James Hanover Thompson and David Simpson, two African-American children, were accused of kissing a white girl in 1958. Both children were taken to jail, and prosecutors demanded a harsh punishment, including incarceration in a reform school until they were 21 years old. The “Kissing Case” drew national media attention to Monroe, North Carolina at the time. In 2011, NPR interviewed James Hanover Thompson and his younger brother Dwight to explain what had transpired.
“We were chasing spiders and wrestling and everything like that with some pals over in the white area,” James explained.
“One of the little kids suggested that one of the little white girls give us a kiss on the jaw,” he recalls. “The little girl kissed me on the cheek before kissing David on the cheek.” As a result, we didn’t give it a second thought. “We were just a bunch of kids.”
However, when the girl returned home, she reported the kiss, which enraged her parents. After the police were contacted, they went on the lookout for the boys.
“They showed up in a police car and said, ‘We’re bringing y’all to jail,’” James explained. “I had no idea what was happening.” However, when we arrived at the police station, we were told that we had raped a little white girl.”
James, 9, and David, 7, were both charged with child molestation. Their penalty for the crime started right away.
“They um… escorted us to a cell at the bottom of the police station.” “They had us shackled and began beating us,” James explained. “They were beating us to our body, you know? They didn’t beat us in the face where no one could see us; instead, they beat us in the stomach, back, and legs. We were screaming and hollering. We were afraid they were going to kill us.”
James and David were detained for around six days before being able to meet their parents, according to James. The lads were sent to reform school not long after, with the prospect of being released before they turned 21.
The case generated national attention, and officials from the NAACP and Eleanor Roosevelt were reportedly among those who urged North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges to grant clemency in the case. James and David were later pardoned by the governor, and they were released after three months in prison.
Brenda Lee Graham, James’ sister, told NPR about the incident, saying she didn’t know much about it growing up.
“Mom was a nervous wreck,”. Brenda informs Dwight, “She didn’t sleep.” “She’d be up praying and roaming the floors.”
Brenda recalls what life was like for the rest of the family while her brother was in prison: “I remember seeing them burning crosses at night…”
“Right there in the front yard?”. Dwight asked her.
Brenda says, “Right there in the front yard.” “And my mother and them, in the mornings, they would sweep bullets off our front porch.”
During his imprisonment, James claims he was sent to a psychologist once a week. “‘They should have castrated y’all,’ he’d say. He explains, “I mean, it was just something.”
“It was like seeing someone new, somebody you didn’t even know,” Brenda recalled when James returned home. He never spoke about his experiences there. But his mentality had never been the same since then.”
While James and David were pardoned, they never received an apology, according to James.
He says, “I still feel the sadness and pain from it.” “And nobody ever said, ‘Hey, look, I’m sorry for what happened to y’all,’ or anything like that. ‘It was incorrect.’
James spent the majority of his adult life in and out of jail.
“I always sit around and wonder what I would have been if this hadn’t happened to me.” James stated his opinion. “Would it have been possible for me to be a doctor?” Could I have gone to a good college or a good high school? It has completely devastated our lives.”