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81 7 7 7 7 7 7 At 1:30 a.m., August 3, 1945, two young African American women awaited a bus at the corner of Poplar and Cleveland in midtown Memphis. According to their sworn statements, made later before a white attorney retained by the naacp, Alice Wright and Annie Mae Williams had just finished their shifts as dishwasher and cook at Fred’s Café and were headed home to the working-class Binghampton neighborhood, a few miles east of their workplace.1 Daughters of domestic workers, the young women lived with their mothers and various siblings and their children next door to each other on Broad Avenue, near the Paradise Grill and the Early Grove Baptist Church, where Wright’s family attended church.2 Both Wright, seventeen , and Williams, twenty, had young sons, with Wright the mother of a fourteen-month-old and Williams the mother of a three-year-old. Annie was a recent migrant; she had moved to Memphis with her mother and son from Fayette County, in west Tennessee, in December 1944, after separating from her husband. Wright and Williams stated that two white policemen, later identified as J. W. Torrey and B. J. Lewis, pulled up beside them in a squad car and accused them of loitering. Implying that they were prostitutes, the men said they had seen them at the corner an hour and a half earlier. When the young women insisted they had just left their jobs at Fred’s, the policemen accused them of working without health cards, which Tennessee required of food service workers to verify that they did not have syphilis. Wright and Williams assured them that their health cards, in accordance with state law, were kept at their workplaces. Instead of checking for the health cards at the café, the officers ordered them inside the squad car and drove north on Cleveland, then east on Jackson Avenue. “I thought you didn’t pick up girls that were working,” Williams said. “[W]e had to get this month’s 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 Moral Outrage Postwar Protest against Police Violence and Sexual Assault 3 Postwar Protest 82 number somehow, just as well start with you two,” an officer responded. “We are going to fill this car up with girls.” However, they continued to drive in a direction away from the police station, and made no effort to detain other women. Along the way, the women stated, the men vulgarly taunted them. “What are you sitting so close together for? You can’t f––k one another,” one asked. And, “You all ever been f––––d?” Williams remembered repeatedly crying out, “Lord have mercy!” until one of the officers responded, “That damn prayer won’t get you nowhere.” She also recalled one man ordering her to empty the change purse she was clutching, then demanding to know why she had a slip from the ear, nose, and throat clinic, insinuating that she had syphilis. In tears, Williams ripped up the clinic slip and threw the pieces on the seat; later they were recovered and used as evidence in court. Amid the harassment, she remembered, one of the men remarked to the other that she “might be telling the truth.” The circuitous, hour-long drive ended at a secluded, wooded site only a mile southeast of the women’s homes, off Union Avenue Extended. One of the men remarked, “Ain’t a S.B. out here. I thought [it] would be full,” in a reference to similar acts by other policemen. According to Wright and Williams, during the next several minutes, Torrey raped Williams while Lewis forced Wright to perform fellatio, threatening to blackjack her when she tried to resist him. The women’s statements detailed their attackers’ use of physical and psychological coercion, emphasizing that they had not willingly submitted to the men. After the attack, Lewis warned Wright that if she told anyone what had happened, he would “put in a claim and it will fall on [you],” referring to charging her with either prostitution or health card violations. Williams recounted that, during the attack, she pleaded with Torrey to leave her alone. She told him that in Somerville, her home town, the sheriff and deputies would “put colored girls in jail if they are out with white men,” and asked him to put her in jail rather than rape her. “This ain’t no Somerville,” he retorted, as...


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MARC Record
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