BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CBS 42) – Anthony Ray Hinton stopped by the CBS 42 studios this week to talk about his new book, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row. To hear him talk about the perspective that he gained while waiting for 30 years on death row; the friendships that he made; the lives that he changed (and continues to change) — is pretty remarkable.
What you should know about Hinton, the Cliffnotes version, is this: Hinton was sentenced to death for the murders of two Birmingham fast-food managers when he was 29 years-old. He stayed on death row for 30 years until he was exonerated in 2015. During his time in prison, he started a book club with the permission of the warden. “The idea came to me,” he remembers, “Why don’t you open up a book club? Why don’t you open up their mind to a world that perhaps some of them had never seen? What I found, profound, was the fact that everyone of those men dropped out of school after the 7th and 8th grade.”
Hinton said during conversations with those men, they revealed that they felt like no one cared about them–or if they stayed in school. However, after reading their first book, Go Tell it on the Mountain, he saw the men change.
“I can’t even describe, to this day, their excitement,” he said. “Each one of those men told what they got out of the book and it hit me…if someone had cared, enough to keep these men in school, perhaps they wouldn’t be where they are today. We’re willing to spend $2 million to execute a man, but we only pay our school teachers $35 to $40 thousand to teach him, and we don’t care.”
Over the decades, Hinton formed some deep connections with his fellow inmates. He told us the story of Henry Francis Hayes, a former Klansman. Hinton didn’t initially know why Hayes was on death row–but said when he found out that it was for lynching a black man, it didn’t change his opinion of him.
“Henry had been taught to hate all of his life,” Hinton reflected. “I often tell people, I can imagine his dad and his mother and his community–she was pregnant and they talking to him in the stomach and they were telling him all kind of derogatory things…”
Hinton believes that all of that hate eventually turned into violence. It should be noted, Hayes maintained his innocence in the murder of teenager Michael Donald. But for Hinton, he wonders what would have happened if someone could have, “gotten to him [Hayes] in time” and what “could have happened if maybe they had shown him something different than hate.”
Hinton said that on the night of Hayes’ executive, he reportedly said, “My mother and and my father taught me to hate. The very people that my parents taught me to hate are the people that taught me to love, and tonight I leave this world knowing what true love feels like.”
When it comes to friendships, Hinton also maintained at least one strong bond outside of the walls of his cell. Lester Bailey accompanied Hinton to the CBS 42 studios for his interview. Hinton and Bailey have been close since they were four and six years old. Bailey remembered the shock he felt at his friend’s conviction, and the way other friends turned their backs on him. “They believed there was no way they could convict him if it wasn’t true,” Bailey explained.
However, Bailey never believed his friend was capable of the crime. He came and visited Hinton once a month and made frequent phone calls–doing whatever he could for his childhood friend. “If you have a friend, be a friend,” Bailey said. “The bible said, to have a friend, you must show yourself friendly. If you are a true friend, you’ll stick with them through thick and thin.”