The “Kissing Case”: A Simple Kiss On The Cheek That Made Civil Rights History And Shattered The Lives of Two Innocent 9 Year Old Boys

5 Posted by - November 5, 2023 - BLACK CHILDREN, CIVIL RIGHTS, LATEST POSTS

In 1958, James Hanover Thompson and his friend David Simpson — both African-American, both children — were accused of kissing a girl who was white. They were arrested, and taken to jail. Prosecutors sought a stiff penalty — living in reform school until they were 21.

“The Kissing Case,” as it came to be known, drew international media attention to Monroe, N.C., at the time. But since then, it’s been largely forgotten. Even the Thompson family rarely talked about it. Recently, James Hanover Thompson sat down with his younger brother, Dwight, and told him what happened.

“We were playing with some friends over in the white neighborhood, chasing spiders and wrestling and stuff like that,” James says.

“One of the little kids suggested that one of the little white girls give us a kiss on the jaw,” he says. “The little girl gave me a peck on the cheek, and then she kissed David on the cheek. So, we didn’t think nothing of it. We were just little kids.”

But the little girl mentioned the kiss back home, and her parents were furious; the police set out in search of the boys.

“The police car pulled up, and they said, ‘We’re taking y’all to jail,'” James says. “I didn’t know what was going on. But when we got down to the police station, we understand that they said that we had raped a little white girl.”

The two boys — James, 9, and David, 7 — were charged with molestation. And their punishment started immediately.

“They uh… took us down in the bottom of the police station to a cell. And they had us handcuffed — they started beating us,” James says. “They was beating us to our body, you know? They didn’t beat us to the face, where nobody could see it; they just punched us all in the stomach, and back and legs. We was hollering and screaming. We thought they was gonna kill us.”

James says that he and David were held in jail for about six days before they were allowed to see their parents. And soon after, they were sent to reform school, with the possibility that they might be released before they turned 21.

News reports of the case spread far and wide — it became the “Kissing Case” in many headlines. Officials from the NAACP and Eleanor Roosevelt were among those who reportedly asked North Carolina Gov. Luther Hodges to show clemency in the case.

Eventually, the governor pardoned James and David, and they were released after spending three months in detention.

James’ sister, Brenda Lee Graham, also spoke about those days with Dwight, who was born in 1961, and grew up not knowing much about the incident.

“Mom was a nervous wreck. She didn’t sleep,” Brenda tells Dwight. “She would be up walking the floors and praying.”

Remembering what life was like for the rest of the family while the authorities were holding James, Brenda says, “I remember that at night, you could see them burning crosses…”

“Right there in the front yard?” Dwight asks.

“Right there in the front yard,” Brenda says. “And my mom and them, they would go out in the morning, and sweep bullets off our front porch.”

James says that each week during his detention, he was sent to a psychologist. “And he’d tell me, ‘They should have castrated y’all.’ I mean, it was just something,” he says.

Brenda says that when James came back home, “it was like seeing somebody different, that you didn’t even know. He never talked about what he went through there. But ever since then, his mind just hadn’t been the same.”

And, James says, while he and David were pardoned, they never got an apology, either.

“I still feel the hurt and the pain from it,” he says. “And nobody never said, ‘Hey, look, I’m sorry what happened to y’all. It was wrong.'”

He has spent most of his adult life in and out of prison for robbery.

“I always sit around and I wonder, if this hadn’t happened to me, you know, what could I have turned out to be?” James says. “Could I have been a doctor? Could I have went off to some college, or some great school? It just destroyed our life.”

Brenda says, “My brother and his friend had to suffer on account of that. And I mean, they suffered. From one kiss. I’ve thought about that. It all started with a kiss.”

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  • Eric Mays April 13, 2016 - 8:38 am

    The white man has always been evil and wicked hearted. This is from birth and is passed on from generation to generation. White supremacy is only as powerful as black folks let it be. And black folks today let it be by division within our ranks.

    • Korbyn May 4, 2020 - 11:02 am


    • Michael Parker May 4, 2020 - 11:37 am

      I totally agree. They have always been a wicked race. Not being mean, or sarcastic, but truthful of their behavior.

    • ANNE M JENNINGS SEE May 4, 2020 - 2:15 pm

      I don’t agree that Black folks play into white supremacy, and let it be. I think that we know it and recognize it for what it is, and many of us are speaking out about it.

  • Marko davis November 20, 2017 - 8:53 pm

    The legacy still goes on in America today if you control the female you can control the man that the got dam problem with white men they scared black men gonna do the same to them

  • aion May 13, 2019 - 4:26 am

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  • Latonia Peterson May 3, 2020 - 6:48 am

    This was sad and definitely unjust situation. I sometimes wonder how things are better, the same or worse today ? It’s not kissing white women , but the fear of white women and men not understanding what racism is and how it worked in the past , future , and present day ! Black women and men tend to play into racism and there understanding of racism is blurred .

  • maryann May 4, 2020 - 10:46 am

    that isso sad i am mixed and light complected when we used to play and later date we used to get nasty looks especially if date was real black things are changing for the better

  • Vicky May 4, 2020 - 8:31 pm


  • Brandy May 8, 2020 - 12:04 pm

    This is a shameful footnote in a long history of white suppression of blacks. I’m white and completely ashamed of what so many of my race perpetrate. What really breaks me is this WAS ridiculous, it seemed, for awhile there, but now you have all the Karens of the country calling police on people for just breathing while black. Don’t get me started on our crap criminal justice system, which is, in effect, the continuance of slavery and oppression/extermination of minorities. It’s much worse now that we have a completely racist POS in the White House normalizing this BS than anytime I can recall in my life and I was raised in the South in the 70’s. Just know that not all whites are evil. There are plenty of us who completely have your backs and want to right this shitshow for all of us.