June 16, 2014
Passiflora incarnate, better known as Maypop, is a commonly known wildflower in the mill town Alcolu, located in South Carolina. It’s a very beautiful flower. Yet it has its medicinal uses, such as treating nervous anxiety and insomnia. But, here the main interest of the flower is its natural beauty. In a small town one dies for a little aesthetic attention of a flower growing wild in its area. On March 23, 1944, Betty June Binnicker, age 11 and her best friend, Mary Emma Thames, age 8 went off looking for the Maypop flower on their bikes. As they passed the property of the Stinney family, they asked young George Stinney and his sister Katherine if they knew where to search for Maypops. History doesn’t know what the answer was to their question, but nevertheless the two little girls disappeared, and were found the next morning in a ditch filled with muddy water. Both were dead, and both had suffered severe head wounds.
The young African-American teenager, George, that the two little girls asked about the flowers before their death, was arrested on suspicion of murdering the two girls. The only thing connecting the 14-year old boy to the murder, was that he talked to the girls, and due to that fact, if even that is true, is the testimony of three police officers. Who it seems, testified at the adolescent boy’s trial that lasted for barely two hours.
With respect to young George’s immediate arrest, his parents were given the choice of leaving the town, or getting lynched. George’s family was forced to flee, leaving their young son with no support during his trial, and of course, his execution. No physical evidence was brought up in the trial, and the police officers as well as the jury were all white, which of course was perfectly normal for a segregated community. The entire trial, including selecting the jury, took one day. George’s court-appointed defense counsel was a tax commissioner, who at the time, was campaigning for election to a political office in that town. The only other people who testified at the trial besides the three police officers were the man who discovered the two bodies in the muddy ditch and the two doctors who performed the post mortem examination. The police claimed that George confessed to the crime, but he claimed that wasn’t true, and there was nothing on paper or a signed confession presented to the court. The lawyer for George, did not contest or questioned any of the witnesses in the case. The entire trial from start to finish took 2 and a half hours. The jury spent ten minutes to deliberate, which they returned with a guilty verdict.
George Stinney’s execution took place on June 16, 1944, in Columbia, South Carolina. Ironically, Columbia is known by its citizens as “The City of Dreams.” George at the age of 14, was led into the execution chamber with a Bible under his arm. Due to his size, they had to use that Bible as a booster seat on the electric chair. Since at the time of his death, he was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 90 pounds. Technically his size was too small for the electric chair, so the authorities had some difficulty in strapping him to the chair. Also difficulty in fitting the face-mask as well. The mask kept falling off his face, revealing his wide-open eyes and saliva coming from his opened mouth. It took two jolts of electricity before the boy died. From the time of the actual murders to George’s execution was exactly 81 days. So in other words, just under two and a half months.
Interestingly enough a pastor from the area named Mr. W. Wallace Fridy wrote a letter on the behalf of George, and the then Governor of South Carolina, Olin D. Johston wrote back to the pastor claiming that George raped the dead older girl, which there were no evidence of sexual play whatsoever. In other words, the letter was a complete lie. What interests me is the way the whole system worked together to kill George Stinney. Hand-in-hand they all went and marched the poor young teenager to his death. I have a grainy newspaper photograph showing Stinney and another prisoner entering the death house in the state prison. Both were executed on that day.
I spent yesterday reading a biography on Bertolt Brecht and watching the 1931 film version of “The Threepenny Opera.” The film and musical exposes how a system works, and how each member of society plays the role that will make the machinery go into motion. Brecht saw the world as being controlled by police, gangsters and thugs, and in turn, when there is a need, both groups will work together for their “common” good. One has to think why did this young boy had to die, and be treated in such a manner by the entire town, the whole district and eventually the state of South Carolina. Clearly this was a trial that had no claims to the truth, because there was no evidence that George killed those unfortunate girls. But as a culture, or a system, it was needed to have George killed in that electric chair. Even using his Bible, as a prop to lift his body to the electrical wires. Time has passed, but nothing has changed. A system in place is a system that needs to be questioned.