*** About the Book ***
Mississippi, 1945: Willamette Hawkins, a white woman, accuses Willie McGee, a black man, of breaking into her home and raping her. The public is enraged and demands the death penalty for McGee. McGee, traumatized by his treatment in jail, doesn’t speak a word at his first trial. During the course of the next 10 years, the case is appealed again and again. Eventually McGee tells his lawyers that he and Hawkins had a long-term affair and that when he tried to end it, she accused him of rape. Hawkins denies this and sues the newspaper for slander for reporting it. In the end, nothing can stop the courts from sending McGee to the electric chair. But the story doesn’t end there.
Fifty years later the legacy of McGee’s trial continues to impact the next generation. Hawkins’s daughters stand by their mother’s claim of rape and seek to re-establish her reputation as an honorable woman. McGee’s children and grandchildren remain furious at the courts and the government for their treatment of McGee and for supporting a woman who claimed to be his wife but actually was not.
This is a true story.
*** Why I Read It ***
I’ve wanted to read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for quite some time and this book was described as being similar in content. Plus it was a true story – bonus! Thanks to Regal Literary for sending me a copy.
*** My Thoughts ***
This book is fascinating. It examines the racial politics of the pre-civil rights era American South and the anti-communist craze of the early Cold War era and shows how these forces came together to deprive Willie McGee of a fair trial. The author doesn’t try to prove whether McGee is guilty or not; too much time has passed and there are too many conflicting stories. Rather he details the political and social forces that led the trial to turn out the way it did.
The parts of the story that were most interesting to me were those involving the legacy of the case. The author tracked down the children and grandchildren of McGee and Hawkins and showed how the trial continues to impact the present generation. The families’ differing reactions to the facts he uncovers and to the trial in general really made me think.
I started reading this book on the train to BEA at the end of May and I just finished it during my vacation at the end of June. Reading non-fiction takes more concentration for me than does reading fiction, so there were several times when I had to put the book aside for a few days. Every time I picked it back up I was excited to get back into the story though. It is not particularly long but it is very detailed and I really enjoyed learning about this time and place.
*** Your Thoughts ***
I haven’t seen any other reviews of this book yet – did I miss yours? Let me know and I’ll add it here
Does this book sound like one you’d enjoy? If you’ve read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, do you see any similarities between the two books?