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.

Peg-Leg Williams

Peg-Leg Williams

Emigrant Agent

“A Man in this Country has the Right to go where he Pleases”

Williams v. Fears

179 U.S. 270 (1900)

In the late nineteenth century, African American farm laborers in the southeastern United States found an unlikely champion in Robert A. “Peg-Leg” Williams. Williams, a Civil War veteran and native of Mississippi, lost a leg while serving the Confederacy in Nathan Bedford Forrest's Cavalry. Williams was by far the most famous and successful of southern “emigrant agents”—men (and occasionally women) who were paid by planters in the higher-wage states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to recruit black laborers from the lower-wage states of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Little is known about Williams's origins or personal life, but he started working as an ...

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