Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Murder of Tillman Branch

If you are following this blog or have visited my Facebook page, you already know that I am writing a book about one of my Branch cousins, a man named Edward Tillman Branch. Born in 1901 in Attala County, Mississippi, the man was known by most who knew him by one name, simply "Tillman." His name and his reputation as a bootlegger are still the subject of a few conversations among some of the older residents who knew him. Although Tillman was born and raised in Attala County, he spent much of his adult life near Goodman, where he lived with his wife and his second family of three children.

In Goodman, Tillman owned and operated a store known as The Long Branch or "Branch's Store." And just south of Goodman, Tillman owned a night spot known as The Blue Flame, or as it was referred to by locals, "Tillman's Place" or "The Spot." Although Tillman's relatives often remember him with fondness as a kind and helpful man, his propensity for being stern and sometimes outright mean in his dealing with others, is a common thread with many who knew him.

Tillman's club had a reputation for being rowdy. And as a long-time proprietor, Tillman was certainly aware of the dangers of having large groups of revelers fired up on moonshine under one roof on a Saturday night. But even the small troop of rough, tough, physical enforcers that Tillman hired to keep order in the club, were not enough to stop the gunshot that took his life early on Easter Sunday morning 1963. The shooter was an 18-year old black man named Matthew Winter, who had left the club and returned with a gun. Winter was arrested later that day, subsequently plead guilty, and was sentenced to life in Parchman State Penitentiary in Drew, Mississippi. Although early law enforcement documents are no longer available, an account of the incident can be read in a decision to an appeal filed in the United States District Court, Northern District of Mississippi, Greenville Division. The text of the appeal court's decision, dated November 1, 1971, appears below.

333 F.Supp. 1033 (1971)
Matthew WINTERS, Petitioner,
Thomas D. COOK, Superintendent of the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Respondent.
United States District Court, N. D. Mississippi, Greenville Division.
November 1, 1971.
Roy Haber, Jackson, Miss., for petitioner.
Guy Rogers, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jackson, Miss., Pat Barrett, Lexington, Miss., for respondent.
KEADY, Chief Judge.
Matthew Winters, the petitioner, on October 21, 1963, entered a plea of guilty in the Circuit Court of Holmes County, Mississippi, to a charge of murder, was convicted upon such plea, and on October 24, 1963, was sentenced by the Circuit Court of Holmes County to life imprisonment. Petitioner is presently confined at Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman, Mississippi, pursuant to that sentence. Subsequently, petitioner filed in the Circuit Court of Holmes County, a motion to vacate his sentence on the following grounds:
1. That petitioner was denied the equal protection of the laws in that at the time of petitioner's conviction upon his plea of guilty, negroes were systematically excluded from service on grand and petit juries in Holmes County, and, specifically, from the grand jury which indicted petitioner.
2. That petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel in that petitioner's "court-appointed" attorney failed to make proper investigation of the case, failed to confer with petitioner except for a brief period immediately prior to the entry of the plea of guilty, and failed to properly advise with petitioner.
3. That petitioner's plea of guilty was not understandingly and voluntarily entered.
The Circuit Court, after an evidentiary hearing, denied the motion to vacate by memorandum opinion and found that petitioner did have adequate assistance of counsel; that his plea of guilty was knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily entered; and that such a guilty plea waived all non-jurisdictional defects, including the alleged defect in the selection of the grand jury. Petitioner appealed to the Supreme Court of Mississippi, which affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court. Winters v. State, 244 So. 2d 1 (Miss.1971)
Being dissatisfied with the results obtained in the state court proceedings, petitioner has filed in this court his petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 et seq. Petitioner was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and a show cause order issued to respondent. Written briefs have been filed by both parties, and the parties have, by stipulation, waived evidentiary hearing and submitted the cause on the pleadings, briefs and the record made in the state court. It is admitted by respondent that petitioner has exhausted his state remedies within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
Petitioner is represented here by the same counsel who represented him in the state court post-conviction proceedings, but not the same counsel who represented him at the time of, and prior to, the entry of his guilty plea and his subsequent sentencing thereon. Petitioner's contentions here are essentially the same as those presented in the post-conviction proceedings in the state court. Respondent contends that petitioner's plea of guilty was understandingly and voluntarily entered upon advice of competent counsel and that petitioner thereby waived any defect in the composition of the grand jury.
On April 14, 1963, one E. T. Branch, an adult white male, was killed at a place of business, described as a "beer joint", operated by him in Holmes County. Shortly, thereafter, petitioner, a negro male, was arrested and charged with the murder of Branch. At that time, petitioner was 18 years of age and had left school in the fifth grade. He last attended school at age eleven, and had worked for a veterinarian at Kosciusko since that time. Although lacking in formal education, petitioner was intelligent and capable of normal understanding. Prior to his arrest on the murder charge, he had had two brushes with the law—a charge of driving while intoxicated in 1963 for which he paid a fine, and a charge of disturbing the peace, the outcome of which is not clear, but as a result of which, petitioner spent about six hours in jail. He had never been in a courtroom before April of 1963.
On April 18, 1963, the grand jury of Holmes County, returned an indictment against petitioner for the murder of Branch. On April 19, 1963, petitioner was arraigned before the Circuit Court of Holmes County, and entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of murder. A period of only five days elapsed between the killing of Branch and the arraignment of petitioner on the murder  charge. At some unspecified point during that five-day period, members of petitioner's family employed David E. Crawley, Jr., a practicing member of the Mississippi State Bar since 1942, as petitioner's attorney. Mr. Crawley is white. Mr. Crawley engaged in the general civil and criminal practice of law at Kosciusko, from 1942 until 1953, at which time he began to limit his practice, more or less, to the handling of personal injury and workmen's compensation matters on behalf of plaintiffs. During his career at the bar, Mr. Crawley had handled between 25 and 75 murder cases and 15 to 20 other capital cases. He estimated that he had handled a total of between 150 and 200 criminal matters of all types at the time of the habeas corpus hearing in state court. Mr. Crawley had represented the Winters family on other occasions and considered them to be among his best clients. He estimated that his clientele in criminal matters consisted of approximately 25% whites and 75% negroes. At the time he accepted employment as petitioner's defense counsel, Mr. Crawley was aware of the defenses available in a criminal proceeding, including the right of petitioner to challenge the racial composition of the grand jury which indicted him. He had never filed such a challenge himself, but knew of one case in which a white attorney had challenged the composition of a jury on racial grounds in Kosciusko, without adverse social or economic effects.
After being employed by petitioner's family and before petitioner's arraignment in the Circuit Court, Mr. Crawley conferred with petitioner in the Holmes County Jail at Lexington, and was given the following version of events leading up to, and including, the death of Branch:
Petitioner and a friend were at the beer joint operated by Branch. Branch was present, as were others, including at least one employee of Branch and certain unidentified members of petitioner's family. Petitioner began talking to a negro female employee, to which Branch apparently objected. Without warning, Branch slapped petitioner "rather severely across the side of the head." At this, petitioner became "enraged and infuriated," left the premises of Branch, got in his automobile and went with his friend to the friend's house, a distance of some 20 miles from Branch's establishment, for the purpose of obtaining a gun. A shotgun and shells were obtained at the friend's house, and petitioner and his friend then returned to Branch's place of business. A total distance of approximately 40 miles had been traveled from the beer joint to the friend's house and back. Upon his return to the Branch establishment, petitioner went inside, told the members of his family present to leave and get in the car, that he had "a little business to attend to," and after the members of petitioner's family had left the establishment, stuck the shotgun through a window or door and fired at Branch, killing him.
After hearing this story from petitioner, Mr. Crawley continued his investigation of the case by interviewing members of petitioner’s family to determine whether or not petitioner had told them the same story. He found this to be the case. He talked to no witnesses outside of petitioner's family.
Feeling that the only possible defense to the charge of murder was insanity, Mr. Crawley filed a motion for a mental examination of petitioner, pursuant to which the Circuit Court ordered petitioner transported to Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield for mental examination on April 23, 1963. This necessitated a continuance of the case to the October, 1963 term of the court. Petitioner remained at the Mississippi State Hospital for about six weeks and upon completion of the examination was returned to the Holmes County Jail. The psychiatric report based upon the examination was entirely negative insofar as a defense to the charge of murder was concerned. Following receipt of the report on the mental examination of petitioner, Mr. Crawley discussed petitioner's case with Mr. Pat Barrett, county attorney of Holmes County, and, after the commencement of the October, 1963 term of the court, with Mr. George Everitt, the district attorney. In the course of those discussions he learned that the testimony of the state's witnesses as to the facts surrounding the death of Branch would be substantially the same as the version given to him by petitioner and by petitioner's family. Mr. Crawley then concluded that there was a high degree of probability that petitioner would be convicted of murder and would be given the death penalty. He also learned that members of the Branch family were exerting pressure upon the authorities to insist upon the death penalty for petitioner. Although Mr. Crawley was aware of petitioner's right to attack the exclusion of negroes from the grand jury which indicted him and from the petit jury impaneled for the October term of the Circuit Court of Holmes County, he nevertheless felt that the facts of petitioner's case were such that no jury, regardless of how constituted, could fail to convict petitioner of the murder of Branch.
He was extremely concerned that petitioner might receive the death penalty.
At that point, the saving of petitioner's life was uppermost in Mr. Crawley's mind. Pursuant to that line of thinking, he embarked upon the process of plea bargaining with the state's attorneys in an effort to obtain an agreement to recommend a sentence of life imprisonment in return for petitioner's plea of guilty. In the plea bargaining process, Mr. Crawley advised the state's attorneys that should he be forced to trial of petitioner's case, he would file a motion to quash the indictment on the ground of the systematic exclusion of negroes from service on the grand jury which indicted petitioner, and in the event that motion were overruled, he would immediately challenge the composition of the petit jury on the same ground. As a result of the plea bargaining process, the state agreed to recommend a life sentence in return for a guilty plea by petitioner.
Mr. Crawley had kept petitioner's family advised of his efforts to persuade the state to accept a guilty plea in return for recommendation of a life sentence for petitioner. He did not advise petitioner's family of petitioner's right to challenge the racial composition of the juries. On October 21, 1963, Mr. Crawley conferred with petitioner in a witness room adjacent to the courtroom in the Holmes County Courthouse. Mr. Crawley advised petitioner that the testimony of the witnesses would be adverse to petitioner and that it was Mr. Crawley's opinion that if petitioner went to trial, he would probably be convicted and sentenced to death. Mr. Crawley further explained to petitioner that if he entered a plea of guilty he would receive 1039*1039 a life sentence and explained that petitioner would be eligible for parole after serving ten years of that sentence. At no time did Mr. Crawley advise petitioner that he had a right to challenge the racial composition of either the grand jury or the petit jury. Despite his awareness of petitioner's right to challenge the composition of the juries, Mr. Crawley felt that the preservation of petitioner's life was of greater importance than the vindication of that particular constitutional right. On the basis of his attorney's advice, petitioner decided to change his plea to "guilty."
On the same day, petitioner and his attorney appeared before the Circuit Judge, and petitioner then and there changed his plea from "not guilty" to "guilty" of the murder of Branch. Before accepting petitioner's change of plea the Circuit Judge questioned him at some length in open court. Present at the time in addition to the judge were petitioner, Mr. Crawley, Mr. Barrett, the county attorney, and Mr. Everitt, the district attorney. The court advised petitioner that he had a right to a trial by jury and that his plea of guilty would result in a waiver of that right. Petitioner indicated to the court that he understood this to be the case. The court further questioned petitioner as to whether his change of plea was induced by force, coercion or fear, to which petitioner responded that it was not. The court also inquired of petitioner if any inducement or promise of reward had been offered him in return for a plea of guilty, and petitioner replied that no such promise had been made to him. Petitioner was also asked by the court if he was entering a plea of guilty freely and voluntarily and because he was guilty of the crime charged and for no other reason. Petitioner responded in the affirmative. The court then inquired whether or not petitioner's attorney had advised petitioner of his rights and whether or not petitioner had any complaint or criticism concerning the services of his attorney. Petitioner replied that he had been advised of his rights by his attorney and that he had no complaint concerning his services. In the opinion of Mr. Crawley and Mr. Everitt, the responses of petitioner to the questions of the court were intelligent and responsive and clearly indicated that petitioner understood the questions, none of which petitioner undertook to deny in his testimony on the motion to vacate. This court therefore finds that petitioner did understand what was being said to him by the state court and the questions asked him by that court prior to the acceptance of his guilty plea and further finds that his responses thereto were intelligent and responsive.
Upon completion of the questioning of petitioner by the court, the court accepted his change of plea to "guilty", and on October 24, 1963, petitioner was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Branch. At no time did either petitioner's attorney or the state court advise petitioner of his right to challenge the racial composition of either the grand or petit juries, and petitioner was not aware of that right.
Petitioner's present criticism of his attorney and his characterization of the assistance rendered him by his attorney as "ineffective" are based upon Mr. Crawley's failure to advise him of his constitutional right to object to the systematic exclusion of negroes from jury service in Holmes County, Mississippi, and upon the alleged failure of Mr. Crawley to devote the necessary time, energy and interest to petitioner's defense.
The second criticism of Mr. Crawley's services is clearly not founded in fact. He interviewed petitioner at the Holmes County Jail promptly upon being employed and prior to the arraignment. This could not have been more than five days after the employment, and was probably less. After interviewing petitioner, Mr. Crawley promptly undertook such investigation as in his judgment was required. He then sought a mental examination of petitioner in order to determine whether or not the defense of insanity would be available. He conferred not only with petitioner, but with members of his family and with the state's attorneys on numerous occasions. He was fully aware of all of petitioner's rights, but was also aware of the almost overwhelming evidence against petitioner. His devotion to petitioner's cause is amply demonstrated by the evidence.
Despite Mr. Crawley's devotion to and interest in petitioner's defense, did his failure to interview all available witnesses and his failure to advise petitioner of his constitutional right to object to racial discrimination in the jury selection process in Holmes County deprive petitioner of the effective assistance of counsel? The facts surrounding the death of Branch as related to Mr. Crawley by petitioner presented a clear case of murder under Mississippi law. Mr. Crawley's conferences with members of petitioner's family confirmed that petitioner had given his family the same version of the facts. It should also be remembered that certain unidentified members of petitioner's family were present at the scene of the killing. It is not unreasonable to assume that those members of petitioner's family told what they knew either to Mr. Crawley or to the other members of the family. It is significant that Mr. Crawley's interviews with the family produced no conflicts with the version of the facts related to Mr. Crawley by petitioner. Mr. Crawley's conversations with the state's attorneys further confirmed petitioner's version of the facts. There is nothing before this court to indicate that even if Mr. Crawley had interviewed other witnesses he would have learned anything different from what he was told by petitioner, petitioner's family and the state's attorneys. It is possible, indeed likely, that some attorneys in the same circumstance might have interviewed other witnesses. However, in the absence of a showing that Mr. Crawley's failure to interview such witnesses resulted in his being unaware of available evidence which could have been used to the benefit of petitioner, the court is of the opinion that such failure did not 1041*1041 render Mr. Crawley's assistance to petitioner ineffective.
Insofar as Mr. Crawley's failure to advise petitioner of his right to object to the systematic exclusion of negroes from jury service in Holmes County is concerned, the court is of the opinion that this, too, is an area in which equally competent counsel might have elected to proceed differently. In Mr. Crawley's judgment, however, the case against petitioner was so clear that the racial composition of the jury would have made no difference in whether an indictment or a guilty verdict were returned. He felt an overriding obligation to attempt to save petitioner's life, which he set out to do, and which he accomplished. Under those circumstances it cannot be said that Mr. Crawley's assistance to petitioner was rendered ineffective merely because he failed to advise petitioner of the existence of a constitutional right, the exercise of which Mr. Crawley honestly believed would be of no ultimate benefit to petitioner.
The test of whether or not the assistance of counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding has been "effective", within the meaning of the constitution, is not whether or not the advice was correct, or whether or not other attorneys in the same circumstances might have proceeded differently. The test is whether or not the advice or other actions of the attorney were within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases. McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 90 S.Ct. 1441, 25 L.Ed.2d 763 (1970). Parker v. North Carolina, 397 U.S. 790, 90 S.Ct. 1458, 25 L.Ed.2d 785 (1970). Edwards v. United States, 103 U.S.App.D.C. 152, 256 F.2d 707 (1958), cert. den. 358 U.S. 847, 90 S.Ct. 74, 3 L.Ed.2d 82. In the Fifth Circuit, effective counsel does not mean "errorless counsel" or "counsel judged ineffective by hindsight" but counsel "reasonably likely to render and rendering reasonably effective assistance." McKenna v. Ellis, 280 F.2d 592 (5 Cir. 1960), cert. den. 368 U.S. 877, 82 S.Ct. 121, 7 L.Ed.2d 78 (1961). Also, more is required of an attorney where the plea is not guilty and the case goes to trial than in the case of a guilty plea. Lamb v. Beto, 423 F.2d 85 (5 Cir. 1970). Since the actions of Mr. Crawley on behalf of petitioner and his advice to petitioner were well within the range of competence required, petitioner was not deprived of the effective assistance of counsel.
For purposes of this opinion it will be assumed, without deciding, that negroes were systematically excluded from the grand jury which indicted petitioner and from the petit jury panel drawn for the October, 1963 term of the Circuit Court of Holmes County. It is alleged by petitioner, although denied by respondent, that according to the 1960 decennial census, there were in Holmes County, 2,218 white males and 3,913 nonwhite males eligible to serve as jurors. It is further alleged that approximately 99% of the non-whites were negroes. Thus, it is alleged, approximately 70% of the jury qualified males in the County were negroes, and that at the time of the indictment and sentencing of petitioner few, if any, negroes had ever been called for jury service. No proof was offered on this point in the state court proceedings, the trial judge limiting the state court hearing to the questions of effectiveness of counsel, waiver and the voluntariness of the guilty plea on the ground that it would be premature to consider the racial exclusion question unless one of the other issues were resolved in petitioner's favor. If proof had been taken on the racial exclusion question and if petitioner's proof thereon had been substantially as alleged in his petition here, such proof would have been sufficient to make out a prima facie case of systematic exclusion of negroes from jury service in Holmes County. United States ex rel Goldsby v. Harpole, 263 F.2d 71 (5 Cir. 1958), cert. den. 361 U.S. 838, 80 S.Ct. 58, 4 L.Ed.2d 78.
Even so, systematic exclusion from jury service on the basis of race is 1042*1042 a defect which may be waived. A guilty plea understandingly and voluntarily entered waives all non-jurisdictional defects, including any defect arising out of systematic exclusion from jury service on the basis of race. Throgmartin v. United States, 424 F.2d 630 (5 Cir. 1970). File v. Smith, 413 F.2d 969 (5 Cir. 1969).
If petitioner's plea of guilty was understandingly and voluntarily entered he waived his right to object to the composition of the juries, and the petition must be denied. The court is thus lead to consideration of the third, and most critical, point raised by petitioner.
Petitioner contends that his plea of guilty was not understandingly and voluntarily entered because he was never advised, and did not otherwise know, that he had a right to object to the systematic exclusion of negroes from the grand jury which indicted him and from the petit jury which would have tried him had he gone to trial at the October, 1963 term of the Circuit Court of Holmes County. Petitioner raises no other substantial question as to the validity of his guilty plea.[6]
To support his position petitioner relies primarily upon Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1937); Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 83 S.Ct. 822, 9 L.Ed.2d 837 (1963); and Ellzey v. Breazeale, 277 F.Supp. 948 (S.D.Miss.1967). Petitioner argues that since waiver is defined in Johnson v. Zerbst, supra, as "an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege," which has recently been restated in Fay v. Noia, supra, as "the considered choice of the petitioner," and since it is undisputed that petitioner himself had no knowledge of his constitutional right to object to the systematic exclusion of negroes from jury service in Holmes County, there was no intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege and no considered choice of petitioner and, therefore, no waiver. Petitioner further argues that since he did not knowingly and intentionally waive his right to object to the exclusion from jury service of negroes, his plea of guilty was not understandingly and voluntarily entered, since such a plea would constitute a waiver of such right, and he cannot be held to have waived a constitutional right, the existence of which was unknown to him.
The argument of petitioner ignores the fundamental difference between the waiver resulting from a voluntary and understanding plea of guilty and the type of waiver dealt with in Johnson v. Zerbst, Fay v. Noia, and the other cases cited by petitioner (with the exception of Ellzey v. Breazeale, supra, and other cases which will be discussed later), in each of which the defendant plead not guilty and was convicted after a trial on the merits. The well-established rule that a guilty plea knowingly and voluntarily entered waives all non-jurisdictional defects is not merely another rule of waiver. It is the natural consequence and flows from the fundamental nature of the guilty plea. A plea of guilty by a defendant in a criminal proceeding says to the court that the defendant has committed the offense with which he is charged and that he is willing to forego a trial and accept punishment. Assuming the jurisdiction of the court and the representation of the defendant by competent counsel, once the court has satisfied itself that the plea is understandingly and voluntarily entered, it is not required, before accepting the plea, to determine that the defendant was personally aware of each and every right which, had he gone to trial, might have been available to him under the constitution. It would unduly expand the presumption against waivers of fundamental rights to hold that, despite the availability of competent counsel, a defendant must himself be aware of, and agree to forego, each and every right which may be available to him under the constitution in order that his guilty plea be valid. The constitution requires that counsel be available to defendants in criminal prosecutions for the very reason that the learning, experience and independent judgment of counsel is the best guarantee of the protection of the rights of an accused. This court cannot accept the proposition that a guilty plea, otherwise valid, may be successfully attacked on the ground that the defendant did not have personal knowledge of all constitutional rights available to him and did not personally make the decision not to avail himself of them. All defendants in criminal prosecutions are, to a greater or lesser degree, ignorant of their constitutional rights. That is why lawyers are made available to them. But lawyers are not required to educate their clients in constitutional law. They are expected to utilize their training, experience and judgment in acting for and advising their clients who do not possess, and cannot be expected to acquire, the lawyer's training, experience and professional judgment. Petitioner was guaranteed many rights by the constitution in addition to his right to have his case presented to a grand jury from which negroes had not been systematically excluded. If petitioner had elected to go to trial, he had the right to be present in the courtroom and confront the witnesses against him; the right to cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses; the right to testify in his own behalf or to remain silent, as he saw fit; the right to appear in the courtroom free from restraints such as handcuffs or manacles; the right not to be required to appear in the courtroom before the jury in prison garb, and many others. It is probably safe to say that petitioner knew of none of those rights at the time of his guilty plea, and there was no reason for him to know of them. He had decided, upon advice of competent counsel and for reasons of his own, to forego a trial. He knew he had the right to demand a trial, but decided, on advice of counsel, not to do so. Therefore, the rights which petitioner might have exercised had a trial occurred became immaterial and were therefore waived by the guilty plea. This includes the right to challenge the racial composition of the juries.
Vastly different, of course, is the case in which the defendant does not plead guilty, but instead goes to trial protesting his innocence of the charge and striving for acquittal. In such a case, as the Supreme Court noted in Johnson v. Zerbst, the courts indulge every presumption against waiver of fundamental rights. This is so because it would be contrary to logic and the teaching of human experience not to presume that a defendant insisting upon his innocence and forcing the prosecution to prove its case in an adversary proceeding—a trial on the merits—intends to avail himself of every available right, unless there exists a clear indication that the defendant has intentionally waived such rights. Even in such cases, the principle is subject to limitations. See United States ex rel Goldsby v. Harpole, supra.
The waiver of non-jurisdictional defects flowing from a plea of guilty is effective only if the guilty plea is understandingly and voluntarily entered. The requirement that the plea must be voluntary is easily understood. It means that the plea must have been entered as the free and rational choice of the accused and not as the result of threats, coercion or promise of reward. The requirement that the plea must be understandingly entered does not mean that the accused must understand the nature of each and every constitutional right which might be available to him upon a trial, but means that the accused must understand the nature of the charge against him, that he has a right to a trial if he wishes, and the consequences of his plea of guilty. North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970). This is the standard for accepting a guilty plea in the federal district court. Rule 11, FRCrP. Here it is clear that the petitioner understood that he was charged with murder, that he had the right to a trial which might result in his being sentenced to 1044*1044 suffer the death penalty, and understood that the consequences of his plea of guilty would be his conviction without trial and his sentence to life imprisonment in the penitentiary.
The arguments made here by petitioner were dealt with and disposed of by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Edwards v. United States, supra, in an opinion written by then Circuit Judge Warren Burger. That opinion is made especially persuasive by the fact that the writer now serves as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. In Edwards, the court had this to say:
"It must be realized that this is not a case in which proof of guilt depended upon a trial. In such cases, the accused usually relies to a great extent on counsel to conduct an effective defense, because the accused does not know enough of the law to do so himself. While the accused may have to take the consequences of a poor defense, he may at least say the fault was not his own. But this is not so when he pleads guilty. Here the deed is his own; here there are not the baffling complexities which require a lawyer for illumination; if voluntarily and understandingly made, even a layman should expect a plea of guilty to be treated as an honest confession of guilt and a waiver of all defenses known and unknown. And such is the law. A plea of guilty may not be withdrawn after sentence except to correct a `manifest injustice,' and we find it difficult to imagine how `manifest injustice' could be shown except by proof that the plea was not voluntarily or understandingly made, or a showing that defendant was ignorant of his right to counsel. Certainly ineffective assistance of counsel, as opposed to ignorance of the right to counsel, is immaterial in an attempt to impeach a plea of guilty, except perhaps to the extent that it bears on the issues of voluntariness and understanding.

There seems to be little doubt that the plea of guilty was in the present case voluntary. There is no allegation that appellant was induced to plead guilty by any conduct of the police, prosecutor or court, but only that his own counsel's `bad' advice induced him to plead guilty. This, however, does not itself make out involuntariness. It seems likewise clear that the plea was understandingly made. It may be argued that a plea of guilty is not understandingly made when defendant is unaware of certain technical defenses which might very well make the prosecutor's job more difficult or even impossible were he put to his proof. However, we think `understandingly' refers merely to the meaning of the charge, and what acts amount to being guilty of the charge, and the consequences of pleading guilty thereto, rather than to dilatory or evidentiary defenses. A refusal years after sentencing to give effect to the latter could scarcely be deemed `manifest injustice' within the meaning of Rule 32(d). Appellant does not try to say he did not do the act charged. He pleads only that, unknown to him, he might have been able to suppress the truth as to certain evidence of his crime, and thus, perhaps defeat justice. He cannot be heard to this end after a voluntary, knowing plea of guilty." 256 F. 2d, at pp. 709-710.
The Supreme Court in a series of recent decisions has rejected attacks upon the validity of guilty pleas on various grounds, none of which were precisely the same as the grounds relied upon by petitioner here. However, those decisions when considered together unmistakably indicate that the Supreme Court has considerably more respect for the finality of a plea of guilty than the adoption of petitioner's arguments would permit.
In McMann v. Richardson, supra, the Supreme Court denied habeas corpus relief to a state prisoner who had entered a plea of guilty to a charge of robbery upon advice of counsel, holding that the fact that a confession had been coerced from the defendant does not, without more, entitle him to have his conviction upon a plea of guilty set aside. In Parker v. North Carolina, supra, a state prisoner also sought to collaterally attack the validity of his plea of guilty on the ground that a confession had been coerced from him, and the Supreme Court denied relief even though it was established that the defendant's decision to plead guilty was based upon the incorrect opinion of his attorney that the confession would be admissible upon trial. The petitioner in that case also raised the question of the validity of the indictment because of systematic exclusion of members of his race from the grand jury which indicted him. The state court refused to consider that claim because the objection was not raised prior to the guilty plea and was thus waived under state law. The Supreme Court was of the opinion that this state rule of practice constituted an adequate state ground for denial of relief on the racial exclusion issue, precluding consideration of that issue by the Supreme Court. It does not appear from the report of the decision whether or not the defendant himself knew of his right to challenge the composition of the grand jury. In Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 90 S.Ct. 1463, 25 L.Ed.2d 747 (1970), the Supreme Court held that a plea of guilty induced by the defendant's fear of a possible death penalty in the event of trial was not thereby rendered involuntary. In North Carolina v. Alford, supra, the Supreme Court reached the same result and affirmed the validity of the plea of guilty even though the defendant, after pleading guilty, stated that he had not actually committed the offense with which he was charged, but was pleading guilty on the advice of his attorney in order to avoid the possibility of the death penalty.
Ellzey v. Breazeale, supra, decided by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, is the only reported decision of any court cited by petitioner which supports his position. Despite the high regard of this court for the decisions of its brothers in the Southern District, it is unable to agree with the result reached in that case for reasons already mentioned. Ellzey's principal reliance was upon four well-known Fifth Circuit decisions which dealt with the jury exclusion issue, and held there was no waiver of the right to attack the jury system in a common setting of a not guilty plea, trial and conviction of a negro defendant, as distinguished from a plea of guilty.
In addition, when Ellzey was decided, the court did not have the benefit of the decisions of the Supreme Court in Richardson, Parker, Brady, and Alford cases. Those decisions, as pointed out by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Colson v. Smith, 438 F.2d 1075 (5 Cir. 1971), substantially clarify a heretofore somewhat murky area of the law in the matter of how far habeas corpus petitioners may go in questioning the validity of a guilty plea upon collateral attack. It appears that they may not go so far as petitioner contends.
The rights guaranteed by the constitution stand as the guardians of individual liberty against the encroachments of tyranny and oppression. However, as the Supreme Court says in North Carolina v. Alford, supra:
"The prohibitions against involuntary or unintelligent pleas should not be relaxed, but neither should an exercise in arid logic render those constitutional guarantees counterproductive and put in jeopardy the very human values they were meant to preserve." 91 S.Ct., at p. 168.
Life is among the paramount human values. Petitioner chose to guarantee the preservation of his life by entering his plea of guilty. The court is of the opinion that petitioner's plea of guilty was understandingly and voluntarily made, and an order denying the petition will therefore be entered.
[1] The pertinent portions of the opinion of the Circuit Court of Holmes County are quoted at length in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Mississippi. 244 So.2d, at page 2.
[2] Petitioner testified that the County Sheriff and a deputy coerced him into signing a confession on the day of his arrest by beating him until he agreed to confess. He further testified that he attempted to tell his attorney about the beating and resulting confession, but his attorney would not take time to talk with him and refused to listen to anything concerning the alleged beating or confession. Crawley emphatically denied that petitioner ever made any attempts to tell him about a beating or a confession and denied that he had ever received any information concerning such an incident. Although Crawley interviewed petitioner at the Holmes County Jail less than five days after the arrest of petitioner, he saw no signs of a beating. No statement of petitioner purporting to be a confession was ever used against him, and his plea of guilty was entered approximately six months after the alleged coercion occurred. Under the circumstances, even if a confession was coerced from petitioner it would not have rendered petitioner's guilty plea invalid. McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 90 S.Ct. 1441, 25 L.Ed.2d 763 (1970); Parker v. North Carolina, 397 U.S. 790, 90 S.Ct. 1458, 25 L.Ed.2d 785 (1970).
[3] Mr. Crawley was aware that Branch had a rather poor reputation, but felt that the probability of obtaining an acquittal for petitioner on that basis was too remote to risk a trial.
[4] An apt illustration of Mr. Crawley's view of his duties and responsibilities as petitioner's defense counsel is the following excerpt from the cross-examination of Mr. Crawley by petitioner's attorney in the evidentiary hearing held on the motion to vacate sentence in the Circuit Court of Holmes County:
"Q You did not file a motion to quash the indictment prior to arraignment?
A No, I did not.
Q Did it occur to you that under Mississippi law, you might have waived the defendant's right to object on the ground of systematic exclusion of negroes as jurors?
A I was aware that any motion must be filed before arraignment. I was also aware that in view of the seriousness of the constitutional questions that could be raised, that it would be reversible error for the court to overrule the motion, probably. `Mr. Fitzgerald', the supreme thing in my mind at the time was saving this man's life. I felt then and now that I must do and did do at that time all I could to save this man from the death penalty.
Q Were you concerned with whether or not you were making the decisions your client would have made?
A Well, insofar as making decisions are concerned, I accepted the responsibility of this man's destiny when I accepted employment. I was representing him to the best of my ability, and I cannot say I would have allowed him to make any decision which I felt would put his life in jeopardy. Before I could do that, I would have asked the court to allow me to withdraw, I could not knowingly allow him to make a decision which would put his life in jeopardy.
Q But, it went a little deeper than that because you did not inform him of what his rights were, did you, as to the composition of the jury?
A Insofar as his constitutional rights with regard to the composition of the Grand and Petit Juries, I did not discuss that with him, as I say, I was more concerned with saving this man's life than anything else."
[5] § 2215, Mississippi Code (1942).
[6] See footnote 2, supra.
[7] Compare with the provisions of §§ 2449 and 2450, Mississippi Code (1942). Neither the Circuit Court of Holmes County, nor the Supreme Court of Mississippi based their denial of relief upon these statutes, however.
[9] In Ellzey, counsel was court-appointed and not privately retained as here. Also, following Ellzey's plea of guilty, a trial jury was impaneled and instructed to bring in a verdict of guilty, resulting in a sentence of life imprisonment. These factual differences seem superficial and would not render Ellzey distinguishable. Judge Russell was persuaded that "the fact that Ellzey pled guilty under the circumstances stated above [where his court-appointed counsel did not inform the defendant of his right to challenge the grand jury and special venire on the ground that negroes had been systematically excluded therefrom] was not an effective waiver. His right to object to the grand jury and the special venire from which his trial jury was drawn, remains. Had he known of this right it may or may not have affected his plea." (Emphasis supplied) 277 F.Supp., at pp. 951-952.
Judge Russell adhered to Ellzey in his unreported opinion, Windom v. Cook (S. D.Miss. Dec. 5, 1968), upon finding that Windom's pleas of guilty were "freely and voluntarily given in open court and after consultation with effective counsel," and he granted the writ because the record was silent as to whether Windom had been advised by his attorney of his right to object to the exclusion of negroes from the grand jury. While affirming in a per curiam opinion, Windom v. Cook, 423 F.2d 721 (1970), the Fifth Circuit rejected the district court's finding that Windom's pleas of guilty had been entered with the benefit of effective counsel but held instead that on the facts presented Windom did not have effective counsel, stating: "Counsel was not in a position to advise Windom prior to allowing him to plead guilty because he was unfamiliar with the case." The appellate opinion emphasized that the failure of counsel to advise an accused of his right to challenge the racial composition of the grand jury is but one element among other factors present which may be considered in determining whether there was effective representation of counsel. We do not understand the case to hold that such failure to advise, standing alone, overrides diligent efforts of counsel and vitiates a plea of guilty otherwise freely and voluntarily made.
[10] Petitioner's strong reliance upon the district court's opinion in Colson v. Smith, 315 F.Supp. 179 (N.D.Ga.1970), is misplaced. There Judge Edenfield held on the facts that counsel, by giving the case only perfunctory attention, did not provide effective assistance, although Colson was maintaining his innocence until entering a guilty plea. We decline to follow Judge Edenfield's intimation, which petitioner here seizes upon, that even though Colson's plea of guilty may have been free and voluntary, his conviction nevertheless could not stand if the indicting grand jury was, in fact, unconstitutionally structured as a defect of such nature was of jurisdictional proportion which could not be waived except by intentional failure "to exercise his right to be indicted by a fair and impartial jury." The latter view was firmly rejected by the Fifth Circuit when Judge Thornberry wrote as follows:
"At the outset we advert to the settled rule in this Circuit that a voluntary plea of guilty waives all non-jurisdictional defects, including the right to challenge the construction of the grand jury. Williams v. Smith, 5th Cir. 1970, 434 F.2d 592; Throgmartin v. United States, 5th Cir. 1970, 424 F.2d 630. Under this rule, were we to find that petitioner's guilty plea was voluntarily entered, we would be precluded from any consideration of the issue of grand jury composition. Thus we must dispose first of petitioner's attack on his plea of guilty." 438 F.2d at 1078.
Although Judge Edenfield's decision was affirmed, it was on the basis of factual findings that petitioner's guilty plea under the circumstances was "the product of ineffective assistance of counsel", which was a credibility decision not to be disturbed except on a showing of clear error.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Research Trip to Attala and Holmes County - Third and Final Part

When I stopped writing in Part 2 about the research trip to Mississippi, we had just entered Madison County, Mississippi, north of Jackson. The town of Canton, once the bustling center of of the area's economy, is the county seat of Madison County. Twice a year, Canton hosts the Canton Flea Market Arts and Crafts Show, an event that attracts artists and craftsmen from across the South. Another beautiful and historic Mississippi courthouse graces the town's quaint square with it brightly painted storefronts. Interestingly, portions of "A Time to Kill," the first novel written by one of Mississippi's most well-known contemporary authors, John Grisham, was filmed in the courthouse in Canton. 

Source: Private Digital Photo Collection of J. Tracy
Madison County Courthouse
On the Square in Canton, Mississippi
As we continued to travel south on Interstate 55, the mega-sized Nissan-Canton Manufacturing and Assembly Plant on the east side of the freeway caught our attention. Built slightly over a decade ago, the auto manufacturing plant brought thousands of much-needed jobs to an area that had been economically depressed for several decades. According to Nissan's website, over 5,600 employees from all of Mississippi's eighty-two counties, make up the diverse workforce at the Canton plant. Further south, after we passed the exit for Gluckstadt Road near the former German farming village of Gluckstadt, now a growing area itself, is the ever-growing city of Madison, Mississippi. The newness of it all can be seen on both sides of the freeway. Each time I drive through Madison and its sister city of Ridgeland, I marvel at the constant growth of the two cities, as their city limits extend to the north of Mississippi's capitol city, Jackson. It wasn't so many years ago the cities of Madison and Ridgeland were very small railroad towns where the only noise at night was the whistle of the City of New Orleans as it made its way north to Memphis. Now these two cities are popular locations for businesses, corporate offices, medical facilities, churches, and schools. And let's not forget the abundance of newer upscale subdivisions and other housing where the cities' numerous affluent residents live. When I grew up in Jackson, the city ended at Briarwood Drive. My, how things change over time....

Other small communities in Madison County include Camden, once the home of former Governor McWillie and Flora, the site of Mississippi's Petrified Forest.  Not to be forgotten, is the historic national parkway known as the Natchez Trace, which can be accessed from areas within the town of Ridgeland, situated on the banks of a portion of an enormous lake known as the Ross Barnett Reservoir. Besides the many historic landmarks in the area, locals and visitors alike can enjoy shopping at Mississippi's largest mall, North Park, also located in Ridgeland, Renaissance at Colony Park, and fishing swimming, boating and sail on what locals refer to as "The Rez." 

Just south of Ridgeland, and slightly east of I-55, is a growing business and residential area known as Flowood, where we would be staying in a hotel for the next three nights.  Surrounded by areas of Brandon and Jackson, Flowood is located along a portion of busy Lakeland Drive (Hwy 25) and is just minutes away from the popular Dogwood Festival shopping area and from Jackson-Evers International Airport. In addition to being a central location for visiting close family members, Flowood was an easy early morning commute to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), a few blocks away from downtown Jackson, and where I planned to conduct some research for my book about Tillman Branch.

Over the past few months, I had been searching for archived copies of the Lexington-Advertiser and the Durant News, newspapers once owned and published by Hazel Brannon Smith. Editorials and articles in the newspapers, I believed, would provide some facts and other information that would be useful in writing the book. Calls to the Lexington Library and to the Holmes County Circuit Clerk's Office in Lexington had revealed that copies of newspapers during the time periods I needed were not available. But I had researched further and found that MDAH in Jackson had microfilmed copies the newspapers for the years I needed. Our initial early morning visit to MDAH involved procedural items that included applying for and being issued an ID card at the front desk. The ID card, we were told, would be used to enter and exit the research area through turnstiles situated near the reception desk. Since we also needed to make some photocopies, we purchased a prepaid plastic card that could be used in the photocopy machines located in the media room.

Many things have changed since I last visited the MDAH.  Located at North and Amite Streets near downtown Jackson, the MDAH, according to its website, "is headquartered in the state-of-the art William F. Winter Archives and History Building."  Founded in 1902, the department has six divisions, specifically referred to as Administration, Archives and Library, Historic Preservation, Historic Properties, Museum, and Records Management. Named for William F. Winter, a former governor of the state, the gray granite building itself is a work of art, and its contemporary architecture on the outside is carried throughout the sleek interior. With lots of natural, filtered light and walls, floors and ceilings that seem to absorb any noise, the building is a perfect place to spend a few leisurely hours reading about Mississippi's history or, as it was in our case, do some serious historical research in a limited amount of time.

William F. Winter Building
Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Jackson, Mississippi
After we had completed the registration process and were officially "checked in" and armed with our proximity and photocopy cards, we made our way to the media room. Once in the room, we soon found open microfilm reader desks and started searching the online catalog for microfilm rolls during the time period I planned to research. And we continued to research for parts of two days. Luckily, the archive department is open for a few hours on Saturday morning, since I needed the extra time to complete what we had started on Friday morning. I consider the newspaper research effort at MDAH a true success, and it didn't take nearly as long as I had planned. The latter was an important outcome, since it left more time for us to visit with family.

As most family researchers already know, microfilm research is tedious work. And reading through microfilmed newspaper print is even more difficult, not to mention time-consuming. Years of that sort of work must certainly damage one's eyesight. The process required to scan and microfilm the newspapers, I was told by one of the very helpful research assistants, is just as difficult and time consuming. First, the newspaper pages must be cut apart and ironed. That's right -- ironed, like with an iron and an ironing table or board! Can you believe that behind all of these archived newspapers on microfilm, there are dozens of people who came to work many mornings with one purpose in mind: to iron newspaper pages and ready them for scanning. And the scanning effort itself must have been a cumbersome and time-consuming operation. Just thinking about the process made me appreciate even more what others have done and keep doing to make these archived documents and records available to the public - at no cost, except for a minimal photocopy charge if copies are needed. 

But the digital age is upon us, and things are about to change in the media room. One of the archive assistants also told me the State of Mississippi currently has a small grant that will likely be used for digitizing newspapers. She wasn't sure whether the effort will include digitizing more recent newspapers or some of the older ones. I suspect older newspapers from the time period we researched will require much work to digitize. This is especially true, since less than stellar print quality of many of these old newspapers will make optical character recognition almost impossible. 

With the research complete at MDAH, we left to visit family who live in and around Jackson, a visit that concluded with dinner on Saturday evening at the historic Wynndale Restaurant south of Jackson near the town of Terry, Mississippi. According to one of my brothers, Wynndale was the name of the now extinct town where the restaurant, once a country store, is located. He added that the former store and restaurant have operated in the same location for almost 100 consecutive years - quite a record. After a delicious dinner of steak (one of my brothers was courageous enough to order the 16 ounce rib-eye), catfish, shrimp, and all the southern trimmings (the homemade slaw is served in a large tub!) we took a few pictures and said our goodbyes. Family, good food, and lots of fun....what more can anyone want?!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Research Trip to Attala and Holmes Counties - Part 2

When I first posted here about my research trip for the book I am writing about Tillman Branch, we were talking to the postmaster in the post office after photographing a beautiful and old mural above the service counter there. When I told the postmaster that I was looking for information and locations of former nightclubs and "juke joints" around Durant, he quickly informed me that I should talk to a local man named Sonny McCrory. He explained that I would find McCrory just a few doors down at his auto repair shop, but since it was around noon, I might find him at lunch further down Highway 51 south at Mile-A-Way/Caffey's, a local eatery. So off we went to search for McCrory. We stopped first at the auto shop and found out from an employee that he was, indeed, at Caffey's, as the local's call the restaurant, having lunch. Since we needed to eat lunch, too, we drove down to the restaurant. Based simply on the number of vehicles in the parking lot, Caffey's appeared to be the most popular place in town. Although we had just missed McCrory, a regular, according to the manager, we decided to eat lunch before heading back to his auto shop. As it turned out, the decision to have lunch at Caffey's was an excellent one. The restaurant offered a variety of items on its menu, as well as a hot buffet lunch each day that included a small salad bar, iced tea or a soft drink, and hot rolls, and dessert. After finishing off a piece of homemade cake with made-from-scratch caramel icing, we made an on-the-spot decision to eat there again the next day. 

Shortly after leaving Caffey's, we were back at Sonny McCrory's auto repair shop, a business that he operates with the help of his son. McCrory, an older man who is not in good health, was friendly and welcoming. After a series of introductions that included some brief details about the book, my maiden name, my father's given name, the names of my grandparents, and the names of a series of aunts and uncles, McCrory was ready to talk to me. I proceeded with the interview by asking McCrory to confirm information I had that said over a dozen nightclubs existed in Durant during the early-mid years of the twentieth century. McCrory's quick reply was "Heck, at one time, there were 26 of them!" And he continued by telling me the names and owners of some of these clubs, including "The Blind Pig," "The Green Lantern," "The Rainbow Garden," "Club 11," "Club 12," "The Mile-A-Way," (the site of the present restaurant), and "The Blue Flame Cafe." The latter, he added, was owned by Tillman Branch, and was located east of the railroad tracks on Highway 12, the highway that goes to Kosciusko. McCrory lived in the area during the time these clubs were operating, and he was willing to share some valuable insight in how pervasive the sale of illegal liquor and bootlegging was in Holmes County during that particular time. Before our conversation ended, I had discovered McCrory and I are distant cousins. As we were ending our conversation, his receptionist volunteered that one of her cousins is married to one of my brothers! Suddenly, I'm thinking about how much else I don't know about some of my relatives! When I finish the book I am writing, it sounds as if I need to make a few additions to my family seems to be growing branches and twigs at an extraordinary rate of speed. 

Source: Private Photo Collection

Highway Marker in Downtown Durant, Mississippi
Halfway between Kosciusko and  Lexington
Holmes County, Mississippi
After thanking Sonny McCrory for his time and for the wealth of information he conveyed and telling him I hoped to see him next year when the book is published, we drove over to Lexington, the county seat of Holmes County. The fifteen mile or so drive was a pleasant one, and I admired the dark green, kudzu covered hills, and the pastoral scenic countryside along the way. There was
wasn't a moment to stop and wander or to take photos along Highway 12, however, since the time McCrory's interview took was unplanned, and I already had an appointment scheduled to meet up with Mrs. Eloise Alderman in Lexington that same afternoon. I had been referred to Mrs. Alderman, who prefers to be called simply "Eloise," by the town's librarian, Laura Gilmore Lawson. If you have been following my blog posts about this research trip, you won't be surprised to hear that Laura is a cousin of mine. Our connection is closer than some of the other cousins I have met along the way, since Laura's aunt is one of my mother's first cousins. I forgot to mention that Eloise went to high school with my mother, and no, Eloise and I are not cousins, at least as far as my mother or Eloise know.

According to Laura and some other folks I talked to before the trip, Eloise is one of the town's unofficial historians and is known for the extensive scrapbooks she keeps that contain local news clippings. Eloise's scrapbooks document decades of county activities that detail the lives of local residents, and her collection is truly a genealogist's gold mine.  If you have ancestors with Holmes County roots, you may want to talk to Eloise. Prior to the trip, Eloise had already told me that her clippings do not include information about any of the county's illegal activities that involved liquor, gambling, etc., so she is unable to help me directly with that subject matter.  But during our phone conversations prior to leaving on this trip, Eloise had told me that she knew several older men in town who actually knew Tillman. She continued by saying the men were willing to talk to me when I got to town, and she was available to make the introductions. So we met Eloise, and she generously offered to direct us to the locations where I interviewed the men that afternoon. Through this series of interviews, I gained much valuable knowledge and insight in the life and business activities of Tillman, information that I will later incorporate into the book. I thanked Eloise for her help, and we made tentative plans to meet again next year after the book comes out. According to Eloise, some of her friends have already told her they want to purchase copies of the book when it is published, and I thanked her for telling them about it. 

As we made our way out of Lexington, I stopped to take a few photos that are relevant to the book. First, I photographed the historic Holmes County Courthouse that serves as the county's center of justice. Although the original courthouse has been rebuilt several times throughout the years, the current brick structure is old and is an absolutely amazing piece of architecture. Located at the center of the town square, the courthouse, with its large clock tower, is still the focal point of downtown Lexington. 

Source: Private Photo Collection (2013)

Holmes County Courthouse
On The Square
Lexington, Mississippi
Just a few blocks down the hill and off the square sits the old Holmes County Jail. Replaced by a newer facility a number of years ago, the now-abandoned structure is a sad reminder of the decades of civil unrest that plagued so many places in the south throughout the 1950's and 1960's. This particular photo is especially important to the book, since it is where the young black man who shot and killed Tillman Branch was taken after his arrest on Easter Sunday 1963.
Source: Private Photo Collection (2013)

Old Holmes County Jail
Lexington, Mississippi
I could not visit Lexington, of course, without seeing my aunt and uncle, my mother's only sibling and his wife, who live just off the square in a house where they have lived for over 50 years. My uncle and my mother grew up in the Coxburg community of Holmes County, near Lexington, where their parents grew up and where many of our younger cousins still live. We had a lovely, but brief, visit with the two of them, and left after declining their sweet invitation to accompany them to a church supper at their church in Coxburg. Although we already had dinner plans for the evening, our decision to decline the invitation was further complicated by the the aroma of fried chicken and freshly baked bread coming from my aunt's kitchen! 

As we traveled away from Lexington on Highway 17, headed for Interstate 55 South, we passed The Little Red Schoolhouse, a historic landmark near Richland, Mississippi, known as the birthplace of the Order of the Eastern Star. The organization was founded by Dr. Robert Morris, a Boston-born teacher who lived and taught in Oxford, Mississippi. Dr. Morris was a member of the Fraternal Order of Freemasons, and while teaching in Oxford, he had earned the title of Master Mason. Dr. Morris was soon recruited by some Holmes County citizens and educators to teach at the newly established Mount Sylvan Academy in Richland, Mississippi, in the now-historic small brick building known in later years as The Little Red Schoolhouse.

Source: Private Photo Collection (2013)

The Little Red Schoolhouse
The Birthplace of the Order of the Eastern Star
Richland, Mississippi
And it was during his time in Richland that Dr. Morris founded the Order of the Eastern Star, an organization for women only, since female membership in the Masonic Order was prohibited. From its humble beginnings in rural Holmes County, the Order of the Eastern Star grew and multiplied, and currently there are chapters of the Order throughout the world.

Source: Private Photo Collection (2013)

Historic Marker
Richland (Holmes County) Mississippi
As we entered Interstate Highway 55 somewhere south of Canton and north of Gluckstadt, a former German farming village and now a burgeoning portion of affluent and ever-expanding Madison County, Mississippi, I noticed something I have seen before in the Mississippi Delta - small ponds, about an acre or so in size. For decades now, farmers throughout the Delta have transitioned lands depleted by more than a century of cotton and soybean farming into catfish farms. Now a large money-making part of the state's economy, raising catfish in small ponds, is a newer form of agriculture known as "aquaculture."  But these ponds in Madison County did not appear to be true catfish ponds. There were no automatic feeding devices on the sides of the ponds, and, at a glance, they appeared to be more shallow than catfish ponds in the Mississippi Delta region.  I also noticed a piece of machinery sitting in some of the ponds, a device that looked much like the apparatus used to harvest crawfish in ponds that I have seen in the past in south Louisiana and in coastal areas of Texas. Perhaps this portion of the South, once known as the land of cotton, is evolving into the land of catfish and crawfish. 

Before we knew it, we were in heavy traffic created by the bustling suburban sprawl along I-55 that indicated we were almost to our next destination.

To be continued......