James Thompson and David Simpson: The Kissing Case (1958, Monroe, North Carolina)
In 1958, Monroe, North Carolina, two young African-American boys were charged with rape. What was their crime? Kissing a white girl of a similar age on the cheek. The young girl, Sissy Marcus, told her mother she kissed nine-year-old James Thompson and seven-year-old David Simpson on the cheek. Her mother became furious and phoned the police explaining how the boys raped her daughter.
Local officials unlawfully detained the two young boys for a week. They refused to allow their parents visitations and refused to allow legal counsel. In an attempt to extract a confession, the police beat both the boys and threatened them with further injury. After spending three months in jail, Juvenile Judge Hampton Price charged and convicted the boys of molestation. Both boys were sentenced to reform school, ideally until the age of twenty-one.
The wider context of this case helps explain, though not justify, the severity of their sentencing. With the end of World War Two, many black men served the United States during the War and resented the idea they would then return home and submit to being a second-class citizen. Owing to the complexity of the contemporary period, no judge in North Carolina would overrule Price for fear of generating further unrest during this volatile time. Members of the local Ku Klux Klan burned crosses into the lawns of the boys’ family houses, and some even shot at the house. The boys’ mothers were fired from their jobs, and the NAACP had to relocate them to nearby towns to help ensure their safety.
After a photograph of the boys with bruising appeared showing them reuniting with their mother, an international outcry ensued. Demonstrations then occurred all of the US, but also against the US in cities including Rome, Paris, Rotterdam, and Vienna. The US government suffered international embarrassment. Furthermore, in February 1959, North Carolina officials requested that the boys’ mothers sign a waiver to release their children. Signing, however, admitted the boys were guilty of the charges. Consequently, both refused. Two days later though, after three months in detention, the governor pardoned both boys without conditions or explanation. To this day, neither the city or the state have apologized to the boys for their treatment.