The Eyes of Willie McGee : A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South
Harper, May 10 2011, $15.95
In 1945 black man Willie McGee is sentenced to death for raping Willette Hawkins a white woman in Mississippi. Six years later even with noted celebrities like Faulkner and Einstein and the Communist Party speaking in defense of “Free Willie McGee”, the state executed him. Alex Heard provides a deep look at the case and the Jim Crow environment that made the outcome inevitable. First Mr. Heard makes a case that both sides in the debate played at best loose with the truth and most likely fabricated it. The prosecution appears to have forced a confession, used the racist card to sell their side and forced the defense attorneys to flee to avoid a lynching. On the other hand Mr. Heard also believes that McGee’s contention of an affair is doubtful and a woman was hired probably by the Communist Party to act as his wife. Using FBI records, newspapers and interviews of family members, Mr. Heard paints a powerful look at Jim Crow as regardless of the evidence, Willie McGee would have been executed. Finally with photos including from the picnic atmosphere of the execution and references To Kill a Mockingbird, this is a deep look back at a nasty period in our history.