Matt Ingram was accused of “reckless eyeballing,” (the improper looking at a white person, with sexual intent). He was one of the last African Americans convicted under this law. The case became well-known by civil rights activist in North Carolina.
Ingram was a black tenant farmer leaving in Yanceyville, North Carolina. He was married and had nine children with his wife.
Willa Jean Bosewell, a seventeen-year-old testified in court that her neighbor, Ingram scared her when he looked at her from a distance of about 75 feet. After the alleged incident, the community was in an uproar and prosecutors demanded that Ingram is convicted of assault with intentions to rape which was later reduced to an assault on a female by the judge, which he would end up serving two and half years in prison.
Ingram was defended by Ernest Frederick Upchurch, who was a white lawyer. At the appeal in Superior Court, the judge instructed the jury that Ingram was guilty if he used “intentional threats or menace of violence such as looking at a person in a leering manner, that is, in some sort of sly or threatening or suggestive manner…he causes another to reasonably apprehend imminent danger”
The all-white jury returned a conviction, leading to a six-month sentence of labor on the roads, suspended for five years.
The NAACP quickly got involved and Black media newspapers strongly carried the case. Due to the pressure the state supreme court vacated the conviction because: “it cannot be said that a pedestrian may be assaulted by a look, however frightening, from a person riding in an automobile some distance away. He may have looked with lustful eyes but there was the absence of any overt act.” The look alone no longer represented grounds for conviction.
Unfortunately, Ingram spent over two years of his life in prison awaiting three trials that took two years too long to resolve.
[State v. Ingram, 74 S.E.2d 532 (N.C. 1953]