What Was ‘Reckless Eyeballing’ And Why Was It Illegal?

Close up of black man's face
Leslie Taylor-Grover
March 29, 2021

There was no denying that Matt Ingram was in trouble. He was a Black sharecropper in a racist white town, and he’d been accused of something – the punishment for which could mean the end of his life.

The hard-working husband and father was accused of sexually assaulting a local white girl, barely into her teens. Of course, in the 1950s South this meant one thing.

Ingram was going to jail and would likely be sentenced to hard labor – if he wasn’t lynched first. 

Nevertheless, there was one fact that made his case unusual. How could he have assaulted the girl when he was at least 75 feet away from her?

The answer was simple, according to a racist law: “reckless eyeballing.” Under this law, even LOOKING at a white woman could be assault! 

Ingram was convicted, of course, but after the Black community got involved, his case was overturned. No one else was ever accused of reckless eyeballing again.

Blatant racism remains embedded in the so-called justice system. However, just as Ingram’s ridiculous case shows, when we work together and raise our voices, we can create change!

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