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At noon on Wednesday, January 23, as part of the department’s History Is Lunch series, James L. Robertson will present “The Dred Scott Case that Mississippi Got Right.”

In 1818, during the Mississippi Supreme Court’s inaugural term, Judge Joshua Giles Clarke rendered a decision in Harry & Others vs. Decker & Hopkins that made Mississippi the first slave state to adopt freedom-by-residence as the grounds for declaring enslaved people free.

“Legally, this case probably began at some point in 1817 with an Adams County jury,” said Robertson. “They returned a verdict of freedom for 28 slaves that the Decker family had brought from the free state of Indiana to Natchez and then sold to a Georgia planter named Francis Hopkins.”

That story makes up a chapter in Robertson’s new book Heroes, Rascals, and the Law: Constitutional Encounters in Mississippi History. In it Robertson, a former Mississippi Supreme Court justice, focuses on people’s interactions with the law in courthouses, country stores, and their daily lives. In addition to Harry & Others vs. Decker & Hopkins, the book tells of the state’s many schemes for enticing Yankee capital to lift a people from poverty, its sometimes tragic, always colorful romance with whiskey after the demise of national Prohibition, and other tales.

James Robertson lives in Jackson, where he is a practicing lawyer and active life member of the American Law Institute. A graduate of the Harvard Law School, he served on the Supreme Court of Mississippi for ten years and taught law at the University of Mississippi and elsewhere.

The program will take place in the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium at the Two Mississippi Museums—the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum—located at 222 North Street, Jackson, MS 39201. There is no charge to attend. Sales and signing to follow. For more information call 601-576-6998 or email


January 30—Mark LaFrancis, Robert Morgan, and Darrell White, “The Parchman Ordeal: 1965 Natchez Civil Rights Injustice.” Sales and signing to follow.

February 6—Ben Wynne, “The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry S. Foote, Southern Unionist.” Sales and signing to follow.

February 13—Kevin Greene, “The Invention and Reinvention of Big Bill Broonzy.” Sales and signing to follow.

February 20—Natalie G. Adams and James H. Adams, “Just Trying to Have School: The Struggle for Desegregation in Mississippi.” Sales and signing to follow.

February 27—James T. Campbell and Elaine Owens, “Mississippi Witness: The Photographs of Florence Mars.” Sales and signing to follow.

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