George Stinney Jr.
The 14-year old murdered by the state of South Carolina on June 16, 1944
When I prayed at the Black Lives Matter Rally in Estill County last week, as we mentioned names of black citizens killed by runaway police officers, I mentioned the name of George Stinney Jr. After the rally, a couple of folks asked me who he was.
When he was just 14 years old, young black George was accused of murdering two white girls in Alcolu, South Carolina. There was no proof he committed the crimes, and 70 years later his sentence was finally vacated. But it did George no good. He was dead. At only 14 years old, he had already been executed for two murders he did not commit and became the youngest person in modern times to be put to death by the government.
Within a month of his arrest, George was on trial. The proceeding was fast, and so was his death at the hands of a racist public defender, a racist judge, racist police, racists jurors, and a racist system; something pretty common in the U.S. back then, especially in the South. Well over a thousand white people showed up for his trial, but George’s parents weren’t there. No blacks were allowed in the courthouse.
There was not one single person in that room who had 14-year old George’s interests in mind or at heart.
H. S. Newman, the Clarendon County deputy who arrested George, declared that the teenager confessed to killing the girls, but there was never any record of that confession and it was never challenged during the trial. George’s court-appointed counsel, Charles Plowden, was not interested in mounting a serious defense for his client. He was running for office and knew that getting a black kid exonerated could cost him the election, so he offered almost no defense. He didn’t call any witnesses, didn’t cross-examine any of the prosecution’s witnesses, and offered no rebuttals.
After a trial that lasted just a little over two hours, a jury made up of of all white men deliberated all of 10 minutes before returning with a verdict: Guilty with no mercy. George was entitled to an appeal, but his attorney didn’t file one.
From the moment he was arrested, 14-year old George was alone, separated from his parents and everyone else. Not one single person who could love him, comfort him, believe him, or help him was allowed to see or speak to him. This 14-year old kid sat in terror, alone in a cold jail cell for 81 days while he waited for his bogus trial, then lawless execution. The only item he was allowed to have was a bible.
When pleas were made by the NAACP and George’s family to South Carolina Governor Olin D. Johnston, he refused to intervene.
On June 16, 1944 at 7:25 p.m., three officers entered George’s cell at the Central Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. As he clung to his bible, they led him to the execution chamber where they took it from him, then made him sit on it because his five-foot-one body was too small for electric the chair. As he sat trembling, they restrained his legs, arms, and body to the chair, then finally allowed his father in to say goodbye. When asked if he had any last words, all George could do was whimper and take deep, gasping breaths as the officers took a strap from the back of the chair and placed it in his mouth. As the mask was placed over his face George began to sob. At 7:30 p.m. jolts of lethal voltage were forced through the still growing George’s 90-pound body. As he convulsed, the mask that had been made for an adult fell off his small head, exposing burns to his scalp and saliva running from his mouth. His teeth were smoking and one of his eyes was missing; tears were streaming down his young black face.
George was buried in an unmarked grave in Sumter, South Carolina.
Even before George went to trial, there was talk that the son of a prominent white family in Alcolu had murdered the two young girls. As time went on, more and more evidence surfaced that defenseless, black George had been executed for a powerful white person’s crime. A preacher who testified at the trial against George admitted years later that he’d exaggerated the gruesomeness of the scene where he found the girls’ bodies.
We know the case of George Stinney Jr. was never about the crime he’d supposedly committed. George was not arrested, convicted, and executed for murdering two young girls; he was killed swiftly and publicly to send a message and intimidate black people all over the South. A deputy, a public defender, a judge, a jury, and a cowardly governor, all representatives of an unfair racist system, were gonna make sure of it.
George Junius Stinney, Jr. (October 21, 1929 — June 16, 1944)