Written in Ink

As MLK Day comes to a close, let us consider what his words really mean.

In 1944, a young Black boy named George Junius Stinney, Jr. was convicted and executed for the murder of two white girls in South Carolina. Betty June Binnicker and Mary Emma Thames, the two white girls, were allegedly avenged through the electrocution via electric chair of Stinney shortly after 7:30pm on June 16, 1944. The following photo is that of the alleged culprit:

According to the records of his execution at the time, Stinney sat in the electric chair with a book (a dictionary or a Bible, according to some) serving as a booster seat, got shocked no less than three times with likely thousands of volts of electricity, and suffered the indignity of having his death mask slip off his tiny frame so that those present could see his tears and pain. All of this happened less than 90 days after his conviction. His attorney was a tax commissioner who was running for elected office at the time, his all-white jury was selected in less than one day (and deliberated for less than 10 minutes before pronouncing him guilty), and an alleged confession by Stinney was renounced before execution without any prior written record of the confession made by police being preserved.


As the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday comes a close, I think of Mr. Stinney and the speech I have heard referenced many times throughout the day. The Reverend Dr. King, whose speech did, in fact, reference the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, discussed his hopes for the future that true freedom would be achieved. Listening to the speech, it is clear that he hoped his children and the children of the future might not suffer the painful reality that he himself suffered at the time. It was, sadly, a hope that led to his death at an assassin's hand.

I truly believe that he could not have imagined that we would celebrate his words in 2014 with an African-American president. But, in my opinion, he may very well have imagined that despite the progress achieved by society thus far, any progress made by African-Americans might be lessened by continued anger, bitterness, and fear that we see represented by at least one, if not both, of the prevailing political parties today. I believe that he would be sickened by the continuation of injustice reflected in what occurs today. And most of all, I believe that he would be disgusted that, for all of our good intentions, there are still plenty of George Stinneys suffering today. Men and women who, despite progress in due process and fair trials, still find themselves judged based not on the content of their character, but on the color of their skin.

On January 21, 2014, a judge will hear a new trial in the Stinney case. His family continues to fight the idea that he is guilty of this crime. The new trial will not necessarily absolve him, but rather will allow a new presentation of the existing evidence in the case. But today, as I think of Dr. King, I think of all those who, like Mr. Stinney, came before the nation's acceptance of the idea that all men, regardless of race, should be considered innocent before proven guilty. I think of the 14-year-old boy who, despite what any believe he may have done, must have been so terrified and alone in that moment of execution. And, most importantly, I think of the glorious future, where Dr. King's words might mean very little except in retrospect, because it will be a given that those who have traditionally been without power fully enjoy it in the present, with the knowledge that the past will serve only to educate and not to haunt them.

Update/Correction: It looks like the SC judge on this case heard a motion for a new trial today, so a new trial won't necessarily be granted. After reading this article, I'd have to say that the chances for a new trial don't look good, but a ruling on the motion hasn't been reported yet.

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