Black Fisherman Gary Duncan, a 19-year-old Black fisherman from Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, witnessed his nephew and cousin being mobbed by a gang of White boys outside a recently integrated high school in October 1966. Duncan approached them in order to avoid a brawl. In the process, he touched the arm of a White youngster. Duncan was soon facing an allegation of cruelty to a minor.
At the time, Leander Perez, dubbed “the cigar-puffing D.A.”, was in charge of Plaquemines Parish, which was known for its segregationist policies. The charges against Duncan were dropped after he turned himself in. However, he was charged with assault and battery by the authorities. He was denied a jury trial and was sentenced to 60 days in prison and a fine of $150.
Duncan’s case was taken up by Richard Sobol, a civil rights lawyer during the height of Louisiana’s civil rights movement. Duncan and the White attorney from the North took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, despite the dangers they faced. Duncan’s case was exceptional in that he gained a right to a jury trial that had not previously been guaranteed in Louisiana’s state courts.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, it was noted that the justices were obliged to examine the question: Was Louisiana bound to provide a jury trial in these types of criminal cases?
“The Supreme Court ruled in Duncan v. Louisiana, a landmark case, that the Sixth Amendment provides a jury trial in criminal cases – and that this is ‘fundamental to the American structure of justice.’ According to the top court, states are likewise required to give such trials under the Fourteenth Amendment,” according to a report.
Duncan was able to obtain justice by standing up for his rights and challenging the oppressive system. Indeed, his appeal against the state of Louisiana established a precedent that states in the United States must honor jury trial requests.
Duncan’s story was recently examined in the documentary “A Crime on the Bayou.” Duncan, now 72, says in the video, “They intended to use me as an example for the rest of the Blacks,” as he tearfully recalls what happened to him.
The documentary’s director is Nancy Buirski. The Loving Story and The Rape of Recy Taylor are her previous films. According to Buirski, “A Crime on the Bayou” focuses on how the judicial system has been utilized to oppress Black people and other minority groups, as well as racism and social injustice.
“One of the main themes that come through in the movie that was significant to me was the notion that people come together and work together to try to change things,” she stated in an interview with KultureHub. You can see that, especially in The Loving Story. Recy Taylor is an example of this, as Rosa Parks comes to her aid and assists her in fighting the court arrangement. And it’s particularly apparent in Richard Sobol and Gary Duncan, who remained close friends until Sobol’s death.”