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Dollree Mapp

Kathryn S Gardiner | Published on 10/14/2023

Forgotten Foremothers

Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights

On May 20, 1957, a short article appeared below the fold on the front page of Sanduksy, Ohio’s Register Star-News, reporting from Cleveland. “Bomb Home of Policy Operator,” the headline read. This policy operator was Don King, who made money as an illegal bookie before he turned to boxing promotion years later. 


“The home of a known policy operator, Donald King, 25, was bombed here today,” the Register Star-News reported, “but no one was injured. King was alone at the time.” An anonymous tipster, possibly Don King himself, had an idea of who might have been responsible, and where the suspect might be. 


The address given to police led them to the door of Dollree Mapp.


Dollree “Dolly” Mapp was likely born, as the Los Angeles Times reported in 2014, on “Oct. 30, 1923, in Forest, Miss., [where] she was one of seven children of a Cherokee cattleman and his African American wife, a schoolteacher.” That same year, The New York Times asserted, she “was born in 1923 or 1924, according to census records, one of seven children of Samuel and Mary Mapp.”  Author Carolyn Nestor Long, who interviewed Dollree in 2004 and 2005, wrote that Dollree was “born on Halloween in Austin, Texas in 1924.”


In some reports her name is spelled Dollie, others Dolly.  These are just the first, and certainly not the last, conflicting records of Dollree’s life.


“I was an assertive child...a determined child,” Dollree told Carolyn. Her parents, who by Dollree’s own stories “kept close watch” on her, knew she “wanted to live my life my way.” Around age 10, in 1933, they permitted her to leave home to live with an aunt in Cleveland, Ohio. 


There, she began a romance with Jimmy Bivins, an up-and-coming professional boxer who was five years Dollree’s senior. She had her first and only child, a daughter Barbara, when she was just 15. Dollree stayed in school for a while, even after becoming a mother, but soon dropped out. She and Jimmy married around 1940. It was not a happy union.


Dollree soon left Jimmy, and she and baby Barbara moved in with a friend. “I had to leave him or kill him, and I wasn’t ready to kill him,” Dollree said. She returned to school, studying fashion design and art. Though she would describe Jimmy as a “non-entity” in her life, she remained in Cleveland’s professional boxing circles.


Susan Healy wrote for The Florida Bar, “Like Don King, Ms. Mapp moved easily between the worlds of professional boxing and organized crime. She was a confident Black woman who bought a home in a white neighborhood during the 1950s and turned it into a boarding house. Though she vehemently denied it at trial, her house was also the headquarters of one of Cleveland’s most successful illegal gambling operations, the California Gold numbers game.”


After her divorce from Jimmy, Dollree began seeing boxer Archie Moore. This, too, was a tumultuous romance filled with broken promises and the shadow of abuse. “One gets the impression,” Carolyn wrote, “that it was she, and not these world-class athletes, who had the upper hand in these relationships. She readily admits that some of the people she associated with were likely involved in some ‘shady’ business but insists that she was not.” 


Even if she were law-abiding, friction with the police was ever-present and simmering. “I was a Black woman living on her own in a white neighborhood, and there was tension in the city,” Dollree said. The Cleveland police “thought they controlled the town.” When they knocked on her door following the explosion on May 20, Dollree already had a healthy mistrust of the local authorities.


The three police officers at her door were looking for the bombing suspect, not Dollree herself, but, The Florida Bar reported, “Ms. Mapp did what criminal defense lawyers wish all their clients would do – she called her lawyer.” Her lawyer, Walter Greene, advised Dollree to deny the police entry until they produced a warrant. While a lieutenant left to ostensibly obtain a warrant, more officers arrived.


Donald F. Tibbs recounted for the Stetson Law Review: “By this time, Mapp had already called her attorney, who told her to wait until he arrived to let the police in. However, upon their return the police again requested entrance but were denied. So they walked around to the back of her home and forcibly entered through a side door. Mapp confronted them and demanded to see a warrant. The police said they had a warrant and produced a piece of paper. However, the paper was completely blank—meaning they did not have a warrant. But Mapp did not acquiesce.”

Arrest photo of Dollree Mapp. Cleveland Police Department, May 27, 1957.

Dollree, worried they’d try to destroy the paper, snatched it from the officer and shoved it down her shirt. “When I grabbed the search warrant off him and put it down my bosom, one of them said, ‘What are we going to do now?’” she said at her later trial. “The one that grabbed me said, ‘I’m going down after it.’ I said, ‘No, you are not.’ He went down any way.”


The official court account written by Justice Tom C. Clark told the rest of the incident: “A struggle ensued in which the officers recovered the piece of paper and as a result of which they handcuffed appellant because she had been ‘belligerent’ in resisting their official rescue of the ‘warrant’ from her person. Running roughshod over appellant, a policeman ‘grabbed’ her, ‘twisted (her) hand, and she ‘yelled (and) pleaded with him’ because ‘it was hurting.’ Appellant, in handcuffs, was then forcibly taken upstairs to her bedroom where the officers searched a dresser, a chest of drawers, a closet and some suitcases. They also looked into a photo album and through personal papers belonging to the appellant.


“The search spread to the rest of the second floor including the child's bedroom, the living room, the kitchen and a dinette. The basement of the building and a trunk found therein were also searched. The obscene materials for possession of which she was ultimately convicted were discovered in the course of that widespread search.” These obscene materials included pencil-sketch nudes and four illustrated erotic books with titles like “Memoirs of a Hotel Man” and “Affairs of a Troubadour.” 


Lewis R. Katz, Case Western Reserve University School of Law Professor Emeritus, noted, “Even if there had been a warrant to search for the suspected bomber, it would not have extended to a box and suitcase in which he could not have been hiding.”


The police did eventually find the bombing suspect, though he was later cleared of the crime. Dollree, however, was tried and convicted of owning obscene materials. She received a sentence of up to seven years in prison. The search warrant in contention was never verifiably produced. 


Dollree and her lawyers, Walter Greene and Alexander L. Kearns, appealed the conviction, first to the Ohio Supreme Court on the grounds that the obscenity laws violated the rights to freedom of speech and privacy. The Ohio Civil Liberties Union joined the case as an amicus curare (a party who has special interest in the ruling, but who is not directly involved in the case), lending support and weight to the appeal. They lost; the state supreme court affirmed Dollree’s conviction “because Ohio courts were allowed to admit unlawfully seized evidence in criminal trials...[and] the police officers' conduct was not overly shocking.”


Dollree and her lawyers—now backed by the American Civil Liberties Union as amicus curare—then submitted a writ of certiorari, arguing that the United States Supreme Court should hear the case. The Supreme Court, headed at this time by Chief Justice Earl Warren, agreed.


On March 29, 1961, the case Mapp v. Ohio came before the Supreme Court. Dollree and her lawyers again presented their case that Ohio’s obscenity laws violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The court easily concurred with part of the argument. “The justices drew laughs from the courtroom gallery while leaving no doubt how absurd they found Ohio’s obscenity statute,” reported Ken Armstrong for The Marshall Project. “They took turns toying with the lawyer for the state, asking, if mere possession of obscene material constituted a crime, why the clerk of court had not been indicted, or the administrators at certain university libraries, or psychologists, or bibliophiles.”


While the emphasis of Dollree’s legal representation was to challenge the constitutionality of the obscenity laws, a different aspect of the case caught the justices’ eyes: Namely, the Fourth Amendment, mentioned only briefly in the writ of certiorari.


The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution affirms that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”


Since its writing, the Fourth Amendment had been tested and explicated. A 1948 Supreme Court case, Wolf v. Colorado, ruled that evidence obtained through illegal searches could be used against defendants in state courts, but not in federal ones.


“You’re asking us to overrule Wolf against Colorado?” queried Justice Felix Frankfurter.


“No,” Alexander Kearns answered. “I don’t believe we are.”


But on June 19, 1961, in a 6-3 decision, that’s just what the Supreme Court did (Justice Frankfurter dissented, along with two others). The majority justices resolved what they saw as the “asymmetry” created by Wolf v. Colorado.


“Presently,” the opinion read, “a federal prosecutor may make no use of evidence illegally seized, but a State’s attorney across the street may, although he supposedly is operating under the enforceable prohibitions of the same Amendment.” The protection of the Fourth Amendment, they contended, was not meaningfully held by U.S. citizens “if the whim of any police officer who, in the name of law enforcement itself, chooses to suspend its enjoyment.”


“The white police officers who invaded Dollree Mapp's home did so with confidence that they would not be called to task for violating her fundamental rights by entering her home without a warrant,” said lawyer Lewis R. Katz. “How the police behaved in Dollree Mapp's house was consistent with historical practice in the United States.” That practice was, according to the Supreme Court, no longer acceptable.


Dollree’s conviction was officially overturned, and United States law enforcement was drastically altered. In Search and Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment, author Wayne R. LaFave called Dollree “the Rosa Parks of the Fourth Amendment.” 


The Stetson Law Review noted, “law enforcement officials’ reaction to the ruling in Mapp might well be the best evidence of why it was so important.” New York’s police commissioner called the ruling an “earthquake” that would “require rebuilding our institutions sometimes from their very foundations upward.”


Walter Mondale, who would become the Vice President of the United States about a decade later, was, in 1961, Attorney General of Minnesota with a police force in uproar. The “exclusionary rule” created by Mapp v. Ohio, he insisted, “does not reduce police powers one iota. It only reduces potential abuse of power. ... What was a legal arrest before still is. What was a reasonable search before still is.”


Free from the case that had followed her for half a decade, Dollree moved to Queens, New York. There, she started a few businesses, making money by what means she could. Her niece, Carolyn Mapp said, “Some of [the businesses] were legitimate, and some of them were whatever they were.” Those who loved her were under no illusions about Dollree’s personality or lifestyle. “She could be difficult, OK?” said long-time friend Deidra Smith. “She was brilliant and beautiful and bold.”


In 1971, police (this time with a valid, legal warrant) searched Dollree’s home. They found heroin and stolen property valued at $150,000. Under the era’s new “tough on crime” drug laws, she received a mandatory sentence of up to 20 years. Later, Dollree would claim she was targeted by police due to her involvement in Mapp v. Ohio.


It was at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women that Dollree befriended fellow inmate Deidra, who said Dollree “walked with an air of royalty.” Ken Armstrong for The Marshall Project wrote that “[s]he refused to eat in the prison cafeteria, because it reminded her of animals feeding at a trough. Instead, food was brought to Mapp by another inmate. Smith and Mapp helped organize opposition to the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws [for New York’s Governor Nelson Rockefeller], which were later rolled back, with many of the mandatory minimums eliminated, and Mapp, who did extensive research in the law library, helped other inmates with such issues as visitation rights. In 1980 Gov. Hugh Carey, no fan of the state’s unforgiving drug laws, commuted Mapp’s sentence, and she was paroled soon after.”


Free once again in 1981, Dollree, now nearly 60 years old, began working at a non-profit that provided legal assistance to prison inmates. She leaned on her schooling in fashion to work as a seamstress and start a variety of businesses, “from beauty supplies to furniture upholstery to real estate,” according to The Marshall Project. She spoke at law schools about her Supreme Court case, telling what a faculty member called “colorful tales, embellished with curse words and opinionated bravado.”


Daughter Barbara died in 2002. Approaching 80 years old, Dollree began to deteriorate from dementia. Her grand-niece Tiffany Mapp became her legal guardian. “She didn’t prepare for death,” Tiffany said. “I think Aunt Dolly thought she was going to live forever.” The conflicting stories of her birth and the inconsistent birthdate gave Tiffany “fits with Medicare.”


Her family asserted that Dollree was born on Oct. 30, 1923, in Forest, Miss. She died on Oct. 31, 2014, in Conyers, Georgia, at the age of 91. “I am comfortable with the choices I have made in my life, and I’m not embarrassed about anything I’ve done,” she said in 2004. “I have lived my life as I see fit.”


The strength of the exclusionary rule established by Mapp v. Ohio would be undermined in the years to come. Starting as early as 1968 in Terry v. Ohio, the same Warren-led Supreme Court ruled that citizens could be stopped and frisked without probable cause, provided the police had “reasonable suspicion” the person may have committed or would soon commit a crime—a loophole easily abused by those with biases toward minorities.


In the end, the legacy of Mapp v. Ohio seems to be an increase in law enforcement corruption. The requirement of a valid warrant “encouraged police to stretch the truth, telling more elaborate ‘stories’ to bolster the arrests they did make,” including claiming that citizens just “dropped” contraband unprompted or shaking people until items fell from their pockets.


As further outlined in “‘To Corral and Control the Ghetto’: Stop, Frisk, and the Geography of Freedom” by Saint Louis University School of Law Professor Anders Walker in the University of Richmond Law Review, “[T]he Court framed the exclusionary rule in Mapp in terms of intimate privacy rather than racial parity, a point that helps explain why the Court failed to anticipate its negative, urban effects. ... [B]oth police unions and black activists lamented the [Warren] Court’s move into procedure not as a liberal effort to help the poor so much as a deliberate attempt to sidestep the need for more extensive, structural reform.”


“The [Warren] Court sought to end racial discrimination, or at least ameliorate its effects,” wrote University of Tennessee College of Law professor emeritus Thomas Y. Davies, “but its criminal procedure rulings fed a segregationist backlash under the cover of ‘soft on crime’ rhetoric. ... [T]he seemingly permanent conservative majority on the Court has...created such an array of limitations and exceptions that both the exclusionary rule and the Fourth Amendment rights it was meant to enforce have been largely drained of practical significance.”


That does not, however, mean Dollree’s case or her resistance have been drained of significance. Legal cases build on precedence. An argument once made is in conversation with the arguments that came before and those that come after. Dollree was, without a doubt, a woman who knew how to argue. When she shut the door to the police officers demanding to search her home without the right to do so, she picked a fight worth fighting.




Sources: The Sandusky Register – May 20, 1957Daily News – Nov. 29, 1956

The Marshall Project: Dollree Mapp, 1923-2014: “The Rosa Parks of the Fourth Amendment”

Oyez: Mapp v. OhioWolf v. Colorado

Wikipedia: Don KingDollree Mapp

The New York Times: Dollree Mapp, Who Defied Police Search in Landmark Case, Is Dead

Cornell Law School: Dollree Mapp, etc., Apellant, v. Ohio

The Florida Bar: Forgotten Legal History: Mapp v. Ohio

Los Angeles Times: Dollree Mapp dies at 91; arrest led to landmark search warrant ruling

Stetson Law Review: The Start of a Revolution: Mapp V. Ohio and the Warren Court’s Fourth Amendment Case That Almost Wasn’t

The Washington Post: Dollree Mapp, figure in landmark Supreme Court decision in 1961, dies at 91

Mapp V. Ohio: Guarding Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures by Carolyn Nestor Long Jimmy Bivins, a top Cleveland boxer, has died

Case Western Reserve University School of Law Scholarly Commons: Mapp after Forty Years: Its Impact on Race in America

An Account of Mapp v. Ohio That Misses the Larger Exclusionary Rule Story by Thomas Y. Davies

University of Richmond Law Review: “To Corral and Control the Ghetto”: Stop, Frisk, and the Geography of Freedom