A Tale of Two Trials Open Access

Fuller, Hannah (Spring 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/ht24wk55h?locale=en


This honors thesis seeks to broaden the understanding of show trials by asserting a comparison between a Communist Czechoslovak show trial and a Jim Crow rape case in Mississippi. By juxtaposing my analysis of Communist and Jim Crow justice systems and comparing the experiences and legacies of the defendants, this thesis expands the current understanding of show trials beyond the confines of Communist systems. Viewed as antithetical to the American justice system, show trials have been isolated to totalitarian regimes. While trials of African American defendants in the Jim Crow South have been viewed as unjust and prejudiced, their construction into public spectacles to maintain power and political dynamics has not been sufficiently studied. This thesis analyzes the show trial and execution of Milada Horáková, Czech feminist leader and politician, in 1950 to establish the identifying qualities of a show trial. In 1945 in Mississippi, an African American man, Willie McGee, was charged with raping a white woman, Willette Hawkins. In the Jim Crow South, a rape accusation from a white woman was a death sentence. McGee made national headlines, sparking protests and petitions for his life, during the trials leading up to his execution in 1951. Although their trials were fueled by different issues, race and class, McGee and Horáková were both victims of show trials. With Horáková’s show trial as a point of comparison, I intend to redefine McGee’s case as a show trial. Through a comparison of Communist and Jim Crow show trials, this thesis will confront the American resistance to the parallels between Communist and Jim Crow justice systems and their shared goal of political oppression.

Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                                                                              1

Chapter 1                                                                                                                                

            Targeting                                                                                                                    11

            Evidence                                                                                                                     21

Chapter 2

            Spectacle                                                                                                                     31

            Social Psychology of Guilt                                                                                         49

Chapter 3

            Outcomes                                                                                                                    56

            Legacies                                                                                                                      63

Conclusion                                                                                                                              73

Figure 1                                                                                                                                   78

Figure 2                                                                                                                                   79

Bibliography                                                                                                                           80

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