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March 20, 1948
Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

March 20, 1948

On March 20, 1948, the Pittsburgh Courier’s featured article was “The Life Story of Mrs. Rosa Lee Ingram.” Rosa Lee Ingram, a recently widowed mother of twelve children, worked as a sharecropper in Georgia. In November 1947 an altercation with her neighbor, white sharecropper John E. Stratford, turned violent. “He tried to go with me...That’s the main thing that caused this trouble,” Rosa Lee Ingram told Courier editor Robert M. Ratcliffe. “He was mad because I wouldn’t go into the cotton house with him...He had tried three times to make me go into the cotton house and have something to do with him.” Two of Ingram’s sons, Wallace (16 years old) and Sammy Lee (14 years old), heard their mother fighting off Stratford and ran to the scene. In a three-panel illustration, Courier staff artist Samuel Milai depicted the ensuing “Fight in the Field Road” and “The Slaying of Stratford.”  “He brought that killing on himself,” Rosa Lee Ingram told Ratcliffe as she sat in the “colored women’s cell” in the Dougherty County jail. After a one-day trial, an all-white jury found Rosa Lee, Wallace, and Sammy Lee Ingram guilty of murder and sentenced them to death. After appeal in 1948, these death sentences were reduced to life sentences with the possibility of parole.

“The life story of Mrs. Rosa Lee Ingram is a pathetic story,” Ratcliffe concluded. “It’s a story of poverty, the good earth, children, love—and ‘white supremacy.’ It’s the story of a Negro sharecropper against a white sharecropped. It is typical of the poor Negro farmers in the South. Rosa Lee Ingram was a sharecropper—before they snatched her from her babies and hustled her off to jail. Now she is a prisoner—a prisoner in Georgia—because she dared oppose that thing called ‘white supremacy’...It is the unwritten law of the South, and it gave [Stratford] the right to stand above a poor Negro sharecropper. It gave him the right to call Mrs. Ingram by her first name. She had to call him ‘Mister.’ It gave him the right to boss and curse her—It gave him the right to force himself upon her. ‘White supremacy’ cost Stratford his life. It may cost Mrs. Ingram and two of her sons their lives.”

As historians Dayo Gore and Erik McDuffie have described, the Ingram case was one of the most important civil rights and human rights cases of the Cold War era. Black women radicals and progressives organized local, national, and international efforts to free the Ingram family. Among other actions, the National Committee to Free the Ingram Family ran a Mother’s Day Card campaign in 1950 that resulted in several thousand cards being sent to President Truman with the message, “Declarations of Human Rights and the observance of Mother’s Day have no meaning as long as an innocent mother remains in prison.” These activists worked on the case for over a decade before Rosa Lee Ingram and her sons were released in 1959. To read more about the Ingram case, see Dayo Gore, Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold WarErik S. McDuffie, “A ‘New Freedom Movement of Negro Women’: Sojourning for Truth, Justice, and Human Rights during the Early Cold War”; and Mary Church Terrell’s speech to the United Nations on behalf of Rosa Lee Ingram, transcribed as part of the Digitizing American Feminisms project at Oberlin College.

Black newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier also called attention to this injustice and fought to free the Ingram family. Here is a selection of Courier articles on the Ingram case: