Willie McGee (convict)
Willie McGee (died May 8, 1951) was an African American from Laurel, Mississippi, who was sentenced to death in 1945 for the rape of Willette Hawkins, a white housewife. 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 S. 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 assistance of the Civil Rights Congress 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 an NPR 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 he. 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.
- Radio Diaries: Willie McGee and the Travelling Electric Chair Radio, Retrieved 5 June 2010, NPR
- Slate, The Department of Forgetting: How an obscure FBI rule is ensuring the destruction of irreplaceable historical records, By Alex Heard
- Blotner, Joseph Leo (2005). Faulkner: A Biography. University Press of Mississippi. p. 539. ISBN 1-57806-732-4.
- Braun Levine, Suzanne; Thom, Mary (2007). Bella Abzug: How One Tough Broad from the Bronx Fought Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy, Pissed Off Jimmy Carter, Battled for the Rights of Women and Workers, ... Planet, and Shook Up Politics Along the Way. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 49–56. ISBN 0-374-29952-8.
- Mitford, Jessica A Fine Old Conflict
- Jerome, Fred (2003). The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist. Macmillan. p. 129. ISBN 0-312-31609-7.
- NPR, My Grandfather's Execution
- Heard, Alex (2010-05-11). "The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South". Harper.