South Carolina

Activist invokes black SC teen’s execution during congressional hearing on reparations

A writer and activist referenced the 1944 execution of a black South Carolina teenager and the brutal beating of a black combat veteran in Lexington County two years later while addressing a congressional panel Wednesday on slavery reparations.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer and journalist who has written for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post and TIME, testified Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which will consider legislation to create a commission that studies the impact and consequences of slavery to make recommendations for reparations, according to CNN.

Coates directed some of his remarks at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said Tuesday that he doesn’t think reparations are a good idea.

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us living are responsible, is a good idea,” McConnell said, according to The Associated Press. He went on to say that the United States “deal[t] with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation” and electing Barack Obama, the first African American president.

“We grant that Mr. McConnell was not alive for Appomattox,” Coates said, referring to the Battle of the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, one of the last battles in the Civil War, The Hill reported. “But he was alive for the electrocution of George Stinney. He was alive for the blinding of Isaac Woodard. He was alive to witness kleptocracy in his native Alabama in a regime premised on electoral theft.”

Stinney was executed by electric chair in 1944 just weeks after being convicted in the murders of two white girls in Clarendon County.

After a three-hour trial that included little evidence and no defense put up by Stinney’s white court-appointed attorney, the all-white jury deliberated less than 10 minutes before finding him guilty. He was executed two months later, becoming the youngest person legally in the U.S. in the 20th century. A state judge vacated Stinney’s conviction in 2014, citing errors made and violations of Stinney’s constitutional rights during his trial.

Sunday was the 75th anniversary of his execution.

Isaac Woodard was an African American combat veteran who was brutally beaten in Batesburg-Leesville by the town’s police chief in 1946. The beating left Woodard blind in both eyes.

A plaque memorializing the event was unveiled in February.

Teddy Kulmala covers breaking news for The State and covered crime and courts for seven years in Columbia, Rock Hill, Aiken and Lumberton, N.C. He graduated from Clemson University and grew up in Barnwell County.