Posts Tagged ‘Alex Heard’


Interview: Alex Heard, author of The Eyes of Willie McGee

May 11, 2010

In the opening pages of The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex and Secrets in the Jim Crow South, Alex Heard briefly outlines McGee’s story — a black man sentenced to die for allegedly raping a white woman in 1945 Mississippi — and describes the national and international attention that it ultimately received. Suspicions lingered about his guilt. Stories persisted about whether his accuser, Willette Hawkins, had actually been raped at all. Protests ensued because of the inequality of his sentence: In Mississippi, a black man could be given the death penalty for rape, but not a white man. William Faulkner and Albert Einstein issued statements asserting McGee’s innocence, and other celebrities offered their own protests, including “Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, Jessica Mitford, Norman Mailer, Richard Wright and Frieda Kahlo.” President Harry Truman, ex-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the Supreme Court, and Mississippi’s own governor and chief justice were besieged with letters and appeals. And the case was hotly debated around the globe as well: protests outside a London movie theater, editorials in France… even Anton Chekhov’s widow wrote to the Mississippi Supreme Court that “mankind shall not forgive those guilty of this terrible infamy.”

Perhaps surprisingly, in the wake of so much coverage and controversy, Willie McGee’s trial and execution hasn’t persisted in the cultural consciousness as have other stories and images from the long battle for civil rights and racial justice.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the true story of Willie McGee has never been told until now.

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