This article describes the trial, press coverage, and eventual pardon of Esther Johnson, a young Nigerian who murdered her lover, a British railroad employee, in 1953. These events offer insights into the social history of mid-twentieth-century southern Nigeria as well as the relationship between sexuality and colonialism. While scholars have highlighted the threats that mixed-race sexual unions represented to colonial establishments, they have paid less attention to local interpretations of such relationships, particularly in contexts with few European settlers and waning colonial power. Although British administrators and, later, independence-era politicians viewed this case in terms of race and nationalism, newspapers depicted Johnson simply as an attractive young woman wronged by her boyfriend. In fact, the press coverage of the case—with its emphasis on tragic romance, glamorous characters, and moral lessons to be pondered—reads very much like the local, popular literature of the era. While Esther Johnson did come to symbolize Nigerian nationalism, her saga also resonated with the reading public's preoccupations about love and romance. Colonial boundaries may have been at stake, but the meanings that administrators and politicians attached to the case were not necessarily the same as those of participants or Nigerian observers.


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pp. 118-141
Launched on MUSE
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