Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

April 23, 1960

Guest post by Thomas Esposito, undergraduate student at Iowa State University.

On April 23, 1960, the Chicago Defender published an article titled, “Beaten for ‘Dating Negroes.’” Barbara Espy was kidnapped in Alabama for supposedly dating a black man. This article shows that it was not just the lives of black people that were ruined during this time period of great oppression, but also the lives of people who didn’t harbor feelings of anger and disgust toward African Americans.

So many times in books and history classes you hear about the many accounts of hardships that African Americans had to go through that it’s almost strange to hear an account of hardship for a white person for not hating African Americans. The story goes that five men kidnapped the nineteen-year-old Barbara Espy, with one of those five men being the sheriff’s deputy. After they had kidnapped Barbara Espy they went on to beat her until she agreed to sign a confession letter saying that she had dated Negroes. Barbara Espy went on to bring multiple charges against  these five men. The men were then held for the grand jury with a bond that by today’s standards would be considered a small amount at $250 dollars, but once you adjust that money for inflation and compare it to today’s dollar value, that $250 would equate to about $2,003 which by today’s standards is a decent amount of money to pay for bail.

On the night of April 3, Barbara Espy was at her house when these five men came to her door looking for her. Once she answered the door, they held her at gunpoint and forced her into a car. They then brought her to an area where they decided to beat her until she agreed to sign a confession. The idea of a forced confession from her seems like it would serve no purpose, but the actions of these men were not entirely thought through, and the fact that she was white is probably what saved her from being killed that night.

One of the more interesting aspects of this article was the fact that it made very clear who the victim of these crimes was by showing a big picture of Barbara Espy with a title above her head saying “This Is The Victim.” It almost seems like the newspaper wanted to bring further shame to Barbara Espy instead of showing the people that committed the crimes. If you went through newspapers today, you would not find an article about a criminal case that so explicitly showed who the victim of the criminal charges was. They would most likely show the faces of the criminals or no one’s face. At least with this case, the judge was not going to take this situation lightly by expressing that “I would like to make it clear this court does not condone and will not tolerate mob rule or mob violence.” This article initially drew my attention because it was a crime against a white person for liking a black person, which you do not hear much about in school, but then I noticed how oddly the victim was treated by the newspaper.

This page has paths:

This page references: