Monday, January 24, 2011

100 Years Ago: Mentally Retarded Black Man Hung In Kentucky

From World Socialist Website

On January 30, 1911, James White, a mentally retarded black youth aged 16, was hung in front of a crowd of thousands in Middlesboro, Kentucky, for the alleged crime of raping a white girl. State Attorney General James Breathitt determined that White could not understand the charges against him, and asked Governor Augustus Wilson to commute the sentence. Wilson acknowledged White was “mentally imperfect,” but determined to carry on with the execution, arguing “if his case is not punished by death, [it] is dangerous to the whole state.”


The day before, a black servant named only “Wash” was accused by his employer, the wife of a wealthy Louisiana sawmill owner, of raping her daughter. While en route to jail, a mob abducted the man. His body was later found hanging from a tree in the forest, riddled with bullets.
Several thousand people were lynched in the US over the past two centuries, most of them black men and most in the South, with the bloodiest period coming between 1890 and 1920. In the same period, thousands more were executed legally for crimes they did not commit. In both the extra-legal lynchings and state executions—the line between the two was often blurred—black men were very often falsely accused of assaulting white women.
The racial violence meted out under “Southern justice” and “Judge Lynch” was in fact a system of political and social terror. It had roots in the slave system, where slaves who resisted, attempted to escape, or organized uprisings were subjected to savage beatings and summary executions to intimidate the entire slave population. It intensified at the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War, when the Ku Klux Klan—essentially the militarized arm of the southern elite and their Democratic Party—was developed to suppress political activity among blacks and Republicans. The terror unleashed against blacks beginning in the 1890s took shape, not coincidentally, just as poor white and poor black sharecroppers were beginning political cooperation—albeit while still segregated—in the populist Farmers Alliance and Colored Farmers Alliance, as the right to vote was being systematically stripped from blacks and most poor whites across the South through poll taxes and literacy tests, and as the segregation of public spaces was ratified by the infamous Supreme Court ruling of Plessy vs. Ferguson.

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