The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era

Michael A. Ross. Oxford Univ, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-977880-5
University of Maryland history professor Ross (Justice of Shattered Dreams) unearths a strange event from the Reconstruction era that highlights the postbellum period’s tensions with race, local culture, and the role of the federal government. Elegant Afro-Creole women Ellen Follin and Louisa Murray were unlucky when authorities accused them of kidnapping an Irish-American toddler named Mollie Digby in what Ross calls the “first kidnapping trial in American history to become sensationalized national news,” but possessed the good fortune to be tried in a brief era in which they might receive a fair trial. Tensions ran high between races and classes in New Orleans, but black detective (and later state representative) Jean Baptiste Jourdain tracked down the suspects while a mixed-race jury heard the case against the educated, property-owning Afro-Creole defendants. Ross slowly reconstructs the case and describes the trial, allowing the mystery of guilt or innocence to crescendo. He also demonstrates how a kidnapping case featuring a disbelieving immigrant father, exotic race and legal systems, and a crime-ridden city known for debauchery captivated national attention. Ross poses relevant questions that show this nearly forgotten case’s significance to American history. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/11/2014
Release date: 10/01/2014
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