And former death row prisoner Moreese Bickham has died at the age of 98. In 1958, Bickham, an African American, was sentenced to death for shooting and killing two police officers in Mandeville, Louisiana, even though Bickham said the officers were Klansmen who had come to kill him and shot him on the front porch of his own home. Multiple other people in the community also said the officers worked with the Ku Klux Klan, which was a common practice in small Southern towns. Bickman served 37 years at Angola State Penitentiary, in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. He won seven stays of execution, but Louisiana’s governors repeatedly denied him clemency until, under enormous pressure, he was finally released in 1996. This is Moreese Bickham speaking on WBAI’s “Wake-Up Call,” when co-host Bernard White and I interviewed him in 1996.
Moreese Bickham: “I know how it feels now to be free. When I was flying over the West Coast going to Oakland, I looked down, and I seen all them little lights, looked like stars up in heaven. I said I’ve always been looking up and see the stars. I know heaven is up that way. But, Lord, these look like stars down there. Is that heaven down there? Some say it can be.”
That was Moreese Bickham speaking only days after he was freed. It was Martin Luther King Day when we spoke to him on WBAI. He died Sunday night in California.