National Affairs: Crime & Punishment

At Alabama's Atmore prison farm, Jimmie Wilson, 55, a Negro handyman, awaited the bell's toll: he is under sentence to die in the electric chair next week. His crime: a $1.95 robbery.

Under Alabama law, robbery (which, by definition, requires violence or a threat of violence) can be a capital offense. In practice, the death penalty applies only to Negroes. Since 1927, when Alabama started using the electric chair, four prisoners have been executed for robbery. All were Negroes. For various crimes since 1927, Alabama has electrocuted a total of 22 whites, 124 Negroes.

One summer night a year ago, Jimmie Wilson, some...

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