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"Black Monster Stalks the City": The Thomas Wansley Case And Racialized Politics of the Press, 1960-1980

Samantha M Bryant, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation documents the tangled and contested history of a 1962 rape case involving Thomas Wansley, a black teenager from Lynchburg, Virginia, who was falsely accused and convicted of raping a white woman and a Japanese woman amid the modern civil rights and Black Power movements. Additionally, he encountered rape and assault allegations from a white woman and a black woman. Lynchburg’s white press constructed a public narrative about the case that both criminalized and sexualized Wansley before the 1963 trials. Black newspapers and organizations organized a “double standard of justice” campaign that publicized the racial dichotomy between mass media reports about Wansley’s trials and that of another case involving a white man accused and convicted of raping an eleven-year-old black girl. Throughout the course of Wansley’s legal proceedings, the case gained local and regional influence from New Left organizations such as the Southern Student Organizing Committee, inspiring student-led pickets that confronted the Lynchburg newspapers over redbaiting tactics and a media blackout directed at the city’s black community. This project analyzes how white male conservatives reshaped ideas about race, gender, and sex to legitimize strict “law and order” legislation and enforce silence of the 1968 Virginia prison reform movement involving Thomas Wansley. Black and white prison reform activists confronted this silence in independent presses. By examining archival materials, court records, newspapers, and secondary literature informed by social and cultural history and media studies perspectives, this dissertation uses the Wansley case to interrogate how news media, especially local media and its silences reflected and shaped many black and white Americans’ knowledge about the movement and cause celébrès in their local communities. This critical and intersectional methodology reveals how black and white southerners navigated new and old meanings of whiteness and blackness, how they elaborated civil rights claims, and how they perceived individual civil liberties in Virginia’s newspapers.

Subject Area

African American Studies|American history

Recommended Citation

Bryant, Samantha M, ""Black Monster Stalks the City": The Thomas Wansley Case And Racialized Politics of the Press, 1960-1980" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10793365.