In a South Carolina prison sixty-six years ago, guards walked a 14-year-old boy, bible tucked under his arm, to the electric chair. At 5' 1" and 95 pounds, the straps didn’t fit, and an electrode was too big for his leg.
The switch was pulled and the adult sized death mask fell from George Stinney’s face. Tears streamed from his eyes. Witnesses recoiled in horror as they watched the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century die.
I first read about 14 year old George Stinney Jr., the youngest person ever executed in the United States, about three years ago while researching the death penalty in the United States. His story gripped me so that I felt uncomfortable posting it on this blog. It felt like discovering the tragic remains of a shipwreck, like the Titanic, where you just want to leave what you've found at rest. Until today I've done just that.
Last week I'd read that the young 14 year old was exonerated by a circuit court judge in South Carolina, 70 years after their justice system executed him in the electric chair. George Stinney, Jr was a victim of American southern justice, not by a prejudiced ku klux klan led lynch mob, but a white sheriff, white deputies, white defense attorney, white judge, white jurors and state and federal laws that gave no protection whatsoever to black citizens and their children in these United States. It was white justice that took this child's life. If George had been white I seriously doubt he ever would' ve been accused. But George was black, and in the south of 1944, it was a crime to be black.
I just can't fathom that of all these white people involved with the case, none had the courage or decency to stand up and say putting to death a child, who it had to be obvious did not commit the crime he was accused of, was a wrongful sin against humanity, regardless of their feelings toward Colored folks. The only answer I can come up with is that the year was 1944. The U.S. had been fighting in World War II for three years and the country was busy being angry, hateful and down right scared. Its so hard to accept that at that time in the south its just the way it was.
Maybe if it had been a year later and photos and newsreel of atrocities done to Jewish children in Europe by Hitler's German death camps, maybe the grown white Americans of South Carolina would have seen George Stinney, Jr as an innocent human child, different from their own children only by the darker hue of his skin. How could then new Governor, Olin D. Johnston, not act to stop the execution after hearing pleas from local black churches and the NAACP?
Local churches, the N.A.A.C.P., and unions pleaded with Johnston to stop the execution and commute the sentence to life imprisonment, citing Stinney's age as a mitigating factor. But he did not act, instead allowing the execution to take place.
But still, I just can't see how grown white men and women can allow a child, identified then as a teenager, but he was a 95 pound child, to be executed in a monstrous, man-made killing contraption, while they watched without protest.
I decided on Christmas day to watch the movie "Carolina Skeltons," a 1988 fictionalized movie based on the George Stinney, Jr. case. It was truly the saddest story I've ever seen on film. The young actor playing the part of George became George on film. Just imagine how scared and alone this young boy had to feel while locked up waiting to be judged and killed by what must've felt like alien abductors. His family was run out of town with threats of lynching the entire family not long after George was arrested.
Its said they used little George's bible to prop him up higher in the electric chair so that the headgear and mask would fit. I know its not the story anyone wants to read today, but take seven minutes to hear the facts about the arrest, trial and execution of young George Stinney, Jr, as read by The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur. It took four minutes for the precious life of this child to be short circuited permanently by a South Carolina electric chair nicknamed "Ol' Sparky."