Almost 75 years ago in a Jim Crow-dominated South Carolina, the youngest person to ever be given the death sentence in America was convicted of murder in only 10 minutes.
It is March 1944 in Alcolu, South Carolina. The bodies of two young white girls were discovered at a nearby railroad. The girls had been beaten to death with a railroad spike and thrown into a ditch as if they were animals. It was an awful crime, especially considering these two girls were only 11 and 7 years old. Justice was necessary. Yet, their deaths were just a catalyst for one of South Carolina’s darkest moments. The two girls were white and George Stinney Jr. was a 14 year old black kid.
With rumors saying that George and his sister, Amie, had been the last ones to see the girls alive, racism took hold. What should have been a case of murder to be investigated carefully became yet another tool for an oppressor to demonize a group that did not look exactly like them. “[The police] were looking for someone to blame it on, so they used my brother as a scapegoat,” his sister Amie Ruffner told WLTX-TV. The girls received no justice. Injustice just bred more injustice.
The police came for him when his parents weren’t currently home. They took in him and his older brother while their sister, Amie, hid in the shed out back. Police at the time alleged that George had confessed to the double murder then. However, there is no written record available confirming this. There is also no official transcripts or any other documentation on his short trial. The trial lasted a single day and by the end of it, 14 year old George Stinney Jr. had received the death sentence.
There may be no official transcript of the trial but there is still information on it. We know that he was convicted by an all-white jury, since blacks were not allowed to serve as jurors. The courtroom during the proceedings was packed with 1,000 white people, since blacks were not allowed in this courtroom unless they are on trial or a witness.
The current Democratic governor of South Carolina at the time had received many pleads from Stinney’s church-members, family, and the NAACP to clear the young boy of charges due to his age. What response did they receive from Governor Olin D. Johnston? A statement from the governor reading: “It may be interesting for you to know that Stinney killed the smaller girl to rape the larger one. Then he killed the larger girl and raped her dead body. Twenty minutes later he returned and attempted to rape her again, but her body was too cold. All of this he admitted himself.”
None of this was supported by any documentation. As far as anyone knows, Johnston made these new allegations up as a way to make Stinney seem like even more of a predatory animal than he was already viewed as.
On June 16, 1944, George J. Stinney Jr. was executed by electric chair at the Central Correctional Institution in Columbia at 7:30 p.m. Stinney was a mere 90 pounds, standing at only a little over 5 feet. Stinney was too small for the electric chair, so he had to sit on a Holy Bible in order to fit properly in the adult-sized death trap. The electrode mask, too large for his face, slipped off as the first 2,400-volt surge was sent through his body.
It took only 10 minutes for the jury to make their sentence. It took only 83 days for his to be executed. It took only 4 minutes of an electric chair designed for an adult to take George Stinney’s life.
Thanks to Northeastern University School of Law, it only took 70 years for Stinney’s conviction to be overturned.
This is a disgusting display of where we once were as a country. This shows how hatred infected our state, and the south as a whole. I am so glad that we have moved forward so much. We have schools where we sit besides students of all creeds. We use the same water fountains and bathrooms and other facilities. We are united, even though controversy and mainstream media may attempt to make it look otherwise.
The overturn of the decision may not save George Stinney Jr. but it shows us one important thing:
Hate will always rear its ugly head, but it no longer has control.