Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
Lena Baker was executed in 1945 in Georgia after being found guilty by an all white jury of killing her white employer and lover, Ernest Knight, a gristmill owner. Knight had broken his leg and hired Lena Baker to care for him and become his maid. He also traded alcohol for sex with Baker and the town of Cuthbert, Georgia knew about the affair.
Lena Baker had come from a poor family of cotton choppers and at the age of twenty decided she could make more money as a prostitute and went into business with another woman. However, all of her clients were white men and this drew the attention of the local county sheriff as interracial relationships were illegal at the time in Georgia. The two black women were arrested and sentenced to several months in a workhouse.
The black community had turned their backs on Baker when she was released and this began her descent into alcoholism. Ernest Knight, a failed farmer in Cuthbert, Georgia, had a nasty reputation of being a mean and abusive man, who then owned a gristmill and always wore a pistol strapped to his chest.
The two of them then moved to Tallahassee, Florida at the behest of Knight's son but the son wanted his father to go alone without Baker. When his son came to their home in Tallahassee, he gave Baker and ultimatum to leave Knight. She did and went back to Cuthbert. However, Ernest Knight would eventually follow her back there. One night, Knight told Baker to come to his gristmill but she didn't want to and tried to stall him and his advances by asking him for money for alcohol. Knight arrived at her place and gave her money for whiskey and she went to the local tavern to buy some, but ti was closed. She waited several hours before returning home, in hopes that he would be gone, but he was still there. He forced her to go to the gristmill with him and she managed to escape him and bought some whiskey and fell asleep at a nearby convict camp.
The next morning, she went to the gristmill, thinking that Knight would not be there, but he was. Knight then allegedly held her captive for several hours and he threatened to kill her if she ever left him again. According to Baker's testimony, a struggle ensued and she tried to wrestle the gun away from Knight and it went off. The bullet struck him in the head, killing him instantly.
Lena Baker was arrested for the murder and even though the whole town hated Knight, he was still a white man who was killed by a black woman. She was found guilty and sentenced to death by electrocution. Ironically, sixty years after her death, Lena Baker was pardoned for her crime by the state of Georgia.