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American Experience; Massie Affair, The


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American Experience
Massie Affair, The
Program Number


Series Description

Premiered October 1988 As television's longest-running, most-watched history series, American Experience brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that helped form this nation. Now in its eighteenth season, the series has produced over 180 programs and garnered every major broadcast award. Series release date: 10/1988

Program Description

In the early years of the 20th century, at a time when the U.S. Navy dominated Hawaii, Americans thought of the islands as their Paradise in the Pacific. But in September 1931, an explosive incident shook the semblance of tranquility and exposed the racial tensions roiling beneath the surface. Thalia Fortescue Massie, the troubled young wife of a navy lieutenant, claimed that a group of Hawaiians had raped her on the Ala Moana, a lonely beach road leading from Waikiki to Honolulu. Five young men were arrested -- two Hawaiians, two Japanese and one Chinese. Despite evidence that the defendants couldn't have committed the crime, a mixed race jury deadlocked and the suspects were released on bail. Into this explosive atmosphere, Massie's strong-willed mother, Grace Hubbard Fortescue, made a dramatic entrance. When one of the rape defendants was found dead on the backseat of Fortescue's car, news of the "honor slaying" unleashed a torrent of racist invective from the mainland in support of Fortescue. Though she was eventually tried and convicted of manslaughter, her sentence was commuted to an hour. The Massie affair inflicted a wound on the psyche of the Hawaiian people that has yet to heal.



Asset Type

Broadcast program

Media Type


Chicago: “American Experience; Massie Affair, The,” 03/02/2005, GBH Archives, accessed February 23, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; Massie Affair, The.” 03/02/2005. GBH Archives. Web. February 23, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; Massie Affair, The. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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