Remembering Lena Baker, First Black Woman To Be Executed In Georgia After Killing The White Man Who Sexually Enslaved Her

Lena Baker was a poor African-American woman living in the town of Cuthbert, Georgia in the 1940s, who took whatever work she could find in order to support her three children. She was hired by a white grist mill owner named Ernest Knight, who needed someone to care for him while he recovered from a broken hip. Baker continued to work for Knight for the next two years and scandalous rumors began to spread that the two of them were involved in a sexual relationship. However, the relationship was an abusive one and Knight often held Baker against her will. On April 30, 1944, Knight locked Baker up inside the grist mill and demanded she have sex with him at gunpoint. After he tried to attack her with a metal pipe, Baker grabbed Knight’s pistol and shot him through the head before escaping. Even though Baker claimed the shooting was self-defense, she was charged with capital murder.

Her trial took place in August, where she was found guilty by an all-white, all-male jury and sentenced to death. On February 23, 1945, Lena Baker became the only woman in the history of Georgia to be executed when she was placed into the electric chair at Reidsville State Prison. She used her final words to maintain that she acted in self-defense. Baker’s case was forgotten about for several decades until her family went to the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles in an attempt to clear her name. In 2005, they determined that the execution was unjust and that, at the very maximum, Baker should have only received a 15-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter. In the end, Lena Baker was finally granted a posthumous pardon.