Rosa Lee Ingram and her two teenage boys were at the center of one of the most explosive capital punishment cases in United States history. In 1948, Ingram and her sons Wallace and Samuel were sentenced to die in the electric chair after Ingram’s sons killed a white farmer who attacked their mother.
Ingram worked as a sharecropper in a rural area near Ellaville, Ga. White landowner John Stratford confronted Ingram in November 1947 about livestock crossing over into his land. According to a variety of accounts, Stratford was armed with a knife and shotgun when he came to Ingram’s doorstep.
Author Janus Adams wrote in the book Sister Days: 365 Inspired Moments in African-American Women’s History that Stratford struck Ingram in the face with the butt of his rifle. Wallace, 16 at the time, and Samuel, 14, went to defend their mother and beat 64-year-old Stratford to death with farm tools. Later testimony suggests that Stratford threatened to sexually assault the widowed mother.
An investigation of the murder ensued, but in the Jim Crow South, odds were not in favor of Ingram and the sons. They were sentenced to death the following February in a one-day trial by an all-white jury.
The NAACP’s Atlanta chapter sent representatives to the region to assist the family. Joining the NAACP was the Civil Rights Congress, with both groups lobbying to secure Ingram’s freedom.
White lawyer S. Hawkins Dyes worked alongside the CRC, which didn’t help matters with the NAACP. There were even appeals made to President Harry Truman but ultimately Ingram and her sons won an appeal and their death sentences were reduced to life in prison.
Ingram’s case caught the attention of several women’s rights groups, including the National Committee to Free the Ingram Family.
The Ingram family was finally freed on parole in 1959 for being “model prisoners.”
Ms. Ingram died in 1980.