Jimmy Wilson (handyman)
James "Jimmy" E. Wilson, born in 1903 or 1904, was an African-American handyman who was convicted of the crime of "burglary at night" and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in a Marion, Alabama court in 1958 for stealing $1.95 from an 82 year old white widow, Estelle Barker. Barker also accused Wilson in court of attempted rape, although he was only charged for robbery as this carried a harsher potential sentence.
What counted against Wilson was the fact that the robbery was violent (Wilson had choked the widow and threatened her life and attempted rape), that it took place in the victim's home and that Wilson had previously served two prison terms for grand larceny. Robbery in Alabama carried the death penalty at the time, although no one had ever been sentenced to death for stealing less than $5, and four people sentenced to death in that state for robbery from 1927 to 1958 had been African American. White men had previously been executed for robbery and James Coburn, a white farmhand, was the last executed for robbery in Alabama and the United States.
The case received international coverage, with critical articles appearing in newspapers all across the world. Protest groups were formed and petitions were sent demanding that the death sentence be overturned. The US embassy in London received approximately 600 protest letters, and the US embassy in Dublin received 400. The Governor of Alabama received over 1,000 letters urging clemency for Wilson. The British Labour Party and the International Commission of Jurists likewise sent letters urging clemency. Even the Alabama based Birmingham Post-Herald came down in favor of clemency. The story was used in the Communist press as anti-American propaganda.
The US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles sent a letter to the Alabama governor Jim Folsom notifying him of the immense international attention the case had received. The sentence was commuted to a life sentence by Folsom on September 29, 1958, which was the most he was legally able to do to aid Wilson. Folsom commented, "I admit that we have got the worst penal system in the world, including Dark Africa ... I hope the next Legislature will do something about improving the situation."
- He was 70 years old on or before October 1, 1973, when he was paroled.
- Dudziak, Mary L., "The Case of 'Death for a Dollar Ninety-Five: Finding America in American Injustice", University of Southern California Law School, 2007, p.5
- Mary L. Dudziak (31 July 2011). Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton University Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-691-15243-1. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- "Death Sentence On Negro" The Times (London). Aug 23, 1958. (54237), col C, p. 6.
- Times Daily - Google News Archive Search
- Des Moines Register, August 23, 1958, quoted in Bryson, Bill, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, 2006, ISBN 978-0-552-15546-5, p.175
- "Alabama Negro's Appeal Fails" The Times (London). Friday, Sep 12, 1958. (54254), col G, p. 10.
- Dudziak, Mary L., "The Case of 'Death for a Dollar Ninety-Five: Finding America in American Injustice", University of Southern California Law School, 2007, pp.10-11
- Dulles Letter on Negro The Observer (1901- 2003) [London (UK)] 07 Sep 1958: 13.
- "News in Brief" The Times (London). Thursday, Sep 04, 1958. (54247), col A, p. 8.
- Didziak, p.15
- Charles J. Ogletree; Austin Sarat (1 January 2009). When Law Fails: Making Sense of Miscarriages of Justice. NYU Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8147-4051-4. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Negro's Sentence Protested Abroad New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 27 Aug 1958: 16.
- Dudziak, Mary L., "The Case of 'Death for a Dollar Ninety-Five: Finding America in American Injustice", University of Southern California Law School, 2007, p.18
- Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights Race and the Image of American Democracy (Berkeley, 2001).
- Wilson v. State