In 1944, an all-white jury found George Stinney guilty for the brutal murders of two white girls in South Carolina during the Jim-Crow era. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crimes and he wasn’t allowed to see his parents after his arrest.
83 days later, 14-year-old Stinney was led to an electric chair that was designed for adults. Books were stacked to increase his height in the chair. He was the youngest person to be sentenced to death under state law.
70 years later, Stinney was exonerated.
“[The police] were looking for someone to blame it on, so they used my brother as a scapegoat,” his sister Amie Ruffner told news outlets in 2014.
Stinney’s case illustrates the experiences of Black people in America’s legal system–when the investigators, prosecutors and juries are all white–especially during Jim-Crow and segregation.
Writer and Actress Ruby Lee Dove has decided to write a play to honor Stinney’s life. Her play “1944” will open Sep 28, 2018 at The Complex Hollywood-Dorie Theatre in Los Angeles at 8:00 p.m. “1944” will run from Sep 28-Sep 30, with two shows Sep. 30 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
When did you start taking storytelling serious and what stories do you aim to tell?
“Storytelling has always been serious to me. Getting to the point of sitting down and writing all the stories that are in my mind, I got serious about two years ago, when I realized that is part of what I was placed here to do. As far as the kind of stories I aim to tell, I like to tell stories about people of color in a light that is not usually seen. I know that is not the case for “1944.” I love to show women of color in powerful positions or women of color being comedic and not these angry people that the media makes us out to be. I enjoy attempting to change the narrative a little bit about how we operate in the world as people of color.”
When did you first hear about George Stinney and why do you think you were so moved by his story?
“I’ve known about George’s story since I was a child. That’s why I think it shocked me so much when I realized a lot of other people don’t know. It was normal for me to know these stories. I was raised by my great-grandmother who was born in 1928 and I’m from the south, so maybe that had something to do with it. I was moved knowing my grandmother was born in 1928 and she was a young girl in 1944 when this happened to George. That changes things and puts it into perspective.”
You have a B.A in Communications with a focus in Media Production from the University of Houston. In what ways did your major influence your decision to make a play about George Stinney?
“I knew what I wanted my career path to be before even starting at U of H. I knew that I wanted to tell other peoples stories whether that was through my writings or acting; realistic or fictional, as long as they were showing our people in a positive light. U of H didn’t make me come to that decision, it was sort of a stepping-stone, another accolade to add to what I already wanted to do.”
At what point did you decide you were going to write a play about George Stinney?
“I’ll say at the end of 2016. Even though I’ve always known about his story, I was never in a position to sit down and actually write the play and put it out. Once I graduated college, got married and got out the military, a lot of time opened up for me. I just remember that is what I wanted to write.”
What parallels can you draw from George’s story, to the experiences of Black men in the justice system today?
“When you talk about the war on drugs, Black men were put in jails at such high rates. Even today, there are laws that have changed in regards to drugs but there are still people sitting in prison for crimes, where the sentencing has changed. It just shows you how interesting the justice system works in favor of who it wants to work for. That’s what happened in George’s story.”
“It very much relates to how the lives of so many of our young boys are taken from us and they don’t even have the chance to become men.”
What is one of the biggest messages that you hope to convey through your play “1944?”
“That his life mattered. I don’t want us as a people to become insensitive. I think we see it happen so much on media we desensitize ourselves to it. Another Black man incarcerated, another Black man being shot. We start forgetting the names or we can’t remember the last name. We can’t allow ourselves to become desensitized to it. That’s why I think his story is so important because it is a reminder that this isn’t new and it’s a system that has to be fixed. We know Emmett Till because his mother worked so hard to make sure the world knew what happened to her son. But we don’t know George’s story who was also 14, because his parents weren’t allowed to be with him after his arrest.”
“We are about our natural hair, we are loving our melanin, we hype each other up, but in the midst of all of that, we have to remember that we still have so far to go and I want that to be a reminder to people.”
What are some of your short-term goals when it comes to acting and writing?
“I want to continue to progress. Next year I want to be in even more powerful works of art than I was this year. I want to continue to write more meaningful projects that are able to reach a wider audience. I also want to allow women and people of color in our art in a larger scale . We have our Black Panther’s and Crazy Rich Asians but in the entertainment world it is still very much white-saturated.
“I want to create opportunities for those that don’t normally get the opportunity.”
Ruby Lee Dove was raised in Texas and served in the U.S army for six years where she performed duties as Military Police. She has a B.A in Communications with a focus in Media Production from the University of Houston. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and they manage a production company called Life After Life Films Productions. You can follow her Instagram at @QueenRubyLee and keep up with her projects at @LifeAfterLifeProductions.
Tickets can be purchased at 1944.eventbrite.com