Review: The Eyes of Willie McGee

This is a book I found on audio at my local library. After Christmas, I like to read (or listen to) something about all the terrible ways in which people treat each other as a counter balance to the warm and fuzzy holiday season. I know; I’m weird. And, this seemed like it would fit the bill. This is a book written by a journalist about “what really happened” during the Willie McGee trial and the crime that precipitated the trial. I was interested in it because I had never heard of Willie McGee. He was an African-American man in the South who was accused and then convicted of raping a white woman and was then executed for the crime. His case is interesting because he had multiple trials because it had been shown more than once that he hadn’t gotten a fair trial. His case was also interesting because his defense and the subsequent re-trials were supported and paid for by members of the communist party, a fact that in the end probably didn’t help Willie McGee. The author interviews the children of both Willie McGee and the woman he was accused of raping and attempts to find a woman who claimed to be his wife during the various trials. He goes back to the source material and tries to piece things together.

Mostly what I learned from this book is that justice was miscarried a lot in the 20th century; many men went to their deaths having never received a fair trial. And, sensationalism in the media made villains of the accused and the accusing alike. (During the time of the trial there was a rumor the woman who accused Willie McGee of raping her had accused Mr. McGee of rape to hide an affair she was having with him. There appears to be no evidence to support this claim, but it was an idea that caught hold and muddied the waters surrounding the case.) Much like today, when everyone has an opinion on Travyon Martin, George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn and Jordan Davis and no one really knows what happened.

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