"The Uncommon Life and Natural Death of Delbert Tibbs," is Andrew Cohen's post this morning at the Atlantic. There is must-see video in the article.
Pete Seeger once sang about him. Studs Terkel once wrote about him. He counted Joan Baez among his advocates. He was the subject of a wonderful play, "The Exonerated," which was turned into a made-for-television movie. But when Delbert Tibbs, one of America's most famous and beloved death row exonerees, died in Chicago on November 23, the nation took little note of his passing. Not a single national news organization produced an obituary for him. Not a single politician called out his name.
That's a shame, for Tibbs personified the tragedy of so many capital cases in the United States in the last quarter of the last century. He was 74 when he died, in his bed, in his home. But in 1974, nearly 40 years ago, he was wrongfully arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death in Florida. He spent two years on death row before the case against him fell apart. In that respect, he was lucky. Most exonerees spend far more time on death row before justice comes to them.
He had been a man of spirit and substance before his conviction—just read what he told Terkel about the arc of his life—and was so again after his release. Some people are just irrepressible that way. I have covered a great many capital cases, and many exonerations over the past 15 years, and yet I have never seen the advocates who dedicate their lives to these cases and these causes be so universally moved by one man's tireless advocacy as they have been by Tibbs. Clearly, to so many, he was more than just a man who had endured the great challenge of his life.