Deep Delta Justice: A Black Teen, His Lawyer and Their Groundbreaking Battle for Civil Rights in the South

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About This Course

Join us for a very special event as Matthew Van Meter discusses his book Deep Delta Justice, the book that inspired the documentary A Crime on the Bayou.

The book tells the “astonishing history” of a lawyer and his defendant who together achieved a “civil rights milestone.” . Van Meter revisits Duncan v. Louisiana, the 1968 landmark Supreme Court decision which affirmed that the constitutional right to a jury trail applied to state courts.

It started with the 1966 arrest of a 19-year-old black man, Gary Duncan, for allegedly striking a white boy in Plaquemines Parish, La. Convicted of misdemeanor battery, he was sentenced to 60 days in prison but appealed on the basis that Louisiana’s trial jury statutes violated his Sixth Amendment rights. The appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court, where his conviction was overturned, but throughout the process, forces aligned with local political boss and noted “racist” Leander Perez who fought to have Duncan’s attorney barred from Louisiana courtrooms for practicing law without a state license—a legal strategy designed to blunt the effectiveness of civil rights lawyers across the South.

Using interviews and oral histories to bring the case’s major players to life, Van Meter illustrates how many of the issues involved—voter suppression, public funding for private schools, racial inequalities in the criminal justice system—are still being legislated today.

“This deeply researched and vividly written chronicle is the definitive account of one of the civil rights movement’s most unheralded victories.” -- Publishers Weekly

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