The youngest person to be executed in the US during the 20th century was 14-year-old George Stinney. They had to stack books on the electric chair since he was so little.
His conviction was overturned posthumously 70 years after his execution due to a lack of evidence!
The bodies of 11-year-old Betty and 7-year-old Mary, two white missing girls, were discovered close to the home where George and his parents were staying in Alcolu, South Carolina, in March 1944. George Stinney was charged with their murders.
Because George Stinney allegedly confessed and directed police to the “place where he hid the murder weapon,” the sheriff detained George and his brother John, who was later released. At a nearby sawmill, his father was let go and told to leave the company residence.
Other than the statements of the officer, there was no written record of his confession. He spent 81 days in isolation with no visits.No black persons were admitted in the courtroom, and the entire trial against George Stinney —including the selection of a white-only jury—took place over the course of just one day.
On June 16, 1944, at 7:30 p.m., he was put to death. Imagine the amount of electricity that was in his head when he was electrocuted—5,380 volts—in a teenager’s head.
His innocence was finally established by a judge in South Carolina after 70 years. The youngster was blamed for being black while in reality he was blameless.
On March 24, 1944, right after school, two young white girls living in a segregated mill town ventured out on a springtime bicycle hunt for maypops—the acidic fruit of a lovely wildflower.
Together with her companion Mary Emma Thames, who was seven years old, Betty June Binnicker, 11, followed the railroad tracks. They strolled passed the bustling timber mill where almost all of the residents of Alcolu, including their fathers, toiled away. Ahead, they could see two black kids.
The family’s cow was taken out to graze by seventh-grader George Stinney Jr. and his younger sister Amie.
Betty June and Mary Emma paused close by and inquired about maypop locations. George and Amie were unaware. The females kept moving. A truck hauling timber drove by.
The two girls’ first steps on their journey were the beginning of a fatal mystery that has plagued Alcolu for 74 years.
According to one version of the story—the one George would eventually die for—he chased the girls and killed them both by striking them with a railroad spike by himself.
Another story, which is still whispered about in Alcolu today, claimed that the girls also went to a notable white family’s house to inquire about the sweet wife of the timber mill owner joining them. She gave up begging. However, her son arrived in his logging truck. While he unloaded, he volunteered to accompany the girls to find their maypoles.
In they dove.
However, the police didn’t search for a white killer since George Stinney, a 14-year-old boy, was allegedly the meanest child in the neighborhood. When white men arrived, they quickly took him away. He promptly admitted when he was alone with the white authorities. , they claimed.
George Stinney was also executed horribly after an unfair trial, and he was never heard from again.
Nobody in a position of authority appeared to give a damn. George Stinney was both black and poor. An evil child killer in the eyes of his executioners. To the governor, he was a vicious rapist. a predator in the media who never apologizes.
Until fresh information indicated he probably wasn’t.
One unsolved mystery surrounds the three slain youngsters.
When the preacher’s kid discovered the girls in a small, wet ditch in the woods, their bodies were stiff. They were lying on their backs, battered and shattered beyond repair, like a couple of abandoned dolls. A bicycle with its front wheel missing from the frame lay on top of them.
When Dr. Asbury Cecil Bozard inspected the remains, there were no indications of a struggle, but it was obvious they had suffered gruesome and brutal deaths. Above her right brow, Mary Emma had a sharp, two-inch-long slash, and a hole bore through her forehead and into her skull. The doctor stated that Betty June received at least seven head injuries that were so punishing, the rear of her skull was “nothing but a mass of crushed bones.”
Alcolu, a sawmill community along the Pocotaglio Swamp’s northern hill in rural Clarendon County, about 80 miles north of Charleston, had never experienced anything like this. Alcolu was a community centered around a lumber mill, where both men and women attended church twice on Sundays, and where green fields brimmed with cotton bolls in the summer before exploding into white fluff in the fall.
The majority of the time, families of color and white people resided on opposing sides of the railroad spur. The D.W. Alderman and Sons Company, however, employed men of both races to work side by side at the mill from the first whistle that blew in the morning to the last that sent them home at night.
Betty June and Mary Emma had vanished the day before after school while searching for maypops. A search group of 100 to 200 men spread out over the city that evening when they failed to arrive home.
While visiting a neighborhood party that evening, the Stinney family learned of the missing girls. George Stinney left with his father to join the search teams after informing his parents that he and Amie had spotted them earlier.
No one could locate them because Alcolu was shrouded in darkness.
The next morning, one of the big bosses at the timber mill, George Burke Sr., led a search party as they carried on with their work as the sun rose over the treeline.
His gang found the girls. They were found dead in a muddy ditch on his land.
George Stinney and Amie were at home with their half-brother Johnny, who had come to visit from their grandmother’s house in the nearby town of Pinewood, before reporting for duty that afternoon. While their parents were away, their sister Katherine and brother Charles went to a beauty salon.
In an area of Alcolu designated for black families, George Stinney lived in a modest three-room company house with his parents and three younger siblings next to the railroad tracks. His father, George Sr., a former sharecropper, worked for the mill, and his mother was a chef at Alcolu’s school for black kids.
They were impoverished, like the majority of families in Alcolu, but they had food and clothing. The Stinneys drank fresh cow’s milk in the morning and produced their own veggies in the garden. With their remaining funds, they bought everything else they required from the Main Street Company Store. Together with the other black families in Alcolu, they walked to the adjacent Greenhill Baptist Church on Sundays.
A pair of dark automobiles came up their block as Amie, who was 8 years old, played in the yard with a young brood of Rhode Island Red hens. White males in suits emerged from them as she watched and entered the home through the rear entrance. As they escorted George Stinney and Johnny away in handcuffs, Amie hid in the chicken coop.
She wailed, “George, why are you leaving me?”
George Stinney yelled in response.
Get Charles and Kat now! and bring Ma!
George then vanished into one of the dark vehicles. It was the final time she had ever seen her brother.
George Sr. lost his job at the mill that evening. She started crying.
A lynch mob was rumored to be approaching.
George Sr. remarked, “We’ve got to go.” We need to leave immediately.
The family took only a few belongings with them and left the rest behind as they escaped to their grandmother’s home in Pinewood. Later, Johnny was released by sheriff’s deputies, who left him by the side of the road.
The viciousness of the crime, as well as another risqué detail, helped the story of the double killings spread to Columbia and Charleston in the meantime. Clarendon Deputy Sheriff H.S. Newman told the press that within 40 minutes of his arrest, George had confessed to killing the girls. He stated that when they rebuffed his advances for sexual favors, George fatally attacked them. George Stinney grabbed a foot-long railroad trestle spike and attacked the younger girl first, hitting her several times in the head before switching to the other when they threatened to alert their parents.
George took police to the location of the spike’s hiding place in the woods after confessing, according to Newman.
Alcolu was abuzz with rumours of lynching the young child, but Newman would not say where the boy was being held. Even George’s parents were unaware of his location. As the trial drew near, weeks passed without either parent speaking to or seeing George. Mrs. Stinney fervently prayed. They possessed no money. What might they do?
George’s fate, according to his father, is now in God’s hands.
Given that he was a member of the search team that discovered the girls’ bodies, George Burke Sr. ought to have been a witness at that time and no more. Nevertheless, he presided over the coroner’s inquest jury four days later. The group suggested that the prosecution refer George Stinney’s case to a specially called grand jury.
Then, to hasten George’s trial, Third Circuit Solicitor Frank McLeod and a local state lawmaker filed an appeal for a special session of criminal court. They got what they asked for.
George Stinney showed up in the Clarendon County Courthouse in downtown Manning, the county seat, just 31 days after his arrest, sporting faded blue shirt and jeans. A Columbia, South Carolina, reporter for The State newspaper observed that George appeared composed and “apparently not too concerned.”
The parents of the 14-year-old had not spoken to or seen him in weeks, and they had been too scared of the white crowd to attend the trial. Instead, he was surrounded by strangers. There was not enough room in the courtroom as 1500 people poured in. Every door let them out in a torrent.
The trial, which started at 2:30 and ended less than three hours later, featured testimony from Burke as well.
After only 10 minutes of deliberation, a jury of white men reached the following conclusion: guilty, with no suggestion for mercy. Right away, Kingstree’s Judge P.H. Stoll issued his ruling: electrocution-related death.
As the day of George’s death drew closer, protests intensified. In Charleston, representatives of the white and black clergy unions petitioned Governor Olin Johnston to commute George’s sentence to life in prison based on his advanced age. The governor’s office received hundreds of letters and telegrams from all over the state and the country, the majority of which begged for mercy on George Stinney’s behalf.
People cited Johnston’s sense of justice and his commitment to Christianity. They drew comparisons to another prominent case that year involving Ernest Feltwell Jr., a white Parris Island boy who admitted killing an 8-year-old girl in federal court. On December 3, 1943, Feltwell, the 16-year-old son of a marine corps warrant officer, made an attempt to rape the girl in the woods. He acknowledged covering her lips with his palm when she began to scream until her body stopped moving.
No cost was spent in Feltwell’s defense following his arrest in February 1944, including the hiring of three attorneys. To ascertain Feltwell’s sanity, they sought the advice of a renowned criminologist, used a lie detector test, and admitted him to a state hospital in Columbia. He received a 20-year prison term.
Others cautioned Johnston that, at a time of already heightened racial tensions, murdering George Stinney would only inspire black activists. W.R. Pettigrew, pastor of the Citadel Square Baptist Church in Charleston, issued a warning: “His execution will provide the negroes of South Carolina a’martyr,’ and another battle cry with which to stir their adherents.
Johnston was unmovable. Sen. Ellison “Cotton Ed” Smith, a staunch supporter of segregation, was his fiercest opponent in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, so he could not afford to appear uncommitted to racial equality. In addition, he had come to the conclusion that the severity of George’s claimed violation surpassed any regard for his age. Johnston sent a letter in response to those who asked for mercy, outlining one account of the crime in gory detail.
“I just had a conversation with the arresting officer in this case. You might find it fascinating to learn that Stinney murdered the little girl in order to rape the larger one. He then raped the dead body of the larger girl after killing her. He tried to rape her again twenty minutes later, but his attempt failed because her body was too cold. He was the one who admitted it all.
The governor’s choice was conclusive. The execution would go ahead since there was no hope of an appeal.
Wilford “Johnny” Hunter, 17, was detained for taking a few companions on a joyride in a stolen vehicle near Sumter, which was about 35 miles away. Hunter was shot in the abdomen during the ensuing police pursuit, and he spent time in critical condition at Sumter’s Tuomey Hospital.
When he got better, he ended up at the Sumter “big jail” with George Stinney , who showed up looking weak and undernourished.
Hi there, What did they get you for, Hunter questioned?
I’m going to be electrocuted by them.
Hunter, startled, balanced himself on a bench. The wounded man became George’s confidant and buddy over the course of three days. Hunter thought of George Stinney as “the kid” who enjoyed playing hide-and-seek in the bunks and singing country songs from The Grand Ole Opry, like Ernest Tubb’s “Walking the Floor Over You.”
George once warned Johnny, “I’m coming back and I’m gonna haunt you when they electrocute me!”
Hunter warned George to avoid using such language.
Hunter was instructed by George Stinney to address a letter to S.P. Rewell, a Florida pastor who George said once helped his brother when he was in need. Using a cent postcard, Hunter informed him that it was “a matter of life or death.”
Why are they trying to kill me for something I didn’t commit, Johnny? Why?
Hunter was unable to respond.
Keys began to jangle. A gate opened squeakily. Up the stairs, there were loud, plodding steps. George became quieter. Their day together was their last. Hunter threw his arms around George Stinney when the youngster had grasped hold of him.
On June 16, 1944, at 7:30 a.m., convict No. 260 was led to the tiny brick death house at the state prison in Columbia while wearing a loose-fitting striped jumpsuit and carrying a Bible tucked under his arm.
With only 95 pounds, George Stinney Jr. was too light for the state electrician to easily affix an electrode to his right leg.
A group of around 50 witnesses, including the dads of the two murdered girls and the white guy ultimately thought to be the real perpetrator, were surrounded by a buzz of whispering. The prison director struck the concrete floor with his cane. Silence. The convicted prisoner was asked whether he had any closing remarks by an assistant captain.
You don’t want to talk about what you did, do you? inquired the prison doctor.
When the executioner turned on the switch, 2,400 volts of electricity convulsed prisoner No. 260. He lost the death mask that had been over his head. He had his eyes open. His cheeks were dripping with tears. His mouth foamed with saliva. The next shot was 1,400 volts. Another 500 volts then rushed through his frail body. Burnt meat odor filled the doom home.
There were three minutes and 45 seconds. The dead body of George Stinney was removed by attendants. The guests from Alcolu and Manning left after that, many of them shaken by what they had just seen.
A white pastor named Lloyd Batson departed with them. He had gone to the execution at his father’s request. In order for George to know that someone in the room loved him, he had pledged to look him in the eyes before he passed away.
Years later, when recalling these incidents, Batson would cry and groan while burying his head in his hands. He would reply, “I can still smell it burning.
Currently, three Alcolu youngsters were found deceased.
After George Stinney was put to death, the quick investigation into the girls’ deaths came to an end, and it was consigned to the somber archives of Jim Crow history. It would be seven centuries before it was opened again.
It seemed like a ghost story plucked straight out of a Southern Gothic book, which may have drawn Matt Burgess to the case in the first place. He was an optimistic, blue-eyed lawyer who was 24 years old. He had been one of “maybe 10,” English majors in his class at The Citadel, a renowned military school in South Carolina. Being a native of Camden, he had written a murder-mystery book set in Charleston while waiting for the results of his bar exam.
In 2013, it was a Friday. Burgess obtained his first employment at a small-town firm in downtown Manning, a city of about 4,000 people, after graduating from the Charleston School of Law ten months previously. The Clarendon County Courthouse, where George Stinney received his death sentence, could be seen from there.
For a client who was African-American and who appeared to have been wrongfully convicted of setting fire to an empty trailer, Burgess was working on a move for a new trial. Before a witness acknowledged lying during the trial, the man was imprisoned for ten years. Burgess was outraged by the seeming injustice.
Burgess was outraged when his employer Steve McKenzie brought up another instance that was much more frustrating. A young black teenager had been detained for the murder of two white girls in a nearby little town. He was found guilty by a white-only jury, and the judge gave him the death penalty. George Stinney Jr., who was hanged in America in the 20th century at the age of 14, has all but disappeared from history.
Quest to Vindicate George Stinney
After reading an article about George Stinney in the neighborhood newspaper, The Sumter Item, McKenzie decided to take up the case. After conducting his own study, McKenzie came to the rapid conclusion that the boy’s trial was a fake. Charles Plowden, a Summerton banker running for re-election to the Statehouse, had been chosen by the court to represent George, and all that was required to halt his execution for at least a year was to file a lengthy appeal. Instead, he had abandoned the boy and turned him over to his killers.
Burgess received a flimsy file from McKenzie that had been collecting dust in his office for the last four years. He might be able to take action.
The file was largely made up of black and white photocopies of ancient court documents, including two indictments, a fingerprint card, and a page of handwritten notes. There were also a few notarized affidavits and a number of newspaper stories from 1944 in the file. One of the headlines in The State newspaper blared, “Alcolu Negro Boy to Die For Slaying Girl.”
Beyond the boy’s adolescent age, George Stinney’s small stature most alarmed Burgess. George Stinney’s height and weight were recorded in the South Carolina Penitentiary file as 95 pounds and 5 feet 1 inch, respectively. Burgess questioned whether a youngster that small could kill two girls, one of whom was around his size. Would he have been able to drag their corpses into a ditch with enough strength? How could a black child in the Jim Crow South carry out such a heinous daytime crime against two white girls without drawing attention?
Who killed those girls, if not George Stinney?
Burgess spent the weekend reading everything he could discover on George Stinney online and enquiring about him with his Manning pals. Burgess had reason for optimism after finding Charles Stinney’s deposition in the material he received from McKenzie.
Burgess dialed a Brooklyn phone on Monday, hoping the elderly man was still alive.
The call was answered by Charles Stinney.
Amie Ruffner, his sister, was even more dubious than Charles. People had been phoning for years with grandiose schemes to clear their long-dead brother and making empty promises.
In Pinewood, South Carolina, their brother George was interred in an unmarked tomb behind a white clapboard chapel. His burial place remained a tightly kept secret among his siblings who still feared someone would try to damage it.
But George’s tale had not been forgotten. The boy’s name had come up again in the 1980s, even before Burgess answered the phone, as the country’s judicial system debated whether or not juvenile executions were constitutional. (Decades later, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court repealed the death penalty for juvenile offenders.)
David Bruck, an attorney who opposed the death penalty, had brought George Stinney’s case back to national attention in 1985 with a Washington Post editorial headed “The 14-Year-Old Who, in Many Ways, Was Too Small for the Chair.” Bruck retold Stinney’s tale a year later when appearing before a House subcommittee.
When Burgess called George’s siblings in October 2013, their recollections were still clear. Despite their ancient age, they had vivid memories of the spring and summer of 1944. Charles testified in an affidavit that the events of that time had permanently altered the life of his entire family.
Everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001, according to Charles. “For my family, the events of that Friday, March 24, 1944, and the days that followed, were our own personal 9/11.”
Burgess investigated the case and became concerned that, despite their conviction of George’s innocence, there was nothing the lawyers could do legally. Nearly 70 years had passed since George’s passing. Any tangible proof, such as DNA, had long since vanished. Existing witnesses were gone or getting older. Numerous government documents documenting George Stinney’s trial had been misplaced or destroyed. Additionally, a judge would doubt the siblings’ legal standing and the amount of time that had gone if they attempted to file a case on behalf of George.
However, despite the additional evidence, such as the sworn testimony of George’s siblings who offered an alibis for their brother, Burgess still prepared a plea for a new trial. Burgess recognized that his attempt to have George’s conviction overturned would be contentious and unprecedented, and his legal case was at best tenuous.
But this was his best idea, and it was now or never.
He also had another thought. From his office, he sent emails with the motion to Mark Potter, an NBC reporter who had written about the Stinney case in 2009. If there was any additional proof, perhaps some publicity would make it known.
Burgess was cautioned by a fellow attorney at the firm to avoid “chasing ghosts” when there was actual money at stake. However, Burgess had a point. He simply had no idea what.
The Sumter Item’s top page Sunday headline on November 3, 2013, stated: “Lawyers seek retrial of executed teen.” Two weeks later, Mark Potter’s report on George’s situation was shown on NBC News. As Burgess had hoped, a constant stream of phone calls with tales of Alcolu’s notorious child killer quickly poured into his office.
For many years, Mary Emma Thames and Betty June Binnicker’s killings had been the subject of rumors in and around Alcolu. George Stinney allegedly received ice cream from the police in exchange for his confession, according to some.Since “Pee Wee” Gaskins, South Carolina’s most prolific serial murderer, lived 45 miles to the east of Alcolu and had just turned 11 days prior to the killings, Burgess swiftly ruled out Gaskins as the real killer.
People who claimed to know George Stinney provided radically divergent accounts of the kid. George was quiet and kind, good at drawing, and fascinated by airplanes, according to his siblings. Others claimed that George had a history of harming other kids and was a well-known bully.
George Stinney was a “very withdrawn kind of boy,” but he also had a temper and once scratched a girl with a knife, according to W.L. Hamilton, George’s seventh-grade teacher, who spoke to The Sumter Item in 1995.George once threatened to assassinate Ruth Turner’s younger sister and a childhood friend, a white former court reporter from Alcolu.
Additionally, a white woman from West Columbia contacted the lawyers. Sonya Eaddy-Williamson had already started her own investigation into George’s case and had a notion regarding a different suspect. She had also heard tales of a confession made on the deathbed. Other others had also.
However, that information was hearsay or supposition, like the most of what the lawyers heard, and was therefore not very helpful to their case.They lost hope that George Stinney’s name would be cleared.
Then the unthinkable happened. In Manhattan, an older black man caught Potter’s NBC broadcast on television. Johnny Hunter, who was 87 years old, nevertheless had vivid memories of a lengthy jail sentence and the black boy he had formerly shared a cell with. Johnny remembered the boy as being very young and small. One more thing came to mind: George Stinney had maintained his innocence right up until he walked into the execution chamber.
Burgess understood that this would call George Stinney’s confession into question.
But would it be sufficient?
The legal team attempting to overturn George Stinney Jr.’s 70-year-old murder conviction was aware that the passage of time and prior case law worked against them in what appeared to be an insurmountably cold case.
Evidence had vanished or never been in the first place, witnesses had passed away, and memories had faded.
His former cellmate got in touch with him after an NBC News program about Stinney’s death at the age of 14 and shared a shocking revelation: George Stinney had maintained his innocence all the way to the finish.
That raised questions about George’s much-heralded confession, which the police had obtained. The attorneys would receive another call that would raise even greater concerns about the tenuous evidence that had contributed to the adolescent’s execution via electric chair.
In Arkansas, a retired white pastor in his eighties had also watched the show. Francis Batson, whose father had served as a Baptist minister in Alcolu, claimed to have assisted in the hunt for the missing girls on March 24, 1944. He claimed to have combed fields and forests until three in the morning before returning home to rest.
But that night, Batson had trouble falling asleep. He had joined a different search team two hours later, one that was being commanded by George Burke Sr. Batson was the youngest in the group at 15 years old.
Four people searched the same area he had hours before, but in the dark, starting at Hotel Street, one of the town’s two major thoroughfares. They concentrated on the region behind Greenhill Baptist Church, which was surrounded by broomsedge fields, towering cypress trees, and a ditch that cut through its forests.
One of the males noticed a bicycle at 7:30 a.m.The girls’ bodies were lying in the ditch, which was now several inches deep with water when the gang arrived.He couldn’t remember if it was Burke or another male, but one of the grownups stated he thought he heard one of the girls breathing. To check, he dispatched Batson.
The teen saw little blood, but he immediately realized they were both dead. The bodies appeared stiff. Burke gave Batson the go-ahead to head home after he had saved them from the ditch. No officials ever showed up to speak with him.
However, he experienced traumatic memories. He continued to have nightmares about the dead girls even after seven decades.
Batson’s narrative exposed huge flaws in the prosecution’s case against the young suspect, according to George Stinney’s legal team. Blood tends to flow freely from head wounds. However, Batson had noticed very little blood near the girls’ bodies, indicating they had likely been killed somewhere else. Their case was strengthened by the fact that Batson did not notice any drag marks or footprints leading to the ditch.
They believed that a youngster the size of George Stinney could not have murdered the two girls and placed them in the ditch where they were found, at least 300 yards from the train rails where George and the girls had spoken.
Batson also mentioned George Burke Sr., the wealthy agricultural operations manager for the D.W. Alderman and Sons Company, which troubled Burgess.
Burke’s name was previously known to Burgess. It had made an unexpectedly large number of appearances in George’s indictment and trial’s remaining documents.
Ben Alderman, the treasurer of the lumber firm, and Burke had planned the search party for the missing girls. The foreman of the coroner’s inquest panel that recommended charging George Stinney with murder was identified in garbled cursive as “GW Burke Sr.” Burke’s name reappeared in an old newspaper story as a grand jury member who indicted George and yet another witness on his murder charges.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Burgess studied a number of intricate maps of Alcolu that showed everything from the position of the mill’s log pond to the names of the most important landowners.
George Burke Sr. was once more identified in small print as the landowner of the area behind Greenhill Baptist Church, which is where the remains were discovered.
Burke’s involvement in virtually every facet of the case—as a witness and a part of significant organizations charged with accusing George Stinney of murder—proved to Burgess that George’s trial was rigged from the beginning. Burke had the chance to sway the jury members in those private hearings because he was one of Alcolu’s most prominent residents and the Alderman family’s right hand.
However, why had Burke shown such a keen interest in the situation?
The legal team for George Stinney also discovered other peculiarities. As the prosecutor developed his case, the murder weapon had changed. An “iron rod” was described as the murder weapon in the official indictments for the deaths of the girls. The weapon was variously described in newspaper sources as a railroad spike or a railroad trestle spike.
However, it is unlikely that either a railroad spike or an iron rod caused the girls’ wounds. Burgess discovered an examination of their bodies from the outside at the state Department of Archives and History. The page-long report, which was signed by Dr. A.C. Bozard, came to the conclusion that the victims’ severe wounds were brought on by a “round instrument about the size of a hammer.”
Dr. Peter J. Stephens of Burnsville, a forensic pathologist, was deposed by Ray Chandler, a third member of the legal team. N.C. Stephens concurred that the circular, “punched out” fractures Dr. Bozard saw on the girls’ skulls could not have resulted from a railroad spike’s rectangular cross-section.
“(The head of a railroad spike) would give you much more crushing around the edge of the lesion,” Stephens said. And I don’t believe a hammer stroke could have been mistaken for it.
Near the end of the country doctor’s account of the girls’ many injuries, gashes, and bruises came something else that struck Burgess the most about Bozard’s report. Before George Stinney’s trial, news stories had speculated that he killed the girls so he could rape them. In correspondence to his critics, Governor Olin Johnston said as much and in gory detail. In the ten years prior to Emmett Till, 14, being lynched in Mississippi for the dubious offense of whistling at a white woman, it was a theory that a white jury would have probably quickly accepted.
However, Dr. Bozard, who supposedly became unwell, was replaced by another pathologist who gave testimony at George Stinney’s trial. The doctor could not affirm with certainty that the girls had experienced sexual assault; he could only suggest that it might have happened.
However, his colleague Dr. Bozard’s own research and the governor’s and newspaper writers’ ideas were in conflict with that testimony. Bozard’s examination, which was completed the afternoon the bodies were found, determined neither female had been sexually assaulted. Only Betty June Binnicker had some small bruising around her genitalia, a sign that Dr. Stephens said was more compatible with her regular bicycle riding. He also noted that both girls’ hymens were intact.
Seventy years too late, the prosecution’s case against George Stinney was disintegrating.
During the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2014, a two-day hearing was scheduled to address their demand for George Stinney to undergo a fresh trial. The visiting judge appointed to hear their case, the Honorable Carmen Mullen, whose graduate work centered on Southern literature, was a kindred spirit for Burgess.
However, Mullen questioned the case’s legality and timeliness, as Burgess had foreseen, and the state attempted to dismiss it. Burgess read in The Post and Courier an article about Miller Shealy, one of his former professors at the Charleston School of Law, who expressed grave concerns about how the case could progress with a defendant who had been dead for 70 years two weeks before the hearing was scheduled to start.
Burgess summoned Shealy, a specialist in criminal process, rather than giving up. Shealy suggested an unusual remedy: the court could modify its initial ruling if a fundamental error has now been discovered. This obscure 600-year-old English common law writ is known as coram nobis.
The writ, sometimes referred to as the legal equivalent of a “Hail Mary pass,” is only utilized when no other option is available and frequently under the most unusual circumstances. Shealy, however, had prior expertise opposing coram nobis petitions when studying inmate appeals at the state Attorney General’s Office decades ago. It was also their only practical choice.
The attorneys changed their previous plan of action to follow Shealy’s lead and got ready for the unique hearing.
To do what they had failed to do seventy years before, George Stinney’s sisters made the trip from their homes in the northeast to the Sumter County Judicial Center. Two courtrooms were crowded with more than 100 spectators and journalists.
The attorneys made no arguments during the hearing regarding whether George Stinney killed the two girls or considered the possibility of a different suspect. They were unable to establish those facts. Instead, they claimed that George’s fundamental right to due process had been violated.
The judge was informed by Burgess’ supervisor and the case’s main attorney, Steve McKenzie, that “We would call Amie Ruffner to the stand.”
She would finally have her say seventy years after her older brother died by himself in the electric chair.She stood up from her seat in the front row, went forward, trembling with all eyes on her, and put her hand on a Bible. She was a short woman with a deep voice.
“Let’s go back to what you remember about South Carolina in 1944,” McKenzie said.
She remarked bluntly, “Nothin’ good,” to a few chuckles.
McKenzie then took her back to the time in 1944 when she and George Stinney were out walking the family cow when they noticed two unknown white girls coming toward them while pushing bicycles. Since I had never seen them in the area before, Amie remarked, “It was strange to see them there.”
One asked, “Excuse us, could y’all tell us where to find some maypops?” in her memory.
Amie and her brother answered, “No,”.
The females moved away. George Stinney stayed by her side all evening and night, according to Amie, until he decided to join the search team. Now George had a defense.
The lawyers who had spent a lot of time on George’s case swiftly departed the court feeling assured that they had done everything possible for his siblings. They waited after that. then awaited.
Judge Mullen would wait almost a full year before making a decision in the unusual case.
On December 17, 2014, in the early morning, she issued her directive. Burgess became more agitated as the document’s 28 pages slowly left the antiquated printer at the Clarendon County Clerk of Court. Before the ink had a chance to dry, he received each.
Burgess hurried back to his office and dialed Amie’s number right away.
He choked up and added, “You’re not going to believe what I got.”
George Stinney is innocent
Attorney Matt Burgess held the judge’s order firmly in his hands while waiting for Amie Ruffner to answer the phone 600 miles away.
It had been almost a year since a group of attorneys had attempted in vain to have the conviction that had led to the death of Amie’s brother seven decades previously overturned in court. Burgess then pronounced the judgment of Judge Carmen Mullen:
We are occasionally compelled to take a step back in order to assess our recent past and, if feasible, right any wrongs.
She had overturned George Stinney Jr.’s murder conviction in 1944 due to grave procedural irregularities.
Mullen continued, “I can’t think of any greater injustice.”
Amie was sobbing while listening on the phone. They cleared George Stinney’s name, she shouted. They exonerated him!”
Although the court had overturned George’s conviction, she had also left open the considerably more complicated issue of whether he was guilty or innocent. In contemporary South Carolina, the unsolved murders of Mary Emma Thames and Betty June Binnicker resurfaced.
A white woman from West Columbia was overwhelmed by that question sixty miles away from Alcolu, along with a strong mixture of moral fury and personal shame.
Sonya Eaddy-Williamson’s mother had attended school with little Betty June, and she was related to the affluent families that had ruled Alcolu in 1944. The older woman often thought of her killed friend and the horror of the two little girls’ deaths whenever they passed the Clarendon County Courthouse in Manning.
Sonya prodded her mother, who continued the narrative.
When George Stinney was on trial, Sonya’s grandfather was present at the courthouse and saw the youngster that morning. He had seen George pull up in what he could only refer to as “a cage.” A irate throng had spit on the boy as he passed and police had brought him inside while wearing chains so heavy he could hardly move.
However, Sonya’s grandfather had repeatedly asserted: “I know that colored boy didn’t do it.”
Over the years, Sonya had been troubled by their statements. Her conscience was constantly pricked by the idea of such injustice done to a child and the knowledge that her grandfather had never spoken out against it. She questioned, “Why didn’t he do something?” “Why didn’t he speak up? ”
Her mother said, “Back then, things were different.
Sonya was pushed by her to let it go. In the past it was. They were friends and family that were involved. Why focus on their sins?
Sonya was unable to let it go. She had her own children and young grandchildren, and the idea that George Stinney had been railroaded gnawed at her heart relentlessly. To find out what her elderly relatives recalled about George and the 1944 Alcolu, she started to visit them.
Sonya learnt information from them that she didn’t want to know.
Her grandfather, who had been at the courts that day, and other members of her own family had been KKK members. Additionally, some of the Clarendon County officials who had dispensed racial vigilante retribution on the side were. Sonya envisioned the suffering George Stinney would have gone through while in their care.
She didn’t know exactly what had happened when the girls vanished because she had grown up outside of Alcolu. She drove there to investigate.
Sonya made her way along the street that Betty June and Mary Emma had traveled that day in quest of maypops, then slid down the railroad tracks where nothing but the ghost of the saw mill remained. The thick trees that surrounded the area where the girls’ bodies were discovered were being stirred by a spring breeze when she stopped in the woods behind Greenhill Missionary Baptist Church.
She wasn’t just sad for the lives lost as she stood there. She was likewise perplexed. George’s crime simply didn’t make sense in its previous iteration.
How could two white girls who were being murdered in broad sight by a young black child go unnoticed in this small, divided town? How could screams have gone unheard? And how did their bodies get up several hundred yards off the road, far from where George Stinney had spoken to them, with hardly any signs of blood or drag?
Sonya was not a timid person, and she was now moving forward with a fierce determination. She marched back toward the old mill’s streets and started to knock on doors, concentrating on residences with older black residents. Had anyone of color ever inquired about what they knew?
At first, some of the neighbors were wary while others were scared. Some people just choose not to poke at the historical wounds. Finally, she was welcomed in one home.
It’s hot, come in,” a woman urged.
An older man who appeared talkative seems to have been eight or nine years old when the girls vanished. Sonya openly questioned him, “Who really killed the girls?”
Everyone knew who did it, both white people and those of color, he claimed.
Not George Stinney either. He said that a wealthy white man in the town was the real murderer.
Long before Sonya started her search, journalists, scholars, lawyers, and amateur sleuths from all across the nation flocked in Alcolu in an attempt to piece together exactly what happened on March 24, 1944. Most failed because there weren’t many living witnesses to speak with and no tangible evidence to analyze.
But the investigation was still troubled by a different theory about who killed the girls. According to one story, the guilty party was a wealthy white man whose father had placed the responsibility on George Stinney rather than his son.
In 1988, when former New York Times journalist David Stout released “Carolina Skeletons,” a novel partially based on George’s case, this theory crept into the public eye through the backdoor of fiction. Later, it was turned into a made-for-TV film starring Louis Gossett Jr. as a Vietnam veteran returning to his hometown in search of evidence that his late brother, who had been murdered decades previously for the rape and murder of two white girls, was actually innocent the entire time.
Although it didn’t originate with the book, the claim that a powerful white man was responsible for the murders gained popularity because to it. Long-running rumors about the alleged true offender circulated throughout Alcolu’s close-knit black neighborhoods and down the halls of the large homes where black people had cooked, cleaned, and reared white children.
Delbert Singleton, the grandson of a former slave, grew up in Alcolu during a time when the neighborhood was terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan and the schools were divided. He had long heard the chilling tale being passed down from generation to generation at the Greenhill Missionary Baptist Church, where George and his family once attended. He is now the pastor of the church.
When I was growing up, there were two topics that were frequently discussed in the African American community. One of them was that Strom Thurmond actually did have a black daughter, despite many people angrily denying it for years. The second point was that the two young girls were not killed by George Stinney.
This story was shared with Sonya by black residents she interacted with, notably when she met George Frierson, an Alcolu native. He was a board member for Clarendon School District 3 and a self-taught historian who had already spent ten years looking into the case in an effort to exonerate George. He asserted that a well-known white man had admitted killing the girls as he lay dying.
Frierson added, “It was always whispered who did it,” but he would not identify the perpetrator.
Not that he had to, really. Everyone in the city was talking about this name.
Romeo McFadden, a black retired mill worker who was 85 years old, said, “They say some white man had killed him.” They claim that it was a Burke. The name was unknown to me.
“George Burke,” remarked Richard McBride, a different retiree from the black mill.”They intend to blame him. But we’re not certain.
Sonya set out to uncover every scrap of archive documentation that may be used to support George’s conviction. She might be able to identify the killer if she could show he wasn’t the one who killed the girls.Sonya had spent 25 years in sales at a phone firm, but she had no idea how to find old documents.
She initially called the neighborhood sheriff’s office to request old case evidence, but a man there informed her they had none to provide. She then called the state prison system, but their data had already been forwarded to the state archives in Columbia, South Carolina.
Sonya finally arrived there by car and found a historical treasure trove. obituary records. George-related images. His list of execution-day witnesses. jury packets for the coroner’s inquiry. Grand jury case files.
However, the excitement of finding them was replaced with a fresh terror. She recognized the names she saw. One of her relatives had been a member of the jury for the coroner’s inquiry. George Burke Sr., the jury’s foreman, had done the same. He had actually played a number of roles that contributed to George Stinney’s conviction.
Sonya grew to believe that there had been a cover-up and that her family had actively participated in it.
With the stale papers in her possession, she started looking for George’s old sisters. They had left Alcolu in 1944 out of fear of a lynch mob and never came back. Both Amie Ruffner, who was 8 years old at the time, and her sister were eager to assist.
Amie remembered that her mother had formerly performed domestic duties for a well-known white family in town, and that her father had once worked at the mill. Burke is their name. Her mother had informed their father one evening that George Burke Sr. had made sexual advances toward her.
Her father had warned her not to go back there.
Had the white guys been enraged by that rejection? Amie had heard throughout the years that the reason the Burke boys accused George of being guilty was “because my mother didn’t want to give it up.”
Sonya wasn’t taken aback. She was fully aware of the Jim Crow caste system’s dominance over black women and its treatment of them, and she recognized George Burke’s name from her studies.
In reality, there were two George Burkes living in Alcolu in 1944. The first was George Burke Sr., the owner of a lumber company who had participated in the grand jury and coroner’s inquiry into the death of George Stinney. On his farm, the girls’ bodies were discovered.
The other George Burke was his firstborn child, who passed away at the young age of 29 after suffering from uremia, a side effect of chronic renal illness, for a long time in the hospital. Three years after the killings, George Burke Jr. passed away, bringing an abrupt conclusion to a restless life.
The Burkes were labeled as womanizers by several local white residents as well. In Alcolu, 96-year-old Jessie McCabe, a white woman, said she was petrified of them and wouldn’t allow them near her. Jennie Weeks grew up hearing her father call George Burke Jr. a rascal, a young man who was prone to stealing things — and getting away with it. Her grandfather was the pastor of Alcolu’s white church in 1944.
Sonya questioned whether his father would have also assisted him in covering up a murder.
Amie also remembered something else. The two white females had gone away after stopping to inquire about maypops that day. A lumber truck then proceeded to travel along the road.
Sonya faced what she had secretly known all along. The answers to who killed Betty June and Mary Emma were hidden away in the predominantly white town of Alcolu, where her own family had long ties. She summoned her courage and contacted George Burke Jr.’s living son, who she believed to be the most likely source of the truth.
She informed Wayne Burke when he responded that, despite the fact that they weren’t really related, they were. She aimed to make him feel at ease. They talked about Alcolu’s past, which included the two girls who were killed there.
Wayne revealed that he was a young child in 1944 and that he still resided close to the old mill. He barely remembered his father, who had died when he was a youngster; he had been reared by his grandparents. Some people had told him that his father, who operated a truck and butchered hogs, had spent a year in the hospital before passing away due to a black woman’s curse she had placed on him for having driven a group of people to see George Stinney’s execution.
Sonya thought he might speak. She begged, “Tell me the truth of what happened.”
Wayne said that all of the information he had came from his grandma. They had dropped by his grandparents’ house on the day the girls vanished to invite Mary Emma on their maypop adventure; it was right across the street from Betty June’s house. But she couldn’t leave Wayne unattended while he was napping.
His father had just arrived in a logging truck at that point. George Burke Jr. was going to unload some lumber at the mill’s log pond, which was located across the street from Greenhill Baptist Church.
He volunteered to drive the girls. They jumped in after tossing their bike into the back.
Neither girl was ever again seen alive.
“Did he drop them off to go pick flowers?” Sonya enquired.
I’ve been led to believe that, after all.
Sonya was taken aback. The parts of the puzzle would fit much better if a large white man driving a truck had killed the girls than if it had been a young black boy walking.
But what could she possibly do with this knowledge? Later, Sonya would describe the incident in an affidavit. But even after 70 years, it wasn’t enough to sue a dead man. In any case, some residents of Alcolu didn’t think it was true.
A Post and Courier writer visited Wayne Burke’s ramshackle, one-story house in the Alcolu woods at the end of 2017. Wayne, who is getting up to 80 years old, claimed he remembered speaking with Sonya but refuted claims that his father had given the girls a ride.
Wayne firmly stated, “No, he didn’t take the females out. He described the allegations of his father’s involvement as “just talk.”
Wayne’s wife continued, “Anything we might say is just hearsay; it’s been so long ago.”
In addition, nobody ever came forward to report that they saw the girls riding with George Burke Jr. before they died. Wayne, as well as the loved ones of the two murdered girls, continued to be adamant about George Stinney’s guilt.
The niece of Betty June, Frankie Bailey Dyches, is adamant that the push to exonerate George was driven entirely by financial considerations. Nothing can undo history, according to Mary Emma’s cousin Terri Evans, but the recent media attention still paints her family as racists. They would prefer that folks just go on.
The sister of George Burke Jr. is married to Robert Lewis Alderman, the 80-year-old great-grandson of Alcolu’s founding father. Even though he was only 6 years old when the girls were killed, he understood the significant impact the incident had on the neighborhood.
Alderman has heard rumors that someone else was responsible for the deaths of the two girls, but he recoils at the idea of a trial by rumors in the absence of concrete evidence. He views the loss of all three children as a tragedy for Alcolu as a whole, but one that should be put behind them.
We faced a crisis and overcome its adverse effects by carrying on as a community that got along very well, lived our lives, and grew together as a result, he said. “There was no racial conflict that occurred.”
Sonya grew close to George’s two sisters as a result of the criticism she received, even from her own family members who urged her to drop the lawsuit. Despite her belief that it should be the other way around, she respected their intelligence and was grateful that they would provide her comfort.
She was advised by Amie to stop being upset with her grandfather for not standing up for George. “What you don’t understand is that during that time, if your grandfather had spoken up, it would have been his neck and his family,” she added.
It was simply the way things were.
For the first time since 1944, Katherine Robinson, George’s sister, visited Alcolu on the 70th anniversary of her brother’s passing. Amie declined to accompany them because their brother Charles’ health was failing. Since their small house was demolished, the Company Store with its 200-seat auditorium sat shuttered, and the enormous mill that once powered Alcolu has vanished into history, the older woman quietly observed the landscape as Sonya quietly drove Katherine through the streets of Alcolu.
The last thing Katherine said was, “This doesn’t look anything like it did.”
Several men gathered along a four-lane highway that runs through Alcolu just before a court overturned George Stinney Jr.’s murder conviction. Their objective was to erect a tombstone memorializing George in a black man’s front yard.
The yard belonged to Jerome Dupree, whose obsession with upholding George’s memory was inspired by tales he frequently heard from his ailing aunt. She was positive that the 14-year-old did not kill the two white girls since she had a sister who had a white father. Burke, a grown man, admitted to the killings while lying on his deathbed. So she had claimed.
She mostly lamented the lack of thorough investigation into the situation.
Given that she was moving in white circles, Dupree assumed that his aunt’s sister might have heard the confession. He couldn’t go back and get her to elaborate, though. She had since died away, taking with her the answers that were essential to solving the murders of Betty June Binnicker and Mary Emma Thames, like so many others who were old enough to recall the 1940s.
But the idea of a black child being railroaded to defend a white guy stuck in Dupree’s conscience. After further evidence revealed that George’s trial was a fraud, it assumed a new sense of urgency.
Dupree labored to design the memorial gravestone for George and to draw attention to the injustice that was done to him with an organization called A New Day. To preserve the child’s sanctity from vandals and racists, the grave was left unmarked, but Dupree wouldn’t allow him to continue to be painted as the antagonist in Alcolu’s past.
However, not even the small Pinewood church in the remote area where George is buried was ready to host the memorial. His family wished to maintain his grave’s secrecy.
The churches rejected us, Dupree claimed. “I suppose they had some fear. The churches were hesitant to accept it since elderly people were accustomed to being threatened by the KKK and other groups.
He wasn’t sure how Alcolu would react to the memorial. Three white males in a car passed by as the gang was installing it while standing on the front edge of his land. They took a closer look at the polished granite marker. They turned around and parked close by after that.
The guys, who were all in their middle ages, gathered as Sumter Highway, which had replaced the railroad lines as the community’s main dividing line, sped by. They were standing and concentrating on the marker’s inscription, which read: “Wrongfully convicted, illegally executed by South Carolina.”
One of them paused before exclaiming, “This is beautiful.”
On a dusty road between Dupree’s house and where the lumber mill had rumbled, two years after the group dedicated the memorial, new allegations of bigotry surfaced when a local white lad lit a 6-year-old black youngster on fire.
The relatives of the white boy said it was an accident. The relatives of the black child described it as a racist assault.
It had an unsettling familiarity. Despite obvious advances, racially motivated incidents like this one continued to impede Alcolu’s development as they did across the South.
Dupree noticed that “white and black people looked at each other differently.” “It brought back a lot of memories,” The white boy was accused of first-degree assault and battery, but it was 2016, not 1944.
However, many of the civil rights activists who scaled the courtroom steps in Clarendon County to protest the burning of the kid believed that the local authorities hadn’t gone far enough to acknowledge or atone for the region’s racist past.
That past was protracted and intricate. Briggs v. Elliott, an unfair busing lawsuit that was eventually aggregated with other cases into Brown v. Board of Education, which abolished the “separate but equal” theory for the entire country, was born in the little community of Summerton just a few years after George Stinney’s execution.
Even today, a monument honoring Confederate troops stood over the assembled demonstrators.They were standing outside the courthouse where George had been executed following a brief trial by an all-white jury seven decades before. Yet, the courthouse also was where, two decades earlier, a predominantly black jury had given Macedonia Baptist Church a startling $37.8 million verdict against KKK leaders whose speech had incited many Klansmen to burn down the venerable place of worship.
It was much more than what the church’s lawyers had requested.
With their tranquil tiny towns, rural counties like Clarendon often seem lost in the past. However, that viewpoint is only a surface level one, as Alcolu itself, where much has altered, shows.
After a kerosene fire destroyed the mansion of the lumber company’s founding family, the Aldermans’ rule over the neighborhood came to an end in 1947. After thereafter, the mill changed hands twice until closing in 2000, bringing an end to the period in Alcolu’s history when it served as the region’s major sawmill.
Since then, the population has decreased to less than 500 individuals, almost evenly distributed by race, with a third of them living in poverty. The few mill homes that are still intact, the majority of which are vacant and submerged in weeds, are reminders of their former existence. Interstate 95 cuts directly along the rural village now. The city of Manning, which has 4,000 residents and a Walmart, is five miles away and offers what the formerly independent Alcolu can no longer.
Janice Richburg, an Alcolu native whose grandpa formerly ran its other store—the one that wasn’t the Company Store—and who, maybe more than anybody, treasures its memories, is concerned by this. She particularly cherishes the community’s biennial reunion, which is held to bring back people who have emigrated and unite those who remain, in her capacity as president of the Alcolu Preservation Society.
When it happened last October, Richburg addressed the crowd from the pulpit of the “white church” in the community, Clarendon Baptist Church, outlining the society’s efforts to preserve an old mill house. The little emerald-green structure, which had been abandoned for 50 years, is still standing today as a time capsule filled with relics from the glory days of the community. The walls are covered with sepia images of inhabitants who are black and white. A coal poker, a rusted railroad spike, and a kerosene light are displayed in a corner that is specifically for the Alcolu Railroad Company.
No, not on the walls. everything that discusses the three deceased children, including pictures and newspaper articles. Richburg said, “Mainly, we want to remember the good that happened in Alcolu.
White and black faces did indeed fill every pew at the reunion when Richburg asked everyone to share their favorite recollections.
Who has tales to tell? I wish to hear them.
First to offer was a black Army veteran in his 50s named Clyde Green.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I cherish Alcolu. Until the mill shut down, my dad was employed there. Alcolu has therefore been wonderful to us.
Then, one by one, a number of elderly white people reminisced about their wonderful life there, making sure to emphasize the Aldermans, the town’s founding family, who were known for their kindness. They talked about Ben Alderman leading Boy Scout camping excursions and Jennie Alderman running Vacation Bible School. The Aldermans provided each family a sack of fruit, the kids modest presents, and Christmas trees to those who couldn’t afford them every year.
Pauline Blackwell, a 91-year-old black woman seated in front, finally spoke after some time. She was an Alderman employee as well, but she also wanted to talk about certain African Americans.
The oldest woman at Greenhill Missionary Baptist, Blackwell, remarked, “Just let me recognize someone in our area.” One of its former pastors, the Rev. Hedrick Galloway, was mentioned. If Rev. Galloway and all of others hadn’t come here and organized, “there wouldn’t have been anything there for us as Black people.”
The audience agreed by nodding. They then carried on, reminiscing about the good times they had running along the train lines and buying candy at the company store. George Stinney Jr. wasn’t addressed at all. But if he had survived, he might have told them stories.
It was October 21, 2017, which was also his 88th birthday.
Richburg made a point of reaching out to black citizens in order to preserve their memories as well, despite the preservation group being primarily composed of white people. In this way, the shared dread of losing Old Alcolu has aided in bringing together black and white people.
“I don’t want anyone to be left out. I want them to believe that this is also their Alcolu. It is, she added.
Her search for acceptance brought her in contact with Pauline Blackwell, and their friendship demonstrated what Alcolu’s future might hold.
Blackwell, who was born in 1926, tended to Ben Alderman’s sons while picking cotton. Even throughout the Great Depression, the Company met their needs, and they were appreciative of it. She attended a church and a school exclusively for black students, yet she never felt left out. Her family and others didn’t give it any thought. They understood their position.
It was simply the way things were.
Late in winter, as her legs ached from the damp weather, she thought with a certain sadness about that vision of segregation from the comfort of her living room. It nearly feels like being in the dark. See, you’ve been in the dark for so long that everything seems dark. You notice things differently as the light comes in. You can obviously see everything.
Blackwell, who was looking out the living room window, talked about the white friends she now had, including Richburg from the preservation society, who was rushing to her front door as she spoke.
“Janice!” She gave a pleasant smile.
Richburg was invited inside from the wet outdoors to join her in the living room, which was paneled with wood from the previous mill. Richburg joined her in the rocking chair, and they soon started exchanging old Alcolu tales while reaching out to touch each other lightly on the arm.
Richburg likewise spent his formative years in segregated Alcolu, although being a generation or two younger. She recalled Bertha, the black housekeeper who served her family. The black woman sat in the rear when Bertha’s grandmother picked her up. Prior to later, Richburg didn’t give it any thought. We’ve gone a long way, but we still have a ways to go.