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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


A significant judicial event in the history of segregation in Oklahoma, the case of Hollins v. State of Oklahoma involved an African American man, Jess Hollins. On December 30, 1931, only four days after the alleged attack occurred, Hollins was sentenced to death for having raped a white woman. He was illiterate, and at the time he confessed to the crime, he had not seen an attorney. In delivering the death sentence the presiding judge stated that he remembered the bloodshed in Tulsa in 1921.

In December 1932 the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals granted Hollins a new trial on the grounds that he had not voluntarily waived his right to counsel and a jury trial. Judge Will H. Chappel wrote that "this ignorant, defenseless Negro, with the terror of the mob in his mind, did not and could not voluntarily do anything, and therefore did not waive any of his constitutional rights." At trial in 1934 Hollins was found guilty and again sentenced to death. No blacks served on the jury that convicted him; indeed, blacks had been systematically excluded from the jury pool. Moreover, the prosecutor, Sebe Christian, used language calculated to inflame the jury. In arguing for the death penalty he asked, "What are you going to do? I don't want life imprisonment in this case because that is too uncertain—would rather you would turn him loose. I think probably somebody might take care of him."

Even though U.S. Supreme Court and Oklahoma precedent held that deliberate exclusion of blacks from juries violated the Fourteenth Amendment, the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals found that Hollins failed to show sufficient evidence of exclusion "solely on account" of race. In 1935 in Hollins v. State of Oklahoma the U.S. Supreme Court, looking at the same record, delivered a unanimous opinion and reversed the lower court's decision. At a third trial, again before an all-white jury, in 1936 Hollins was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, and he died there in 1950. It is now widely believed that he was innocent.

Alfred L. Brophy


Hugo Adam Bedau and Michael L. Radelet, "Miscarriages of Justice in Potentially Capital Cases," Stanford Law Review 40 (November 1987).

Roger W. Cummins, "'Lily-White' Juries on Trial: The Civil Rights Defense of Jess Hollins," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 63 (1985).

Ex Parte Hollins, 14 P.2d 243, 244 (Okla. Crim. App., 1932).

Paul Finkelman, "Not Only the Judges' Robes Were Black: African-American Lawyers as Social Engineers," Stanford Law Review 47 (November 1994).

Hollins v. State of Oklahoma, 38 P.2d 36, 40 (Okla. Crim. App., 1934).

Hollins v. State of Oklahoma, 295 U.S. 394 (1935).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Alfred L. Brophy, “Hollins v. State of Oklahoma (1935),” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=HO013.

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