Authors’ & Writers’ Lounge - 3rd Floor. In 1945, Willie McGee, a young black man from Laurel, Mississippi, was sentenced to death for allegedly raping Willette Hawkins, a white housewife. At first, McGee’s case was barely noticed, covered only in hostile Mississippi newspapers and far-left publications like The Daily Worker. Then Bella Abzug, a young New York labor lawyer, was hired by the Civil Rights Congress—an aggressive arm of the Communist Party in the U.S.—to oversee McGee’s defense. Together with William L. Patterson, the son of a slave and a devout believer in revolutionary action against racial oppression, Abzug and a group of white Mississippi lawyers risked their lives to plead McGee’s case. During years of courtroom battles and groundbreaking protests, McGee’s supporters—including William Faulkner, Albert Einstein, Jessica Mitford, Paul Robeson, Norman Mailer, and Josephine Baker—spoke out on McGee’s behalf and flooded President Harry S. Truman and the U.S. Supreme Court with clemency pleas. The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South by Alex Heard, chronicles this important piece of American history. (jasbro)
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