Northern Illinois University Press


Robert Nixon and Police Torture in Chicago, 1871–1971

Elizabeth Dale

“Dale offers a highly readable, well-researched analysis of an important criminal case with a fresh perspective. What is especially impressive is the book’s accessibility and its use of the particular case of Robert Nixon as a window into the history of police torture in the US.” —Michael J. Pfeifer, author of Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874–1947

"Elizabeth Dale has performed a service in writing this book. It is a welcome reminder of the bad old days of policing—days that one would hope are behind us now, provided we remain vigilant." —H-Net Reviews

In 2015, Chicago became the first city in the United States to create a reparations fund for victims of police torture, after investigations revealed that former Chicago police commander Jon Burge tortured numerous suspects in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. But claims of police torture have even deeper roots in Chicago. In the late 19th century, suspects maintained that Chicago police officers put them in sweatboxes or held them incommunicado until they confessed to crimes they had not committed. In the first decades of the 20th century, suspects and witnesses stated that they admitted guilt only because Chicago officers beat them, threatened them, and subjected them to “sweatbox methods.” Those claims continued into the 1960s.

In Robert Nixon and Police Torture in Chicago, 1871–1971, Elizabeth Dale uncovers the lost history of police torture in Chicago between the Chicago Fire and 1971, tracing the types of torture claims made in cases across that period. To show why the criminal justice system failed to adequately deal with many of those allegations of police torture, Dale examines one case in particular, the 1938 murder trial of Robert Nixon. Nixon’s case is famous for being the basis for the novel Native Son, by Richard Wright. Dale considers the part of Nixon’s story that Wright left out: that the legal system mistreated Nixon’s claim that he only confessed after being strung up by his wrists and beaten. This original study will appeal to scholars and students interested in the history of criminal justice, and general readers interested in Midwest history, criminal cases, and the topic of police torture.

May 2016, 184 pp., 4 illus., 6x9
ISBN 978-0-87580-739-3
$32.00t Cloth

Elizabeth Dale is professor of history and law at the University of Florida. She has written a number of books on law and history, including The Chicago Trunk Murder (NIU Press, 2011) and Criminal Justice in the United States, 1789–1939. She was a civil rights lawyer in Chicago before attending graduate school.

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-739-3
cloth $32.00