Black History Culture : The Execution of Willie McGee

Discussion in 'Black History - Culture - Panafricanism' started by cherryblossom, Apr 14, 2011.

  1. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2009
    Messages:
    19,252
    Likes Received:
    5,505
    Gender:
    Female
    Ratings:
    +5,560
    My Grandfather's Execution
    by RADIO DIARIES

    [​IMG]

    May 7, 2010
    When Bridgette McGee-Robinson was growing up, she didn't know anything about her grandfather — who he was, where he was from, why no one ever talked about him.

    But, as a child, while helping her mother clean the house, she came across a packet of old articles and photographs hidden under a mattress. She asked her mother who the man in the old photographs was, but her mother snatched the papers away and told McGee-Robinson that she was too young to understand them.

    Four decades later, McGee-Robinson went to Mississippi to find out everything she could about her grandfather's life and death. She went to find people who could tell her what Willie McGee was like, who he was and what happened to him.

    The Case Of Willie McGee

    In the fall of 1945, in the small town of Laurel, Miss., McGee, a young black man, was arrested on charges of raping a white housewife. The charges inflamed the town — the rumor got out that people were going to break him out of the Laurel jail and lynch him. When McGee was taken to the courthouse to be tried, he was transported in a National Guard truck and dressed in fatigues to disguise his identity and protect him.

    [​IMG]
    Courtesy New York Public Library
    This picture of Willie McGee in jail — date unknown — was the one Bridgette McGee-Robinson found under her mother's mattress and spurred her quest to find the truth.

    The alleged victim testified that a black man had broken into her house, told her he had a knife, and raped her while her baby slept next to her. Prosecutors linked McGee to the crime. McGee's own lawyers put up a half-hearted defense. They encouraged McGee to plead insanity and failed to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses.

    McGee's first trial lasted only half an afternoon; the jury deliberated only two-and-a-half minutes before sentencing McGee to death. No white man in Mississippi had ever received a death sentence for rape.

    But McGee-Robinson spoke with some people in Laurel who said McGee's true defense couldn't be brought up at trial because it was too inflammatory. There were people in the black community who believed that McGee had been having an illicit affair with the woman who accused him of rape.

    McGee-Robinson's aunt Della McGee Johnson told her that the family had always believed that McGee was involved with the white woman — and that he was charged with rape when they were caught. Most white people that McGee-Robinson spoke to, however, believed that a consensual relationship between a black man and a white woman would have been impossible, given the societal norms of the time.

    A Rally And Execution

    In 1946, McGee's case was taken over by the Civil Rights Congress, a newly formed, Communist-affiliated civil rights group. The Congress hired future U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug to represent Willie McGee, and launched both a legal defense and a public relations campaign. The Congress sponsored "Save Willie McGee" rallies and petition drives across America; activists rallied in Paris, Moscow and China. William Faulkner, Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker and Albert Einstein came out in support of McGee.

    Execution Broadcast
    Two local Mississippi radio stations — WFOR and WAML — delivered a joint broadcast of Willie McGee's execution live from the scene in front of the courthouse. They captured the sound of the estimated thousand people who came to witness the execution, and the roar of the generator that powered the state's traveling electric chair.

    In a lucky twist, that recording has been preserved and can be heard today. Although there are many recordings from World War II and from the civil rights movement, preserved recordings from the years in between — the late 1940s and early 1950s — are rare.

    The fact that this particular recording was preserved is a fluke. A young reporter, Jim Leeson, recorded the broadcast for his personal use, and held onto it for the next five decades. Several years ago, he donated the recording to the University of Southern Mississippi's oral history department, which allowed Radio Diaries and NPR to use it. While the entire broadcast is about 30 minutes long, these 2 minutes capture its essence.​


    McGee's case covered six years before his appeals were exhausted. On the night of May 7, 1951, McGee was executed in Mississippi's portable electric chair. The traveling chair was moved from county to county, set up in local courthouses, and connected to generators that supplied the power that drove the chair. After an execution, the chair would be dismantled and brought back to the state capital. The chair is now housed at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy, where McGee-Robinson found it gathering dust in a corner, surrounded by softball trophies.

    On that night in May 1951, the chair was set up before the judges' stand in the same courtroom where McGee had first been convicted. The courtroom was on the second floor; long wires connected the chair to a generator below in an alley. Close to a thousand people gathered on the lawn of the courthouse to witness the execution....


    ....COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126539134
     
  2. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2009
    Messages:
    19,252
    Likes Received:
    5,505
    Gender:
    Female
    Ratings:
    +5,560
    Lorraine Hansberry, Lynchsong

    At age 21, eight years before she won national recognition for her now-classic play A Raisin in the Sun, playwright Lorraine Hansberry wrote "Lynchsong." The 1951 poem reads as a faint sketch from memory-images and thoughts form a rough document of some painful, past recollection.


    I can hear Rosalee
    See the eyes of Willie McGee
    My mother told me about
    Lynchings
    My mother told me about
    The dark nights
    And dirt roads
    And torch lights
    And lynch robes

    The
    faces of men
    Laughing white
    Faces of men
    Dead in the night
    sorrow night
    and a
    sorrow night


    http://www.americanlynching.com/literary-old.html
     
  3. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2009
    Messages:
    19,252
    Likes Received:
    5,505
    Gender:
    Female
    Ratings:
    +5,560
    Mississippi Bus Station
    Bella Abzug, 1920 – 1998

    "I became involved in my first civil rights case [as chief counsel of appeals proceedings in 1950]. The man I defended—Willie McGee—was accused of raping a white woman, even though he and the woman had had a long-standing sexual relationship. That fact, of course, only made the crime all the more heinous to the Mississippi jury, and McGee was sentenced to death. Challenging the traditional practice of excluding blacks from the jury and arguing that Southern judges and juries reserved the death penalty for 'rape' as a cruel and inhuman punishment for blacks only, I managed to get the Supreme Court to stay the execution twice."


    Yet the Supreme Court refused to rule on the case, and McGee's execution date approached once again. In the final few days, Abzug traveled to Jackson, Mississippi for a last minute clemency hearing. Local whites were incensed and had been threatening violence throughout the trials and appeals. When she arrived in town she found that no hotel would take her. Alone, and also pregnant, Abzug spent the night awake in the locked bathroom stall of a bus station to avoid the Ku Klux Klan.

    The next day Abzug argued before the state Governor for six hours, but despite extensive publicity and protests organized by the Civil Rights Congress, McGee was executed in 1951.

    http://jwa.org/historymakers/abzug/mississippi-bus-station
     
Loading...

Users found this page by searching for:

  1. willie mcgee execution 1951 recording