Rosa Lee Coates (1965, Hattiesburg, Mississippi)
On the 13th July 1965, a white man named Norman Cannon offered an African-American fifteen-year-old girl named Rosa Lee Coates a job babysitting. Upon accepting the position, Norman drove Rosa to the woods nearby and, at knife-point, raped her. He then drove away and left her stranded in the woods. Fortunately, a man found Rosa wandering along Highway 49 and instantly drove her to hospital. Here, Rosa informed the police and her grandmother what happened. Rosa picked Bannon out of a line-up and the police notified the district attorney, James Finch, about the crime.
After debating the ramifications of prosecuting Norman Cannon, city officials decided to file charges against him. Four days after the attack, on the 17th of July, the Forrest County grand jury indicted Norman Cannon and sent him to the county jail to await trial. He pled innocent on November 9th and claimed though he had sex with the girl, he did not use any force and that he should not be prosecuted because he just wanted to have an interracial sexual experience.
After Rosa gave her version of events, a jury sentenced Norman Canon to life in prison. Again, however, the jury recommended mercy. They believed because he did not inflict brutality, his life should be spared. Though some were angered by the lack of a death sentence, it was the first time in Mississippi since reconstruction, a state particularly renowned for its anti-black sentiment, that a jury sentenced a white man to life in prison for raping a black female.
His sentence, however, as highlighted by Professor Danielle McGuire, should not be seen as the most important aspect of this trial. Rather, his guilty conviction shows how decades of black women’s testimony of rape and sexual assault, combined with the years of campaigning to protect black women from sexual attack, finally yielded results.