From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Kentucky Vagrancy Law [Ben Burton]

In 1899, the Kentucky vagrancy law was ruled unconstitutional by Judge Scott in Richmond, KY. The law had been in effect for 30 years, allowing any person charged with vagrancy to be sold at auction for a predetermined number of years of servitude. [See the Aunt Charlotte and King Solomon NKAA entry.]

In April 1899, the constitutionality of the law was challenged in court for the first time in the case of African American Ben Burton from Richmond, KY. His white lawyer, John H. Chandler, argued that vagrancy was a misdemeanor and not a crime. Also, the selling and enslaving of individuals was in violation of the 18th Amendment.

Chandler, from Campbellsville, KY, was a new attorney who had been assigned to Burton's case by Judge Scott. After hearing Chandler's argument, Scott sustained the it on demurrer, and Ben Burton was released. The Kentucky vagrancy law was later repealed and replaced by a new law.

For more see "A Young lawyer wins his first case and upsets a thirty year practice," Richmond Climax, 4/26/1899, p. 2; and History of Kentucky, by Kerr, Connelley, and Coulter [available full-text at Google Books].

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Madison County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Taylor County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Richmond, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Campbellsville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Aunt Charlotte and King Solomon
NKAA Source: The Richmond climax (newspaper)
NKAA Source: History of Kentucky

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Kentucky Vagrancy Law [Ben Burton],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 20, 2024,

Last modified: 2024-06-14 19:27:54