Honor Killing : Race, Rape, and Clarence Darrow’s Spectacular Last Case
Don’t let the racy title fool you; this is not a sensational rehash of the 1930s Hawaiian rape trial. It is a nonfiction account written for a general audience, and a stunning read. In September 1931, an American naval officer’s wife claimed she was gang-raped by a group of Hawaiians. Five young men were arrested and tried, despite having alibis. The jury could not reach a decision. A retrial needed new evidence against the men, but there was none. The mother of the officer’s wife planned, with the husband and two sailors, to force a confession from one of the accused. Instead they shot him and found themselves on trial for murder. Their excuse: it was an honour killing, because a white woman had been raped by a black man.
Stannard, a professor of American studies in Hawaii, knows his topic. Although there have been several other works about the case, Stannard had access to new material, which makes for a better balanced book, and his quiet presentation is a pleasure to read. I was staggered by the story: the corruption and racism among senior navy and police officers, the racist press, a careless young woman crying wolf. I was also impressed by Stannard, who makes no excuses for the horrible history of American racism.