George Stinney Jr. became the youngest person to have ever been executed by electric chair in the US, at only 14 years old. 70 years then passed and, in 2014, he was finally proven innocent. So, what is the true story behind the ten minutes that led a harmless young African-American boy to an unjust, racist and tragic execution?
Stinney Jr. was wrongfully killed in the Deep South of the US in 1944, right in the midst of the Jim Crow era. Jim Crow laws, named after a Black minstrel show character, were a collection of state and local regulations that legalised racial segregation. They lasted from post-Civil War to 1968, spanning around 100 years and were put in place after the abolition of slavery to continue the marginalisation of black Americans in the country. Just some of the ways this was enacted was by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or basically any basic civil rights that every single person should have the freedom to. Anyone who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws would be arrested, faced with fines, jail sentences, violence and even death.
White and black people were physically separated by railroad tracks where Stinney Jr’s. family lived in the mill town of Alcolu, South Carolina; a location they were forced to leave when he was falsely accused of killing two local white girls—11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames. It took a jury, made up of solely white men, just ten minutes to find the boy ‘guilty’.
As the case was told, the girls were riding their bicycles in Alcolu looking for flowers when they saw both Stinney Jr. and his younger sister Aime, who had taken their family’s cow out grazing, and asked them whether the two might know where to find maypops—the edible fruit of passionflowers (commonly referred to as passionfruit). The girls walked on after realising the brother and sister didn’t know where to find what they were looking for, which is when a lumber truck allegedly drove past, witnessing the interaction.
The two girls Binnicker and Thames didn’t come home that day, the local community responded with a town-wide search by hundreds of Alcolu residents, including Stinney Jr’s father. The bodies were found in a ditch the following day, with no apparent sign of struggle, but still what were said to be violent deaths that involved multiple head injuries.
The Post and Courier described the scene where they were found, “The girls’ bodies were stiff when the preacher’s boy found them in a shallow, waterlogged ditch in the woods. They were on their backs, like a pair of discarded dolls, bruised and broken beyond repair. On top of them lay a bicycle, its front wheel gone from the frame.”
The publication went on to explain that following an examination, it was clear the method of murder was bloody. Thames had a prominent cut and hole that permeated straight through her forehead into the skull while Binnicker displayed signs of multiple blows to the head—the doctor noting it was “nothing but a mass of crushed bones.”
This is where the story splits in two, the first false and historically final version led to the abrupt end of Stinney Jr’s life. According to seemingly no one in particular, the young boy supposedly followed and single-handedly beat the two girls to death with a railroad spike.
The second version that solidified only as much as a whisper, is that Stinney Jr. and his sister simply continued with their own business—the girls to theirs, which led them to the home of a white lumber mill family where they asked if the wife of the house would join them on their hunt for maypops. She said no, but the son of the house drove up in his logging truck and offered to take the girls off to find their maypops while he unloaded the logs. They jumped in. And then? Well, no other versions really mattered, because suspicion fell on Stinney Jr. as he was pointed out to be the ‘mean’ kid in town.
The county law enforcement officers were tipped that Binnicker and Thames were seen talking to Stinney Jr., so they stormed over to his home where the boy was handcuffed and interrogated without his parents, an attorney or any witnesses whatsoever. The police claimed that the 14-year-old confessed to murdering the two girls. According to All That’s Interesting, an officer named H.S. Newman wrote in a statement that he “arrested a boy by the name of George Stinney. He then made a confession and told me where to find a piece of iron about 15 inches long. He said he put it in a ditch about six feet from the bicycle.”
All the while Stinney Jr. was being detained alone, without any telling as to where—not even his parents knew where he was being kept. At that time in history, 14 years of age was considered to be an age of responsibility, as teens experienced puberty. He was never seen alive again by his siblings after that day, alone throughout the 83-day detainment and alone when faced by a solely white jury. Only until he was in his casket was the family together again.
In 2014, The Guardian conducted an interview with the boy’s family, writing that Aime will never forget the last time she saw her brother alive, “She was eight at the time, hunkering in the chicken coop, scared half to death, when two black cars drove up to their house. Neither her mother, also [called] Aime, a cook, nor her father, George senior, were home when white law enforcement officers came and took away George and her stepbrother, Johnny, in handcuffs. Johnny was later let go. She idolised George and followed him everywhere. He called her his shadow.”
The events of that day in 1944, when Aime and Stinney Jr. came across the girls were said to be clear in her mind, because “no white people came around” to the black side of town. She continued, “We didn’t see those girls no more. But somebody followed those girls and killed them.” Realistically, no black child would threaten a white kid without there being strong repercussions at that time, as Aime stated, “We didn’t fool around with white people.” However, as I said before, Stinney Jr. was pointed out by someone down the ‘grapevine’, turning him into an easy suspect.
According to The Guardian, back in 1995, “WL Hamilton, George’s seventh-grade teacher, who is black, told the Item newspaper that he had a temper and had gotten into a fight with a girl at school, scratching her with a knife.” Aime said she phoned Hamilton after she read the story. “That bastard. That was a damn lie. When I heard about that lie Mr Hamilton told I called him up. I said my name is Aime Stinney and you said my brother was a bad boy. You’ve got one foot on a banana peel and the other going straight to hell.”
Stinney Jr’s execution was not without protest, both white and black ministerial unions petitioned for his release based on his young age. Hundreds of letters came through the governor’s door begging for mercy, but none of it was enough to save him from the execution that occurred on 16 June 1944. A bible under the 14-year-old’s arm, he was strapped into the adult-sized electric chair.
Stinney Jr’s siblings never gave up on claiming their brother’s innocence, and in 2014, 70 years too late, the jury resided in the fact that he was falsely accused and sentenced to his death. His siblings convinced the court that Stinney Jr. of course had an alibi, he was with his sister Aime [now married as Aime Stinney Ruffner, 77 years old when the case closed] and their cow. Their brother’s cellmate at the time of conviction, Wilford ‘Johnny’ hunter, reported that the boy had denied murdering the girls as well.
By 17 December 2014, Judge Carmen T. Mullen relieved Stinney’s murder conviction, calling the death sentence “a great and fundamental injustice.” The 14-year-old innocent boy’s siblings felt that “a cloud just moved away,” when hearing the news. George Stinney Jr. can never have his life back, but his story will be told, and told again, as well as every other racial unjust prosecution. Echos of the past lie all around us still to this day—we infinitely, generation after generation, are on stand to call out discrimination and inequality.
Avid activist for Black Lives Matter and black creatives in film, actor John Boyega has been on an inspirational mission to create new opportunities for young black creatives in the UK. Under the support of Converse’s All Stars programme, Boyega approached the brand to successfully launch the ‘Create Next’ Film Project—an objective to mobilise a fresh wave of emerging black talent into an industry that has otherwise been divisive and exclusive.
“I approached Converse with a desire to start a domino effect in creating opportunities for those in my position when I first started out—those who work night after night perfecting their craft,” stated Boyega in a press release shared with SCREENSHOT. “Black talent is underrepresented in the film industry, and I knew Converse had a strong track record of supporting underrepresented creatives. I’ve always wanted to create opportunities and pathways for young talent in the film industry and Converse’s goals align with my own.”
With an abundant wealth of black talent left untapped, the film industry has failed to appropriately fill its job roles with creatives from such a community—an unhealthy diagnosis of UK production that Boyega accurately pinpointed and is now rightfully correcting. Under the Create Next Film Project, the critically-acclaimed actor mentored five London-based filmmakers (Ade Femzo, Kaylen Francis, Kemi Anna Adeeko, Lorraine Khamali and Ibrahim Muhammad) on their journey to make some noise in the film industry with their captivating artistic power.
The programme, which ran over a period of six months (beginning in October 2021), has provided the young talents with vital financial funding to spearhead the development of their own five-minute short film, as well as provide opportune access to prodigious mentoring by the likes of Boyega and Converse’s network of creatives: Mathieu Ajan (founder of Bounce Cinema), Shannie Mears (co-founder of The Elephant Room) and many others. But for Boyega, this project is more than just another short-lived campaign, but a signifying, chasmic beacon to the many black filmmakers everywhere—beyond the blockades of barriers and borders that all-too-often aim to stifle the growth of their talent.
“This project isn’t only about five filmmakers. It’s really about every aspiring black filmmaker in London and beyond. We’re going to document the process so the community can grow alongside the All Stars in this programme—learn what they’re learning, seeing what they’re seeing.”
And, luckily, we are. One such Create Next talent has graciously chosen to share her musings, life lessons, film inspirations and industry advice with SCREENSHOT—to better aid us to learn what she’s learning and see what she’s seeing. Introducing Lorraine Khamali.
Describing her work as an intimate expedition into the beauty of the everyday and its people, Kenyan-born Lorraine Khamali moved to London when she was just 12 years old. Known as @shotbylorraine on Instagram, the photographer started young, snapping the lives of her friends and family. Onwards, she successfully progressed to studying the practice at university level—where she quickly found herself working on real film sets and loving it.
For Khamali, the Create Next Film Project couldn’t have come at a better time. Being thrust into work almost immediately upon her graduation, the filmmaker found it difficult to make space for her artistry outside of her uncreative job. The limited hours left, out of office, to focus on the production of her own content was a challenging balancing act according to the talent—a struggle most creatives know all too well. “I feel like this opportunity came at the right time for me as it really pushed me as an artist/filmmaker to keep the momentum going, and through this process I’ve become more confident in myself and my work,” Khamali told SCREENSHOT.
“This project has allowed me to truly embrace the journey of becoming the person you want to be, whatever that may be.”
“Being part of the Create Next Film Project with John Boyega has been so special. Honestly, it still feels like a dream and has been one of the best experiences in my life so far. It has been such an amazing opportunity and I’ve met people and made friends who I will cherish forever. This project has allowed me to truly embrace the journey of becoming the person you want to be, whatever that may be, and the importance of exploring and trying new things,” Khamali continued.
It is this motivation to try new things that mobilised Khamali to shift from her photography study to a medium she never thought she’d find herself in. Exposed to a world saturated with burgeoning creatives and artistic “energies,” the 22-year-old felt positively pushed into different paths. In what she defines as an organic process, the then-photographer-turned-filmmaker was gifted an old camcorder from her mother—igniting her journey of experimentation, one she explored behind the scenes on her campus.
“I made a lot of friends at university who studied film and they always needed a behind-the-scenes (BTS) photographer. I always enjoyed being on their set and seeing the process coming together, how the director would interact with the director of photography (DOP), the process of it all was so fascinating to me. After that, I properly started making my own moving images, both documentary and fashion, and I never looked back,” she passionately explained. Going forth on this adventurous new journey, Khamali set out to investigate and share the stories around her.
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“It evokes a feeling that is both sad yet beautiful at the same time.”
With magical works like the ethereal softness of Boys By The Sea and the smooth, organic groundedness of Youth Dem—that aptly reflect the experiences in her surroundings she wished to tell—it’s no wonder Khamali was selected as one of the five blossoming talents for Create Next. But, where does such creativity come from? Well, for this young filmmaker the lifeblood of her projects derive just as much from sound as they do from visuals. “When it comes to the creative process, I gather inspiration from different things such as music and sound. These are big factors when it comes to igniting an idea or a character for new projects. With my 2020 film Boys by The Sea, it was hard to find the right sound for it but once I found it, it was like no other, it hit my soul deeply,” she said.
“As a young filmmaker there are still many things I wish to explore and learn from. I would like to explore subjects that speak to my heart. When approaching any project, I like to go in with an open mind as I want to create work that people can see a piece of themselves in and connect to. My goal is to always create purposeful stories that are impactful and that I can be proud of. I want audiences to feel something and or be inspired when viewing my work,” she went on to share.
On our quest to get an understanding of what Khamali is learning and, in turn, apply it within our own creative process, we discovered that a defining moment for the artist was embracing the fun—to have an element of ease and patience with herself. “My advice for young aspiring filmmakers […] is to be patient with your craft and never forget to have fun throughout the process—you won’t like every project you produce and that’s okay,” she explained. Khamali also suggests a necessary boldness to just let go of fear and reach out to your favourite artists or creatives to push yourself into that space. After all, hands-on experience is everything.
And that is what the Create Next Film Project is all about. Cultivating real-world opportunities to, as Boyega put it, pioneer a new future for black creatives—a sentiment Khamali is taking forth in her own prospective projects. “Going forward following my work with Create Next, my aspiration is to continue creating stories that resonate deeply with viewers,” she explained.
“The world is full of inspiration and beautiful stories to tell, so I would like my stories to inspire people and help create a positive ripple effect.”
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If you want to find yourself in the midst of such a ferociously flowing ripple effect of change then look no further, Create Next has got you covered. In a press release shared with SCREENSHOT, Converse and John Boyega present the Create Next Film Club—an event that will host the premiere that will debut the work of these five London-based filmmakers. “In celebration of the Create Next journey, John Boyega will join the All Star filmmakers in Central London for a very special Create Next Premiere Event where they will unveil the films alongside a programme of other talks and masterclasses.”
We’re sold. Sign up to the event here.