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The Politics of Richard WrightPerspectives on Resistance$
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Jane Anna Gordon and Cyrus Ernesto Zirakzadeh

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813175164

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813175164.001.0001

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Behind the McGee Case

Behind the McGee Case

(p.155) 9 Behind the McGee Case
The Politics of Richard Wright

Richard Wright

University Press of Kentucky

Originally written for French audiences in 1951, Richard Wright seeks to address the question of how Willie McGee could be executed in Mississippi when doing so was clearly considered unjust in the world of democratic opinion. Wright settles the question of McGee’s innocence in a sentence and so turns to the plantation economy of Mississippi in an effort to contextualize the events. The most backward of US states in educational, cultural, and social terms, nothing had transpired economically since the Civil War to relieve whites’ complete domination of blacks, even though blacks vastly outnumbered whites in terms of population. This meant that whites had to hold state power through ongoing racial violence, terror, and repression. Still, after World War II, brutal lawlessness on the part of the United States became an international liability requiring that a move be made from extralegal to legal lynching. While white Mississippians had not anticipated that McGee’s execution would have negative global consequences, their barbarous standing in the eyes of the world was less significant to them than local pressures to defend white power over blacks. This did not mean that international agitation was without effect: it would force white Americans to think hard before staging another legal lynching and about the price of their continued race prejudice.

Keywords:   Richard Wright, Willie McGee, legal lynching, Mississippi, racial terror, international agitation

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