Date of Award

Spring 1996

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Michael E. Hucles

Committee Member

Carolyn J. Lawes

Committee Member

James R. Sweeney

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.H47 P5734


In January, 1949 seven black youths were arrested and charged with brutally beating and raping a white woman in Martinsville, Virginia. The judicial process lasted over two years and gained national and international attention. The defendants were ultimately found guilty and sentenced to death for their ruthless crime. The conviction came as no surprise. The evidence was overwhelming, but the verdict created controversy. Some claimed the youths were victims of Jim Crowism while others believed the punishment was just.

This study explores the events of the case and determines why Martinsville was unique given patterns of racial unrest throughout the South during the late 1940s. Primary sources include police reports, interviews with residents who have first-hand knowledge of the trial, the court record, and newspaper accounts from the Martinsville Bulletin, the Journal and Guide (Norfolk), and other newspapers.


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