This Day in History: 1958-03-28

22-year-old Black man named Jeremiah Reeves is executed by the state of Alabama after police tortured him until he gave a false confession as a 16-year-old child. In July 1951, Jeremiah, who was a 16-year-old high school student at the time, and Mabel Ann Crowder, a white woman, were discovered having sex in her home. Though it was known to be a consensual relationship, Ms. Crowder claimed she was raped and Jeremiah was immediately arrested and taken to Kilby Prison for “questioning.” Police strapped the frightened boy into the electric chair and told him that he would be electrocuted unless he admitted to having committed all of the rapes white women had reported that summer. Under this terrifying pressure, he falsely confessed to the charges in fear. Though he soon recanted and insisted he was innocent, Jeremiah was convicted and sentenced to death after a two-day trial during which the all-white jury deliberated for less than 30 minutes. On April 6, 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at an Easter rally in Montgomery, Alabama and decried Jeremiah Reeves’s wrongful conviction and execution, which had been carried out a little over a week before. Afterward, a group of 39 local white ministers released a statement decrying the activists’ “exaggerated emphasis on wrongs and grievances.” Learn more.