Copyright (c) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Mary Turner opened the front door to the Lowndes County Courthouse and marched in to see her husband. Most of the six white deputies in the sheriff’s office turned and stared at the pretty colored woman and then went back to work. Sherriff Clay Boggs opened his office door and pointed to the door Mary had just entered. “Now Missy you just turn around and go right back outside,” he said quietly but firmly.
“I’m here to see my husband … Hayes Turner,” Mary said. “Ma say he has got himself arrested.”
“That may be so,” the sheriff said. He put both hands on her shoulders and spun her around and pushed her toward the door. “But Negros comes to visit the jail by the back way. That ain’t my sayin’ … that’s the law.”
The front door had barely closed behind the nineteen-year old colored woman when Deputy Thomas Grady lit a cigar, stood up from his desk and stretched his flabby arms. “Them Negra Bucks really knows hows to breed ‘em don’t they?” he said in a loud voice followed by snickers from the other deputies. Clarence Davis was leaning against the wall putting a sandstone edge on a Bowie Knife. “Seems like that fine, colored mare of Hayes Turner’s just squeezed-out a colt last fall now here she is …” The bearded man grimaced as he nicked his thumb on the sharp blade, “…ready to drop another.”
“Yall are public employees and have got no call to talk that way in here,” the sheriff said. He reached into his desk and pulled out a white rag. He sloshed alcohol on it and tossed it to the Davis. “Make yourself useful while you’re drinking our coffee, Hunter.” The sheriff gestured toward the door. “Wipe both latches … inside and out.”
Sheriff Boggs glanced around the office as a furious Davis began to wipe off the door-handles. “No one can say this sheriff don’t run a tight county …” None of his officers were smiling. His voice became jubilant … almost a yell. “Yall knows we saves all our funniest stories for Dixie’s Pool Hall.” Everyone laughed except the man wiping off the door-nob.
-------Five minutes later … May 14th. 1918-------
Mary Turner knocked loudly six times on the rear-entrance of the Lowndes County Courthouse before Sheriff Clay Boggs opened it. A cold spring wind from the alley played with her flannel skirt as she waited. “Now that’s better,” The sheriff said when he opened the back door. He stared at the pregnant colored woman’s long legs and unconsciously licked his lips as she pulled down her dress. Boggs smiled as he placed a large hand on her shoulder. “I knows it’s a fuss having for you to come in the back way just to visit your husband in jail,” he said gently. “I don’t make the laws … I just see them laid down proper.”
Hayes Turner was in a dirty cell with four others, all of them black. Mary was furious when she approached the bars. “Hayes Turner! You got no call to be throwin’ dice with no job, a hungry child at home, an another on da way!”
Mary’s husband shook his head slowly as he came near. Mary noticed one eye was red and there was a large bruise on the side of his head. “I never done no gamblin’ in my life,” Hayes told his wife. “Me an Sid just comes outa da feed-store. We was lookin fo work. Four a Sheriff Boggs’ deputies pulls over and toss us in the county truck. The first I hear about gamblin’ was when Judge Wallace come in an say our fines … thirty dollars each Negra!”
“Cassia Johnson ain’t got no thirty dollars … how come Sydney ain’t still lock-up?”
“Hampton Smith come in right behind da judge,” Hayes said. “Sheriff say he pay the thirty dollars and Sydney owe him two month’s work!”
“Lord O’ Mighty!” Mary gasped. “Dat sick-mean Hampton Smith have a Devil in him. He’ll near whip every inch a hide off Sydney a ’fore one month go by … lets alones two! What’s Cassia and dem hungry young-ins she got in dat shack by the river ta do?”
“Lincoln was supposed to a freed da slaves,” Hayes said bitterly. “But day is no colored man in Georgia what can’t be arrested anytime and worked till he drops … and for no wages … no wages at all.”
-------May 15th. 1918 afternoon-------
An extremely worried and fatigued Cassia Johnson was washing windows on the outside of Reverend Hasfield’s house when Mary found her. The wife of the white congregation’s preacher stood scowling as she watched the young black woman work. “Please Mrs. Victoria … I’m needing that dollar to gets my Sydney outs from the jail!”
“I don’t pay for shoddy work,” Victoria Hasfield walked to the shiny glass and pointed to a speck that Mary couldn’t see. “Do all the windows over again … all of them!”
Cassia Johnson burst into tears after Mrs. Hasfield stomped back into her house. “I’ve been scrubbing her floors all night and I’ve cleaned every outside window three times now. What’s I is doing wrong?”
“Nothing,” Mary said. “Mrs. Hasfield she like to laud her importance over others. Her and the reverend they ain’t rich but they tries to look like it. Making a colored woman grovel make her feel high and mighty.” Mary was reluctant to break the bad news to her friend.
“My,” Cassia said. “You look like you ready to have that baby! You pick out a name yet?”
“I’m thinking on Planeride Turner,” Mary said with a laugh. “On accounts of … an airplane ride like we saws at da County Fair is what I promise dis here unborn ever time it kicks …if it just stop and let me rest fo a spell.”
“Lord! Wasn’t dat a sight? Do day lets Negras fly in air-reo-planes?”
“Day do … if you gots three dollars!”
“It take all my wages to get Sydney from the jail,” Cassia said sadly. She polished the glass again with extra vigor.
“Slow down! You can’t spring yo man from that white man’s slave-trap no how,” Mary said. “He done been hired out to Hampton Smith … for two months.”
“Hampton Smith!” Cassia’s sweaty face was now dry and as white as a sheet. “Him near killed Sydney last time wid a hoss whip … and my man bein’ der only a week! How much a da fine?”
Mary watched as Cassia gathered up her cleaning supplies. “Thirty dollars! She was startled when Cassia began to leave. Child? Ain’t you gonna wait fo your dollar?”
“Day ain’t time,” Cassia said as she hurried away. “I gots more-un twenty we been saving for land a our own, hid in a can in da chicken coop. My man be in a bad trouble an I has ta gets him backs.”
------- May 16th. 1918 mid-morning -------
Three black convicts on paid work-release from jail, were cleaning the bottom of an irrigation ditch when the farm’s overseer came chugging up in Hampton Smith’s model T Ford. Clay Morris climbed leisurely from the automobile and strutted with one arm behind his back as he took a long swig from a jug of water, spilling plenty on his shirt front. It was a hot day and he enjoyed teasing the thirsty convicts. “Say Sydney,” Morris called to the men working in the ditch after he finished the jug and poured the rest on the ground. “That Cassia wife of yours sure looks pretty in that yellow Sunday-go-to-meeting-dress she got on!”
Sydney Johnson, Ruben Cole and Jessie Stewart all looked up but didn’t say anything. They went back to shoveling. Resisting got you hung up in the barn for entertainment.
Clay Morris spat tobacco juice on the ground and then smiled showing rotted, brown teeth. “Course she probably don’t got it on by now … the way Boss Hampton was leading her into his milk house. His hands was sliding up and down her long darky legs. She was bawling like a calf and saying she’ll do anything to have him let you go!” Morris laughed out loud. “She even brought money to buy your release! Boss said it was just part of her fine for trespassing. I suppose her and Hampton be working on that transaction all afternoon.”
Sydney Johnson was out of the ditch in an instant and hurtling toward Morris when the overseer viciously swung a three-foot length of lead pipe wrapped in leather he had hidden behind his back. Johnson crumpled onto the ground from the blow to his head. Morris stood over the stricken man. “You Negras need to be taught your place,” he said with a smile. “Your womans does too. Boss … he take care of that end … I’ll take care of this.”
Morris struck Johnson three more times with the heavy club before Ruben Cole jumped from the ditch and hit the overseer from behind with his shovel.
“Damn! We is all on the run now.” Jessie Stewart’s eyes were wide as he stared at the unconscious Morris. “They skin us alive just fo being here.”
“No way I can stand by and see a man beat to death,” Ruben said.
“Yall goes yo own ways,” Sydney told them as he staggered to his feet. He lifted a single-shot Remington ten-gage shotgun from the front seat of the Ford. He cracked open the breech, there was a shell in it. “I gots to get my Cassia!”
-------May 16th. 1918 Afternoon-------
Cassia Johnson’s hands were tied to the top rail of a milking stall, her torn yellow dress was pulled up above her naked breasts when Sydney kicked open the barn door. Hampton Smith was gliding an army trench-knife up and down her long legs and trying to force her to drink from a bottle of Old Charter Whiskey. Both of Cassia’s eyes were swollen almost shut from where Smith had obviously beaten her with the brass-knuckle like handle of the World War One hand-weapon. Hampton looked up furious when he saw the gun in Sydney’s hands. He dropped the bottle and pointed his finger. “You get the hell out of here boy! Your woman come on my place trespassing … and I’m giving her a beating to teach her a little respect.”
“Why is dis …” Sydney said pulling back the hammer on the shotgun with trembling fingers, “dat whats yall call beating a black womans would be call rape if she be white?”
Hampton Smith stood-up and stalked toward Sydney waving the blade in a wide arc. “I’m gonna stick your Negra hide to the wall like a pig-skin and make you watch what comes next,” he said.
He was less than a yard from Sydney when the blast hurtled him across the barn and into a hay crib. Sydney Johnson dropped the smoking shotgun and lifted his battered wife and carried her from the barn. “Lord O’ Mighty,” he said as he began to run across a field he’d plowed that morning. Tears streamed down his bleeding face. “The Devil has bought dis here day … an der is no place to go to … but to hell.”
-------May 17th. 1918-------
Deputy Thomas Grady knocked on the Sheriff’s office door. “They is a crowd of citizens outside,” he said. “We still haven’t ran down Sydney Johnson and his murdering gang. They wants all the Negras we got in lock-up!”
“I can’t turn nobody over to a lynch-mob without word from the clan,” Sheriff Boggs said as he stood up.
“Judge Wallace, he be wearing a white hood but I knowed his voice. He say send the prisoners by truck to Clay County for safe-keeping.” Grady winked. “Any justice done to them Negras on the way there … is none of your doing.”
Sheriff Boggs reluctantly handed the cell keys to Grady. “I guess what has to be done has to be done … else we all be murdered in our sleep like poor Hampton Smith,” he said. God help us all!”
-------May 18th. 1918-------
Sheriff Clay Boggs was talking to Judge Henry Wallace when Mary Turner burst through the front door. “You hung my man from a tree!” she screamed. “You killed him for no reason other than bein’ a Negra!”
“I’ve told you before,” the Sheriff stood up furious. “Next time …you come in the back way!”
“I’ll come in the front-way next time and the time after! I’ll bring in da state police and da FBI,” Mary threatened. She was furious. “No black man and no black woman can get justice in dis part a Georgia.” She began to cry. “Hayes Turner was all I had in dis dark world,” She ran a shaky hand across her swollen stomach “… him and my little Planeride!”
“Your husband was being transported to Clay County for his own safety,” the sheriff said. “The citizens of Georgia were rightfully outraged by the murder of a white man and decided to provide quick justice. My deputies were over-powered and couldn’t stop them.”
“You’re lying,” Mary spat. “Thomas Grady has been bragging all over town that he put the noose around my man’s neck his own-self. You is all in this together.” She glared at Judge Wallace before she stormed out the door.
“You best spread the word that Mary Turner is also a suspect in Hampton Smith’s murder,” the judge said as he cleaned his fingernails with a pen-knife. “I’m sure proof can be found. Catch the Negra bitch as she’s on the run from Lowndes County … that way she’ll appear guilty.” He patted Sheriff Boggs on the back and smiled. “You’re a good man,” he said. “The Brotherhood of the Ku Klux Clan is right proud to call you a member.”
-------May 19th 1918-------
The mob had grown to over five-hundred when a dozen men wearing white hoods dragged Mary Turner from a long line of parked cars and wagons near Folsom’s Bridge. “Hang her!” someone called. “Hanging is too good for the bitch … burn her!” another suggested.
Thomas Grady and Hunter Davis syphoned a can of gasoline from the County truck while others used a rope to hoist the battered woman upside down by her ankles from a large oak tree. “My baby!” Mary begged. “My little Planeride! Lets me has my baby child in jail before you kills it!”
“Best to rid the county of all the damn Negras … before they can infest the land with more,” the voice of Judge Wallace sounded from beneath a white hood. Mary gagged as the gasoline Thomas Grady poured down her bare twisting legs ran into her mouth and saturated her hair. She gasped as Hunter Davis set her afire with a match and gave her a shove to set her swinging. More than a hundred people covered their ears to block-out the horrible screams that echoed up and down the river. Victoria Hasfield, wife of the preacher, wrapped her arms around her son, Jake, and started to sing When They Ring Those Golden Bells and the crowd joined in just to block out the awful sound. “We shall know no sin or sorrow…” Mary’s dress and undergarments burned away exposing her swollen stomach. Jake Hasfield laughed and pointed at the burning woman. “In that haven of tomorrow …” Her face caught fire and her eyeballs sizzled like two eggs on a griddle. “When our barque shall sail beyond the silver sea.” Mary’s hair began to burn like a hundred church service candle-wicks. “We shall only know the blessing…” The young black woman thrashed in agony as her charred flesh began to peel away. “Of our Father’s sweet caressing …” Burn blisters on her now naked body began to pop and sputter. “When they ring the golden bells for you and me!”
Hunter Davis stepped forward and inserted his Bowie knife into Mary’s swollen vagina. He opened her womb and her intestines with one quick downward thrust. A blood-covered baby plopped onto the new spring grass still connected to its mother by an umbilical cord. The crowd was still as death. The almost full-term infant drew in a choking gasp of air hot air and ash just before it uttered a lurid cry of implausible pain and misery. People in the crowd stepped back … shocked and revolted.
“My precious Planeride,” Mary mouthed with charred lips. He voice was but a whisper in the silence. “One scorched eye stared at the preacher’s wife. “Is it a boy or a girl?”
“That thing?” Victoria Hasfield, still holding her three-year olds’ hand, turned to look as Hunter Davis stomped the squalling baby into the hard ground. Her son slipped his tiny hand from her fingers and began to stomp the infant as well. “Your baby is in Hell … where it belongs!”
People were beginning to move away … muttering. A few vomited on the river bank. “Lets be done with this!” Judge Wallace yelled. A dozen men riddled Mary body with gun fire even as the first cars and wagons began to leave.
“What have we done?” the town librarian asked Nancy Grady as she climbed shakily into the police officer’s horse-drawn wagon. “God’s justice is never easy,” Nancy assured her as she reached for a clean handkerchief to dry her tears, “but the rewards of the pure of heart always come from heaven.”
The body of Mary Turner hung for two days before it was cut down. She and her unborn-baby were buried nearby with a whiskey bottle marking the grave. A week later someone stuck a candle in the bottle and lit it … a reminder to all that the flame of God’s righteousness marches onward in Georgia.
-------May 22nd. 1918-------
Three days later, Sydney Johnson fell while crossing the street wounded by three gunshots in Valdosta Georgia. The mob that had been pursuing him since the killing of Hampton Smith, removed his blood soaked clothing, castrated him and then tied his legs to a long rope attached to another model T Ford. “God Almighty!” Sydney begged the crowd. “Please don’t hurt my wife and kids.” Cassia Johnson and her three children all under the age of six stared in horror as the mob surrounded them. They were never seen again.
Sydney Johnson died while being dragged on dirt roads to Campground Church in Morvea, twenty miles away; there his body was burned while a church group sang hymns.
-------June 6th. 1918-------
Police had set up roadblocks on both the main roads leaving Lowndes County. More than a hundred cars and wagons and five-hundred black families, some on foot carrying everything they owned were attempting to leave South Georgia.
“This is the end of it,” Sheriff Boggs announced with Judge Wallace and a dozen furious plantation owners at his side. “There is crops that needs to be put in and work to be done. We all of us black and white need to forget the past and go one. What’s done is done and they ain’t no going back.” The threat of jail and a few cracked heads turned the black people back. By midnight though, at least two hundred had left, slipping through back roads and moving under cover of night through the woods.
-------May 19th. 1919-------
Victoria Hasfield was having a hard time sleeping. She kept hearing strange sounds as she lay next to her snoring husband. She heard the screen door on her porch open and close. Victoria rose and put on a dressing gown. She walked into the garden with bare feet. Victoria watched as a tiny figure stepped from the shadows of a magnolia tree. The creature made a hissing sound as it drew in breath then the almost full-term infant exhaled hot air and ash just before it uttered a lurid cry of implausible pain and misery. A window shattered behind her, throwing brilliant glass fragments across the grass and then another. Victoria tried to run but the broken glass shards cut her feet. She fell. Her husband found her body the next morning. Victoria’s long dark hair was now a snowy white. Her brown eyes were open wide as was her mouth. The Lowndes County coroner determined that she had died of fright.
-------May 19th. 1920-------
Hunter Davis watched as workmen secured the new eight-foot diameter circular blade to the huge motor next to the log platform. The saw mill owner was also Clan and Hunter received the foreman job partly due to his service to the Brotherhood. He told the workers to run through an extra-large log as a test cut. The hydraulic ram that pushed the log through the spinning saw blade had barely made contact when Hunter and the others heard a hissing sound like air being drawn into a broken piston. The log spun upward breaking the blade mounts. The shadow of an almost full-term infant appeared on the saw room wall just before the careening blade broke loose with a lurid crash and a screeching sound that resembled a cry of implausible pain and misery. Hunter Davis was almost to the exit-door when the flying saw-blade now free and ripping across the saw-room floor sliced him in half.
-------May 19th. 1923-------
Sheriff Clay Boggs drove his patrol car along the back-roads of Lowndes County. It was after midnight. The last five years had been terrible. While other parts of the country boomed, tax revenues in South Georgia were down sixty percent. He couldn’t afford the number of deputies he had before and worked many night shift patrols by himself. It was hard to find good help. Many of his officers claimed an ethereal haunt they called Planeride had settled in the woods and shadowed areas of the county. Boggs wasn’t afraid of spooks but he was still nervous when he came across a large oak tree fallen across the road just before Folsom’s Bridge. He decided to use the new gas-powered chain saw the county purchased a year earlier in his trunk to remove the obstacle.
Gasoline from a loose fuel cap spilled down Sheriff Boggs shirt and pants when he lifted the heavy saw from his vehicle. “Damn you Grady!” the sheriff cursed the last officer to use the saw as he walked toward the fallen tree. A sound like the wind or an almost full-term infant drawing in its first breath came from the dark trees surrounding the river. The sheriff yanked on the rope to start the saw and a flashing spark set him on fire. He dropped to the ground and rolled but the flames would not be extinguished. The flesh was all but melted from his face when with one eye he watched a tiny figure move from the shadows. A baby dragging an umbilical cord uttered a lurid cry of implausible pain and misery as it slowly capered around the flames.
-------May 19th. 1943-------
Jake Hasfield watched the shells exploding in the night sky over Germany from the co-pilot’s seat of an American B-17 bomber. “Lets drop our bombs now and get back to England,” he said. “Something don’t feel right about this run.”
“We got another forty miles to target,” the pilot told him. “Hold your course!”
“What was that?” Hasfield looked beyond the navigator and the eight other crew members into the hull of the Flying Fortress.
“You’re not going on again about that spook you call Planeride are you?” the pilot snickered.
“Sorry I just got to check something out,” Hasfield said as he unbuckled himself and walked into the plane’s vast cargo area. Jake stopped near the center of the airplane. A pale ethereal-looking infant perched on a payload of bombs in the projectile-bay. A bleeding umbilical cord ran into the bomb cluster.
The twenty-five year old airman drew his service revolver and fired into the fuselage as three charging gunners tried to disarm him. “Damn you! What do you want?” Hasfield screamed.
“Justice,” said the infant in a voice like a baby drawing its first breath. The umbilical cord turned into a burning fuse and a moment later the B17 exploded in the air over Dortmund Germany. A lurid cry of implausible pain and misery came from the crew as the airplane became a ball of fire.
A loving God created the universe and everything in it to be in balance. Even in the most infernal hate-filled places on Earth, goodness can spring forth like flowers from the ashes. On October 1, 1924 James Earl Carter, Jr. was born in Plains Georgia. Jimmy Carter was elected Governor of the Peach State in 1971 and President of the United States in 1976. No other world leader has done more to promote civil liberties for all citizens of the Earth than this humble peanut farmer from Georgia. Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work in peace and human rights attainment, proving that angels bearing good fruit sometimes appear … even next to … the doorways of Hell.