On May 13, 1956, sixteen-year-old Annette Butler of Tylertown, Mississippi, was kidnapped and gang raped by four white men. Ms. Butler and her family reported the assault and the men were arrested, jailed, and tried for the crime – a rarity in Mississippi for white men charged with assaulting black women. Despite a confession, all-white juries refused to convict three of the four defendants, and the fourth was allowed to plead to a reduced charge in exchange for a sentence of twenty years hard labor.
Near dawn on May 13 (Mother’s Day), Ernest Dillon, his brother Ollie, and their cousins Olen and Durora Duncan set out looking for “colored women.” When they found the Butler home where Annette Butler was staying with her mother, Ernest claimed he was a police officer and told Ms. Butler she was under arrest. Ernest then forced her into the car, while another of the four men kept a gun trained on her mother. The men then drove Ms. Butler to the nearby Bogue Chitto swamp and took turns raping her. When the men were finished they left her alone and half-dressed in the woods. She sought help from a group of black fishermen working nearby and they notified the police.
When the men were apprehended, the district attorney charged them with “forcible ravishment and kidnap.” Upon his arrest, Olen Duncan signed a statement admitting his guilt. Judge Tom Brady, a known white supremacist, presided over the trials and appointed Mississippi’s best lawyers to represent the men. The defense attempted to reduce sympathy toward Ms. Butler by accusing her of being a prostitute and presented white witnesses to testify she had a poor reputation.
At that time in Mississippi, the crime of rape was punishable by death or life imprisonment. In order to avoid either of those fates, on March 26, 1957, Ernest Dillon pleaded guilty to assault and later received a sentence of twenty years imprisonment. At sentencing, Judge Brady, a staunch opponent of interracial sexual relations whether consensual or forced, expressed no concern about the crime’s impact on young Ms. Butler but castigated Mr. Dillon for committing a crime that “had brought bitter condemnation on the State of Mississippi.”
None of the other three attackers received prison time for the rape of Annette Butler: Ollie Dillon was permitted to plead solely to a kidnapping charge; Olen Duncan pleaded not guilty despite his confession and was acquitted by an all-white jury; and charges against Durora Duncan, who pleaded not guilty, were thrown out after his trial resulted in a hung jury.
From the Equal Justice Initiative’s A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.