Evans v. Abney

PETITIONER: Reverend E.S. Evans et al.
RESPONDENT: Guyton G. Abney et al.
LOCATION: Baconsfield Park

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)

CITATION: 396 US 435 (1970)
ARGUED: Nov 12, 1969 / Nov 13, 1969
DECIDED: Jan 26, 1970
GRANTED: May 05, 1969

Frank C. Jones - for the respondents
James M. Nabritt III - for the petitioners
Louis F. Claiborne - Deputy Solicitor General, for the United States as amicus curiae, urging reversal

Facts of the case

In 1911, U.S. Senator A. O. Bacon conveyed land to the city of Macon, Georgia through a testamentary trust for the purpose of providing a park for white persons only. The city operated the park in that manner, but after passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, people of all races were permitted to use the park. The managers of the park attempted to have the city removed as the trustee because it could no longer legally enforce racial segregation. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of African American citizens who intervened, holding that the public nature of the park required that it be treated as a public institution subject to the Fourteenth Amendment regardless of who owned the park. The trustees of Bacon’s estate then moved for a ruling that the trust was unenforceable, because racial segregation was no longer permitted, so the property should revert to Bacon’s heirs. The trail court granted the motion, holding that racial segregation was an integral part of the trust, so the court could not simply amend the trust. The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed.


When an individual leaves land in a testamentary trust for use by whites only, are the Fourteenth Amendment rights of African Americans infringed if the court orders the land to revert back to the individual’s heirs rather than amend the trust to allow use by people of all races?

Media for Evans v. Abney

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 13, 1969 (Part 2) in Evans v. Abney

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 1969 (Part 1) in Evans v. Abney

Warren E. Burger:

Number 60, Evans and others against Abney and others.

Mr. Nabrit you may proceed whenever you're ready.

James M. Nabrit, III,:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on certiorari to review a judgment of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

It is a sequel to Evans versus Newton decided here in January 1966.

The issue then as well as the Georgia Courts could substitute private trustees for the City of Macon in order to permit a municipal park given to the city in a will probated in 1914 to continue to be operated only for white people as the testator directed.

That part of the controversy was settled by this Court's decision which is now the law of the case, that the park is subject to the Fourteenth Amendment prohibition of racial discrimination.

The issue now is different, I think radically different.

It is whether the decision of this Court can practically -- can be practically frustrated and subverted by the holding now here, the holding of the Georgia Courts that a municipal park is forfeited and reverts to the heirs of the long dead testator merely because the constitution in this Court's decision requires that the city admit negroes to the park along with whites.

The petitioners are negro citizens of Macon who argue that Baconsfield Park must be operated as a public park without racial discrimination and we contend for several reasons that the Georgia Court's ruling, that the public must forfeit this park to the testator's estate violates the federal constitution, specifically, the Supremacy Clause of article six and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Now the factual record in this case is also radically different in that it is much more complete than the record in Evans against Newton.

Let me briefly describe the background of the case.

Augustus Octavius Bacon died in 1914.

He had been elected to four terms in the United States Senate and he was also a distinguished lawyer who, it is relevant to, of note, had published a digest of the opinions of the Judges of the Supreme Court in 1872.

He wrote his 32-page will in his own hand in 1911 and that Will left Bacon's farm and trust to his wife and surviving daughter during their lives, and after their deaths, in trust for and I quote “The sole perpetual and unending use, benefit and enjoyment of the white women, white girls, white boys and white children of the City of Macon.

The Will made no provision for any reversion of the property and it was not a conditional gift.

Rather Bacon conveyed to the city and again I quote, “all right, title and interest in and to said property here and before described and bounded both legal and equitable, including all remainders and reversions in every estate in the same of whatsoever kind.”

Bacon's will provide that the land should be forever used and enjoyed as a park and pleasure ground and he said that under no circumstances should it be sold or alienated or dedicated to any other use.

The will mentioned that he wanted the park to be a memorial for his two dead sons that he had no descendants baring the name Bacon and he stipulated that the park should forever be known as Baconsfield.

Now as my adversary has emphasized, Bacon quite plainly stated that he did not want negroes to use this park, and this was not he said because of any unkindness or want of consideration for negroes but because he thought that the two races should be separate in social relations and should not occupy the same recreation grounds.

So we cheerfully concede that it violates Bacon's solemn intent for negroes to use this park but we also want it to be clear that it equally violates Bacon's intent to destroy the park and revert it to his heirs but he never contemplated this situation.

His will contains nothing to indicate that Bacon prefer that his park be destroyed and revert to his heirs rather than to have negroes use it.

His intent on this question cannot be known, it's unknowable and that's conceded in the opinion below in the brief and opposition to certiorari.

Now the city acquired Baconsfield actually in 1920, but buying the heir's interest during the life of Bacon's surviving daughter for an annuity for $1,665.00 yearly.

The city paid that to the heirs for 25 years and it ultimately cost the city over $41,000.00.

Incidentally that 1920 deed indicates that the total land involved was a 117.7 acres at 1917, 1920.

Since 1920 --

Potter Stewart:

The effect of that was simply to accelerate the transfer of the property to the city, am I correct?

James M. Nabrit, III,:

That's right, Bacon's surviving daughter didn't die until 1944.

Potter Stewart:

And so it accelerated that.