White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery

By Herbert Shapiro | Go to book overview

FIFTEEN
Executions, Little Rock, Genocide

DURING THE EARLY 1950s racist violence persisted as a component of American life at the same time as international pressures mounted upon official society to modify oppressive racial practices. Repeatedly, segregation and discrimination were buttressed by official violence as in such cases as those of Willie McGee and the Martinsville Seven. The racist stereotype of the black rapist served to justify execution of black defendants who had been convicted in trials that mocked proper judicial procedures. On February 2, 1951, the seven blacks known as the Martinsville Seven--Joe Henry Hampton, Howard Hairston, Booker Millner, Frank Hairston, John Taylor, James Hairston, and Francis Grayson--were executed at Richmond, Virginia, for allegedly having raped a white woman. On May 8 of the same year McGee was executed by the state of Mississippi. McGee had been convicted of raping a white woman, Mrs. Willamette Hawkins, but evidence indicated that Hawkins had forced McGee into a relationship he later tried to sever. Once the charge of rape had been raised, Mississippi was incapable of legitimizing the concept that a white woman had sought a sexual relationship with a black male. Along with these instances of official violence, 1951 was also marked by the murders of two NAACP activists, Harriet and Harry T. Moore. The Moores, involved in voter registration efforts in Florida, were killed Christmas night by a bomb placed beneath their home.

The mindset operative in the McGee execution was made clear when Harvey McGehee, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, was confronted with a suggestion that there was something hidden in the case. "If you believe, or are implying," he asserted, "that any white woman in the South, who was not completely down and out, degenerate, degraded and corrupted, could have anything to do with a Negro man, you not only do not know what you are talking about, but you are insulting us, the whole South. You do not know the South, and do not realize that

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