100 Americans Making Constitutional History: A Biographical History presents 100 profiles of the key people behind some of the most important U.S. Supreme Court cases. Edited by Melvin I. Urofsky, a respected constitutional historian, each 2,000-word profile delves into the social and political context behind landmark Court decisions. For example, while a case like Brown v. Board of Education is about an important idea—the equal protection of the law—at its heart it is the story of a little girl, Linda Brown, who wanted to go to a decent school near her home. The outcome is accessible and objective “stories” about the individuals—heroes and scoundrels—who fought their way to constitutional history.

Willie Francis

Willie Francis

The Failed Electric Chair

“I'm Wearing my Sunday Pants … to the Chair”

Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber

329 U.S. 459 (1947)

Willie Francis was eighteen years old when the state of Louisiana electrocuted him—for the second time. Sentenced to die for a murder he may not have committed, he first went to the electric chair on May 3, 1946. But the execution attempt failed: the wiring of the chair proved faulty, and one of the executioners was probably drunk. This man, Captain E. Foster, who was a guard at Louisiana's notorious Angola prison, later explained laconically that “there was a shortage—a little wire was loose and the current went back in to the ground instead of going into the nigger.”

This failure, although deplorable, should have ...

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