Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Milbry BROWN





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (14) - Domestic worker - Poisoner
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 1892
Date of birth: 1878
Victim profile: One year old white child
Method of murder: Poisoning
Location: Spartanburg County, South Carolina, USA
Status: Executed by hanging on October 7, 1892

Milbry Brown was a 14-year-old black domestic worker executed by hanging at Spartanburg, South Carolina on October 7, 1892 for killing a one year old white child. Her age is disputed and she may have been 18 rather than 14 years old.


The colored girl must die’: Youth, criminality, and capital punishment in the Carolinas, 1885-1905

Milbry Brown was a 14-year-old black domestic worker executed for poisoning a white toddler in 1892; Ida B. Wells cited the “legal lynching” of this female minor as a potent symbol of Southern depravity.

Brown’s trial, with elite whites battling to save or condemn her, points to the imbricated factors that influenced the dispensation of justice: the well-trod trinity of race, class, and gender, but significant concerns about adolescence and the first stirrings of an anti-child labor movement.

In the late nineteenth-century Carolinas, social ideas about women’s nature and definitions of childhood met legal structures in local courts. Notions of women's and youth's nature -- alternately, wildness and innocence -- were applied to defend or excoriate young black women and girls on trial.

This study foregrounds a microhistory of Milbry Brown but follows three other capital cases involving black girls or young women. It examines how gender and youth affected the workings of the South Carolina upcountry judiciary and that of the nearby North Carolina Piedmont during Jim Crow’s foundational years. I argue that although national reformers’ views about “protected childhood” and separate juvenile justice systems were slowly trickling into the South and held little sway, Southerners were already conflicted about childhood’s meaning and its implications for criminal justice even when the offenders were African-Americans typically denied the privileges that accrued to (upper- or middle-class) white childhood. More broadly, this paper considers how dominant historiographical narratives of the nadir period obscure the significance of age to Southern punishment.



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