August 16, 1912
Virginia Christian (17) is executed in the electric chair for the murder of her employer
Christian’s employer, Ida Virginia Belote, had a habit of mistreating her teenaged maid, often hitting Christian. On March 18, 1912, an argument between the two broke out as Belote accused Christian of stealing a skirt and locket, and demanded $5 for the stolen goods (the average wage at the time was $0.22/hour, and an underage black maid would undoubtedly have made less than the average). Belote struck Christian with a spittoon. Directly after, the two both sprinted to grab a broom used to prop open a window. Christian used it to hit Belote on the forehead before stuffing a towel in the older woman’s mouth to suppress her screams. Unbeknownst to Christian at the time, the towel suffocated Belote as Christian stole some of Belote’s money and a ring before fleeing.
According to newspapers, Belote was discovered by police “laying face down in a pool of blood, and her head was horribly mutilated and a towel was stuffed into her mouth and throat”. Police quickly found and arrested Christian, and although she admitted to hitting Belote she was surprised to learn of Belote’s death.
Christian’s trial lasted just two days and she was not allowed to testify in her own defense. Hollins University History Professor Ruth Alden Doan suspects Christian’s attorneys, who were also black, feared the town would form a lynch mob should Christian be found not guilty. Christian was executed the day after her 17th birthday. Her parents were unable to pay for her body to be transported from Richmond so it was donated to a state medical school.