Friday, May 31, 2013

Bestiality by Jerry W Crews

In 1955, as racial tensions in the Deep South are reaching a climax, a journalist drives through small-town Mississippi and listens in on a court hearing; by Jerry W Crews

It was an unusually warm day in September of 1955 when I left Atlanta headed for Sumner, Mississippi. The newspaper I worked for was sending me there to cover the murder trial of J. W. Milam and his half-brother, Roy Bryant. A fourteen year old African-American, Emmett Till, had come from Chicago to visit his relatives in Money, Mississippi, when on August 24th, he and a group of teenagers went into Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market for a cool drink. Roy's wife, Carolyn, was offended that as he was leaving, Emmett whistled at her. Such actions by blacks in the Deep South were not tolerated.  

Seeking revenge, J. W. and Roy took Emmett from his uncle's home in the middle of the night. They confessed to brutally beating him and then shooting him in the head on the banks of the Tallahatchie River. With barbed wire, they attached a fan, used for ginning cotton, around his neck and threw him into the river.  

A grand jury had indicted Milam and Bryant. Their trial was scheduled to start on September 19th. The case had drawn national and international attention, due in large part to Emmett's mother having the picture of his mutilated body published in the Chicago papers. So, my boss gave me enough spending money to drive from Atlanta to the trial in Sumner. I was to call in daily and report on the proceedings.  

As I drove through Alabama I never could have realized the profound effect the next few days would have. Not only would events affect the nation, but my life would never be the same. I grew up in Atlanta, a son of a northern gentleman and a southern belle. My father had transversed to the South from Maine and had met my mother at a grocery store one Saturday afternoon. He had asked her help in selecting a ripe cantaloupe. Their fingers slightly touched when she handed him the fruit, and before long they were in love. Our lives were full with them raising me and my brother and sister. I was the middle child and grew up being the mediator between my know-it-all older brother and my headstrong sister.  

Dad and Mom were from two different worlds, but the love they had for each other made it work. My father had an undying love for humanity and heartily embraced all. Mother was not so enduring. She had been raised with the belief that white people were superior to all and were the chosen of God. In fact, she had been a strong supporter of the Dixiecrats, as they later became known. This was a group of Democrats who were upset with their party's platform on civil rights during the 1948 convention. They had broken from the Democratic Party and started their own group known as the States' Rights Democrats. The then governor of South Carolina, Strom Thurmond, ran as their candidate for president. In the election of that year he received over a million popular votes and thirty-eight electoral votes.

I can still hear the lively discussions at the dinner table as my father tried to reason with her. It was not until she got to know African-Americans on a social level before she came to see my father was right. Of course, it was at his insistence they became acquainted with some black families, as they would help in distributing food and clothes to the poor. At that time there were some wealthier black families, but not many due to years of suppression and limited opportunities. Even though mother still had doubts, she and father were far more liberal in their thinking than other southerners in our community. As for me, I never gave it much thought one way or the other. To a young man like me, it was just our way of life: The Southern way of life.  

I was in a driver's daze as I left Alabama and drove into the great state of Mississippi. My lull was broken when I realized my car was starting to run hot. Nursing the vehicle as best I could, I made my way into the small town of Post, Mississippi. There I found a garage where the mechanics were willing to work on my car and promised to have it repaired by late afternoon. I was thankful I had left Atlanta a couple days early. This would still leave me plenty of time to reach Sumner for the opening of the trial. Leaving my car at the garage, I decided to walk the streets of the small town. As a reporter I was always curious, you could never know what good story may be waiting just around the next corner.  

Post was like most small southern towns of its time. There was one general store for everyday needs. The men gathered at the barber shop and the women at the market. As I strolled down the sidewalk, I wondered if life could really be this simple, or was it a veneer to make all things look good, so long as someone didn't look too close? It was not long before my attention was focused on the gathering at the county courthouse. Curiosity stirred my reporter's instincts and I pushed my way into the room. I was not prepared for what I witnessed.  

The judge was a burly man, in his fifties, with a gravelly voice. A man by the name of Jacob Miller had been called to the stand and was approaching the bench. The prosecutor was a heavy-set, short, compact man. At first I wondered where the defendant was. Then I realized it was the small girl sitting beside the tall slender defense attorney. She looked so frail I thought she was a child. Upon closer examination I could tell she was a young lady who was probably in her late teens. Her hair was golden and when I caught her attention, she made a feeble attempt at a smile. I was struck by the beauty of her face when it beamed with the cutest dimples. Even though her looks were innocent, there was no doubt of the fear and concern that etched her face. My thoughts ran wild as I tried to figure out why such a small and beautiful creature was the central figure of a rather serious looking court.  

"Please state your name," demanded the prosecutor.

"Ah, Seth, everybody in town knows who I am," Jacob responded.

"State your name for the record," ordered the judge.

"I'm Jacob Miller," he grunted with a big sigh.

"Now, Mr. Miller, will you tell this court why you instigated these proceedings against your niece?" asked the prosecutor.

"Well, I didn't want to do it, Seth," offered Jacob. "But as a decent and loyal citizen of this community, I just couldn't sit back and let her continue in her evil ways."

"And what evil ways are you talking about?" asked the prosecutor.

"Well, I don't really want to say in public like this," objected Jacob.

"If you don't state what the allegation is, then I'm gonna dismiss any action," declared the judge.

"Well, if you force me to, then I'll tell you," offered Jacob.

"So what is it?" asked a somewhat irritated prosecutor.

"She's been letting her dog do some wicked things," he explained. "It's just not right to take advantage of a little old dog like that."

"What is her dog doing that's got you concerned?" continued the prosecutor.

"Well, he comes up to her leg and starts doing his business, if you know what I mean," replied Jacob. "It ain't right."

"What do you mean 'doing his business?'" asked the prosecutor.

"You know, Seth, he starts humping her leg," Jacob explained.

"Everybody's had a dog try that," smirked the judge. "It ain't against the law."

"But, now Clyde - ur, I mean - your Honor, she just sits there and lets him do it," protested Jacob. "Now, that ain't right."

"I don't see where she's breaking any law," mused the judge.

"Well, your Honor, I've been doing some reading," offered Jacob. "This state does have a law against bestiality."

"As you well know, your Honor, bestiality, that is, a human having sex with an animal, is a sin against nature," offered the prosecutor.

"So you think she's guilty of bestiality?" smiled the bemused judge.

"Well, I ain't saying she needs to be thrown into jail or something," continued Jacob. "All I'm saying is she's not in her right mind to be letting that little dog keep doing that."

"Was this just a one time occasion, or did you observe it more often?" asked the prosecutor.

"Oh, I've seen it a number of times," Jacob replied. "I kept telling her, I would say, 'Elly you don't need to go and let that pup do that.' It ain't natural."

"What would be her response?" inquired the prosecutor.

"Oh, she would usually ignore me and let the dog keep on humping," offered Jacob. "One time, though, she got mad at me and stormed out of the house. The little dog wasn't finished so he went chasing after her."

"Has she ever said why she lets the animal behave like that?" the prosecutor asked.

"One time she said because she likes the way it feels," he replied.  

I had to smile as a gasp went through the courtroom audience. The judge banged his gavel and all was quiet again as everyone's attention focused on the witness stand. I could see the young woman was shaking as she tried to control her emotions.  

"So, what is it you're wanting this court to do?" asked the prosecutor.

"Well, I only have the best interest of the girl at heart," explained the witness. "She needs to be put away where she won't harm herself and she can receive the proper treatment that she needs."

"So, you're wanting her committed?" asked the judge.

"I hate it, but it's for the best, your Honor," Jacob continued. "Her dearly departed father, my wife's fourth cousin, God rest his soul, left her for me to look after. I've tried to do my best, but she's gotten older now and I can't control her no more."

"You think that's what we ought to order?" inquired the judge.

"Yes, it breaks my heart to think of her having to go away like that," replied Jacob as he wiped a tear from his eye. "But she ain't gonna get any better around here. I've done all that I can do."

"So, your Honor, based on this testimony, the state is recommending that the defendant be committed to a state institution for the mentally insane for observation and treatment," declared the prosecutor.

"Well, I'll take it under advisement," offered the judge. "Does the defense attorney have any questions for the witness?"

"Yes, I do, your Honor," replied the tall slender attorney as he rose from his seat.

"Aren't you Beth and Frank's youngest boy?" asked Jacob as the lawyer approached him.

"Yes, I am," replied the attorney.

"That's right," offered Jacob. "I believe your name's Paul."

"You are right again, Mr. Miller," agreed the lawyer. "Now, let's get back to the matter before this court today."

"It's sad ain't it," declared Jacob as he shook his head. "The poor little girl just don't know the difference between right and wrong."

"My client says what you're saying is incorrect," offered the lawyer. "In fact, she says she doesn't even have a dog."

"Well, what would you expect her to say under the circumstances?" smiled Jacob. "I mean after all, with her mental state and all."

"How old is Elly?" asked the attorney.

"If I figure right, she's nineteen," Jacob replied.

"So, this time next year when she turns twenty, what is supposed to happen?" continued the lawyer.

"I don't rightly know what you mean," offered Jacob.

"I believe you rightly do know what I mean," declared the attorney. "What did her father leave for her when she becomes twenty years of age?"

"Oh, that," laughed Jacob. "He left a little dowry for her."

"How much did he leave?" continued the lawyer.

"If I remember right, it was around fifty," replied Jacob.

"How much?" the attorney asked again.

"It was around fifty thousand dollars," declared Jacob.  

Once again the people sitting in the courtroom let out a gasp. The judge quickly brought the proceedings back to order. I made a few notes on a piece of paper. This trial was starting to be more interesting than I had first thought.  

"So, her father left her fifty thousand dollars that she hasn't had access to," continued the attorney. "Who's been looking after all that money since her father died?"

"Well, the court assigned me as trustee," replied Jacob. "It's been in the bank all these years."

"That's interesting that you say that, Mr. Miller," continued the lawyer. "I couldn't find any account here in town that has the money in it."

"Oh, it ain't in a bank in this town," smiled Jacob. "It's safely put away in a bank over in Sumner."

"I see," pondered the attorney. "So, tell me, Mr. Miller, what will happen to all that money if Elly is confined to a mental hospital?"

"Well, I haven't really thought too much about it," pondered Jacob. "If my memory serves me right, I believe she forfeits the money and it defaults to the trustee. It'll be just like she died or something."

"So, she has to be mentally competent on her twentieth birthday or you get the money. Is that right, Mr. Miller?" asked the attorney as he moved closer to the witness stand.

"I reckon. The law is the law," offered Jacob.

"Don't you find this very convenient?" asked the lawyer.

"What are you getting at?" replied Jacob as his face reddened with anger.

"It's just that I find it very interesting that Elly is less than a year away from inheriting her father's money and now you want to take it away from her," explained the attorney.

"I don't like what you're implying," snarled Jacob as he bit his lower lip.

"And I don't like the lies you're telling on my client!" said the lawyer louder than he meant.

"You'd better watch who you're calling a liar, boy," threatened Jacob. "I ain't one to be messed with."

"Oh, yeah, everybody in town knows you're the leader of the local Klan," continued the attorney. "What you gonna do, burn a cross in my yard?"

"I'll do more than that you little snot nosed ingrate!" shouted Jacob as he stood to confront the lawyer.

"All right! All right!" yelled the judge as he banged his gavel again. "That's enough of that! I'm gonna call an hour recess here so everybody can cool down. Court adjourned."  

I jotted down notes as fast as I could as mumbling spread across the room. Some were saying the girl should be locked up and others were defending her. I couldn't help but think that if this was the worst crime the town had to deal with, then this town didn't have much to worry about.  

Since I had an hour to kill before the trial started again, I decided to once again stroll down main street. I hadn't gone too far when I came to an alley between two buildings. A woman was leaning on the doorpost halfway down the alley. She caught my attention because she was African-American. I hadn't seen any others in town and besides, I was interested in her thoughts on the murder trial that was coming up in Sumner in a few days. As I made my way to her, I introduced myself.  

"So, what would you like, stranger?" she asked.

"I'm not sure I know what you mean," I replied.

"Well, for five dollars, you and me can have a rip-roaring time," she offered.

"Oh," I said as I came to the realization of what she meant. "I didn't know a small town like this would have a woman of ill repute."

"All small towns have us whores," she declared. "Some have to share 'em with other small towns, but they all got 'em."

"I bet you have some stories you could tell," I said, smiling.

"I don't tell on nobody," she said. "It ain't good for repeat business."

"I guess it wouldn't be," I reflected.

"What's a big city slicker like you doing in this hole in the road?" she asked.

"I was on my way to Sumner for the murder trial of Emmett Till," I explained. "Did you hear about it?"

"Yeah, I heard about it," she replied. "They ain't gonna do nothing about it."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"They don't never do nothing about it," she answered. "White folks kill us colored folks all the time. Ain't nobody gonna fix it and make it right. The Klan sees to that."

"You know this for a fact?" I inquired.

"Sure do," she bristled. "Some of my best customers are part of the Klan."

"You mean white guys come and see you for business?" I asked in amazement.

"Yep, they get horny and they come and see me," she explained. "I guess their old ladies are on the rag or something. Of course, if they get drunk enough, it don't matter what color the hole is. They'll stick their old white dicks in it anyway."

"How about someone like Jacob Miller?" I inquired.

"I done told you, I ain't snitching on any of my customers," she replied.

"I can appreciate that," I said. "But you do know him, don't you?"

"Yeah, I know him," she answered.

"Do you know him well?"

"Yeah, I know him well."

"Really well?"

"Yeah, really well."  

I smiled and handed her a ten dollar bill. She grabbed it and asked, "So what do you want to do, big spender?"

"You've already done it for me," I said as I walked back toward the main street. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," she yelled in disbelief. "You come back anytime."  

Heading back to the courthouse, I shook my head in disbelief at how we humans treat each other. It's easy to hate until you need something from the one you hate. I remember wondering if history ever teaches us anything or is humankind a lost cause?  

There was still a half hour before court would resume, but the young lady and her attorney were sitting at the defense table. I approached and introduced myself.  

"My client is not prepared to give any interviews at this time," her attorney said.

"Listen, Paul," I explained. "I'm not here for an interview. I want to help."

"I don't think anything's gonna help," Elly said in the sweetest voice I had ever heard.

"Well, at least let me tell you what I've found out," I said as I pulled a chair over to the table.  

I explained my conversation with the black prostitute. Paul did not fully understand what he could do with the information, so I laid it out plain for him. He and Elly talked about it for awhile and decided it was at least worth a try. Before long the bailiff came in and called the court to order. The judge took his seat.  

"Okay, Jacob, come back up to the stand," he ordered. "Now, you and Paul try and get along with each other. This hearing's done took far longer than it should."

Jacob Miller settled into the chair on the stand. Paul approached him and said, "Mr. Miller, I want to apologize to you if I said something before that upset you. I didn't mean to."

"Oh, that's all right, Paul," smiled Jacob. "We both just want what's best for Elly."

"Yes, we do," the attorney agreed. "Now, let me turn your attention to something you said before we recessed."

"What was that?" Jacob asked.

"You said you were a member of the local Klan. Is that right?" Paul asked.

"Everybody knows that, Paul," laughed Jacob. "We boys keep this town straight. We do the Lord's work."

"And if I understand correctly, you're the leader of the Klan in this community. Is that correct?" inquired Paul.

"Well, who's the leader is a secret," explained Jacob. "We don't tell things like that."

"Your Honor, I don't see where this is helping these proceedings at all," objected the prosecutor.

"Your Honor, I ask your indulgence," pleaded Paul. "After all this is a hearing and not a trial. I hope to have some leeway in my cross examination."

"All right," replied the judge. "Just don't go out into left field too far."

"Thank you, your Honor," offered Paul. "Now, Mr. Miller, as we were saying, you are part of the Klan."

"Yes, I'm a member of the Klan," replied Jacob with a hint of distaste for the question.

"So, what are your beliefs about colored people?" Paul asked. "How do you feel about them?"

"They're all right if they stay in their place," answered Jacob.

"And what place is that, Mr. Miller?" asked Paul. "Can they come into your home and sit down at your table and share a meal with you?"

The judge banged his gavel as the courthouse crowd broke into laughter. Jacob stopped laughing and answered, "Not in my house."

"Would you use the same bathroom that they did?" continued Paul.

"Not if I could help it," snickered Jacob.

"Would you let a colored girl marry one of your sons?" inquired Paul.

"That ain't legal in this state, and you know it," replied a somewhat irritated Jacob.

"And why do you feel that way, Mr. Miller?" Paul continued. "What is it about colored people that makes you feel that way?"

"Cause they ain't like us white folks," Jacob answered.

"How are they not like us white folks, Mr. Miller?" asked Paul.

"Well, you know how they are," replied Jacob. "You can't teach them nothing. Most of 'em are lazy and no good. They smell funny. Some of them stink cause they don't take baths. I don't know, they just ain't like us."

"So, are you saying that colored people are just not equal to us white folks?" inquired Paul.

"That's right," smiled Jacob. "They ain't equal to us."

"So, what would you say that colored people are equal to?" continued Paul. "Are they equal to a monkey?"

"Some of 'em look like a monkey," laughed Jacob. "Some of 'em act like it, too."

"So, you believe colored people are equal to apes. Is that correct, Mr. Miller?" asked Paul.

"Some of 'em look like baboons," snickered Jacob. Some in the room laughed until the judge gave them a stern look.

"So, then let me make sure I fully understand what your beliefs are, Mr. Miller," continued Paul. "You are saying that colored people have the intelligence and looks of monkeys. You are saying that colored people are not equal to white folks. You are saying that colored people are equal to monkeys. Is that correct, Mr. Miller?"

"I can go along with that," replied Jacob.

"Good," declared Paul. "And I'm sure there are a lot of folks in this town who would agree with you."

"I'm sure there are," agreed Jacob.

"Now let's turn our attention to another matter, if you will," continued Paul. "Do you know a Hazel Johnson?"

"The town whore?" asked Jacob. "Ah, everybody knows her."

"Have you ever had a chance to go see her and give her some business?" whispered Paul as he moved closer and smiled.

"Well, I don't really want to say," replied an embarrassed Jacob.

"It's okay, Mr. Miller," said Paul in a reassuring manner. "I'm a man. We have needs. I know what it's like to be in town and feeling lonely. Has that ever happened to you?"

"Well, I do get lonely sometimes," offered Jacob.

"A man comes to town and he's lonely and he starts drinking," continued Paul. "What's a man like that likely to do if he happens upon someone like Miss Hazel?"

"Well, he'd probably give her some business," replied Jacob. "She ain't bad looking for a colored girl."

"No, she's not," agreed Paul. "Especially if you've been drinking pretty heavy most of the evening."

"Yeah, that can happen," offered Jacob.

"Has it ever happened to you, Mr. Miller?" asked Paul. "Have you ever gave Miss Hazel some business?"

"Well, I might have on occasion," confessed Jacob.

"That's understandable, Mr. Miller," declared Paul. "I'm sure you're not the only man in this courtroom who's done that."

"I'm probably not," agreed Jacob.

"Now, back to what we were talking about before," continued Paul. "As you said earlier, colored people are equal to monkeys. Is that right, Mr. Miller?"

"I don't like where you're going with this," Jacob replied as his face turned cold.

"But, Mr. Miller, don't you see," smiled Paul. "If colored people are equal to monkeys and you've had sex with a colored prostitute, then I dare say, you're guilty of bestiality!"

"Now wait a minute!" protested Jacob.

"You can't have it both ways, Mr. Miller," Paul continued. "Either state here for all to hear that colored people are equal to white folks or admit that you're guilty of the very crime you're accusing my client of!"

"Now, don't you go..."

"Which is it going to be, Mr. Miller?" yelled Paul as he interrupted. "Are colored people the same as white folks, or have you been having sex with a monkey?"

Zachary Holden stood up in the back of the courtroom and shouted, "Jacob, you'd better watch what you say! You know they ain't like us! I'll see you hanging from a..."

"All right," yelled the judge as he interrupted. "We ain't lynching nobody. Answer the question, Jacob."

"But, your Honor," protested Jacob. "That ain't a fair question."

"Seems fair to me," replied the judge. "In fact, I'd say this whole hearing is depending on your answer. If Elly is mentally incompetent on the grounds of bestiality, as you have asserted, and you're guilty of the same thing, then I have to wonder about your mental state. It seems to me you might have to be locked up with Miss Elly for the same crime against nature. So, Jacob, answer the question."

"Please, Clyde," begged Jacob. "You know I can't say here in front of everybody that the colored are just like us white folks. You know I can't say that!"

"Then are you admitting, in this court of law, to the crime of bestiality?" asked the judge.

"I ain't gonna answer," snarled Jacob.

"Well, if you're not going to answer, then I'm going to be forced to deny your petition to have Elly locked away," explained the judge. "It appears she's as sane as you are, maybe a little more."

Jacob pursed his lips as he looked out at the faces in the courtroom. Many were smiling at him and others were staring a hole through him. He saw Zachary Holden silently shaking his fist. With a sigh, he turned to the judge and said, "I ain't gonna answer."

"Then your petition is denied," declared the judge. "Elly you are free to go. Court adjourned."  

Paul wiped his forehead with his handkerchief as he returned to the defense table. He smiled at me and said, "Well, it worked."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Thank God the judge is a fair man."

Elly gave him a big hug and then turned to me.

"Thank you. Thank you so much."

"What can I say?" I blushed. "Justice prevailed."  

My car was finally fixed by the time I left the courthouse. I traveled to Sumner and reported on the murder trial. Four days after it started, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant were found not guilty by an all white, twelve-man jury. It took them sixty-seven minutes to reach a verdict. One juror remarked that it would not have taken that long if the jury had not taken a break to drink soda pop.  

I filed my report by telephone and headed toward Atlanta. As I approached the town of Post, I decided to stop and follow up on Paul and Elly. Paul had left for a trial in Jackson and I finally found Elly at the local diner. She asked me to join her and we talked until the evening.  

Jacob Miller had left town and her money couldn't be found. She knew he had stolen it. That was why he was trying to have her committed. He knew she would find out on her twentieth birthday that all the money was missing. Once everyone knew the truth, he ran away to avoid prosecution. Later we learned he had moved to southern Georgia where he raised a family that was as dishonest and mean as he was.  

I left Elly and made the long trip back to Atlanta. The story of the murder trial broke in all the nation's papers and ones overseas. The outcries from such injustice fueled the civil rights actions that finally led to the federal government passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

As for me, I kept in touch with Elly and eventually moved to Post to be with her. I had to since we had fallen in love and were getting married. It was the happiest times of my life living with Elly and watching the Deep South slowly change to where everyone had equal rights under the law.  

Much has been accomplished since then, but there is much more that needs to be done. Elly and I did as much as we could to promote harmony and treat everyone with the same respect we expected from others. Sometimes we were very successful and other times our words fell on deaf ears. Elly always said we could only do what we could do. Other than that, we would just have to wait until the old bigots died off and left the world to the younger people. That is why she took the lead in teaching our children to respect people of all colors, creeds, and thoughts.  

Often I think back on those times. Though I would never wish upon anyone what happened to that young man, Emmett Till, I am thankful to him that I met Elly and spent my life with her. I would like to think we have done our small part in making this world a better place to live. May future generations go even further and make this world a great place to live.

3 comments:

  1. very interesting and clever Story with more than a hint of truth about it.
    Shows prejudice for what it is.
    great American short Story.

    Michael McCarthy

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  2. This story was well written. It was perfectly paced and had a nice arc of tenstion with a very satifying conclusion. I look forward to more stories by Jerry Crews

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