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Never Forget: The Execution of Lena Baker

Lena Baker was born in a former slave cabin, about five miles southwest of Cuthbert in Randolph County, Georgia. In 1944, at the age of forty-four, Lena had never known anything except hard work and a life of poverty and despair. She helped support her mother and three children by chopping cotton, cleaning houses, and taking in laundry.

When Ernest B. Knight, a local gristmill owner, hired her to care for him while he recovered from a broken leg, it must have, at first, seemed like a windfall. Knight, a white man, was twenty-three years Baker’s senior. It was well known in Cuthbert that Knight was heavy drinker and that he often carried a pistol strapped to his shoulder. It wasn’t long before a sexual relationship developed between Knight and Baker. When she attempted to extricate herself from this relationship, Knight locked her in his gristmill for several days at a time, and as a nearby newspaper reported after her execution, kept her there as his “slave woman.”

At her trial, Lena explained how Knight approached her house and forced her to go with him on that Saturday evening of April 29. Baker had been warned by the county sheriff to stay away from Knight or that she was going to be thrown in jail; too, she was afraid of physical abuse by Knight (and once even Knight’s son had given her a terrible beating with a warning to stay away from his father). Therefore, as soon as she could, Baker gave Knight the slip and spent the night sleeping in the woods near the convict camp. On her way back into Cuthbert the next morning, Knight cornered her again and this time took her to the mill house and locked her in while he went to a “singing” (a form of religious celebration in the South) with his son. Lena soon became fed up with spending the sweltering day lying on an old bed in the gristmill. When Knight returned, she informed him that she was leaving. They, in Lena’s words “tussled over the pistol.”

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At her trial when asked who pulled the trigger, she replied, “I don’t know.” She also explained the Knight was brandishing an iron bar that was used to secure the door to the gristmill and that she was afraid for her life.

Under the jurisdiction of Judge Charles William “Two Gun” Worrill, who presided at court with two pistols on the bench, the trial didn’t last even a full court day, taking a little over four hours. A former “lawman” out West, Worrill boasted of gunfights with twelve men, seven of whom died. Later he was appointed to the Georgia State Supreme Court by Governor Herman Talmadge, who later became a vehemently segregationist senator. The jury consisted of twelve white men (not unusual for 1944), but many of the jurors were good friends who attended the same small churches, socialized with each other’s families at card parties, and shared morning coffee at a local cafe.

In less than one-half hour the jury came back with a guilty verdict and Worrill sentenced Baker to death in Georgia’s electric chair, nicknamed “Old Sparky.” Her lawyer immediately asked for a new trial to be scheduled because “the verdict was contrary to the evidence and without evidence to support it … and the verdict was contrary to law and the principles of justice and equity.” He then just as immediately resigned as her lawyer. Later Lena was granted a sixty-day reprieve by then Governor Arnall, but the Board of Pardons and Parole denied clemency when they heard the case. Lena’s execution date was scheduled for March 5, 1945. On February 23 she was signed into one of the worst prisons in the United States, Reidsville State Prison, where she was housed in the men’s section until just a few days before her execution when she was moved to a solitary cell just a few feet from the execution chamber itself.


Lena went to her death calmly. Her last words were, “What I done, I did in self-defense, or I would have been killed myself … I am ready to meet my God.” Witnesses stated that it took six minutes and several shocks before the prison doctor pronounced her dead. Although Ernest B. Knight’s death had not made the headlines in the Cuthbert Times, Lena’s did. The paper crassly reported, “Baker Burns.”

Baker was the only woman in Georgia to be executed by electrocution. In 2005, sixty years after her execution, the state of Georgia granted Baker a full and unconditional pardon. A biography was published about Baker in 2001, which was adapted into feature film staring staring Tichina Arnold – The Lena Baker Story (2008).

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Lisa June 23, 2018 at 12:08 pm

This is beyond sad. I have no words to express how I feel about Lena Baker’s death. As African Americans we are still being executed and no one will listen to us or takes a stand for us. We are the only who can take a stand for ourselves but the question is “when?”

anthony russ January 12, 2019 at 5:51 pm

These heathen are going to get their due, the country wreaks of evil as you see for yourself, i’m down here in Australia and I see it, there’s bad all over the place in that country, but God will let his fury upon America, if you read Genesis 15:12-15 KJV it will enlighten you

Caril December 2, 2018 at 10:04 am


bruce cooper January 10, 2019 at 6:33 am

And still the American police / judiciary are behaving like the animals they are!

Wendell W. Phillips January 11, 2019 at 5:36 am

What I picked up from the sad case was how the substantial certainty of evidence that was withheld, to later be used to exonrate and pardon her death.

This is as about as ridiculous as Jack Johnson being pardoned by president 45.

What I have gathered is equity and the law. How can a dead man or woman receive equity in the law when they are dead. This devies and anulls the 14 the AMENDMENT of Justice centered around life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If you want to hear a case , one where a manifest injustustice is perpetrated by ledgedamin, false documents, such ac bogus GRAND JURY SUBPOENA ENFOCED TO AQUIRE TREAD SECRETS FROM THE PLAINTIFF, AND THEN LATER CONTRACTS WITH DAKTRONICS AND CLEAR CHANNEL OUTDOOR ADVERTISING.


King El III January 11, 2019 at 7:55 am

This story is only one of many, most still unreported. Georgia is still a racist State. The worst thing any black person can do is accept the white man’s God as theirs.

anthony russ January 12, 2019 at 6:03 pm

I found out that if you live a Hebrew Israelite life and read the bible KJV and stick to Gods commandments and be true to yourself you will be saved, because the country you live in will be judged for what they have been doing to us, that’s why God classify them as heathens it’s mention in the bible, plenty of errors are being set upon America that’s why there’s so much chaos going on, time is almost up and I find that it’s only going to get worst.

Pamula Furness January 11, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Heartbreaking. Knowing this kind of thinking still abounds shocks and dismays me. Surely it’s high time racism in all it’s forms was stopped. I do believe though, that future generations, (including today’s children), will be the ones to eradicate inequality. It’s up to all of us to ensure it, by teaching our babies the right way to behave, to respect and to Love one another.

Stacey Jenkins January 12, 2019 at 9:30 pm

Just tired of it all…🤦🏽‍♀️


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