I learned of Hope & Redemption: The Lena Baker Story when I saw Tichina Arnold on the Monique Show speaking of a movie that she would be starring in. Before then, I had no clue as to who Lena Baker was. I had never heard the name before and I definitely did not know that she was an African-American woman who had been executed in the state of Georgia in 1945. I later found out that Lena Baker was the first and only woman to be sentenced to death by the electric chair in the state of Georgia.
After reading the movie’s synopsis and viewing a trailer of the movie, I knew that it was definitely worth watching and even worth adding to my movie collection.
The Lena Baker story is one that is heart wrenching and sad. The movie recounts Lena’s life from her poverty stricken childhood, to a young lady trying to make easy money and then to a woman charged with capital murder for killing her employer.
Just when it seems Lena may be able to forget the sorrow of her past, she is called to work for Elliot Arthur (Peter Coyote), a tyrannical white man known in Cuthbert for his angry disposition and drinking. Over time, Lena and Elliot develop a highly-charged relationship, filled with alcohol, cruelty and a troubling need for one another.
Elliot’s physical and mental abuse continues to escalate. He often kidnaps Lena from her home and imprisons her for weeks, keeping her from her children and mother. One particularly hot and humid night, Lena finally stands up for herself and attempts to break free from his bondage. A struggle ensues and the gun they tussle over accidentally goes off. Elliot Arthur, a white man, is shot by Lena Baker, an African-American woman. She is arrested soon after by the town’s sympathetic sheriff (Michael Rooker) who is helpless in the face of social mores of the time.
The trial is swift and a jury of 12 white men, her subpoenaed peers, find Lena guilty of murder in less than six hours. Lena soon receives the devastating news that she has been sentenced to death by electrocution. During the coming months, Lena prepares for her passing with dignity and strength. In the end, she dies confident in the knowledge that God will judge her in a way that her fellow human beings could not.
Lena Baker was the first and only woman to be sentenced to death by the electric chair in the state of Georgia and was executed in 1945. She was pardoned posthumously in 2005.