This paragraph summarizes the sad story, and the sorrowful ending of Lena Baker. She was a black maid who was put on trial for the killing of her white employer, Earnest Knight who attempted to rape her. Although, she stated in categorical terms that her action was an act of self-defense, Baker was sentenced to death by an all-white male jury. Her trial only lasted for 4 hours in one day! Sitting in the electric chair for a painful execution, this is what she said: “What I done, I did in self-defense or I would’ve been killed myself. Where I was, I could not overcome it. I am ready to meet my God”. She was executed on March 5, 1945 as the only woman ever executed in Georgia’s electric chair. She left behind 3 children. Her last words, alongside with her picture are displayed near the now-retired electric chair at a museum at Georgia state prison in Reidsville. She was Pardon 60 years after her execution.
Lena Baker was born on June 8, 1900, in into a family of black sharecroppers. She had lived her entire life doing the back-breaking job for survival. Due to strict supervision and inhuman treatment faced by black people at work places at the time, Baker is said to have lived the greater part of her life with depression.
By 1940, Baker had picked cotton, cleaned houses and washed clothes as her records show. In spite of undertaken multiple jobs, Baker did not earn enough money to feed her three children.
In 1941, Baker got a position as a nurse to Ernest Knight, a white man who had broken his hip. She considered her new job as a life changing position. However, it turned out to be a new dawn of abuse and enslavement. While Knight’s son beats her every day, Knight himself turned her into a sex slave at a time in which intimacy between blacks and whites was not tolerated and very dangerous for blacks.
For two years, Baker lived with, and under these inhuman treatments and on April 30th, 1944 Knight got killed by Baker when he attempted to rape her after he had caged her the whole day.
An account from Mr. JOHN COLE VODICKA (Director, Prison & Jail Project) reads: “He had threatened her several times and forced her inside his mill, holding her prisoner all day long.
-And this was where Ms. Baker said he had locked her in here for the better part of that day, April 30th, and then had come back and demanded that she have sex with him. And she refused. He picked up a metal pole or a metal pipe and was coming at her, and they wrestled over that. And then his gun was produced, and the gun went off, and he fell dead.”
Baker was sent to trial just 4 months later without proper investigations. Baker in court on that day, was an accused charged with capital murder and a defender of her own life in the faces of all-white jury –she had no defense and no witness was called. She was found guilty the same day. She was sentenced to death by electrocuting.
While waiting for execution, Baker’s last words were: “What I done, I did in self-defense or I would’ve been killed myself. Where I was, I could not overcome it. I am ready to meet my God”. She was executed on March 5, 1945 as the only woman ever executed in Georgia’s electric chair. She left behind 3 children. Her last words, alongside with her picture are displayed near the now-retired electric chair at a museum at Georgia state prison in Reidsville.
60 years after her execution, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles granted Baker a pardon. In a statement issued for the pardon, the board stated: “The state committed a grievous error when it denied clemency in reviewing her case.”
What is most sad about Baker’s injustice history is that it has been kept in closed door and no one is talking about it. We are sharing it because; we believe that we need to remind ourselves of our wrong-pasts in order not to repeat them in present or in the future. Help us to spread this message by sharing it with your friends and colleagues.