Rosa Lee Ingram (1947, Georgia)
Rose Lee Ingram, a mother of twelve, became the center of one of the most controversial capital punishment cases seen in US History. In November 1947, a white sixty-four-year-old sharecropper named John Ed Stratford confronted Rosa. He shared the adjoining land with her and accused her of letting her livestock roam freely on his land. After she reminded him that the land and livestock were owned by the landlord, he hit her with his gun and her sons ran to her defense. John Stratford died from multiple blows to the head. Rosa and her four sons were then arrested.
While it first appeared conformation occurred over the livestock, later accounts suggest that Stratford repeatedly sexually harassed Rosa, and she objected to his advances. This tension then sparked the fight that resulted in his death. Consequently, Rosa’s defense team argued that her sons acted in self-defense, protecting their mother.
The trial, held in Ellaville, Georgia, only lasted one-day. Though two of her sons overall were released, an all-white jury sentenced Rosa and her other two sons to death by electric chair. The execution date? Less than three weeks after the trial took place. Resultantly, the country erupted in protest owing to the hastiness of sentencing and the secrecy surrounding the decisions made. Thankfully, as a response to these protests, their sentences were commuted to life in 1948.
A second wave of protests occurred after the Georgia Supreme Court upheld their life sentences. Civil Rights groups felt extenuating circumstances should have been taken into account – such as the fact Mr. Stratford had sexually assaulted Rosa. However, this was to little avail. In 1955 the Ingram’s were refused parole once more, and no reason was given. In 1959, Rosa and her sons were finally granted parole and Rosa lived in Atlanta until her death in 1980.
Again, this case became important to civil rights activists. Rosa Lee Ingram helped to highlight the specific forms of oppression poor black women faced. The case also contributed to the wider discussion of white men’s sexual violence against black women and what happened if they rejected their advances. Finally, the case also demonstrated the lack of protection for black motherhood. Black progressive women became the leaders of the campaign to free the Ingram’s, once more pushing the agenda of black women’s rights to the forefront of global discussion.