Law and History Review

Forum: Racial Determination and the Law in Comparative Perspective

“The law recognizes racial instinct”: Tucker v. Blease and the Black–White Paradigm in the Jim Crow South

John W. Wertheimer c1, Jessica Bradshaw, Allyson Cobb, Harper Addison, E. Dudley Colhoun, Samuel Diamant, Andrew Gilbert, Jeffrey Higgs and Nicholas Skipper

On January 24, 1913, the trustees of the Dalcho School, a segregated, all-white public school in Dillon County, South Carolina, summarily dismissed Dudley, Eugene, and Herbert Kirby, ages ten, twelve, and fourteen, respectively. According to testimony offered in a subsequent hearing, the boys had “always properly behaved,” were “good pupils,” and “never …exercise[d] any bad influence in school.” Moreover, the boys’ overwhelmingly white ancestry, in the words of the South Carolina Supreme Court, technically “entitled [them] to be classified as white,” according to state law. Nevertheless, because local whites believed that the Kirbys were “not of pure Caucasian blood,” and that therefore their removal was in the segregated school's best interest, the court, in Tucker v. Blease (1914), upheld their expulsion.

(Online publication May 09 2011)

John Wertheimer is professor of history at Davidson College <>. This article grew out of his “Law and Society in American History” seminar at Davidson College. He thanks Ariela Gross, Shepherd McKinley, Helen Belden Moody, Daniel J. Sharfstein, Richard Wertheimer, members of Davidson College's Department of History, David Tanenhaus, and the Law and History Review's outside readers. A Davidson Research Initiative grant supported the summer research of Jessica Bradshaw and Allyson Cobb.