Black History: Special Delivery!!
Willie James Howard’s flirtatious card sent to a white girl in 1944 would result in him losing his life 11 years before Emmett Till also met the same fate.
Emmett Till’s tragic story was captured by Jet Magazine when his mother decided to have an open casket at his funeral. In 1944 when Willie James Howard was murdered, there was no Jet Magazine. Willie had a crush on a young white girl that he worked with at a dime store. He sent her a Christmas card with the following words, “ I love your name. I love your voice. For a S.H. [sweetheart] you are my choice,”
The young girl, Cynthia Goff showed the note to her father, Phil Goff, a former state legislator. Phil Goff dragged Willie from his home at gun point on January 2, 1944. He and his father James Howard were taken to the Suwannee River where Willie was forced to jump in as his father watched the lynching. His body was pulled from the river the next day. Justice was sought for the cruel murder. Harry Moore, field secretary for the NAACP took statements from Willies parents. Moore had grown up in the town and was a classmate of Willie’s mother, Lula Howard. Thurgood Marshall, general counsel for the NAACP was told by Florida’s governor that it would be almost impossible to get a grand jury to believe the account of Willie’s father over the white men who murdered his son. The governor was right. A grand jury refused to indict Phil Goff and his accomplices. The Justice Department also refused to intervene; stating that it had no jurisdiction. Harry Moore continued to seek justice on behalf of the Howard Family until he and his wife were murdered by Klansmen who fire bombed their home in 1951.
The men who murdered Willie were never brought to justice. They are all dead now. Efforts to reopen the case thus far have been unsuccessful. Reflecting on how Emmett Till was beaten, shot, and thrown in the Tallahatchie River for whistling at a white woman; makes it even more troubling to know that another young man met the same fate years earlier.