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Mon, 06.19.1939

Delbert Tibbs, Writer, and Incarceration Activist born

Delbert Tibbs

*Delbert Tibbs was born on this date in 1939. He was a Black writer and anti-death penalty activist.

Tibbs was born in Shelby, Mississippi, moving to Chicago, Illinois, at age 12. He attended the Chicago Theological Seminary from 1970 to 1972. In 1974, he was hitchhiking in Florida when he was wrongfully implicated in a crime for which he would receive the death penalty.  That year, a 27-year-old man and a 17-year-old female were violently attacked near Fort Myers, Florida. The man was murdered, and the young woman was raped. She reported that they had been picked up while hitchhiking by a Black man who killed her boyfriend and then beat and raped her, leaving her unconscious by the side of the road.

Tibbs was about 220 miles north of the crime scene when he was stopped by police in Fort Meyers and questioned. The police took his picture, but as he did not fit the victim's description of the perpetrator, did not arrest him. The photograph was sent to Fort Meyers, and the victim identified him as the attacker. A judge then issued a warrant for Tibbs' arrest. He was picked up in Mississippi two weeks later and sent to Florida.

Though Tibbs could account for his whereabouts, he was indicted for the crimes. During the trial, the prosecution supplemented the victim's identification with testimony from a jailhouse informant who claimed Tibbs had confessed to the crime.  The all-white jury convicted Tibbs of murder and rape, and he was sentenced to death.

After the trial, the informant recanted his testimony, saying he had fabricated his account, hoping for leniency in his rape case. The Florida Supreme Court remanded the case and reversed the decision on the grounds that the evidence did not support the verdict. Tibbs was released in January 1977.  In 1982, the Lee County State Attorney dismissed all charges, ending the chance of a retrial.  In November 1976, Pete Seeger wrote and recorded the anti-death penalty song "Delbert Tibbs."

Part of Tibbs' story is featured in the play The Exonerated.  On February 14, 2011, Tibbs and fellow ex-felons and anti-death penalty activists spoke with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn about repealing the death penalty in their state.  On March 14, 2011, the death penalty was repealed in Illinois.

In 2007, Tibbs authored "Selected Poems and Other Words/Works," Edited by O'Modele Jeanette Rouselle, Printed by The Manifestation-Glow Press New York City. His poetry also appears in the chapbook anthology "Beccaria," edited by poet Aja Beech and released on April 22, 2011.  Delbert Tibbs died on November 23, 2013.

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