chapter  Chapter 1
22 Pages

Social Identity and the Law

ByBarbara L. Graham

In 1857, A New Orleans slave trader, James White, purchased fifteen-year-old Jane Morrison on the slave market in Louisiana. Jane ran away shortly after the sale but she reemerged after filing a freedom suit in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. In her legal petition, Morrison claimed that her name was Alexina, not Jane, and that she was born to free white parents in Arkansas. White argued that Morrison was a slave and he purchased her with full warranty of title from Haliburton. 1 Whether Alexina could win her freedom was dependent on Louisiana statutes and the Supreme Court of Louisiana’s interpretation of those laws based on three possible outcomes in the case: (1) Alexina was entitled to her freedom if she could prove that she was white, (2) the slave trader James White would prevail if he could prove that Alexina was a slave, and (3) if Alexina could not prove that she was white, then the Court would decide the matter based on Louisiana’s mulatto freedom law. Louisiana determined who was black based on “fractions of blood” or whether the person of color was born to an enslaved woman. Three separate trials were held over a five-year period before Alexina Morrison obtained her freedom.