In 1958, a kiss made civil rights history. It happened in Monroe, North Carolina. Two African-American children, James Hanover Thompson and David Simpson, were said to have kissed a girl who was white. They were arrested and accused of rape.
The incident became known around the world as “The Kissing Case.” But over time, it was largely forgotten.
Even the Thompson family rarely talked about it–until they came to StoryCorps, where James (L) sat down with his younger brother, Dwight (R), and told him what happened.
Under political pressure, the governor of North Carolina released the two friends. James then spent most of his adult life in and out of prison for robbery.
His sister, Brenda Lee Graham (pictured below), also came to StoryCorps. She remembered what life was like for the family after James had been arrested.
Click here for the transcript.
Dwight Thompson (DT): How old was you then?
JHT: I was nine years old; David was seven. Really didn't hardly know what a kiss was. And, so, we went on home like nothing happened, you know?
And the next day, the police car pulled up and they said, "We're taking y'all to jail." I didn't know what was going on. But when we got down to the police station we understand that they said that we had raped a little white girl.
They uh took us down in the bottom of the police station to a cell. And they had us handcuffed -- they started beating us. They was beating us to our body, you know? They didn't beat us to the face where nobody could see it; they just punched us all in the stomach and back and legs. We was hollering and screaming. We thought they was gonna kill us.
And so we stayed in jail for six or seven days before our parents ever got a chance to see us. And they sent me to a psychologist. And I would go see that man… every week I had to go see him. He'd tell me, "They should have castrated y'all. I mean, it were just something.
DT: So how that make you feel now? I mean, how old are you now?
JHT: I'm 62 now.
JHT: I still feel the hurt and the pain from it. And nobody never said, "Hey, look, I'm sorry what happened to y'all. It was wrong." And I always sit around and wonder if this hadn't happened to me, you know, what could I have turned out to be? Could I have been a doctor? Could I have gone off to some college or some great school? It just destroyed our life.
Brenda Lee Graham (BLG): Mom was a nervous wreck. She didn't sleep. She would be up walking the floors and praying. And I remember that at night you could see them burning crosses and--
Dwight Thompson (DT): Right down the front yard?
BLG: Right down the front yard. And my mom and them, they would go out in the morning, and sweep bullets off our front porch.
And see, James, he was away for a while. And when he came back, it was like seeing somebody different that you didn't even know. He never talked about what he went through there. But ever since then, his mind just hadn't been the same.
My brother and his friend had to suffer on account of that. And I mean, they suffered. From one kiss. I..I've thought about that. It all started with a kiss.