The Kissing Case is an incident that sparked protests and legal challenges related to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1958 in Monroe, North Carolina, two black boys, seven-year-old David "Fuzzy" Simpson and nine-year-old James Hanover Thompson, were arrested after being kissed by a white girl on their cheeks in a neighborhood game. They were charged and convicted of molestation and sentenced to a reformatory until the age of 21.
After the girl told her mother, her father and neighbors armed themselves with shotguns and went looking for the boys and their parents. That evening, police arrested Thompson and Simpson on charges of molestation. The young boys were detained for six days without access to their parents or legal counsel. They were handcuffed and beaten in a lower-level cell of the police station. A few days later a juvenile court judge found them guilty and sentenced them to indefinite terms in reform school. The boys, still denied legal counsel, were told they might get out when they were 21 years old. The local Ku Klux Klan, which had a headquarters in Monroe, burned crosses in front of the families' houses, and some people shot at the houses.
Civil rights leader Robert F. Williams, head of the local chapter of the NAACP raised protests about the arrests and sentencing. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt tried to talk with the governor. At first the local and state governments refused to back down in the case. Williams called Conrad Lynn, a noted black civil rights lawyer, who came down from New York to aid in the boys' defense. Governor Luther H. Hodges and state attorney general Malcolm Seawell rejected Lynn's writ (on behalf of Williams) to review the detention of the boys.
The mothers of the two boys were not allowed to see their children for weeks. Joyce Egginton, a journalist with the London Observer in the United Kingdom, got permission to visit the boys and took their mothers along. Egginton smuggled a camera in and took a picture of the mothers hugging their children. Her story of the case and photo were printed throughout Europe and Asia; the London Observer ran a photograph of the children's reunion with their mothers under the headline, "WHY?" The United States Information Agency reported receiving more than 12,000 letters regarding the case, with most people expressing outrage at the events.
An international committee was formed in Europe to defend Thompson and Simpson. Huge demonstrations were held in Paris, Rome and Vienna and in Rotterdam against the United States for this case, and the U.S. Embassy was stoned. It was an international embarrassment for the U.S. government. In February, North Carolina officials asked the boys' mothers to sign a waiver with the assurance that their children would be released. The mothers refused to sign the waiver, which would have required the boys to admit to being guilty of the charges.
Two days later, after the boys had spent three months in detention, the governor pardoned Thompson and Simpson without conditions or explanation. The state and city never apologized to the boys or their families for their treatment. Their lives were overturned. Commenting on it in 2011, Brenda Lee Graham, Thompson's sister, said that he was never the same after these events.
- 'The Kissing Case' And The Lives It Shattered, NPR, 29 April 2011, accessed 17 November 2013
- Kennedy, Randall. Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption. New York: Vintage, 2004. 196-7
- Tyson, Timothy. "Robert F. Williams, NAACP: Warrior and Rebel," The New Crisis, December 1997/January 1998, Vol. 104 Issue 3, p14
- Timeline: Eleanor Roosevelt: 1953-1962, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, George Washington University, 2011.
- 'The Kissing Case' And The Lives It Shattered, NPR, 29 April 2011
- Nelson, Truman. "People With Strength in Monroe, North Carolina", 1961, Privately printed pamphlet; hosted at Bruce A. Clark, Old-Yankee.com blog/website