Last Suppers

Not too long ago, I stumbled upon a website that combines two very personal issues for me: food and the death penalty. And please forgive me in advance for bringing up such a grisly topic, but I find this all so fascinating and I really wanted to share with you.

Julie Green is an artist who has been painting ceramic plates since 2000. To be more exact, she paints scenes representing final meal requests made by death row inmates. As of early 2011, Green had completed almost five hundred but says she will continue painting fifty more each year until our country does away with the death penalty.

I personally think she’ll be painting for a very, very long time.

Why is this an emotional issue for me? It may stem from my years living in Gainesville, Florida, after Danny Rolling had been tried and convicted of brutally stalking and murdering five college students during a three-day long mutilation and killing spree. One victim’s mother was a frequent customer at the pharmacy where I worked and I’ll admit that it was hard not to stare at her whenever she came in to pick up her prescriptions.

Though it has been quite a few years since Rolling’s execution, I knew this Last Supper plate represented him, simply because he always felt he was entitled to the best of everything. And to read the words painted on the bottom that were spoken by a prison official, “He enjoyed his last meal. He ate every bite,” just turns my stomach. Of course he enjoyed his last meal. Danny Rolling was a sick bastard.

However, there is another side to this execution business. As repulsed as I found myself after discovering the self-indulgence served on Rolling’s plate, I was just as repulsed when I came upon these next two two plates – look at the year of death and the state in which they happened, look at the ages of these “criminals” and consider what it meant that their last meals were fried chicken and watermelon. Reading from the cultural history of time and place, one can only assume that these were black children, perhaps trying to find a final comfort in the foods their mothers would never be able to make for them again. I’ve tried to find some information about who they were and what crimes they had allegedly committed, but I have had no luck. They were just two more nameless blacks killed in the Deep South, yet they were only children.

age: 15

age: 16

If you’re interested in more plates laden with criminal history, take a look at this one and keep in mind that this inmate killed five children when he set their home on fire after ransacking the place. He knew they were inside. Or this one representing a man accused of killing a police officer by shooting him in the head with a .38. He held off to the end in the hopes of gaining a stay and, eventually, being cleared of any crime. He steadfastly declared his innocence and requested no final meal.

Finally, there is this plate, filled with two and a half pounds of onion rings and two dozen fried shrimp, among a gluttonous list of other foods, to represent the last meal of someone who strangled a 65-year old man with a mental illness.

And, in case you Oklahomans were ever curious, Pizza Hut is apparently a popular contributor to our death row inmates’ final meal requests.

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5 thoughts on “Last Suppers

  1. Here’s what I found for the first one; I suspect it’s the one listed as being 16:

    13276 TRUDELL CHARLES 17 BLACK MALE FARM HAND MURDER ELECTROCUTION JUL 23 1947 MISSISSIPPI 295
    13277 LEWIS JAMES 16 BLACK MALE FARM HAND MURDER ELECTROCUTION JUL 23 1947 MISSISSIPPI 296

    This info comes from this site: http://deathpenaltyusa.org/usa1/date/1947.htm

    There is no listing for 7/28/47 in Mississippi. My guess would be that the dates on the plates are wrong and it’s these two that are referenced, since they were both farmhands near the same age, executed the same day. And then there’s this, about them, that shows them as 15 and 16 (I believe the plates may reference their age at sentencing or arrest): http://books.google.com/books?id=XHXyj0Yhb7QC&pg=PA43&lpg=PA43&dq=charles+trudell+james+lewis&source=bl&ots=0F7ptnfvPO&sig=n-i73ya__vekXCsq_206Yo6_PdA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=c_ZoUNm5AdHW0gGd7IHwCg&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=charles%20trudell%20james%20lewis&f=false

    • Good detective work, Katy! The plates are actually dated July 23, but it is hard to see that and it does look like a 28. It’s interesting that these two boys were executed for killing their white boss, but there’s got to be more to the story. I’ll look into it a bit more and let you know what I find – I’m suspicious, though. But that could be just my internal non-trustometer.

  2. A bit more: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1842&dat=19470104&id=dBUsAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ecYEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5363,168221

    And this, which lists them as 14 and 15: http://www.blackpast.org/?q=we-charge-genocide-historic-petition-united-nations-relief-crime-united-states-government-against

    This also lists them as 14 and 15, so it looks like when they were arrested it was even worse than the plates list: http://www.shunpiking.com/books/GOD/Chapter09.htm

    The above also states that the only evidence against them was a confession ‘obtained under duress.” The above is also a recounting of the repugnant and shameful history (and present state in a lot of instances) of this country.

    • Incredible! I had a feeling something was off – black teenage boys didn’t just up and kill their white boss. In the Shunpiking History website link, just a few paragraphs below the Trudell mention, is a tiny summary of the Groveland Boys. That’s a major part of the research I’ve been working on this semester for my final paper: “Groveland, Florida, September 1949: Three youths were arrested and tortured by police into “confessing” they had raped a white woman. Doctors later found on examination of the youths that they had been whipped and had had their teeth broken and the soles of their feet cut. The youths were tried and sentenced to death and life imprisonment. White mobs went on a rampage in Groveland and attacked the Negro section of the town, burning and pillaging. One Negro was shot and killed.”

      Definitely pick up a copy of “Devil in the Grove” by Gilbert King. He brings the Groveland Boys case out in the open. It helps that this case was one of Thurgood Marshall’s big cases in the south (even he was afraid to travel to Florida in the 30s and 40s). One of the best books I’ve ever read and it is nothing but the injustices against blacks in the Florida (which was apparently worse than in other parts of the Deep South because Florida could hide behind it’s “paradise” image.)

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