Wednesday, May 15, 2013 1:00 AM
With soldiers and State Police patrolling the streets and areas around Philadelphia's two-story wooden, antiquated jail on Myrtle Street, State Executioner Jimmy Thompson threw the switch on Mississippi's portable electric chair at 2:19 a.m., and six minutes later at 2:25 a.m., Thursday, May 15, 1941, thirty-eight-year-old James Grady White became the first and last person to die in "Ole Sparkey" in Neshoba County. Since before the Civil War, only two other men had been legally executed in Neshoba County - Rogers Roberts on Oct. 28, 1932 for a brutal slaying of a female, and Thurman Ricks on Feb. 2, 1934, for the murder of a male, both by hanging.
On Sept. 25, 1940, a local jury convicted Grady White, a Neshoba County road house operator, on a charge of murdering Sam McCune. McCune was killed in cold blood about 11:30 a.m., July 29, 1940, at the Blue Goose Inn following an argument over the operation of pin ball machines in Neshoba County. White's attorney, Earl Wingo of Hattiesburg, long a political associate of Governor Paul Johnson, Sr., immediately appealed the conviction that sentenced White to death on Sept. 25, 1940.
The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on April 14, 1941, overruled a Suggestion of Error on May 12, 1941, and Governor Johnson declined to interfere on May 13, 1941, leading to the execution on May 15, 1941.
On Wednesday afternoon, May 14, 1941, Sheriff Will Brantley, Deputy Clarence Garrison and another officer, along with three highway patrolmen escorted Grady White from the state capitol of Jackson to Philadelphia, using a round-about way, fearing "possible trouble," and arriving in front of the Philadelphia jail at 12:50 a.m., Thursday.
The truck and trailer, carrying the portable electric chair, arrived earlier at 10:00 p.m., Wednesday, escorted by seven highway patrolmen under the command of Adjutant General Thomas J. Grayson and Lieutenant J. C. Byrd. Shortly before midnight a detachment of soldiers arrived, armed with sawed-off shotguns and tear gas grenades. General Grayson stated that night that the troops and patrolmen were requested by Sheriff Brantley and were "under his direct orders all during the proceedings."
The military force barricaded the street in front of the jail as soon as the truck arrived, and large peaceful crowds occupied areas at both ends of Myrtle Street, at Byrd and Center Avenues, until nearly 3:00 a.m. Authorities reported no disorders of any kind.
Local barber Bernice Bryan entered the jail at 1:08 a.m. and immediately went to White's cell where he shaved his head, arms and legs for the electrodes.
As Sheriff Brantley read the death warrant to White, the condemned man calmly smoked a cigar and chatted about local trivia.
White was clad in a new brown suit, with a white shirt and brown tie, socks and shoes, and sat with a slight smile/sneer on his face. A boutonniere was fastened to his lapel, and his prayer book, the "Rule of life" graced his upper coat pocket, directly over his heart.
Father Francis Deignan, pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church, entered the jail at about 2:00 a.m., and spoke a few words to White and administered the Rites of Final Absolution, before deputies escorted the prisoner to the first floor.
As White sat in the chair, with handcuffs removed, Executioner Thompson began adjusting the straps, while the doomed man laughed and joked with Thompson during this proceeding and asked, "How do you like doing this to me?" The executioner answered, "This is a disagreeable task, Grady, but organized society will be better off for it." When asked if he had any final words, James Grady White shook his head and mumbled, "Nothing." With a "Goodbye, Grady, and may God Almighty have mercy on your immortal soul," Thompson shocked White with three jolts of electricity, the first with 2,300 volts lasting 15 seconds, the second of 1,150 volts for 25 seconds and 440 volts for five seconds.
As the switch was thrown, White's body jerked rigidly against the straps in the chair and remained that way. Dr. Claud Yates, Dr. J. H. Leigh, both of Philadelphia, and Dr. E. L. Laird of Union, the attending physicians, pronounced White dead six minutes later.
Immediately after the doctor's decision, all spectators were requested to leave, and Sheriff Brantley delivered the body to McClain-Hays Funeral Home. Family members stayed with the remains in a private chapel at the funeral parlor, awaiting the final services scheduled for 5:30 p.m. that Thursday afternoon. Father Deignan performed the final services at Holy Rosary Mission in the Tucker Community, and internment followed at the Holy Rosary Cemetery. (Researched from the May 16, 1941, issue of The Neshoba Democrat).
Civil War Veterans
House, John Jesse - Private; enlisted April 24, 1861, at Philadelphia, Miss., in Company D, 11th Miss. Infantry Regiment; age seventeen; farmer; ill at Harpers Ferry, Va., May 27, 1861; hospitalized with chronic bronchitis at General Hospital #18 at Richmond, Va., April 8 to April 28, 1862.
Severely wounded at Seven Pines, May 31, 1862; died, June 13, 1862; death claim settled for $112.76, and paid to his father, Wiley Jesse House, Sr., Dec. 12, 1862; buried in division B, row M, grave #31 in Oakwood Cemetery at Richmond; described as six feet three and one-half inches tall, fair complexion, light hair and grey eyes.
World War II Veterans
May, Robert Lamar -- Private to Private First Class; enlisted on Oct. 26, 1943 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age eighteen. Student; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, and at Fort George G. Meade, Aberdeen, Md.; served also in the European Theatre of Operations as a rifleman with Company I, 363rd Regimental Combat Team, 91st Infantry "Fir Tree" Division, May 1944 to Sept. 1944; participated in the campaign in Rome-Arno, Italy; seriously wounded in action in Italy, Aug. 14, 1944; left leg amputated between knee and ankle, Sept. 1944; underwent surgery at the Lawson General Hospital at Atlanta, Ga., Nov. 1944; awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with one bronze service star) and the Purple Heart; discharged from the Lawson General Hospital, March 25, 1945, combat disability; described as five feet seven inches tall, weighing 123 pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Monday thru Friday