The Lena Baker Story
Barnhotlz Entertainment/Lionsgate Entertainment
“What I done, I done in self-defense, or I would have been killed myself,” pleaded Lena Baker before her public execution by electric chair in 1945. The just released Lena Baker Story
is a cinematic interpretation of the life and death of the only woman ever executed by the electric chair in Georgia.
Baker was born in the Cotton Hill community of Cuthbert, Georgia in 1900 to a God-fearing single mother. Baker and her mother worked the cotton fields of various plantation owners and sought to keep their lives under the radar of Whites who responded with violence to “uppity Negro” behavior.
In her 20s, Baker worked in a “cat-house” as a prostitute catering to White and Blacks. During this period of her life, she encounters a White, middle-aged fictitiously named Elliot Arthur whose anger fueled by binge drinking, loneliness and entitlement initiate a troubling and violent relationship between Baker and himself. In real life, Elliot Arthur was Ernest B. Knight, a gristmill owner. The torrid affair included kidnaping, beatings, imprisonment and rapes. After murdering her rapist, the “justice” system sentenced her to the electric chair while Baker was resolute about acting in self-defense.
Still, Baker speaks from beyond the grave through her descendants who advocated for her pardon. Baker was posthumously pardoned in 2005. Overall, The Lena Barker Story
is a provocative film, released on DVD in January, that answers some questions and creates others about the woman Lena Baker as well as countless other Black women steeped in southern poverty during the first half of the twentieth century.
Baker, played by Tichina Arnold of Everybody Hates Chris, and her mother, Ms. Baker, played by Beverly Todd of Roots, gives depth to racialized gender discrimination.