Pittsylvania County Courthouse

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This antebellum Pittsylvania County Courthouse stands as a landmark to the African American struggle for civil rights in the post Civil-War era. Judge J. D. Coles’s attempt in 1878 to exclude Blacks from jury duty here led to the Supreme Court case of Ex parte Virginia. The court’s ruling held that Judge Coles’s action violated the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. The case marked one of the few victories for Blacks in federal court in the generation after 1865. The courthouse, located in the county seat of Chatham, was completed in 1853 by L. A. Shumaker, a regional master builder. The T-shaped structure on its high basement was modeled after the Campbell County Courthouse. Of particular interest is the courtroom with its ornate plasterwork embellishments, a room little changed from the time of Judge Coles’s misguided action.

Last Updated: April 22, 2024

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VLR: Virginia Landmarks Register
NPS: National Park Service
NRHP: National Register of Historic Places
NHL: National Historic Landmark

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