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Baker to be honored with tombstone

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Filmaker Ralph Wilcox says his decision to write, produce and direct "The Lena Baker Story" was easy to make.

Baker was an African-American maid who was executed for murder by the State of Georgia in 1945 for killing her employer, Elliott Knight, in 1944. At her trial she claimed that he had imprisoned and threatened to shoot her should she attempt to leave. She then took his gun and shot him.

Baker is the only woman to be executed by electrocution in Georgia. She was granted a full and unconditional pardon by the State of Georgia in 2005, 60 years after her execution.

She was buried in Mt. Vernon Baptist in Cuthbert.

"Next month is African-American History Month and it is tied into the Civil Rights Movement," Wilcox said Friday. "Today's youth are not very familiar with history such as the Lena Baker story. It remains dormant because no one is telling the story.

"We are changing that."

The Lena Baker Story a feature-length docudrama was released on DVD last week by Barnholz Entertainment and distributed by Lionsgate Films.

"Keeping history alive is crucial for today's youth," Wilcox, a Milwaukee native who now lives in Colquitt, explained. "Young blacks today have no solid reference with the past. We hope this movie helps."

The Lena Baker Story stars Tichina Arnold (TV's Everybody Hates Chris and Martin) in the title role and Emmy-winner Peter Coyote as Arthur, the Cuthbert grist mill owner Baker shot and killed.

Baker was charged with capital murder and stood trial on Aug. 14, 1944, presided over by Judge William "Two Gun" Worrill, who kept a pair of pistols on his bench in plain view. The all-white male jury convicted her by the end of the afternoon.

Six months later, Baker was executed.

"I hope that people don't look at this film as strictly a black and white issue, but we need not forget where we've been, lest we repeat the past" Wilcox said, "I want people to regard this film as a story of a woman's life. As filmmakers, our job is not only to entertain, but also to enlighten and educate.

"And even though Lena was flawed, this film is an opportunity to give her the voice she was denied 64 yards ago. Each and every one of us deserves that."

And in a fitting tribute, Wednesday -- 65 years after her execution -- the film's producers will join Baker's family will dedicate a headstone at her grave at the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church's Cemetery.