chapter  2
23 Pages

Capital punishment and the legacy of slavery, 1865–1976

ByBharat Malkani

Between 1865 and 1976, the death penalty was linked to the defunct system of slavery in two ways: the racial discrimination in the application of the death penalty, and the rise of the death penalty abolitionist movement from the ashes of the slavery abolitionist movement. The relationship between slavery, racial injustice, capital punishment, and their respective abolitionist movements, has therefore been profound, complex, and contradictory. Although the US Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty in the racially-charged case of Furman, the legacy of slavery was so deeply woven into the fabric of capital punishment that it contributed to its resurrection four years later in Gregg. It might be said that the defeat of the Radical Republicans to have their vision of Reconstruction realized in the aftermath of emancipation contributed to the entrenchment of capital punishment, but it is worth noting that even the radicals' major success had the effect of institutionalizing capital punishment.