Skip to main content
Use the right side menu to identify relevant boxes and place requests.

Giles-Johnson Defense Committee records

 Collection 0090-MDHC

The Giles-Johnson Defense Committee was a volunteer group of Montgomery County citizens working for the defense of James and John Giles, and Joseph Johnson, three black men arrested on charges of rape in 1961. The collection includes correspondence, reports, newsletters, fact sheets, legal briefs, and statements of the committee relating to the arrest, imprisonment, trials, defense, and release of Johnson and the Giles brothers.


  • 1962-1971

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.


8.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

TheGiles-Johnson Defense Committee records span the years 1962-1971. The bulk of the materials covers 1962 to 1968. The files include correspondence, reports, legal documents, articles, newspaper clippings, photographs, an audio tape, working papers, book manuscripts, publications, and research materials relating to the defense of the Giles brothers and Joseph Johnson.

Topics covered in the records include racism, poverty, Maryland law, rape, capital punishment, social justice, and the character of judges, jurors, prosecutors, and police officials. People who played a prominent role in this case include Dr. Harold A. Knapp, a physicist at the Department of Defense who was very active on the committee; Mrs. Howard Ross, the chair of the committee; the defendants and their attorneys, and the plaintiffs and their legal counsel.

Administrative History

The Giles-Johnson Defense Committee was established in July 1962 by Mrs. Howard Ross and sixty other Maryland residents to aid three young black men, James Giles, John Giles, and Joseph Johnson, who were sentenced to death for allegedly raping a white teenage girl, Joyce Roberts, in 1961. This case outraged the community because of the severity of the sentence, the suppression of evidence by the state, and other injustices perceived as racially motivated. Due to the efforts of the committee, Governor J. Millard Tawes commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment in October 1963. The Giles brothers were retried in 1967 and the charges were dropped. Joseph Johnson was eventually pardoned by Governor Spiro T. Agnew in 1968. John Giles was shot and killed in Baltimore in 1971.

This landmark case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result of the committee's exertions, the Maryland law which limits motions for trials based on newly-discovered evidence to three days after sentencing, was changed.


This collection is organized as ten series:

Series 1
Administrative Files
Series 2
Defendants and Their Legal Counsel
Series 3
Plaintiffs and Opposing Attorney
Series 4
Legal Documents
Series 5
Defense Committee Supporters
Series 6
Newspaper Clippings
Series 7
Series 8
Related Cases
Series 9
Related Organizations
Series 10
Related Issues

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The Giles-Johnson Defense Committee records were donated to the University of Maryland College Park Libraries by Franz Alt in 1971 and by Samuel Legg in 1974.

Related Materials

Harold A. and Barbara B. Knapp papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries. (

Smith, A. Robert, and James V. Giles. An American Rape: A True Account of the Giles-Johnson Case. Washington: New Republic Book Co., 1975. (Maryland Room Maryland Stacks KF224.G5 S4, McKeldin Stacks KF224.G5 S4)

Statement by Governor -- Re: Pardon of Joseph E. Johnson, Jr., February 9, 1968, Series 2.3, Box 1, Folder 101, Spiro T. Agnew papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries. (

Strauss, Frances. Where Did the Justice Go? The Story of the Giles-Johnson Case. Boston: Gambit, 1970. (Maryland Room Maryland Stacks KF224.G5 S7, McKeldin Stacks KF224.G5 S7)

Processing Information

Ten series were created from the records of the Giles-Johnson Defense Committee. Reports bound by staples and metal clasps were removed from the original binding. All materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes. All paper clips were replaced by plastic clips. The audio tape was transferred to the tape collection and the photographs were separated and placed in the photograph collection.

Guide to the Giles-Johnson Defense Committee records
Processed by Gretchen K. Youngerman.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742