Thursday, October 28, 2010


The National Archives at Kansas City will host author Alex Heard for a discussion and signing of his book The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South on Tuesday, November 2 at 6:30 p.m. Heard will be available to sign copies of his book after the discussion. A 6:00 p.m. reception will precede the event. Attendees are encouraged to view the Documented Rights exhibition, prior to the panel discussion which focuses on civil rights.

In 1945 Willie McGee, a young black man from Laurel, Mississippi, was sentenced to death for allegedly raping Willette Hawkins, a white housewife. At first, McGee’s case was barely noticed, covered only in hostile Mississippi newspapers and far-left publications like The Daily Worker. Then Bella Abzug, a young New York labor lawyer, was hired by the Civil Rights Congress – an aggressive arm of the Communist Party in the U.S. – to oversee McGee’s defense. Together with William L. Patterson, the son of a slave and a devout believer in revolutionary action against racial oppression, Abzug and a group of white Mississippi lawyers risked their lives to plead McGee’s case. During years of courtroom battles and groundbreaking protests, McGee’s supporters – including William Faulkner, Albert Einstein, Jessica Mitford, Paul Robeson, Norman Mailer, and Josephine Baker – spoke out on McGee’s behalf and flooded President Harry S. Truman and the U.S. Supreme Court with clemency pleas.

Drawn from primary source materials, including records of the National Archives and Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, The Eyes of Willie McGee offers a glimpse into the life during the Jim Crow south and the impact of the conflicts between black and white, North and South in America.

Alex Heard is the editorial director of Outside magazine. He has worked as an editor and writer at The New York Times Magazine, Wired, The Washington Post Magazine, The New Republic, Slate and other publications.

Copies of The Eyes of Willie McGee will be available for purchase at The Kansas City Store at the National Archives. Following the program the author will be available to sign copies of his book. For more information or to make a reservation for this free event call 816-268-8010 or register by emailing:

Additional information about the exhibition

Documented Rights is an exhibition featuring documents from the holdings of the 13 regional National Archives facilities that give a voice to the national struggle for human and civil rights. It features more than 80 documents, facsimiles, images and sound recordings. It will be available for viewing at the National Archives at Kansas City, November 2, 2010 - March 19, 2011. For more information about Documented Rights visit:

The National Archives at Kansas City is one of 13 facilities nationwide where the public has access to Federal archival records. It is home to more than 50,000 cubic feet of historical records dating from the 1820s to the 1990s created or received by nearly 100 Federal agencies. Serving the Central Plains Region, the archives holds records from the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The facility is located at 400 West Pershing Road, Kansas City, MO 64108. It is open to the public Tuesday - Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for research, with the exhibits open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 816-268-8000 or visit:

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