OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Pippa Holloway

Portrait of Pippa Holloway

Pippa Holloway, a professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University, is the author of Living in Infamy: Felon Disfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship (2014) and Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia, 1920–1945 (2006). She is also the editor of Other Souths: Diversity and Difference in the U.S. South, Reconstruction to Present (2008). Her research on felon disfranchisement was supported, in part, by a Soros Justice Fellowship from the Open Society Foundations. She teaches courses in U.S. history, focusing on southern history, the history of incarceration, LGBT history, and historical research methods. Her current research examines the right of those charged with crimes or convicted of felonies to testify in court.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This is a general overview of my monograph that discusses the argument, evidence, historiographic significance, and contemporary relevance of my work. I foreground the research process to avoids simply rehashing the book while also giving history students (graduate and undergraduate) a better understanding of how historians work, develop arguments, and formulate research questions.
This lecture foregrounds responses in the African American community to felon disfranchisement and highlights efforts to resist these laws. I focus on three episodes. (1) African American reactions to laws disfranchising for petty theft in the 1870s. (2) Individual efforts to gain restoration of citizenship through pardons in the 1880s and 1890s. (4) Legal action taken by three African American men who challenged their disqualification from suffrage in Tennessee and Missouri in the early twentieth century.
One of the first scholarly efforts to chronicle the history of felon disfranchisement laws in the US identified a man named John Field Bunting as the mastermind behind the strategy of using felon disfranchisement to target African American voters. Bunting, drawing on his experience as a local magistrate, claimed in 1901 that β€œThe crime of wife-beating alone would disqualify sixty percent of the Negroes.” John Field Bunting never existed; the name was a mis-transcription of "John Fielding Burns," an Alabama planter and member of the 1901 Alabama Constitutional Convention. However, John Field Bunting lives on in two ways. First, writers in a variety of disciplines and venues have perpetuated this mis-transcription, citing a variety of sources as its origin, making "Mr. Bunting" a oft-cited authority on the matter. Second, and perhaps more importantly, focusing on his quote and his ideas about suffrage has produced popular narratives about felon disfranchisement that fail to examine the larger context and longer history of ideas about violence, criminality, and fitness for citizenship.
This lecture is based on my current research on laws and practices barring court testimony by individuals charged with or convicted of crimes in the 19th and 20th century United States to explore the origins, impacts, and regional persistence of this collateral consequence of criminal conviction. Restrictions on testimony originated in Common Law and had been eliminated in most US states by the late 19th century, with the exception of restrictions on testimony by individuals who had been convicted of perjury. However, southern states expressed disproportionate reluctance to expand the testimonial rights of convicted individuals and continued these practices, in some cases, well into the 20th century. In addition, several southern states denied criminal defendants the ability to testify in their own case, another Common Law practice that had disappeared in the rest of the nation. The last to conform to national practice were Georgia and Tennessee. Georgia denied criminal defendants the right to testify under oath in their own defense until 1961; Tennessee disqualified individuals with infamous convictions from testifying in civil cases until 1953. This examination of legal culture looks not just at constitutions, statutes, and case law, but also considers the impact of these laws on individual lives and draws connections to legal barriers to court testimony by African Americans and Native Americans.