The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South by Alex Heard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Convicted of the rape of a white woman in Mississippi, Willie McGee was executed in 1951, and the mysteries surrounding his case live on in this provocative tale about justice in the deep South.
The first time I heard the name Willie McGee was in a song by the Flobots about Anne Braden. Anne Braden is mentioned twice in this book, but the book is mainly about Willie McGee and then next Willette Hawkins, the woman he is accused of raping and then the politics of the day, in Mississippi in the late 1940s. It starts in November 2, 1945 with the assault on Willette and ends on May 8, 1951, with the execution of Willie McGee. Of course that is not really the end, since there was great controversy raised about this case that continues today. His execution is referred to as ‘legalized lynching’ by some, and justice by others.
This case raises several questions, among them: Was Mrs. Hawkins really raped? Did Mr. McGee do it? Did he get a fair trial? Did the politics of the people trying to save his life actually hurt his case?
Alex Heard considers these questions and more, he researched the case extensively, including interviews with any survivors he could find, including the children of Willie McGee and Willette Hawkins. Besides considering this one specific case, we are also treated to a lesson in the politics of the day, the injustices suffered by black people in the south at that time. He ties in other lynchings from the time period and statistics and the prevailing ‘opinions’ of the time period.
In total a very informative, interesting, well researched, and I believe factual telling of this event. I recommend this book.