Pittsylvania County Courthouse

Historical Significance

In 1878, Judge J.D. Coles tried to use his authority to exclude blacks from serving as grand and petit jurors in the Pittsylvania County courthouse. Judge Coles was arrested and charged with a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The judge filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that charges be dropped on the grounds that his arrest and imprisonment were not warranted by the Constitution nor by the laws of the United States. The Supreme Court, in the case of "Ex parte Virginia", held that Judge Coles's actions did violate both the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The courthouse is the main attraction in the town of Chatham, primarily due to Judge Coles' infamous act. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. 

Physical Description

Local master builder Sidney Shumaker designed and built the courthouse in 1853. Very little of the building has changed since its construction.

Geographical and Contact Information

East side of U.S. 29 Business (Main Street)
Chatham, Virginia
24531

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Pittsylvania County Courthouse,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed March 30, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/341.
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