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.
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.