Kissing Case

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The Kissing Case was a pivotal 1958 case in the racially segregated town of Monroe, North Carolina in the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1954–68) in which local officials unlawfully detained two young children who were arrested in October 1958, separated from their parents for a week, beaten, threatened with castration, jailed for three months, charged by Juvenile Judge Hampton Price,[1]:118 convicted of molestation, and sentenced to reform school until the age of 21.[2] Under pressure from members of the NAACP, Eleanor Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, organizations such as the New-York-based The Committee to Combat Racial Injustice CCRI, the international community, and the international press, the North Carolina Governor Luther H. Hodges was forced to grant clemency to the boys and they were released in early 1959.[3] A seven-year-old white girl, Sissy Marcus,[4] kissed two African American boys, nine-year-old James "Hanover" Thompson, and seven-year-old David "Fuzzy" Simpson, on their cheeks as she had recognized one of them as a childhood friend. James Hanover's mother had worked for the family of Sissy Marcus when she was a toddler and they had played together at that time. During Hallowe'en week, on October 28, 1958, the boys were biking near Sissy's home when she recognized him. Sissy's mother, Bernice Marcus became enraged when Sissy told her the story, called the police and accused the boys of assault.[1]:118[5]:118[6]


In his book Negroes with Guns, Civil rights leader Robert F. Williams, head of the local Monroe chapter of the NAACP cited Patrick Jones,[7][8][9][10][11]

"Rarely in history does an incident so small open a window so large into the life of a place and a people, a window that revealed both the visceral power of sexual questions in racial matters and the complex dynamics of Cold War politics for the African American freedom struggle."

— Patrick Jones on the "Kissing Case" cited in Williams 2013:xx

Williams described the racial environment in Monroe in the months before the incident when a "large, heavily-armed" Ku Klux Klan motorcade led by James W. "Catfish" Cole, had attacked the home of Dr. Albert E. Perry, the Monroe NAACP chapter vice president and a World War II veteran, as the NAACP became more vocal in calling for desegregation, focusing on the local tax-supported Monroe swimming pool at the Monroe Country Club. Harry Golden, in a 1959 article entitled "Monroe, North Carolina and the 'Kissing Case,'" argued that these attempts to desegregate the pool were 'unwise', 'naive' and 'unrealistic' because of the "crude emotions of a small agricultural community," Monroe. White parents did not want their children to swim or play with black children.[12]:2[10]


After Sissy Marcus told Bernice Marcus, her father and neighbors armed themselves with shotguns and went looking for the boys and their parents. That evening, police arrested Thompson and Simpson on charges of molestation. The young boys were detained for six days without access to their parents or legal counsel. They were handcuffed and beaten in a lower-level cell of the police station. A few days later a Juvenile Judge Hampton Price found them guilty "since they just stood silent and didn't say nothin', I knew that was a confession of guilt."[1][5] Price sentenced them to indefinite terms in reform school. The boys, still denied legal counsel, were told they might get out when they were 21 years old.

The boys were imprisoned in the North Carolina state reformatory in Hoffmann in October, 1958.[3] Their case was held in Wadesboro, North Carolina on January 29, 1959 and the Superior Court judge refused to free them.[13]:7 The mothers of the boys had been fired from their jobs as domestics and the NAACP had to relocate them to nearby towns for their safety.[13]

Civil rights leader Robert F. Williams, head of the local chapter of the NAACP raised protests about the arrests and sentencing. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt tried to talk with the governor. At first the local and state governments refused to back down in the case. Williams called Conrad Lynn, a noted black civil rights lawyer, who came down from New York to aid in the boys' defense. Governor Luther H. Hodges and state attorney general Malcolm B. Seawell, who was appointed as Attorney General as was his father by Hodges and who was sent from the capital, Raleigh to Monroe, to prosecute the boys - rejected Lynn's writ (on behalf of Williams) to review the detention of the boys.

The mothers of the two boys were not allowed to see their children for weeks. Joyce Egginton, a journalist with the London Observer in the United Kingdom, got permission to visit the boys and took their mothers along. Egginton smuggled a camera in and took a picture of the mothers hugging their children. Due to the alleged crime against the boys they were not given any outside contact to the world. Egginton was granted a visit to their jail cell and according to Hanover's younger brother, Dee Thompson, in a 2015 lecture at El Camino Real High School,[14] she took a photo "showing the boys had been severely beaten and abused by the arresting police."[14] Her story of the case and photo were printed throughout Europe and Asia; the London Observer ran a photograph of the children's reunion with their mothers under the headline, "WHY?" The United States Information Agency reported receiving more than 12,000 letters regarding the case, with most people expressing outrage at the arrests.

An international committee was formed in Europe to defend Thompson and Simpson. Huge demonstrations were held in Paris, Rome and Vienna and in Rotterdam against the United States for this case, and the U.S. Embassy was stoned. It was an international embarrassment for the U.S. government. In February, North Carolina officials asked the boys' mothers to sign a waiver with the assurance that their children would be released. The mothers refused to sign the waiver, which would have required the boys to admit to being guilty of the charges.

Two days later, after the boys had spent three months in detention, the governor pardoned Thompson and Simpson without conditions or explanation. The state and city never apologized to the boys or their families for their treatment. Their lives were overturned. Commenting on it in 2011, Brenda Lee Graham, Thompson's sister, said that he was never the same after these events.[6]

Ku Klux Klan[edit]

During this time, no judge from North Carolina would overrule Price.[1]:118 The families of the children were under attack from the local Ku Klux Klan, which had a headquarters in Monroe, who burned crosses in front of the families' houses, and some people shot at the houses.[6] The Monroe chapter included over 7000 members even though the population of Monroe was only 12,000. In National Public Radio interview in 2011, they still remembered "sweep[ing] bullets off [their] front porch" and the "burning crosses."[6]

North Carolina Governor Luther H. Hodges[edit]

Although he was "embarrassed by the international press coverage to eventually pardon the children, Governor Hodges "refused to apologize for [the State of North Carolina's] harsh treatment" of the children.[2]

The Committee to Combat Racial Injustice[edit]

In December, 1958 The Committee to Combat Racial Injustice (CCRI) was formed in New York City with NAACP's Robert F. Williams as Chairman and civil rights activist George Weissman - pen name George Lavan - as secretary. Their main activities on behalf of the boys included "fund-raising, helping to secure legal counsel, and soliciting public and private moral support." Through such efforts, the boys were freed early in 1959.[3] "The committee's founders also included Dr. Albert E. Perry, L. E. Austin, editor of the Carolina Times, Conrad Lynn, New York attorney active in civil rights cases, Reverend C. K. Steele of Tallahassee, Florida. [3] Weissman's account of the case was published in The Nation on January 17, 1959.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d Allida M. Black (1996), Championing Civil Rights, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism, Columbia University Press, retrieved January 19, 2017 
  2. ^ a b Sue Sturgis (April 25, 2014), Remembering Southern Black freedom fighter Mabel Williams, retrieved January 19, 2017 
  3. ^ a b c d "Committee to Combat Racial Injustice Records, 1957-1965", University of Wisconsin Digital Collections 
  4. ^ Kelly Alexander to Roy Wilkins (December 26, 1958), "A report of activities of North Carolina State Conferences of Branches in reference to the case of David Simpson and James H. Thompson of Monroe, North Carolina", NAACP Papers  Kelly Alexander wrote to to Roy Wilkins that Sissy was 8 at the time.
  5. ^ a b Allida M. Black (1996). Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231104050. 
  6. ^ a b c d "'The Kissing Case' And The Lives It Shattered", National Public Radio (NPR), April 29, 2011, retrieved January 19, 2017 
  7. ^ 'Communist Front Shouts Kissing Case to the World:' The Committee to Combat Racial Injustice and the Politics of Race and Gender During the Cold War (Thesis). M.A. Thesis. University of Wisconsin. 1996. 
  8. ^ Robert F. Williams (2013). Negroes with Guns. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-61427-411-7.  Forwards by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Truman J. Nelson
  9. ^ Robert F. Williams (June 1998). Marc Schleifer, ed. Negroes with Guns. New York: Marzani & Munsell, Inc. p. 128. ISBN 9780814327142.  Foreword by Gloria House. Introduction by Timothy B. Tyson
  10. ^ a b Robert F. Williams (1962). Marc Schleifer, ed. Negroes with Guns. New York: Marzani & Munsell, Inc. p. 128.  Forwards by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Truman J. Nelson; republished by Martino Publishing, Mansfield Centre, CT, in 2013
  11. ^ Paul S. Cowan, Negroes with Guns (review), The Harvard Crimson, 16 march 1963.
  12. ^ Harry Golden (January 1959), "Monroe, North Carolina and the 'Kissing Case'", Carolina Israelite 
  13. ^ a b N.C. NAACP to appeal 'Kissing Kids' Case, Jet, 15 (13), January 29, 1959 
  14. ^ a b Dwight "Dee" Thompson (November 11, 2015), Dwight "Dee" Thompson "Kissing Case of 1958" with students at El Camino Real High School, Woodland Hills, California 
  15. ^ George L. Weissman (January 17, 1959), The Kissing Case, The Nation, pp. 46–48 

Further reading[edit]

  • Kennedy, Randall. Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption. New York: Vintage, 2004. 196-7
  • Tyson, Timothy. "Robert F. Williams, NAACP: Warrior and Rebel," The New Crisis, December 1997/January 1998, Vol. 104 Issue 3, p. 14

External links[edit]