James Hanover Thompson, who as a child was wrongly accused of raping a White girl in 1958, recalls the details of North Carolina's "Kissing Case."
Editor's Note: With this online package and several pieces you may have noticed in recent issues of our magazine, ESSENCE is marking the 50th anniversary of 1963, a watershed year in the civil rights movement. As we reflect on that era and its lessons, ESSENCE.com is partnering with StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to record and preserve the personal histories of diverse Americans — including those Black Americans who were witness to the times and to our struggle for equality. Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing snippets of these touching, inspiring, sometimes infuriating stories from StoryCorps' archives.
North Carolina's "Kissing Case" made headlines in 1958, but in the intervening years many have forgotten it. Not James Hanover Thompson.
As a 9-year-old boy, Thompson and his friend David Simpson, playing with friends in a White neighborhood, each received an innocent peck on the cheek from a White female playmate. "We didn't hardly know what a kiss was," he recalls. Soon after, police arrived at the boys' homes, arresting them and accusing them of rape. At the station, the boys were brutally beaten, constantly threatened and kept from their parents.
In the first audio clip below, recorded by StoryCorps in Wilmington, N.C., Thompson shares with his younger brother Dwight the chilling story of his arrest. In the second clip, Thompson's sister Brenda Lee Graham remembers the effect the trauma had on their family.
James Hanover Thompson on StoryCorps:
Brenda Lee Graham on StoryCorps: