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Kentucky's First Black Jury Tries Case In Hazard

The first all black jury in the history of Kentucky tried a murder case at the Perry County Court House in Hazard on January 16, 1923.  The case was unique in the forensic annals of Kentucky at the time as a black bailiff summoned the jury.  Ed O'Neil was tried for the murder of William Young.  Both men were African American.  The defendant was represented by the only black attorney in Eastern Kentucky at the time.  O'Neil was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to 21 years in prison.  The murder took place on Lotts Creek in Perry County and was said to have resulted from a fight that broke out over a poker game.  Witnesses said the deceased had claimed that O'Neil had used marked cards.  The defendant, who had only one leg the result of an accident that had occurred several years before, claimed self defense alleging that Young had lunged at him with a knife, threatening to "cut off his head."  The jury, however, failed to believe his story and returned a verdict of guilty.   

Perry County Court House where the historic trial was held in 1923

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Viewer Comments

"This story was truly interesting.  However, I am at a loss to understand how an 'all black jury' was paneled in an essentially "all white" town and why was Mr. Young represented by the only African American lawyer.  A jury should be of one's peers. Are there not white men/women who were the defendant's peers or was the defendant tried by an all black jury because white defendants should only be tried by an 'all white' jury. Interesting, huh?  I have lived in Hazard and have 'studied' its treatment of African Americans, which in the late 1970's was abysmal at best.  I would like to hear from any African Americans who used to live in Hazard.  I was there in 1979 conducting an Oral History project on African American contributions to Perry, Knott and Floyd counties.  I'm originally from Floyd County.  Any other folks interested in talking about Hazard can reach me at my e-mail address."  Bob Gates, Washington, DC   Bob.Gates@nlrb.gov

"As a prominent young citizen of Perry County I found this story a bit interesting.  Although this happened a number of years before my existence, I find historical matters of Perry County to pertain to me since all of my family, excluding my mother, were born and raised here.  Since both of these young men were African Americans you cannot say that racial issues stood in the way of finding a verdict for the "murderer."  My last name is Young, whether or not this young man was of any relation to me I do not know.  Well I have added my 'two cents' worth.  Any information that I could have pertaining to this case I would gladly appreciate.  Thanks for your time and consideration."  Angie Young, Hazard, KY   AFY25@aol.com

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