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20th May 2024 Ana Bradley (2023, English)

Kate Werran (1991, Modern History) publishes Black Yanks: Defending Leroy Henry in D-Day Britain

In the year of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Exeter alumna Kate Werran (1991, Modern History) has published her latest book: Black Yanks: Defending Leroy Henry in D-Day Britain.

In 1944, Leroy Henry was sentenced to death for rape at knife-point. Henry was a black American soldier stationed just outside Bath in the village of South Stoke. There, a woman claimed that he had raped her: he claimed that he had paid her for consensual sex. The evidence for the crime was dubious—Henry wasn’t known to carry or even own a knife, and he testified that he had met with the woman in this capacity before. Even so, within three weeks he was found guilty by a US military court and sentenced to death.  

The story caused outrage amongst locals. 33,000 people signed a petition for mercy, and the sentence was eventually overturned. Henry’s sentence was unjust even based solely on the immateriality of the evidence, but the case spoke to wider societal issues. Still segregated under Jim Crow laws, the US army was widely accused of racism within its ranks. Furthermore, capital punishment for rape was abolished in the UK in 1841: Henry could only be sentenced as such under the Visiting Forces Act, which subjected the US army to American military law. Described by the Daily Mail as ‘as compelling as any TV crime drama’, Black Yanks brings Leroy Henry to life as a forgotten win of the Civil Rights Movement. 

Werran’s previous book, An American Uprising in Second World War England, was dubbed ‘an astonishing, inherently fascinating, meticulously researched bit of World War II history’. She is also an Associate Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Black Yanks is published by The History Press. You can purchase a copy here.

Black Yanks: Defending Leroy Henry in D-Day Britain.

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