Willie James Howard
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Willie James Howard (born July 13, 1928) was a 15-year-old African American living in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida. He was lynched for having written a “fresh” letter to a white girl (Cynthia Goff, his co-worker at the Van Priest Dime Store), on January 2, 1944. The girl’s father, A.P. “Phil” Goff, a former state legislator, along with S.B. McCullers and Reg H. Scott, allegedly went to Willie’s house and took the youth from his mother at gunpoint. They picked up Willie’s father, James Howard, at the Bond-Howell Lumber Company where he worked, then drove to the Suwannee River east of Suwannee Springs, where they bound Willie by the hands and feet, and forced the youth to choose between getting shot and jumping into the Suwannee River.
After his father said he could do nothing to save him, Willie jumped into the river and drowned. Goff, McCullers and Scott signed an affidavit which stated that they had only wanted James Howard to whip his son and, rather than be whipped by his father, Willie had committed suicide by jumping into the river. James Howard also signed the affidavit, but after selling his home and moving to Orlando, he recanted. Harry T. Moore, of the NAACP, interviewed the parents. After a county grand jury failed to indict, Moore was able to get a federal investigation started, but no convictions followed. Goff, McCullers and Scott died without having to face murder charges.
A documentary film on the murder, Murder on the Suwannee River, was produced in 2006 by Marvin Dunn, a historian, who tried to get Charlie Crist, then attorney general and later governor of Florida, to reopen the case, but to no avail; neither was his case investigated under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. It is frequently cited as comparable to the case of Emmett Till, who was also lynched (at age 14) for allegedly making advances at a white woman at a grocery store.