See the trailer: Film explores case of Tampa-born man who escaped ‘lynching’ in Georgia

By learning the story of James Fair, the filmmaker hopes, audiences may support a petition to re-open the investigation into the murder of an 8-year-old girl.
Published March 13
Updated March 14

In the 1960s, a team of civil rights attorneys helped rescue James Fair Jr. from the death sentence he received in the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl.

Still, one of those lawyers always considered Fair a victim in a decades-long series of lynchings that plagued rural Early County in southwest Georgia.

“Something inside of him died,” said Clennon King, son of the late attorney C.B. King of nearby Albany, Ga. who represented Fair “He was never the same after that.”

From 1881 through 1960, 24 African-Americans were known to have been lynched in Early County. In the view of C.B. King, Fair — born in Tampa and raised here until his family moved to New Jersey when he was 10 — was victim No. 25.

Fair was freed after 26 months of imprisonment. Early County never apologized to him nor pursued the real killer of the African-American victim.

Clennon King, a Boston filmmaker, hopes to see those wrongs righted through a new documentary about Fair.

Titled Fair Game: Surviving A 1960 Georgia Lynching, the movie will screen for free at 6:30 p.m. March 21 at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.

By learning the story in its entirety, people may be moved to support King’s petition to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to re-open the murder investigation, King said. Finding the real murderer would also show how Fair was used as a black scapegoat, King said.

"A little black girl was killed, and nobody ever answered for it," said King, 59. "The state never did its job."

Those interviewed for the film say they believe the killer was white.

Following the film, King will be joined in a question and answer session by Fair's sisters, Audrey Fair Porte and Diane Fair Odom.

"I would like to see my brother officially cleared," said Odom, 67, of Middleburg, Fla. "That would mean they admit they were wrong and arrested him and harassed him for no reason."

Fair attended St. Peter Claver Catholic School in Tampa, a segregated institution at the time, before his family moved to Bayonne, N.J.

Fourteen years later, after a stint in the Navy, Fair agreed to take a road trip with a friend to Blakely in Early County, where the friend was born.

They arrived around the time 8-year-old Yvonne Holmes was raped and murdered.

Just two hours after checking into a boarding home, Fair was arrested in the crime. Less than three days later, he was convicted and sentenced to death by a circuit judge following a 15-minute trial without either a jury or a defense attorney present.

Fair later told his family he confessed to the crime, according to the documentary, but only to stop the beatings that he was told would end in his death.

Some of the subjects in the film say Fair may have been targeted because he was black and from out of town so no one would be likely to come to his defense.

If so, they failed to reckon with Fair’s mother.

Five years after the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi, a catalyst of the rights movement, "a black New Jersey mother,” King said, “moved heaven and earth to rescue her son from a southwest Georgia town notorious for lynching."

She helped assemble the team of attorneys that, after a few near-trips to the electric chair for Fair, helped win him a new trial.

Then charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence. Four witnesses who claimed they heard Fair admit he was guilty had all died.

Four decades after his release, Fair died in Kissimmee on Nov. 25, 2005. His sisters said he was never the same.

“He once was outgoing," said Porte, 80, who lives in Kissimmee. “He became a recluse."

Attorney C.B. King continued to fight for civil rights, to the point he felt he was endangering his family. He sent his five children to out-of-state boarding schools.

Whenever his son Clennon returned home from school in Vermont, he'd bond with his father by talking about old cases. Fair’s was one of them.

"He told me bits and pieces about this particular story," Clennon King said. "It always fascinated me."

In 2015, Clennon King released the documentary Passage at St. Augustine: The 1964 Black Lives Matter Movement That Transformed America, about the bloody civil rights battle in that Florida city.

He decided to make Fair his next project. Fair’s sisters are glad he did.

"It is bringing awareness that this happened and that things like this did happen," Odom said.

The documentary ends with a montage of recent photos of young, unarmed African-American men shot and killed by police officers.

Said King, "There is still a stigma" attached to Fair because no one has ever been charged. “There is a rapist and murderer who got away."

If you go

Fair Game: Surviving A 1960 Georgia Lynching

When: March 21 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Eckerd College’s Dan & Mary Miller Auditorium, 4200 54th Ave South, St. Petersburg.

Admission: Free. Advance registration is requested at solutions.spcollege.edu.

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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