First Negro Juror – Dominick St. Thomas (1901-1961)

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In the 1930s, the sham trial and sentencing of nine black young men in the famed Scottsboro Case dominated the columns of the black press and drew attention to several forms of miscarriage of justice which had long occurred in the American South. The youths were originally accused in 1931 of raping two white women. After a series of legal and extralegal attempts to deny them due process, ultimately the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court in Georgia in 1935. The decision of the Court, Norris v. Alabama ruled that blacks could not be prohibited from serving on juries.

In the summer of 1935, following the Norris decision, blacks in several southern states began being empaneled for jury duty for the first time in decades. In Orleans Parish, the first Negro man to serve on a jury was Dominick St. Thomas. St. Thomas, who was a registered Democrat and a disabled veteran of World War I, was called to serve on the Grand Jury of Orleans Parish beginning 6 August 1935. St. Thomas was apparently a civically-conscious gentleman, having written at least one letter-to-the-editor to The Times-Picayune in April 1920, arguing for bonuses to all ex-servicemen regardless of race and noting the loyalty of the Negro people to America.

Dominick St. Thomas was born in 1901 to Dominick St. Thomas, Jr. and the former Mary Louise Anderson, who had married five years earlier on 12 October 1896. His father was a warehouseman, who had been born in 1873 to Mary Ferrand and her husband, a steamboatman, also named Dominick St. Thomas. Reared in the Seventh Ward of the city, the younger St. Thomas worked as an insurance collector, as did his brother Zachary. His other brothers were Isaiah and Frank St. Thomas. He was married to Malvina Gaines and had two sons – Charles and Warren St. Thomas, both of whom migrated to San Francisco. He lived with his family at 1956 North Johnson Street and later 1817 Annette Street. He was a member of the Divine Providence Baptist Church and a Freemason.

Dominick St. Thomas, the first Negro to serve on a jury in New Orleans post-Reconstruction, died in San Francisco on 18 December 1961 at the age of sixty. He was buried from the Broad Street Baptist Church and interred in Olivet Memorial Park in Colma, California.

Jari Honora

Sources: The Louisiana Weekly, 27 July 1935, page 1; The Times-Picayune, 12 April 1920, page 8; 4 January 1962, page 2.

2 thoughts on “First Negro Juror – Dominick St. Thomas (1901-1961)

  1. St Thomas was my great aunt and uncle, visited Charles in San Francisco. Thanks for the info, will pass article on to others.

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