Let’s Talk

If you’d like to discuss The Eyes of Willie McGee, there are several ways to do it in addition to leaving comments on this site:

Email me at alexheard@yahoo.com

I’m also available on Skype, and I’m eager to talk about the book with reading clubs, student groups, law-school classes, history buffs, and other interested individuals and organizations. Email me, and let’s set up a time. My Skype address is alexheard101

Or visit my Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1012037794

About me: I currently work as the editorial director at Outside magazine in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Over the years I’ve worked as an editor or writer with various publications, including Wired, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Spy, Slate, and The New Republic, among others. I’m the author of one previous book: Apocalypse Pretty Soon, a nonfiction look at millennial and utopian subcultures published by W.W. Norton in 1999.

I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1957, and went to school there through the first half of 9th grade. My dad, who was a pathologist, took a new job in Garden City, Kansas, in 1972, so I went to high school there. After two years of college at Fort Hays State University, I transferred to Vanderbilt University in 1978, graduating in 1980.



28 responses to “Let’s Talk

  1. Hi Alex,
    I love that you’re totally emeshed in the world of Oprah. You’ve really made it now! While I may not get around to reading Kelly’s tale, can’t wait to read your latest. How are you? LaVoe

    • Everything’s good here in Santa Fe … though it’s still pretty freakin’ cold. It snowed here yesterday.

      Looks like I’m coming to Nashville in early July to talk about the book. I’ll keep you informed as that shapes up.

  2. michelle johnson


    this is a site that discusses the history of the death penalty in mississippi. it provides the number of state sanctioned executions.

  3. Melvin Hinton

    Dear Mr. Heard: I was born and bred in Nashville, Tennessee, graduated from Fisk University in 1967. I regularly produce two programs for WORT-FM radio in Madison, Wisconsin. One consists of a half-hour talk with a writer. The other, an hour-long, includes at least three interviews. I would like to consider your book about Willie McGee for an interview. To this end, would you have your publisher send us a copy? The address is
    Melvin Hinton
    WORT-FM 89.9
    118 S. Bedford St.
    Madison, Wisconsin 53703 .

    I look forward to reading your book and, if you are available, to either talking with you or having one of our program hosts interview you. Sincerely Yours. –Melvin Hinton

  4. michelle johnson

    I just dont understand why you are turning Willie Magee into a civil rights hero. He was no hero. Rape is an act of violence and to suggest that Mr. Magee was an innocent bystander completely ignores the facts that were so well documented in your book.

    • How can you sit here and call this man a rapist? Nobody will ever know the real truth. Willie McGee may or may not have committed this crime. However, you must consider both possibilities. You were not there, you do not know. Either way, there is no point in continuing an argument about a case that occurred sixty years ago.

  5. Creole Deborah of New Orleans

    Hi Mr. Heard!

    I just finished reading your book, and wow did you do your research! I never heard of Willie McGee until I found your book.

    I have absolutely no idea what to think. I want to believe that neither McGee nor any other black man wouldn’t have been that drunk and/or crazy to break into a white woman’s home and rape her back then, but who knows? I guess it’s possible. I want to believe in his innocence, but I’m so unsure.

    I also wonder if the Hawkins’ were satisfied that McGee was the actual perpetrator, since Mrs. Hawkins never saw her attacker and there were no other witnesses that saw him; or did it not matter as any ‘Negro’ would do?

    I don’t know. I’m glad I found your book. I passed it on to my 73 year old mother who was born and raised in Oxford, Miss. She’s on page 88 and she can’t put it down. It’s a great read.


  6. i just watched the broadcast on c-span and i will purchase the book but on the surface, I conclude mcgee was innocent. How many times have we heard cases where white women claiming they were raped by black men when in fact it was consensual sex, plain and simple. Even if mcgee had a life filled with trouble, it doesnt make him a rapist. It still angers me when i hear of countless black boys and men being fasely accused of rape, robbery, etc. In my opinion, the south has a lot of innocent blood on its hands.

  7. Willie McGee was a rapist. He confessed and didn’t try to claim it as an affair until many years later after his defense told him to. The book has lots of facts to back this up. Some black boys ARE guilty of rape just as some white boys are. It still angers me that men get away with rape. I bet that happens many more times than innocent men being accused of rape. Pick a real man to be your hero. There are a lot of good men out there. Willie McGee was NOT one of them.

  8. Timmy, I beg to differ. My father was one of the defense attorneys in the third trial when Willie got on the stand and actually discouraged Willie not to bring up the affair, for fear of what those angered at the thought would do. Willie was no hero for what he did before his arrest. How he suffered, endured and forgave may have qualified him to be a hero in some eyes.

  9. Donna, I can guarantee you there was no affair. He had been told to say that by Abzug. I pray that you or the women in your family are never raped while you stand by helplessly and have them accused of having an affair. It’s the oldest excuse in the book. Of course you’re going to take his side because your father was on the defense. Experience rape first hand and be accused of an affair and let’s see how quickly your opinion changes.

    If you’ve never experienced rape, go volunteer with rape victims. It will quickly be clear to you that ALL rapists claim their rape was an affair. That’s how they justify it in their mind.

    I thought the defense said Willie was making animal noises and too low IQ to make sense. How was he able to suddenly speak coherently about having an affair and all of the details?

    Please think about rape victims before you so callously respond next time because of what Daddy told you.

    I’m curious where you lived during the time your father was defending Willie. What part of Laurel were you living in? Have you ever been to South Magnolia Street during that time period? If so, please describe it to the rest of us.

  10. Oh, before you defend Willie as a rapist because of his FORGIVENESS? ENDURANCE? and SUFFERING? You need to think long and hard about what his VICTIM and HER family had to suffer, endure, and forgive.

    Please, tell us all about your first-hand experience with rape because you seem to understand it so clearly.

  11. Timmy! Love your input, but please keep it civil, whatever you think of John Poole’s contribution to the McGee defense effort.

  12. “I maintain that the evidence for McGee’s love-affair claim is so skimpy that the burden of proof has to shift back to Mrs. Hawkins’s accusers. Over the years–and continuing today–people have written about the case as if it were established fact that McGee’s love-affair story were true. In reality, it was a claim he made to his trial lawyers–who were afraid to bring it up in court–and later to his appeals lawyers, who only put it out there during the last few months of the case.” Alex Heard, Purple State of John

  13. “People need to think long and hard about the sloppy factual handling that journalists and historians have given Mrs. Hawkins. Google the subject–or look at books like Jessica Mitford’s A Fine Old Conflict–and you’ll see it routinely stated that she seduced McGee, kept a secret love affair going for years, and then lied about it to save her neck.

    Nobody proved anything, and there are factual problems with McGee’s alibi. ” Alex Heart, Purple State of Mind

  14. “Meanwhile, the fact that Mrs. Hawkins won the libel case has to count for something. The Daily Worker didn’t simply punt. As I explain in the book, the paper’s parent company spent considerable time and resources after 1951 looking for new witnesses who could prove that the affair happened. They even sent a private detective to Mississippi in 1952 to look for new evidence. They never found any, which is why the case was settled in Mrs. Hawkins’s favor in 1955.” Alex Heard, Purple State of Mind

  15. “On the other side, we have to consider the rights of Mrs. Hawkins and her surviving family members. I don’t know whether McGee raped her, but I think it’s definitely possible, and I believe something bad happened to her, whether it was at his hands or someone else’s. Her daughters have had to endure 65 years of watching people vilify their mother without understanding the most basic facts about her, the trials, or McGee. It’s time to let both of them rest in peace.”

  16. Unfortunately, Mrs. Hawkins’ rape was during the Jim Crow era which overshadowed the crime. There is no doubt that capital punishment was unjustly used more often with blacks than whites during that time period, but it gave McGee’s defense no right to use Mrs. Hawkins as their scapegoat. All of his defense teams had more than enough information to fight their civil rights cause without using Mrs. Hawkins and victimizing her all over again.
    Yes, McGee’s case is a great representation of the unjust judicial system during the Jim Crow era. The corrupt legal system does not negate the fact that McGee committed multiple crimes. The injustice done to McGee needs to be clearly separated from the crimes he committed.
    One in six U.S. women and one in thirty-three U.S. men have been raped and no one stands up for them. Sixty percent of rapes are not reported to the police. Only six percent of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. So many rape victims do not have the strength or courage to come forward and fight like Mrs. Hawkins did.
    Mrs. Hawkins was courageous, brave, and noble. She is the one and only true hero in this story.

  17. United States Department of Justice report:

    >> 60 percent of rapes occur during home invasions
    >> One in five homes undergoes a home invasion or break-in
    >> There are more than 8,000 home invasions every day in North America
    >> 50 percent of home invasions involve the use of a weapon; the most common weapons used are knives or other cutting instruments
    >> In 48 percent of home invasions, victims sustain physical injuries
    >> Victims age 60 or older make up 17 percent of home invasion victims
    >> In 68 percent of home invasions, victims and the accused are strangers

  18. I would write a final comment to all who participate in this blog. It goes without saying that rape is horrific. The abuse that McGee experiened during and after his arrest was inhumane. Even if someone is convicted of murder, it gives no right for any person to take out their vengeance on the person physically. By the time McGee went to his execution, he said he was at peace with God and forgave his abusers. Being at peace with God requires accepting your own need for forgiveness – which is key in this story for us all.

  19. Alex, I have to say, I am a bit surprised by your response to the blog. It appears to me that Timmy is quite passionate and possibly is a local who has personal knowledge of the case or the people involved. It is clear that Timmy does have a point that Donna is speking on heresay from her father who was paid to defend McGee. I would be interested to know if Timmy possibly lived on Magnolia St.

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  21. people, how does anyone get raped while their husband is in the next room? what woman would rather her previously crying child sleep than wake him or the rest of the household during or to prevent a rape. she was a raving whore. couldnt wait to get that mandingo. i read the book. sure he was guilty of things but rape i dont believe. look at what he stood to lose by admitting she was a whore. read the tons of other stories where white women accused black men or men said there was an affair and was killed. if he’s guilty then he should have been punished. if she’s guilty she should have been paraded through town which a sign on her neck: ITS TRUE, I WENT BLACK

    • Hello: According to the testimony in three trials, Mr. Hawkins wasn’t in the next room–he was at the back of the house, with Mrs. Hawkins and a 2-year-old girl together in a bedroom at the front of the house. (This is all laid out in the book, by the way.)

  22. Was Drucilla Darnell – Willette Hawkins mother as the picture shows in the book and if so she was a black woman – what is that history of that and was she ever interviewed?

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