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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 5. May 24, 1951

Human Rights in America

Human Rights in America

The "Evening post" of February printed a small item, to this effect. "Racial feeling is running high in Virginia in connection with the execution in Richmond of seven Negroes for raping a White woman two years ago. Four of the men were electrocuted on Friday and the other three today. No white man has been executed for rape in Virginia since 1998, but in the same time 49 negroes have died in the electric chair for rape. The seven negroes did not claim that they were innocent. Their lawyer based all their appeal efforts on the racial discrimination angle. The two year court struggle to save the negroes continued until a few hours before their execution."

Six of the negroes were aged about twenty and the seventh was married, the father of five children. A "confession" was extorted from the accused by third degree methods and the case was heard by jury in which there was not one single Negro. The case which became known as the "Martinsville Seven" was publicised throughout the world by the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the American Civil Rights Committee, and so successful did the campaign become that they were reprieved in July of last year. In that month alone thirty-five thousand messages of protest were received by Governor John Battle. They were again sentenced to death and were to be executed on the 17th and 20th of November. Their appeal to the Supreme Court and the gigantic world youth protest again stayed their execution but finally the "great American way of life" prevailed and these young men were done to death.

In the last hundred years roughly five thousand Negroes have been lynched on the traditional excuse of rape but now it seems the bad old days are over. No more will the cruel crude method of soaking a "goon" in gasoline and making him a human torch be employed, its far tidier to roast him on an electric chair and besides electricity is cheaper than "gas."

Who does not remember the great Harry Truman spiel about civil liberties and how he would extend them particularly in respect to the underprivileged Negroes in the South? The Southern "Dixiecrats" were so annoyed about this that they seceded from the Democratic Party. Harry Truman won the Presidential election, but that was two years ago and I suppose that no one takes political speeches seriously, in America, any more than they do in Oo-te-aroa; anyway the important thing is that the seven are dead and rotting la their graves.

Last year, I went up to the little Theatre and saw the Drama Club put on a performance of the Sartre play "The Respectful Prostitute" which told very well how negroes are hunted down and killed by the mob for raping a white woman. I liked the play and its production very much and along with the rest of the audience and the cast experienced a moral indignation which was almost pleasurable. However I certainly did nothing to translate an inner emotion into positive action and I suppose that the rest of the audience and the cast did not do so either. I do not doubt that if those young Negroes were being executed in Wellington and not in Richmond, Virginia, every single member of the Students' Association, fresher and graduate, male and female would pull the walls of the goal down with their bare hands to prevent foul sanctimonious murder like this from being committed. You will say, I suppose, that certainly this is a terrible thing but the seven are dead and the Victoria Students' Association cannot resurrect them. That is only too true but what are we ding about Will Magee, a young Negroe of twenty four, framed on similar charges? What are we doing about the other twenty four year old, Paul Washington who is due shortly to be bundled out of this world by an electric chair, if American justice has Its way. Twenty eight others are also threatened. I suggest that our Student Executive investigate these matters and if they find that these arocities are to be precised in, then add our voice to the world protest. Let us join with the teaching staff of the college if they will, in doing something positive to ban judicial murder. We can surely raise the matter with our representative at U.N.O. We can support world bodies which are doing something.

We must act now.