Black History: The long slow path to justice

Neil Snarr - For The News Journal

On the sixth day of April, 1868 in the township of Adams in the County of Clinton, State of Ohio, William Huffman (of visible admixture, i.e., mixed race) entered the polls for the purposes of electing township officers.

The plaintiff in this case “was a citizen of said State of Ohio, and a resident and legal voter” and the polls were open for the receiving of votes. “Yet the said defendants, not regarding their duty, in that behalf, then and there refused to receive the vote or ballot of the said plaintiff, whereby the said plaintiff was deprived of his right to vote at said election the damage of said plaintiff of One thousand Dollars.” — Statement of Huffman’s lawyer; April 20, 1868

This case came to my attention a few years ago when I received a letter from a direct descendant of William Huffman — not complaining about the outcome of the case, but challenging the settlement following the decision … which will follow.

The three judges/defendants in this case were Joseph Slack, Harlan Hadley and George Madden. However, Harlan Hadley, on August 25, 1868 “without malice or corrupt motive refused the vote on ballot of the said plaintiff” subsequently rejecting the status of defendant and asked to be dismissed as defendant. (This was later approved.)

The remaining defendants, Slack and Madden, “in the rejection of said plaintiffs’ ballot at said election was influenced thereto by reason of information and belief that the law known as the (undecipherable) act of the state of Ohio had prior to the day of said election become a law in full force and effect.” … “And that the said plaintiff in the opinion of these defendants gave witness that excluded class of persons from the exercise of the right of suffrage in said act.”

From this the two defendants continue, “That from no other motive than an … intention of obedience to the law and a faithful discharge of duty as trustees and judge of said election did the defendants reject the vote of said plaintiffs.” (August 25, 1868)

On March 13, 1869, defense attorney Doan stated, “Defendants do not admit that said plaintiff was a white male citizen of the state of Ohio on the said 6th day of April 1868. But on the contrary defendants require stated proof that the said plaintiff was more than half white and a voter at said election.” (n.d.)

“We the jurors in the above stated case (Willian Huffman vs. Joseph Slack et. al.) find for the Plaintiff against Joseph Slack and George Madden and assess his damages at five cents. We also find for the Defendant Harlen Hadley.” Signed by Robert W. Douglas, Foreman.

Thus, the relative that contacted me was not calling my attention to the decision concerning the right of William Huffman to vote – it was an appropriate and just decision and something of a surprise to me. The complaint was the reducing of damages from $1,000 to five cents.

Just why those determining the right of this mixed-race man to vote in Adams Township of Clinton County in 1868 affirmed this right, and those called to respond to his request to receive a thousand dollars in damages reduced it to five cents, I cannot say.

To me the latter decision is not just cynical, it is reprehensible.

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

For The News Journal