In 1951, John Moreno Coe, native of Pensacola, Florida, participated as an advocate for the defense in the celebrated case of Willie McGee, a black man tried and convicted three times by Mississippi juries for the rape of a Laurel, Mississippi, housewife. As with most of his clients, Coe passionately believed in McGee's innocence; further, he believed that McGee had been systematically denied due process by Mississippi courts. In his home town, almost no one except Coe’s family supported him in this crusade; his actions were perverse and strange in the eyes of most Pensacolians. Yet following McGee’s execution, Coe was praised by an unusual colleague, a member of the McGee defense team who would one day be nationally prominent, as John Moreno Coe himself would never be. Bella Abzug wrote to him from her New York law office. “You must know that your ability, courage, and strength can only be likened to an oasis in a desert. Everything that you are in view of your whole background, of the relationship of forces with whom you are daily in contact, stands out as a might[y] example and symbol of truth and honesty at a time when so little of that kind of thing prevails in either North or South, East or West. For me as a young person, comparatively inexperienced both in the ways of the law and in the ways of the world, my contact with you was a rich thing from which I gained much inspiration and courage."
Brown, Sarah Hart
"Pensacola Progressive: John Moreno Coe and the Campaign of 1948,"
Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 68:
1, Article 3.
Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/fhq/vol68/iss1/3