The Spirit

Guest Opinion

Williams Deserves More than Exoneration

Alexander McClay Williams

Alexander McClay Williams

A lexander Mc- Clay Williams, a 16-year-old Black boy, was executed by Pennsylvania in June 1931. Falsely accused of stabbing a white woman more than 40 times at the Glen Mills School, the Black teenager was strapped into an unforgiving electric chair and swiftly murdered by the very legal system that was supposed to ensure him the highest levels of justice.

Some would say that system failed him. Others would say the sick system of legal oppression has been historically rigged by racism to fail Alexander and anyone who looks like him.

I wonder what Alexander would say if he could speak to us today, but he can’t because he was sentenced in Media and executed by the state.

In June 2022, Williams’ name was cleared of all charges related to the 1931 murder. His name was exonerated in the same Delaware County courtroom where he was once said to be 100-percent guilty.

From fast guilt to slow innocence took 91 years. But what good is exoneration of a name 91 years after the state sanctioned the murder of the teenager attached to that name?

Vida Robare, the woman Alexander McClay Williams was falsely accussed and convicted of stabbing with an ice pick 47 times.

Vida Robare, the woman Alexander McClay Williams was falsely accussed and convicted of stabbing with an ice pick 47 times.

What is exoneration? And is exoneration of the young man’s name enough after nine decades of reverberating trauma contaminating the lives of his family, friends, community members and supporters? What is exoneration?

By definition it is “the action of officially absolving someone from blame.” Another says, “Exoneration occurs when the conviction for a crime is reversed, either through demonstration of innocence, a flaw in the conviction, or otherwise.”

Simply put, exoneration means the once-accused has been wrongfully accused and is totally innocent.

Alexander McClay Williams was murdered without cause, for no reason, and should not be dead. Exonerating his name is important. But as a friend of mine said recently, “Exonerating (his name) is like the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania saying, ‘my bad.’”

Along with several friends and colleagues, I was there last June 13, when he was exonerated. It was a bittersweet announcement. The lad wasn’t there to celebrate. His spirit was already free from the system that mistreated him. His body had been vacated nine decades ago.

At the request of some of his relatives, I am writing, filming and reporting on his life and the life of his nephew, Walker Carter, Jr. who was electrocuted in June 2017 while working for PECO.

I have lived, studied, consulted for and reported on many tragic stories. One of my toughest stories related to the Philadelphia MOVE bombing where five children under the age of 14 were shot, burned and murdered in a confrontation that involved both Philadelphia police and fire departments.

It is my opinion that the injustice served against Alexander in June 1931 paved the way for many injustices against Black children in the decades that followed. There are too many Black children to count. (Though he was not a child, we can now add the name Tyre Nichols to the list of official Black victims.)

One of those Black children was a boy named Korey Wise – once part of a group called The Central Park Five. They are now called The Exonerated Five. Korey Wise is a part of this group.

Like Alexander, Korey was 16 when he was arrested and accused of raping a white woman jogger in New York’s Central Park in April 1989. So, both boys were 16 years old. Both boys were Black. Both boys were falsely accused of harming white women. Interesting…

Even more stunning to me, are the physical likenesses between Alexander and Korey. I have a suggestion: search for a picture of Alexander McClay Williams and you are likely to come across a staged photo with him and former Delaware County District Attorney William J. McCarter. In this photo, McCarter holds an ice pick up to Alexander’s face so reporters can take pictures and circulate this image in national media publications.

Once you’ve seen that, search for Korey Wise. Look for the video of his coerced recorded confession. Pause the video and compare the faces of both children. See the similarity? One Black boy is captured by camera in 1931. Another Black boy is captured through video in 1989. The similar results between them? They were both captured and falsely convicted. The different result between them? An execution.

The biggest difference between Korey Wise and Alexander McClay Williams is their respective exonerations. Wise was alive in 2002 when he was exonerated in New York state. At 16, Wise was sent to prison for nearly 14 years for a crime he did not commit. Alexander had been dead for 91 years when he was exonerated.

The spirit of Wise still occupied his body when he was exonerated. Maybe Alexander’s spirit is still with us. But his body is nowhere to be seen. His name – though exonerated – is far from a household name.

As I write this, the only marker identifying the life of Alexander Mc- Clay Williams is located at the Greenlawn Cemetery in Chester Township. That marker is a headstone surrounded by other headstones of mostly forgotten people. I contend that Alexander McClay Williams deserves more than a headstone. He was falsely accused and remains the youngest person in Pennsylvania to be executed.

He deserves more than a name exoneration. He deserves widespread name recognition. tn December 2022, New York City provided Korey Wise and four other falsely-accused men more than name and physical exoneration. As boys, these men endured years of incarceration, inhumane treatment, and emotional distress. Their families, friends, community members and supporters suffered with these boys through punishments they did not deserve. So, New York took a step beyond exoneration.

Now located in New York’s Central Park, is any entryway between Fifth Ave. and Malcolm X Blvd.called the “Gate of the Exonerated.” This entryway commemorates the miscarriage of justice that not only befell the five men, organizers say, but the unknown others who might have been wrongly imprisoned.

This is the type of physical public landmark Alexander McClay Williams deserves.

And a public tribute to Alexander should be displayed at the top of the Fronefield Building in Media. Why? Because W. Roger Fronefield was the judge who sentenced Alexander to death. Fronefield’s name – ironically – is displayed prominently on the juvenile court building in Media.

The juvenile building. Of all buildings, his name is there.

Alexander’s name should be on that building, too.

Along with a committed group of community activists and supporters, I propose the building’s name be changed to “The Williams-Fronefield” Juvenile Courthouse. Forever and for always, the names Fronefield and Williams will be interconnected. They have a shared story that can – and should — be told.

Instead of taking a woefully “woke” approach to this crucial matter, Delaware County officials and citizens should look their history square in the face, own the mistakes of the past, and co-create a better future for everyone. It doesn’t have to be this or that. It can and should be both.

The Williams-Fronefield Juvenile Courthouse.

I’ve talked to members of County Council and I am pleased to report that there is strong support for public recognition of Alexander McClay Williams. I have contacted people close to Korey Wise and hope he will attend a ceremony related to Alexander. Most importantly, I have been in communication with Alexander’s 92-year-old sister, Susie Williams-Carter, about this strong possibility.

She simply asked me, “When do you think this name change might happen?”

I wish I could have given her a definite answer. I can’t. I do hope, however, that she will see that day when Delaware County stepped up to go beyond exoneration and into the next level of justice for Alexander McClay Williams.

Don’t just say his name. Put it on the courthouse.

UlyssesButch” Slaughter is writer and director of a series of films called “Framing Alexander: Young, Murdered and Black.” He is leading an effort to have Alexander McClay Williams’s name added to The Fronefield Courthouse Building in Media.

Guest Opinions are the expressed opinions of the writers and may or may not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper or its management.

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