Charles Guerand, a twenty-seven-year-old off-duty police officer, sexually harassed and then murdered Hattie McCray, a Black fourteen-year-old dishwasher.
McCray lived with her widowed mother Moorilellia on a racially integrated block in downtown New Orleans. At fourteen, Hattie began work as a dishwasher at a local oyster restaurant on Tulane Avenue called Matt’s Place, three blocks from her home.
Matt’s Place only served white people, many of whom sexually harassed Hattie. Charles Guerand was especially abusive. Since he was a police officer, Hattie was powerless to stop him.
On February 10, 1930, Guerand came into Matt’s Place drunk and made multiple attempts to coerce Hattie into sex. Hattie ran to the kitchen to escape and Charles chased her yelling, “I am going back there and kill that God Damned N–––wench.” He shot Hattie McCray twice in the back of the head. She died five hours later in Charity Hospital.
The police arrested and booked Guerand at his own precinct. He claimed he shot Hattie in self-defense because she had a knife. But investigators found no weapon on Hattie’s body. In any case, it was clear Guerand had attacked her first.
The New Orleans branch of the NAACP and other Black organizations helped raise funds for the prosecution. Black churches throughout New Orleans held public meetings. Hattie’s supporters emphasized her virtue and her virginity. The white press, in contrast, suggested Hattie had started the violence and portrayed her as threatening and insufficiently dutiful.
In April 1930, an all white jury found Guerand guilty of murder and sentenced him to death. He was the first white man in New Orleans to be convicted and incarcerated for killing a Black girl or woman. Guerand eventually claimed insanity, and was therefore spared execution.