

        This is typical of Aggie engineering, in fact, there should be a whole list of these crimes on the net if there is not one already. And in my opinion, the oppression of real intelligence and the laws of physics is just as serious as racism itself.  And it does have a human and monetary cost, sadly.

        Listen to Noam Chomsky's Necessary Illusions. (mp3!)

        by borkitekt on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 08:49:03 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  That was MY diary you linked to. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          and I hold Prof Fisk and his stand against the Young Conservatives of Texas in high regard.

          First, as to the water fountains. The first photo is a generic Jim Crow photo with no relationship to the the water fountains in the Brazos County Courthouse. However, the fountains at the Brazos Co. courthouse are a Jim Crow remnants is supported in the diary entry. It simply is a fact that Brazos County, like most of Texas and the South used government to segregate the most basic of services in the most public of places. These fountains are located not in a park, or a business, but the PUBLIC COURTHOUSE. This was what was most troubling to me.

          Second, I do not necessarily advocate removal of the fountains. But they do represent a time in which the Brazos Co.and the State of Texas, e.g. the goverment (courthouse) sanctioned segregation. You can claim ignorance only for so long. A reminder of the evil that government can rationalize is something not necessarily to be ignored.

          Third, jury service, next to voting is the highest calling of citizenship. A felon who has completed sentence can vote, but not serve on a jury? And what does it say to a citizen accused who is of color when they look out on to a panel that lacks, in part because of disqualification, the cross secction of the community that a jury pool is supposed to represent?

          •  Sorry about missing your name. (0+ / 0-)

            And, no, I'm not claiming ignorance, if you are suggesting that.

            But are you saying that because minorities who have been convicted of a crime that there can not even be an equal representation of peers who have not committed crimes serving on a jury?

            Regardless of color, I'd perfer no felons on a jury. I agree fully that they should be integrated into society, but perhaps, not in a position to influence the mechanics of justice if they themselves can not prove to handle their role as citizens properly. This could go along with the right to own a gun as well. But this is debatable, of course, and I'd love to hear more on the topic from you and others.

            Listen to Noam Chomsky's Necessary Illusions. (mp3!)

            by borkitekt on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 09:21:43 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  No problem (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              and I am not saying that you are claiming ingonrance. Your comments and participation on this website demonstrate just the opposite.

              As for prior felon's participation on jury panels, If our legislature has determined a felon who has completed their sentence is ready to cast a vote, then why are they still disqualified to render service on a jury?

              As mentioned, recidivism rates are reduced by individuals absorbed back into the fabric of the community. Voting. Jury Service. More important, these individuals have completed their responsibility to the state. Why should they continue to be prevented from fully reentering the community as fully paraticipating members? They may not be selected. It is the paraticipation that is important.

              •  to your question; (0+ / 0-)

                As for prior felon's participation on jury panels, If our legislature has determined a felon who has completed their sentence is ready to cast a vote, then why are they still disqualified to render service on a jury?

                Probably because since our government is composed of criminals, and criminals are normally elected,  it makes little difference, and they typically aren't the violent type or ones that cause a great deal of media attention. But heaven forbid all the noobs and amateurs, murderers and other non-corporate do-badders- they make the elected criminals look bad, can't have that.

                Just kidding. But going back to my point, I think you should look into it. I don't have an answer, but it seems strange to me to have people in that position when one vote can deadlock a jury, iirc. And I think someone also pinted out voire dire might exclude felons anyway.

                Perhaps that is a point to expand upon in another diary.

                Listen to Noam Chomsky's Necessary Illusions. (mp3!)

                by borkitekt on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 09:46:04 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  Hmmm...I get the part about the law but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    borkitekt, emsprater

    I'm not sure what your point is re: the fountains. Do you think they should be removed? A "historical" sign posted? There are lots of vestiges of inequality in our old courthouses (& elsewhere). Where I live, in Virginia, many of the black schools still stand - crumbling, long out of use, but there they are.

    The churches remain de facto segregated. I'm from NY, and I remember my surprise the 1st time a co-worker referred to a white building as a black church. I didn't know what she meant. The same woman once told me about the 2 black men who had once (separately) visited her (white)church. As in, the only black people ever.

    One last thought on felons and jury duty: even if they accepted felons, it seems unlikely they'd make it through voire dire, the phase where the lawyers on both sides reject people they believe have prejudices or biases.

    Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. - Henry Ford

    by FrozeAgain on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 07:50:19 AM PST

    •  I am not sure the fountains should be removedt (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and I am not advocating that they should. But they ought not to be ignored. What they stood for should be known, and the history behind them just not turned away from. Especially in a public courthouse.

      I understand too the point about a convicted felon probably not making it through voir dire. Maybe. Maybe in the right case or through error, they would make the jury. The point, however, is participation. Although a prior comment seemed to downplay jury service, next to voting it is the most important part of citizenship.

  •  I wish I could respond. But every time I offer up (0+ / 0-)

    and opinion about the South, people go nuts and accuse me of being prejudiced against ole Dixie because I don't have the same opinion about their heritage that they do.

    But I will say this. Thank you for this diary. It's a shame to see what still get's defined as "Great American History" in the South these days. Nothing further.

    "That's my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing [that vision]." ~Obama on "Change"

    by WeBetterWinThisTime on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 08:24:59 AM PST

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