The Three Death Sentences of Clarence Henderson: A Battle for Racial Justice During the Dawn of the Civil Rights Era

Abrams. Jan. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781419756368. $26. CRIME
Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigative reporter Joyner writes a history of the wrongful murder conviction of Black Georgia sharecropper Clarence Henderson. In 1948, Carl Stevens Jr., a white man, was murdered in Carrollton, GA; after what Joyner calls a sloppy investigation, Henderson was accused of the murder, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Henderson a retrial, finding that he had been convicted on purely circumstantial evidence; he was found guilty in the retrial, then granted a third trial to introduce additional ballistics evidence. Joyner provides background on life in Carrollton after World War II, when town politics became more progressive except in matters of race. He writes that prosecutors empaneled all-white juries and played on negative stereotypes of Black men to win their case against Henderson. Other factors in the case were new forensic investigation methods and the involvement of the U.S. Communist Party and the NAACP in Henderson’s appeals. Joyner synthesizes all of these elements and offers a detailed play-by-play of the three trials to argue that despite Henderson’s unjust treatment by prosecutors, he fared better than most Black defendants, in that his conviction in the third trial was eventually overturned and he was released.
VERDICT A compelling account of “justice” in the Jim Crow South. Recommended for readers interested in true crime and race.
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