Virginia Christian

Week 8, Meeting 1

Introduction to the murder of Ida Belote and trial of Virginia Christian.

Wikipedia entry on Virginia Christian.
*Open these documents in a new window and resize as needed to read them.*

  1. Judgment of Virginia Christian sentencing her to execution, April 9, 1912 – Page 1Page 2Page 3.
  2. Delay of execution of Virginia Christian, dated June 13, 1912.
  3. Letter from Christian’s attorney, George W. Fields (African-American), which probably accompanied his petition for commuting her sentence, undated – Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4.
  4. Transcribed Letter from Virginia Christian’s Attorney J. Thomas Newsome (White), July 9, 1912 [pdf]
  5. Petition for Commutation of Death Sentence to Life, July 1912 – Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6Page 7Page 8Page 9.
  6. Transcribed Letter from Virginia’s mother, July 12, 1912.

In-class Activity:
Come to class prepared to discuss following:

  • Details of the judgment against Christian.
  • The delay of execution and her attorney’s reasons for asking for a commutation
  • What do we know of Virginia and her family from her mother’s letter? What of the victim, Ida Belote?
  • Her Wikipedia entry. What is missing? What does it do well?

Week 8, Meeting 2

Vigilante Justice and the Government
National Association of Colored Women

Letter to Virginia Governor Mann from Lewter Hobbs, brother of Ida Belote, July 16, 1912. (Page 2 of the letter for reference.)
Letter from J.B. Wood, Superintendent of Virginia Penitentiary, August 16, 1912.
“HER LAST HOPE GONE: 17-Year-Old Colored Girl Goes to Electric Chair Today. GOVERNOR DENIES HER PLEA Virginia Christian, Who Murdered an Aged Woman Will Be First of Her Sex to Suffer Legal Death by Electricity in Virginia — Apparently Indifferent to Her Fate — Eats and Sleeps Well,” Special to The Washington Post.. The Washington Post (1877-1922) [Washington, D.C] 16 Aug 1912: 1.

Write briefly (approx 200-300 words) about your thoughts on the meaning of the Hobbs letter. What strikes you as important in this letter? How does this letter “fit” with the documents you’ve read on the case? What new light does the article shed on the decision to execute or commute her sentence? How is her mental state portrayed? Use the documents to support your reasoning.

Week 9, Meeting 1

Executions & Lynchings in Early 20th Century America

David V. Baker, “Black Female Executions in Historical Context,” Criminal Justice Review, Volume 33 Number 1, March 2008, pp. 64-88.
Selections from James W. Clarke, “Without Fear or Shame: Lynching, Capital Punishment and the Subculture of Violence in the American South,” British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 269-289.

In-class Activity:
Come to class prepared to discuss the readings in the context of gender. How is gender related to lynching? How is it related to executions?

Week 9, Meeting 2

Black domestic labor in the post-slavery South

Blood on Her Hands, Chapter 6, pp 108-140.
“More Slavery at the South,” by a Negro Nurse, Independent, 25 January 1912
Excerpts from Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “From Servitude to Service Work: Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor,” Signs, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 1-43


How did the end of slavery change the domestic labor market? Take notes (and bring them to class) exploring the potential connections between the end of slavery, the changes in the labor market in the South and the rise in lynchings. Use the readings to support your thoughts. We will discuss these in class.

Week 10, Meeting 1

Early Civil Rights movements
Separating educated blacks from the rest
Was Virginia properly defended?

Excerpts from Up from Slavery, by Booker T. Washington.
Excerpts from Kevin Gaines’  Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century
Excerpt from Derryn Moten’s dissertation, “A Gruesome Warning to Black Girls”: The August 16, 1912 Execution of Virginia Christian

In-class Activity:
Discussion on how early black leadership proposed to bolster the race. Based on the letters from her attorneys and the readings, do you think Christian was properly defended? Why or why not? Come to class prepared to defend your position.

Week 10, Meeting 2

Southern Progressivism and the New South
Female Reformers and the Anti-Lynching Campaign

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, “African-American Women’s Networks in the Anti-Lynching Crusade,” in Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era, by Noralee Frankel and Nancy S. Dye.

In 200-300 words, please reflect on how broader changes in the New South or the Progressive may have had an impact on Virginia Christian’s trial, for better or worse OR take a position on the connections between the rhetoric of the early black leadership on equality and the women’s anti-lynching reform. Use any of the readings (or external readings you’ve found) to help support your position.

Last updated: May 1, 2013 at 19:58 pm