From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Bethea, Rainey

(born: 1913  -  died: 1936) 

Rainey Bethea, an African American, was originally from Roanoke, Virginia. When he was 22 years old, he was charged with the murder and rape of a 70 year-old white woman in Owensboro, KY. He was convicted of rape, and on August 14, 1936, Bethea became the last person in the United States to be executed before the public. It was estimated that about 20,000 people were on hand to witness his hanging. An unsuccessful appeal for Bethea's life had been made by African American lawyers Charles Eubank Tucker, Stephen A. Burnley, Charles W. Anderson, Jr., Harry E. Bonaparte, and R. Everett Ray. Bethea's death warrant was signed by Governor Albert B. "Happy" Chandler. Rainey Bethea was buried in an unmarked grave in Owensboro. For more see The Last Public Execution in America, by P. T. Ryan; and K. Lawrence, "1936 Hanging remains last public execution," Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, 09/24/2004, Section S, p. 49; and listen to "Last public execution in America" and view the photo gallery on National Public Radio (NPR).


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Tucker, Charles Ewbank
NKAA Entry: Anderson, Charles W., Jr.
NKAA Source: The Last public execution in America
NKAA Source: Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer (newspaper)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Bethea, Rainey,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed October 30, 2020,

Last modified: 2017-09-14 21:48:27