In 1951, a Black man was convicted by a court in the South of the United States Of America for looking at a white woman with the intention of raping her. Yes, you read that right. She read his mind and knew he wanted to rape her, and a court with a jury and witnesses found him guilty.
When we visit America’s history, we find in it some of the most annoying and unbelievable ways through which black people were persecuted for the color of their skin. One of such times, which was very prominent in the injustice served to black people in America, was the Jim crow era.
At that time, easpecially in the South, being black was criminalized so much that it was a crime to look at a white person.
In North Carolina for instance, it was named “reckless eye-balling”, and was an offense determined by the white person who was eyeballed.
The term “reckless eye-balling” did not originate from the Jim Crow era, but from the times of slavery, when it was used to describe occasions where a proud enslaved black person would look their white masters in the eye.
But the term would later be handed down to the Jim Crow era, and was only meant for Black men who looked at white women.
The Event That Led To The Sentencing
Matt Ingram, the victim, was a Black tenant farmer in Yanceyville, North Carolina. Unfortunately for him on that faithful day in 1951, he found himself looking in the direction of a 17-years-old white woman, in his neighborhood.
The white lady reported and the police arrested Ingram. After he was arrested, word got out to the white folks of Yanceyville, and the majority of them wanted him to be locked up. They wanted him to suffer, even though the case was clear that there was no crime on his side.
His case took two and half years, in which he was made to suffer financially and emotionally. He was also separated from his family. In the court hearing, the young white girl accused Ingram of making her feel uncomfortable as if his intention was to force himself on her – despite being 75 feet away.
The prosecutors used the feeling of Boswell as their excuse as to why Ingram was guilty. They said she was afraid because she had been looked at by a black man. And that was all the evidence they needed to convince the all-white jury.
The court charged Ingram first with an intention to rape but later reduced it to assault. The judge stated that Ingram was guilty if he issued “intentional threats or menace of violence such as looking at a person in a leering manner, that is, in some sort of sly or threatening or suggestive manner…he causes another to reasonably apprehend imminent danger”.
Ingram’s prosecution was circulated nationwide and many news agencies reported it. The NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), came to his defense. But while they defended him, he was locked up for two years.
At last, he was granted his freedom by the Superior Court, while they stated that: “it cannot be said that a pedestrian may be assaulted by a look, however frightening, from a person riding in an automobile some distance away. He may have looked with lustful eyes but there was the absence of any overt act.”
In our many reports on the history of black people around the world, we often feel the need to throw more light on the travails of the Black man in the United States, because we owe it to this generation to understand the journey of their forebearers in the hands of tyranny. We need them to understand why “race and color” was and is a big issue in America, and why we need to unite our voices against racial hate.
The story of Matt Ingram remains one out of many of such cases, and we hope that you (the reader) learnt something from it.
Yes you might get angry, but never be driven to hate. Because you will only end up being the monster you are fighting.