To the editor:
One of the prime strategies for keeping southern Black men in a suppressed state in the not-so-distant past was to terrorize them with fear they would be accused of having raped a white person, and executed if convicted — even if the alleged victim survived. (No white man was ever executed for the non-lethal rape of a Black person.)
During the Great Depression, a famous celebrated case was called that of the Scottsboro Boys, involving several young Black men. That was before my time, and eventually — but late in the last century — the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the sentencing of a person to death for rape alone without killing.
Before that happened, many Black men in the former Confederacy were executed for non-lethal rape. Indeed, between 1930 and 1972, a total of 455 people in this nation were executed for non-lethal rape. More than 400 of them were Black.
Of those executions, more than 97 percent occurred in Dixie.
When I was a student at Queens College from 1949 to 1953, there were several. One was that of a Black man named Willie McGee. The most egregious case was called that of “the Martinsville Seven,” referencing Martinsville, Virginia. When I was about 18, I took a bus to that town to beg the governor not to kill those seven young people.
He did not listen. The first four were executed one day, and the remaining three shortly thereafter.
The memory of that case is once again in the news. The new Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, has proposed Virginia apologize for that barbaric conduct.