'The Kissing Case' And The Lives It Shattered In 1958, James Hanover Thompson and his friend David Simpson — both African American, both children — were accused of kissing a girl who was white. They were arrested, and taken to jail. Prosecutors sought a stiff penalty — living in reform school until they were 21.

'The Kissing Case' And The Lives It Shattered

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It is Friday morning when we hear from series, Story Corps. Today we have the story of an infamous kiss. It happened in Monroe, North Carolina in 1958.

Two African-American children, James Hanover Thompson and his friend David Simpson were accused of kissing a girl who was white. They were arrested, and faced charges of molestation. It became known around the world as the kissing case.

The Thompson family has rarely talked about this, but this morning we will hear from James Hanover Thompson. He recently sat down with his younger brother, Dwight, to talk about what happened.

Mr. JAMES HANOVER THOMPSON: We were playing with some friends over in the white neighborhood, chasing spiders and wrestling and stuff like that. One of the kids suggested that one of the little white girls give us a kiss on the jaw. The little girl gave me a peck on the cheek, and then she kissed David on the cheek. So, we didn't think nothing of it. We were just little kids.

Mr. DWIGHT THOMPSON: How old was that?

Mr. HANOVER THOMPSON: I was nine years old. David was seven. Really didn't hardly know what a kiss was. And so, we went on home like nothing happened, you now.

And the next day the police car pulled up, and they said, we're taking y'all to jail. I didn't know what was going on. But when we got down to the police station, we understand that they said that we had raped a little white girl.

They took us down in the bottom of the police station to a cell. And they had us handcuffed. They started beating us. They was beating us to our body, you know? They didn't beat us to the face, where nobody could see it; they just punched us all in the stomach, and back and legs. We was hollering and screaming. We thought they was gonna kill us.

And so we stayed in jail for six or seven days before our parents ever got a chance to see us. And they sent me to a psychologist, and I would go see that man - every week I had to go see him, and he'd tell me they should have castrated y'all. I mean, it was just something.

Mr. THOMPSON: So how does that make you feel now? I mean, how old are you now?


Mr. THOMPSON: Sixty-two.

Mr. HANOVER THOMPSON: I still feel the hurt and the pain from it. And nobody have never said, hey, look, I'm sorry what happened to y'all, it was wrong. And I always sit around and I wonder if this hadn't happened to me, you know, what could I have turned out to be? Could I have been a doctor? Could I have went off to some college or some great school? It just destroyed our life.

INSKEEP: James Hanover Thompson and David Simpson were eventually released. James has spent much of his time in and out of prison for robbery.

His sister, Brenda Lee Graham, also came to Story Corps with her younger brother Dwight, and she recalled what it was like for the rest of the family while James was in jail.

Ms. BRENDA LEE GRAHAM: Mom was a nervous wreck. She didn't sleep. She'd be up walking the floors and praying. And I remember that at night you could see them burning crosses, or...

Mr. THOMPSON: Right there in the front yard?

Ms. GRAHAM: Right there in the front yard. And my mom and them, they would go out in the morning, and sweep bullets off our front porch.

And see James, he was away for awhile, and when he came back it was like seeing somebody different that you didn't even know. He never talked about what he went through there. But ever since then, his mind just hadn't been the same.

My brother and his friend had to suffer on account of that, and I mean, they suffered.

One kiss. I've thought about that. It all started with a kiss.

INSKEEP: That's Brenda Lee Graham with her brother, Dwight Thompson. These conversations were recorded in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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