Letter Writing and the Willie James Howard Case Synopsis from Marvin Dunn’s website: www.

wjhstory.com Willie James Howard was a fifteen-year old African American child who was lynched by three white men in Live Oak, Florida on January 2, 1944. His offense was writing a love letter to a white girl whose father led the attack on the boy. (See the letter on the back.) The boy's father was also abducted and had to watch his son murdered by being forced at gunpoint to jump into the Suwannee River with his hands and feet tied. An all-white Suwannee County grand jury refused to indict the men although the girl's father admitted abducting Willie James and tying his hands and feet on the way to the Suwannee River. The local sheriff ordered the body buried within twenty-four hours. Although fully apprised of events, the governor refused to intervene. Willie James, who was an only child, was buried in an unmarked grave for over sixty years. Excerpt of Letter from Marvin Dunn (3/07): Please help find justice for a 15 year-old African-American boy who was lynched in Live Oak, Florida on January 2, 1944 for writing a love letter to a white girl. His killers are known, although all three white men involved have died. The Florida Attorney General is close to making a decision regarding the reopening of this case so that those involved may be officially identified. This is based upon a petition I filed with that office last October. They have called several times in the past week indicating that the attorney general may be close to a decision. They seem reluctant to reopen saying, "We haven't heard from anyone but you, Dr. Dunn." and "What good would it do?" I believe that this child, who was in the 10th grade when he was murdered, deserves to have his killers identified. Letter in response to Marvin’s Dunn call for reopening the case. Dear Mr. Attorney General: As a language arts professor at one of our state institutions, I am appalled by the suggestion your office has made to Dr. Marvin Dunn that no one but him cares about reopening the case of Willie James Howard. I think of a line from one of the stories of Barry Lopez: "Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memory. This is how people care for themselves." I urge you to consider that bringing justice in this case represents, ultimately, the acknowledgement by the state of a story. I urge you to consider the full implications of this fact. One of our main enterprises at Miami Dade College and many other institutions is to read, share, tell stories. We need stories to survive--the good and the bad--because they show us our common humanity, and because they help us understand the world around us. In our work as students and teachers, many of us try to understand the history that has gotten our disciplines, our communities, our families, and ourselves where we are today. In questioning whether we should care about Howard today, the state does not seem to understand the power of story, and it is missing an opportunity to take on a leadership role in promoting understanding between people of diverse backgrounds. I urge you to reopen the Willie James Howard case and to do everything in your power to identify the killers. Even though this crime was perpetrated 60 years ago, it is your responsibility to ensure justice is served. Please make sure this story comes to light. I hope you understand that if we don't confront the ugliness of our past, we can not heal in the present, nor can we hope to secure a future that sustains the promise of justice for all people. Alejandro Salinas Assistant Professor Communications, Arts and Philosophy Dept. Miami Dade College InterAmerican Campus

(Five months later, after Dunn’s meeting with the attorney general) August 31, 2007 Ms. Simone Marstiller Associate Deputy Attorney General Office of the Attorney General State of Florida Pl-01 The Capitol Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1050 Dear Ms. Marstiller: Our meeting today in Fort Lauderdale was a waste of my time and seven dollars in parking fees. For the record, allow me to recap our discussion and respond to it. You stated that the Willie James Howard case “may not be the best one to reopen.” You asked if I would be willing to work with the Attorney General’s office in identifying other cases of civil rights violations in Florida and that at some point the attorney general might issue a “proclamation” denouncing all of these acts of racially inspired violence in Florida history. My response: bull dust! Your statement today hardly rose to the level of a thinly disguised effort to divert attention and focus from one of the most heinous acts of racial violence in Florida history. Keep your proclamation Ms. Marstiller. I want justice for a dead black child of Florida who can not speak for himself. How dare you suggest diluting this atrocity by rolling it over into some all-inclusive denouncement of anti-black violence in Florida that does not name these kidnappers and murderers by name? You ask that I bring more compelling cases. I have no more compelling case than the Howard case. Duh! That’s why I brought it to you. In this rare instance you have three idiots who admitted their crimes in writing to a county sheriff. How much more compelling evidence do you have in mind? A written statement admitting murder? You were unprepared to discuss the case with me. You had no idea of the moral issues I raised in this case. You did not review the film I sent to the attorney general on this event; I assume nor did he. Please send it back as we requested. You were not even aware of the existence (or not) of relatives of this boy. What were you doing at this meeting? Where was Ms. Bethel, your civil rights authority in whose offices this meeting was held and who I suspect has a better grip on the facts and issues in this case than you? For your belated edification, I am going to restate the moral issues I raised in the Howard case (to which you did not respond today.) 1. If a person in Florida commits murder and dies before being caught, does he get a free ride into eternity? 2. If the state allows and\or participates in the cover up of a murder, does the state get a free ride forever as well? 3. What is owed to the African American citizens of Suwannee County who lived through this nightmare caused in part by the neglect of the state? What would I like to see happen? First, the state must apologize to this child, his family and his community; and to the people of Florida. This should be done at a public ceremony at the Howard gravesite in Live Oak. The apology should be issued by the Governor since it was that office that allowed the Howard atrocity to escape justice. In the course of our discussion, you stated, “Everybody knows what happened in this case” (therefore, there is no need to open an investigation). Pardon me. Everyone does not know. The editor of the newspaper in Live Oak told me the killing “was an accidental drowning.” Most of the people of the state never even heard of the Howard case. Might you conceive that it is your job, in the name of justice, to tell them? The attorney general must wear this bloodied robe. A pox on your proclamation. Nothing short of naming these killers will silence this cry from the grave.

Marvin Dunn