|Death: ||May 8, 1951|
An African-American from Laurel, Mississippi, who was sentenced to death in 1945 for the rape of Willette Hawkins, a white housewife. In a time of intense racism in the United States, especially in The South, the outcome of McGee's first trial in December 1945 was highly unlikely to be anything but guilty. With two confessions and overwhelming evidence against him he was convicted by three courts. The first trial lasted one day, and an all-white jury found him guilty after 2½ minutes of deliberations.
McGee's legal case became a cause célèbre. William Faulkner wrote a letter insisting the case against McGee was unproven. Bella Abzug brought his appeals in Mississippi and the Supreme Court in one of the first civil rights cases of her legal career. Other notable people spoke out: Jessica Mitford, Paul Robeson, Albert Einstein, and Josephine Baker. U.S. President Harry Truman came under international pressure to grant McGee a pardon.
McGee spent eight years in Mississippi jails prior to his execution, during which time the Communist Party Civil Rights Council gained him two new trials and several stays of execution. Supreme Court Justice Harold Burton ordered a stay in July 1950; however the full Supreme Court refused to hear McGee's final appeal.
The night before he was electrocuted by the state of Mississippi, he wrote a farewell letter to his wife, Rosalie:
Tell the people the real reason they are going to take my life is to keep the Negro down.... They can't do this if you and the children keep on fighting. Never forget to tell them why they killed their daddy. I know you won't fail me. Tell the people to keep on fighting.
Your truly husband, Will McGee.
In a National Public Radio documentary in 2010 it was reported that the son of McGee's original prosecutor had claimed that his father and Willie McGee shared a bottle of whiskey the night before his execution. During that conversation McGee had supposedly admitted he had had sexual intercourse with the housewife but suggested that she had wanted it as much as him. The report noted allegations that McGee and his alleged victim were lovers and that she cried rape when she feared the affair would be exposed. McGee did not use this defense in court, but his supporters claim it would only have harmed his position, because of the inflammatory effect it could have had on the all white jury.
Author Alex Heard, through Harper Publishing, released his book The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South in May 2010. (wikipedia)
Created by: Donna
Record added: Jan 26, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 64717890
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To an uncle I never knew.|
Added: Sep. 21, 2014
You will never be forgotten. It's such a tragedy to lose your life simply because of your skin color.|
Added: Nov. 27, 2013
Added: Jan. 27, 2013
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