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  • The “Little Brown Brother” in the Jim Crow South:Race, Sex, and Empire in State of Georgia v. Fortunatio Annunciatio (1932)
  • Stephanie Hinnershitz (bio)

Come on, hurry!” fourteen-year-old Rosa Mae Clower yelled while grabbing her fifteen-year-old friend Frances Hutcheson’s wrist and pulling her through the crowd gathered in front of Atlanta’s downtown McCrory’s drugstore. On the afternoon of April 11, 1932, the popular Filipino yo-yo exhibitionists Fortunatio Annunciatio and Ambia “Amby” Subia dazzled their audience as their agile fingers performed a litany of tricks with the toy, a craze that was sweeping through the city during the early years of the Great Depression. But the growing economic storm did little to stifle the enthusiasm of the citizens of Atlanta who handsomely tipped the yo-yo kings. The two girls, who had spent extra money that day to ride the streetcar from Fulton High School to the show, clamored to see Annunciatio and Subia and applauded the talented duo after each trick, clapping until their hands stung.1

As the crowd thinned out, Clower and Hutcheson remained at McCrory’s, sipping Cokes, stealing glances at the two Filipinos, and catching twenty-five-year-old Amby Subia’s eye. Subia and Annunciatio (who was twenty-seven years old) did not exchange words with their fans that day, but the two girls returned to the drugstore two days later to watch more yo-yo tricks. At this point, Subia approached Clower and Hutcheson, inviting them to come see a later performance at the convention hall. The girls never made it to [End Page 549] the second exhibition, but that afternoon of April 13, Clower and Hutcheson climbed the stairs in the Tallulah Apartments and knocked on Annunciatio and Subia’s door. What happened after the two girls entered the apartment that afternoon spurred a unique Georgia court case involving a Filipino man fighting for his civil rights within the racialized legal system of the Jim Crow South.2

Following tips from neighbors who had observed the girls entering and leaving the apartment on April 13, Atlanta police barged into the Filipinos’ abode the next afternoon, searching for evidence that the two had seduced and raped the young women. Hutcheson and another friend, Evelyn Barnett, were present at the apartment when the police arrested Subia and Annunciatio that day. Taken to the station for questioning, the girls revealed that Clower also frequented the home of the two suspects. The police called Clower in for questioning as well, and she eventually revealed that Annunciatio had “forced himself upon” her on the afternoon of April 13. Both Annunciatio and Subia faced charges of rape (or assisted rape, in Subia’s case) and were found guilty by the court in Fulton County in May 1932. Newspaper coverage of the case inflamed the passions of Georgians outside Atlanta, with one resident from Thomasville in southwest Georgia declaring that “those Atlanta yo-yo artists ought be wrapped around their necks with their [yo-yo] strings.”3 Sentenced to ten to fifteen years of hard labor at the Georgia State Penitentiary, Annunciatio appealed the decision ultimately to the Supreme Court of Georgia, arguing that he was denied a fair trial from the moment the police illegally entered and searched his home without a warrant until the assistant solicitor provided damaging and racist closing remarks to the jury regarding Filipinos.4

Annunciatio’s appeal marked the first time in Georgia history that a Filipino challenged the state’s Jim Crow legal system (and its racist underpinnings). While the details of what exactly happened that April afternoon in the Tallulah Apartments remain unclear, Annunciatio insisted that the way the police, the prosecutors, and the Fulton County judge handled the case violated his basic rights as an American subject. Classified as “nationals” under American colonial rule, the “little brown brothers” of the Philippines (as Governor General William Howard Taft described the Filipinos) were allowed to migrate to and [End Page 550] from America and, despite not being recognized as U.S. citizens, were afforded full constitutional rights when residing in the United States. The “national” status did have limitations, however, as...


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