On 30 March 1908, Green Cottenham went down to the railway station in Columbiana, Alabama, as normal. It was there that he would pick up casual labour transporting crates or picking cotton. In between shifts he whiled away his day playing dice and smoking tobacco with his fellow African-Americans. This day, however, turned out differently. Cottenham was seized by the local sheriff’s chief deputy and accused of riding a freight train without a ticket. He appeared before a judge the following day. There was no evidence to convict him, so the judge declared him guilty of ‘vagrancy’ instead, a crime so vague that there was no defence.