Vagrancy laws made it a crime to be idle and poor, or dissolute, or to wander about without any purpose. They came to these shores with the American colonists, proliferated throughout the nation and were on the books in almost every state as of 1950. But beginning in that decade, African Americans and other civil rights activists, communists, labor union activists, poor people, Beats and hippies, gay men and lesbians, women, Vietnam War protestors and student activists, and young urban, minority men all contested their constitutionality. In 1971 and 1972, the Supreme Court struck them down. In this presentation to the Washington History Seminar, Risa Goluboff showed how this changing constitutional status of vagrancy laws was part and parcel of the larger social transformations of the long 1960s.
Risa Goluboff is John Allan Love Professor of Law and Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She holds an A.B. from Harvard University, a J.D. from Yale Law School, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University. She is the author of the award-winning The Lost Promise of Civil Rights and co-editor of Civil Rights Stories.
Report from the Field: James Grossman, American Historical Association
This session was recorded by C-SPAN for later airing on American History TV. Watch this space for date and time.