Lecture to focus on 'Rebel, Radicals & Red Men'

By Chris Dickerson | May 24, 2007

CHARLESTON – On May 31, the state Supreme Court Chamber will echo with discussion about Confederates and the Reconstruction, military tribunals, secret societies and even martial law.

No, it isn't some bizarre appeal of some 150-year-old case. It's a lecture that delves into the state Supreme Court of Appeals' interesting history in shaping West Virginia.

The lecture is titled "Rebels, Radicals & Red Men: Legal and Historical Perspectives on Enemies and the Rule of Law in West Virginia 1863-1913." It will be presented from 10 to 11:30 a.m. by Supreme Court Clerk Rory L. Perry II and Joshua Lynn, a Yeager Scholar from Marshall University and a historical intern in the court.

"This came about as a result of a lot of study on my part with regard to some of the more interesting cases the Court has handled over the years," Perry said. "There's a rich amount of history.

"What we're going to do is tell the long story the Court has had in the development of government in the state."

Perry said the discussion will focus on three fascinating groups of cases.

The first is test oaths. Right after the state was formed in 1863, the Legislature passed laws requiring officeholders and, subsequently, attorneys and jurors pledging they had never given comfort to the rebellion.

The second involves the Paint Creek Mine strikes of 1912-13. It was a confrontation between striking coal miners and coal operators in Southern West Virginia centered on the area enclosed by Paint Creek and Cabin Creek in southern Kanawha County. Gov. William E. Glasscock institute martial law in parts of Kanawha County and other areas. There were prison camps, and people were sent to Huntington to shut down a socialist newspaper supporting the strike, Perry said.

The third involves a law still on the books, known as the Red Men's Act. Perry said it was an early conspiracy statute used to prosecute a gang of Italians operating under the name of the Black Hand in Fairmont in 1910.The law later was declared unconstitutional, but it still is on the books.

Perry said Thursday's presentation will include lots of visuals, such as old newspaper clippings.

"We're trying to bring history alive and increase public understanding about this interesting area of legal history," he said. "Our hope is to make this an annual series to help college students do practical research. This history is just too good to just let go."

The lecture is free, but seating is limited. Perry suggests people contact Claudia Townsend at 558-2601 or by e-mail at claudiatownsend@courtwv.org no later than May 30. Perry also said the lecture will be webcast live and later archived for viewing.

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