June 10, 2024

Good Friends, Best Friends, Good Times, the Beat of Times. 

I found the wagon train to be a good place for training mules. Mules are naturally cautious creatures. Some called it stubborn, but it was just caution. Just like horses, you teach a mule with kindness. You don't break them like you see in the movies. You teach them that they can trust you, starting from the moment the mare drops the foal. The sooner you get hands-on the easier it will be later in life. 

The old skinners would tell you that every mule should be born eight years old, because it takes that long before you get the fear out of them. I found that to not be true if I got that early hands-on time. In the photo, you see two of my mules. The one on your left is Odis, being ridden by a fellow named Grady Cunningham. On the right is me sitting the saddle on the finest muleI ever met. Old Red was an older brother to Odis. I didn't get him until he was about a year old and wild as a cat. It took cunning to finally trap him in a pen. You weren't going to get close enough to him to throw a loop, and he could flat-foot jump a five-foot fence. He was the orneriest, most hardheaded cuss I ever tried to ride. It took over a year just to get a saddle on him, and more years to get him to trust me, but when it went, it did so quickly. He had learned that I was not going to harm him, and over the years, he taught me that he was not going to let me get hurt either.

Old Red became known in the wagon train circles as a mule that could do just about anything, unless he perceived danger. Anyone could ride him. Put a kid on his back and he would be the most careful babysitter you could ask for. But when he perceived danger, he wouldn't take another step. And he was always right.

Once while riding a rocky cedar break out west of Waco, my friend, who was riding a horse, was following me through a narrow, winding trail. We busted out into an opening and found a dry pond surrounded by cattails. It was rocky on all sides but you could see the trail disappearing into the cedars on the other side. So, I nudged Red on. He took a couple steps into the reeds and froze. No way could I get him to go on. 

My friend road around me, thinking he could show Red the way, but one step past where Red had stopped that horse sunk to his belly in the mire and fell on his side. My friend crawled out, covered in muck, but the horse was stuck. I unfurled my rope, built a loop, and snagged the saddle horn. I dallied up and nudged Red backwards. It almost pulled both saddles off, but we were successful, but there in front of me stood a couple of very muddy critters. I road and he led his horse as we turned back to the trough that we'd parked our rig next to. 

Then there was that time up in the panhandle when I was trying to find a way out of an arroyo. I credit him with saving my life in this adventure. It was red sand country, and the further I rode the higher the walls got. I spotted a gap that wasn't so steep that I figured Red could climb out. Red seemed to agree since he ducked his head and lurched into the task. I stood in the stirrups to put my weight up high as he churned up that sand, and up that wall we went.

Red had his feet just over the lip when the whole cliff wall just let go. The sand was falling in huge clods, pushing Red backwards. He started to tumble and all I saw was that saddle horn inches from my sternum. I just knew that I was about to be crushed under a thousand-pound mule, over a hundred miles from the nearest hospital. But then Red did something that amazed me. He lurched up with everything he had and ducked his head down. Doing that stopped the fall for only a second or so, but it was enough for me to roll off the saddle. Red and I tumbled to the canyon floor side by side.

Both of us got up and started shaking the sand out of our ears, then I looked over at that magnificent animal, still in disbelief at what he'd done. I walked over and just hugged that big old head of his. I told him then and there that he would never need to worry about grazing anyone else's pasture, because he was going to live his life with me.

We rode together for many more years. On one of the trains down in the Hill Country we had pulled into the spot where we would overnight. As I rode in, I spotted one of my old timer friends sitting on the tailgate of his pickup. I figured I could use a rest before unsaddling, so I stepped offf and sat next to him, letting Red graze on the short grass. 

His name was Tom Scott. There's a story in him that I will save for later, but suffice it to say that we were very good friends. He was one of the good ones, but you'd never know it when he jutted that jaw out, pursed his lips and stared at you. He was a sucker for kids. He'd do anything to help a kid. 

We sat and chatted a bit before Ray Brown, a wealthy oilman who rode on our trains often, rode up to us. Soon as I saw him coming, I knew what was coming. We'd been through it several times before.

Ray didn't dismount. He just rode up and joined the conversation, chatting casually at first. Then sure enough, that talk turned to that familiar subject. Ray had wanted to buy Red from me for several years, and each time we talked he offered me an escalating sum, and each time I told him no. Red had saved my life and he would not be sold. Then uninvited, he spit out his latest offer anyway. I just looked at him and shook my head. He shook his too, then silently rode away.

You'd need to know Tom Scott to understand what came next. Tom could have been a comedian if he had wanted to, but it would be a comic sort of like Lewis Black. I don't think he was ever actually angry, but he could sure strip the hide off somebody with just a few quips.

"Never thought I'd see it, but there it just was," said Tom. I knew something was coming so I kinda steeled myself for it. What ya mean, Tom?" I asked. "I'd heard of it before," but never thought I'd witness a time when two fools met," Tom said, "but I just saw it."

How do you reply to that? I just asked him what he meant. He said, "Ray was a fool to offer that much for an old mule (Red was in his 20s by then) and if there ever was a fool, it was you for turning it down."

Twelve oir fifteen years earlier, Ray had started his bidding at $500. That day, the offer was $20,000. I never did sell Red. He's long gone now, buried out there on that pasture I had promised him all those years ago. My best friends have always been animals, and Red was the best of the best. Elvis the hound dog with the funny hips and no sense of smell, another best of the best, rests near Red. 

Anyway, this is a story about wagon trains, and one train in particular. Sorry, I got sidelined by nostalgia. In Texas at least, nothing like it had happened before and it's never been duplicated. It was the Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train, now memorialized in the Stockyards Museum in Fort Worth. With a little luck someone will do something similar in 2036 when Texas turns 200.

 The oddities of life.  

Spent a lot of the day deep into nostalgia. My friend Pat and her husband Craig were in Boulder, Colorado at the same time I was, but our paths didn't cross until decades later. Turns out we have memories of several places in the town where we might have met up but never did. Pat nursed there while I was just a hippie picking up a few odd jobs and panhandling when I didn't have work. She was married while I was always looking for someone to shack with. For jobs I tried several options, but none really lasted. I liked restaurant work because it kept me fed. I didn't want anything on a permanent basis, I just wanted to keep a few bucks in my pocket.  

For quite a while, long before our conversation today, I had been trying to find out what happened to my favorite little 24-hour pancake joint that was located across from the CU campus on Baseline Drive, and just north of the infamous Hill. I left Boulder for California in 1972, and when I hitched out, the place was still there. 

Today I found a Facebook group dedicated to folks who lived in Boulder in the 1970s, and one of the posts was a question about my little favorite dive. The post asked, in all caps, DOES ANYONE REMEMBER MAGNOLIA THUNDERPUSSY? That was the name of the pancake joint, and there were scores of comments.  

I remember it well and have very fond memories of sitting outside all night, talking to other street people, perhaps partaking in the smoke as it passed around, but just in general enjoying the stories we all told. Now, the name isn't what you may be thinking. It was actually a tribute to a burlesque performer from San Francisco from back in the 1930s and 1940s who performed under that name. That's her in the photo. Good looker, wasn't she?

Magnolia's was a magical place. The patrons were unique and perhaps eccentric. Many of them were just plain stoned. In the wee hours of the morning, all the freaks came out, and Magnolia's was the only place open where they could cure their munchies. 

One of the commenters to that query on Facebook said he heard one patron say as he walked in, "far out, we're in a womb!" Obviously, it was his first time there. Another remembered the cook named Munchkin who used an old box grater to shred potatoes for frying up those huge servings of hash browns. Still another comment came from a fellow who must have been a lawyer. He remembered a waitress mixing mustard in hot milk for a guy the lawyer brought in who had ingested too many mushrooms. Apparently, it was an effective emetic and the guy made a mess on the counter.

So many good times, those few years in Boulder. Happy-sad memories of bands, girls, smoke, acid, snow, the Aspen turning, lots fo street freaks, all mixed into a free and easy time. 

Now I sit here, unable to get the sound of Mary Hopkins' voice out of my head, as she reprised that old Russian ballad:

Those were the days, my friend

We thought they'd never end

We'd sing and dance forever and a day

We'd live the life we choose

We'd fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way

Yes, we were young, and it was a good time for the youth of America. But then the 60s passed and the 70s ended. The 80s came bringing disco and Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich... it's been downhill since then. I pity today's youth. They will never know the freedom of the children of the 60s and 70s. It was an era like no other. 


November 30, 2020

Little Angel

By Mulebreath 

She had a name, but either it was never recorded, or the records long lost. There are none today who seem to know it. Some think her story to be romanticized legend. Others are convinced that the story is very real. She has been likened by some writers to Sacajawea, and according to the author Russell Roe, writing in the June 2012 Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine, she is often called “Pocahontas of the Pineys,” (East Texans call the pine forests of the area the “Piney Woods”.) She’s the only woman for whom a major river, a national forest, and a Texas county are all named.

 The natives of East Texas contributed much to the Texas story. This was Caddo country. The only natural lake in Texas bears the name of the Caddo, and the Hasinai gave us the name of the state. The Caddo were a confederacy of several tribes inhabiting much of what is now East Texas, northern Louisiana, and portions of southern Arkansas and Oklahoma. Writing in the book History of Texas, 1673-1779, historian Juan Agustín Morfi describes the Caddo as “a highly organized and advanced society with their own complex religion, political and religious leaders, villages, agricultural advancements, and diplomatic ties to other Native American peoples.” The organizational structure of the Caddo was well defined. The Hainai were the lead band of the Hasinai tribe, who were in turn the lead tribe of the great Caddo Confederation.

 Her father was thought by some to have been Bernardino, the chief of the Hainai, which would make her the daughter of a respected and powerful man. She befriended the Franciscans of the first Spanish mission built in what is now East Texas. The Spaniards located their mission near the Hainai village, on the banks of the Neches River, part of which is now called the Angelina. Over time she learned to speak Spanish, English, and French, and would serve as a translator for soldiers, trappers and the priests.

The priests at the mission called her Little Angel, or Angelina in Spanish. The French call her Angélique, which has the same meaning.

 “She’s a great historical figure,” said Bob Bowman, the now deceased East Texas historian and author. “It enriches East Texas, the Angelina story.”

 Jonathan Gerland, director of the History Center in the small town of Diboll says, “Instead of first saying we’re near Lufkin, I proudly say we’re in southern Angelina County, the only county in the state named for a woman.”

 The earliest record of Angelina comes from the journals of the expedition of Alonso de León, which arrived at the Hainai village in May 1690 and founded that first Franciscan mission. According to D. E. Chipman, author of the Texas history text, “Spanish Texas,” it was called “San Francisco de los Tejas.”

The main structure was built near the banks of the river now named for Angelina. The mission was constructed in response to several French ventures into the area. Concern that these encroachments would lead to French settlements caused the Spanish to redirect their attention from exploring West Texas to defending their eastern border.

 As the mission had a dual purpose, the strategic location was no accident. Overtly the Spaniards were to spread their religion among the natives. There were soldiers garrisoned to protect the mission from potential unfriendlies, while scouts kept eyes on the French.

 Early in their efforts to convert the natives, the Spaniards, led by Father Damian Massanet, “found a native girl in an Hainai village,” who, according to Roe, “possessed a bright intellect, a striking appearance, and friendly personality.” The date of the encounter is given as 1690, at a time when Angelina would have been very young. Her birthdate is given as 1680, although there are no records to validate that.

 When the young girl expressed a desire to learn the Spanish language, the missionaries obliged her, then they enlisted her as a guide and translator. The priests and soldiers of the mission were enamored by her friendliness and good nature, so they dubbed her Angelina, or Little Angel. In their writings they called the village where she lived “Angelina’s village,” and they called the river “Angelina’s river.”

 In 1693, three years after the Spaniards befriended Angelina, she learned that warriors from a neighboring band were making plans to attack the priests and sack the mission. Conditions that year had been harsh, and these natives were becoming less friendly as conditions worsened. To avoid attack, the Spaniards immediately abandoned their efforts and prepared to flee westward. According to William C. Foster, writing in the text, Spanish Expeditions into Texas 1689–1768, “Father Damián Massanet torched the mission and fled.”

 Angelina guided them to safety and continued with them to Mexico. There she continued her studies at the Mission San Juan Bautista, located on the Rio Grande - the modern border between Mexico and Texas. She remained at the mission for ten years, then returned east to her childhood home.

 The legend of Angelina grew in those ten years and in the years following. Her name can be found in the documents of the Spanish missionaries, the diary entries of French trappers, and the journals of explorers. These writings are the only way we know of Angelina. The Caddo had no written language.

 Angelina continued to serve as a guide and as an interpreter for the Europeans. A diary entry by an unnamed member from the party of the trader Louis Juchereau de St. Denis referenced a woman he called Angélique, “who had been baptized by Spanish priests who had been on a mission to their village.” The records from that expedition indicated that she had helped St. Denis hire guides from her tribe. One unnamed Spaniard wrote that his group “had recourse to a learned Indian woman of this Hasinai tribe.”

The Spanish, not prepared to cede East Texas to the French, spent the years planning a return. According to Chipman, “the mission effort in East Texas had familiarized Spaniards with the geography and Indians of Texas and convinced both church and government officials that future missions must be sustained by presidios and civilian settlements.” In 1716 the Spanish returned in larger force, building a chain of missions and settlements along the Neches. As part of their efforts they re-established the old Mission San Francisco de los Tejas.

 It was a short-lived effort, lasting only three years until 1719. The Spaniards had found themselves on the losing side of what became known as the “Chicken War.” As hostilities with the French escalated, the Spaniards abandoned the missions and again returned to Mexico. Angelina, having married a Frenchman and given birth to two children, remained.

 Some time later Angelina is thought to have played some part in the rescue of a French officer, Francois Simars de Bellisle. Bellisle was unfortunate enough to be passenger on a ship which, in 1719 missed its intended Louisiana destination and became grounded on a sandbar near Galveston Bay. Bellisle and four companions asked to be put ashore so they could travel by foot back to the Mississippi. They badly misjudged as that great river was over 300 miles distant, and over treacherous territory.

 Stranded and lost, Bellisle survived winter on a diet of worms, shellfish, and boiled grass. His four companions did not fare as well, dying either of starvation or exposure. In the spring Bellisle was taken captive by coastal natives who were not fond of the French. The natives enslaved him and targeted him with increasingly harsh punishment. He scavenged a scrap of paper, managed to scribble a note using charred wood and give it to a passing group of Hasinai. He pleaded with them to give it to the first European they found. St. Denis was the person they found, and Angelina is thought to have received the note from St. Denis. She sent two warriors from her band to locate and rescue Bellisle. They were successful, bringing him to their village where Angelina nursed him to health.

 Bellisle wrote later of the time he spent with Angelina while in recovery, saying she “served me with all the best she had, and she had as much love for me as if I had been her child.” and, “This Indian woman, called Angélique, had lived with the Spanish since her childhood. That is why we understood each other so well.” Once Bellisle was healthy enough to travel, Angelina sent her two children to guide him to the nearest French settlement.

 At some point the woman, then known more commonly as Angélique, moved to New Orleans with her husband. It was there that she spent the remainder of her life. Although she was called Angélique or Angelica for the remainder of her life, Angelina’s name did not die with the passing decades. She is still remembered and revered in the Piney Woods of East Texas. In the Angelina County seat of Lufkin, a statue stands proudly outside the Civic Center. The 30-foot-tall face of Angelina looks across the city. Driving through the city you can see her image in murals covering entire sides of buildings. The murals were designed and painted by local artist Lance Hunter, who says “I saw her as the starting point to represent the Native American population, and certainly her assistance with the early Anglo settling of the region.” Hunter describes the image in his first work by saying that “The strands of her hair are reaching into the future.” His second work depicts Angelina riding on the front of a train.

 As mentioned earlier, there are questions about this legend. There are things we know about Angelina, yet so much of her life remains hidden from us. Her Caddoan birth name is unknown. She was baptized at a young age and given the Spanish name Angelina. We know she took the French spelling of that name when she married Charles-François Dumont; becoming Angélique Dumont. We have records showing the couple had three children, two girls and a boy. Her father was possibly Bernardino, who was the chief of the Hasinai. Her death is recorded in 1759, and she died near the age of 80 after living a celebrated life. Her obituary called her “Angélique ‘The Indian Princess’ Dumont (Hasinai),” using the name of her tribe as her maiden name. We know nothing of her history prior to her encounter with the Spaniards. Angelina remains a romantic mystery. Some would say a legend.

 When the Caddo Confederacy was first encountered by Spanish explorers, the records indicate that they had met a tribe called Tejas (pronounced ‘Tāy-hăhs’,) which translates from the Hasinai language to mean friend. This is the word from which Texas derived its name and is the way Mexicans still pronounce it. The explorers were mistaken though. The Hasinai were not using the word to identify their tribe, they were telling the Europeans that they were friends, and they proved to be just that.

 There have been many brave and strong women in Texas history, but Angelina may well have been the first in that history of true note. The word Tejas is symbolic of both the tribe, and of the young Hasinai maiden who befriended all whom she met.










July 1, 2020

The Leo Frank Case

Leo Frank

The Leo Frank case is one of the most notorious and highly publicized cases in the legal annals of Georgia. A Jewish man in Atlanta was placed on trial and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old girl who worked for the National Pencil Company, which he managed. Before the lynching of Frank two years later, the case became known throughout the nation. The degree of anti-Semitism involved in Frank's conviction and subsequent lynching was enough of a factor to have inspired Jews, and others, throughout the country to protest the conviction of an innocent man.

The Murder

On April 26, 1913, Mary Phagan, the child of tenant farmers who had moved to Atlanta for financial gain, went to the pencil factory to collect her week's wages. Leo Frank, the superintendent of the factory, paid her. He was the last person to acknowledge having seen Phagan alive. In the middle of the night, the factory watchman found her bruised and bloodied body in the cellar and called the police. The city was aghast when it heard the news. Rumors spread that she had been sexually assaulted before her death. The public demanded quick action and swift justice.

The Evidence

Because eyewitness accounts placed  both Frank and Phagan at the factory prior to her death, police arrived at Frank's home early on April 27 for questioning. Frank denied knowing Phagan by name, but police reported that he seemed nervous. Detectives then took Frank to the morgue to view Phagan's body and to the scene of the crime, where they observed his behavior, before concluding, for the time being, that he was not likely the murderer.  
Frank was not arrested until April 29, the evening of Phagan's funeral, when public outrage regarding her murder reached a fever-pitch. Under pressure to solve the case, detectives re-examined information they had been given earlier. A young worker said she did not see Frank when she came in shortly after Phagan to receive her pay, despite Frank saying he had stayed at the factory for at least twenty minutes after Phagan left. The night watchman said Frank called the factory later in the day on April 26 to see if everything was alright, which he had never done before. On the basis of this evidence, Leo Frank was arrested. 
Prior to Frank's arrest, four men were arrested in conjunction with Phagan's murder between April 27 and 28, 1913: Arthur Mullinax, a streetcar conductor who was seen with Phagan the night before she died; Newt Lee, the black night watchman who discovered Phagan's body; John Gantt, a former bookkeeper at the factory; and Gordon Bailey, an elevator operator at the factory. On May 1 Jim Conley, a black janitor at the pencil factory, was arrested after he was found rinsing what appeared to be bloodstains out of a shirt. However, Conley was not charged and was the state's main witness against Frank, providing at least four contradictory affidavits explaining how Frank forced him to help dispose of Phagan's body.

The Trial

Based  mainly on the testimony of the janitor, who had been held in seclusion for six weeks before the trial on orders from Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey, the jury convicted the defendant. Frank's attorneys were unable to break Conley's testimony on the stand. They also allowed evidence to be introduced suggesting that Frank had many dalliances with girls, and perhaps boys, in his employ.
Atlantans hoped for a conviction. They surrounded the courthouse, cheered the prosecutor as he entered and exited the building each day, and celebrated wildly when the jurors, after twenty-five days of trial, found Frank guilty.

The Appeals

Within weeks of the trial's outcome in early September, friends of Frank sought assistance from northern Jews, including constitutional lawyer Louis Marshall of the American Jewish Committee. Marshall gave advice about what information to include in the appeal, but Frank's Georgia attorneys ignored his counsel. Frank's lawyers filed three successive appeals to the Supreme Court of Georgia and two more to the U.S. Supreme Court, all on such procedural issues as Frank's absence when the verdict was rendered and the excessive amount of public influence placed on the jury. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, still on procedural grounds, denied Frank's appeals; however, a minority of two, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Charles Evans Hughes, dissented. They noted that the trial was conducted in an atmosphere of public hostility: "Mob law does not become due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized jury."

The Governor's Decision

When  all the court appeals had been exhausted, Frank's attorneys sought a commutation from Georgia governor John M. SlatonThomas E. Watson, a former Populist and the publisher of the Jeffersonian, had conducted a campaign denouncing Frank that struck a chord, and Georgians responded to it. Watson's accusations against Jews and Leo Frank, in particular, increased the paper's sales and elicited enormous numbers of letters praising him and his publication. As Watson continued to fan the flames of public outrage, his readership grew. By the time Slaton reviewed the case, there was tremendous pressure from the public to let the courts' verdicts stand.
Slaton reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents, visited the pencil factory where the murder had taken place, and finally decided that Frank was innocent. He commuted the sentence, however, to life imprisonment, assuming that Frank's innocence would eventually be fully established and he would be set free.
Slaton's decision enraged much of the Georgia populace, leading to riots throughout Atlanta, as well as a march to the governor's mansion by some of his more virulent opponents. The governor declared martial law and called out the National Guard. When Slaton's term as governor ended a few days later, police escorted him to the railroad station, where he and his wife boarded a train and left the state, not to return for a decade.

The Lynching

After Slaton's commutation, Frank was interned at a prison farm in Milledgeville for just under two months. During his internment, a fellow prisoner slashed Frank's throat with a knife, though he survived. Frank's stay at the prison farm was cut short on the night of August 16, 1915, when twenty-five prominent citizens of Marietta, identifying themselves as the Knights of Mary Phagan, caravanned to Milledgeville, took Frank from his cell, and drove him back to Marietta, Phagan's hometown, where they hanged him from an oak tree. Only months later, many of these same men would take part in the nighttime ceremony at Stone Mountain that established the modern Ku Klux Klan.
A crowd of nearly three thousand people gathered the next morning in Marietta to view Frank's hanging body. The crowd grew increasingly unruly, and undertakers had to wrestle Frank's body away before it could be further battered. 


The  Frank case not only was a miscarriage of justice but also symbolized many of the South's fears at that time. Workers resented being exploited by northern factory owners who had come south to reorganize a declining agrarian economy. Frank's Jewish identity compounded southern resentment toward him, as latent anti-Semitic sentiments, inflamed by Tom Watson, became more pronounced. Editorials and commentaries in newspapers all over the United States supporting a new trial for Frank and/or claiming his innocence reinforced the beliefs of many outraged Georgians, who saw in them the attempt of Jews to use their money and influence to undermine justice.
Frank's trial had far-reaching impacts. It struck fear in Jewish southerners, causing them to monitor their behavior in the region closely for the next fifty years—until the civil rights movement led to more significant changes. But it also inspired the formation of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the nation's foremost civil rights organizations.
In 1986 the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles pardoned Frank, stating:
Without attempting to address the question of guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the State's failure to protect the person of Leo M. Frank and thereby preserve his opportunity for continued legal appeal of his conviction, and in recognition of the State's failure to bring his killers to justice, and as an effort to heal old wounds, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, in compliance with its Constitutional and statutory authority, hereby grants to Leo M. Frank a Pardon.
The pardon was motivated in part by the 1982 testimony of eighty-three-year-old Alonzo Mann, who as an office boy had seen Jim Conley carrying Mary Phagan's body to the basement on the day of her death. Conley had threatened to kill Mann if he said anything, and the boy's mother advised him to keep silent. For those who thought Frank innocent, this provided confirmation; for those who believed him guilty, this was insufficient evidence to change their views.
The case inspired several scholarly treatments by historians and also made its way, through various media, into the popular culture. In 1915 Georgia musician Fiddlin' John Carson wrote a ballad about Mary Phagan, which he performed on the steps of the state capitol to protest the commutation of Frank's sentence. Ten years later the song was recorded as "Little Mary Phagan" by Moonshine Kate, Carson's daughter, and around the same time Carson recorded a related song, "The Grave of Little Mary Phagan."
Other popular interpretations of the case include the film They Won't Forget (1937), based on Ward Greene's fictionalized account Death in the Deep South (1936), with Lana Turner playing the victim in her first credited screen role; the television mini-series The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988), starring Jack Lemmon as Governor John Slaton; two novels—Richard Kluger's Members of the Tribe (1977), a detailed reconstruction of the case, but set in Savannah rather than Atlanta, and David Mamet's The Old Religion (1997), in which a fictionalized Frank tells his story in the first person; and Atlanta playwright Alfred Uhry's Broadway musical Parade (1999), the title a reference to both the Confederate Memorial Day parade that brought Mary Phagan to town and the lynch mob that took Frank from Milledgeville to Marietta.
In 2008 the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta opened a special exhibition entitled Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited, and in 2009 an episode of the PBS series American Experience entitled "The People v. Leo Frank" premiered in Atlanta, where the program was also filmed.
Original entry by
Leonard Dinnerstein, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, 

March 16, 2020

This Is Significant

Hon. James Dannenberg
Hon. James Dannenberg, Ret.

Former Judge James Dannenberg resigned from the Supreme Court Bar effective this last Wednesday. In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, he detailed why he has lost respect for the court.

Dannenberg has a long legal career history. He is a retired Hawaii state judge, who sat on the District Court of the 1st Circuit of the state judiciary for 27 years. Prior to that he was Deputy Attorney General for the State of Hawaii and served as an adjunct professor at the University of Hawaii Richardson Law School. He frequently appeared before the SCOTUS in person and  as signatory on briefs, acting as part of what is considered to be the most prestigious association of attorneys in the country, the Supreme Court Bar. The lawyers of the Bar stand as "a sprawling national signifier" of the legitimacy of the SCOTUS. Dannenberg  had been a member of that bar since 1972.

On Wednesday he submitted a letter of resignation from the Bar to Chief Justice John Roberts. The full text of the letter follows:

The Chief Justice of the United States
One First Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20543

March 11, 2020

Dear Chief Justice Roberts:

I hereby resign my membership in the Supreme Court Bar.

This was not an easy decision. I have been a member of the Supreme Court Bar since 1972, far longer than you have, and appeared before the Court, both in person and on briefs, on several occasions as Deputy and First Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii before being appointed as a Hawaii District Court judge in 1986. I have a high regard for the work of the Federal Judiciary and taught the Federal Courts course at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. This due regard spanned the tenures of Chief Justices Warren, Burger, and Rehnquist before your appointment and confirmation in 2005. I have not always agreed with the Court’s decisions, but until recently I have generally seen them as products of mainstream legal reasoning, whether liberal or conservative. The legal conservatism I have respected– that of, for example, Justice Lewis Powell, Alexander Bickel or Paul Bator– at a minimum enshrined the idea of stare decisis and eschewed the idea of radical change in legal doctrine for political ends.

I can no longer say that with any confidence. You are doing far more— and far worse– than “calling balls and strikes.” You are allowing the Court to become an “errand boy” for an administration that has little respect for the rule of law.

The Court, under your leadership and with your votes, has wantonly flouted established precedent. Your “conservative” majority has cynically undermined basic freedoms by hypocritically weaponizing others. The ideas of free speech and religious liberty have been transmogrified to allow officially sanctioned bigotry and discrimination, as well as to elevate the grossest forms of political bribery beyond the ability of the federal government or states to rationally regulate it. More than a score of decisions during your tenure have overturned established precedents—some more than forty years old– and you voted with the majority in most. There is nothing “conservative” about this trend. This is radical “legal activism” at its worst.

Without trying to write a law review article, I believe that the Court majority, under your leadership, has become little more than a result-oriented extension of the right wing of the Republican Party, as vetted by the Federalist Society. Yes, politics has always been a factor in the Court’s history, but not to today’s extent. Even routine rules of statutory construction get subverted or ignored to achieve transparently political goals. The rationales of “textualism” and “originalism” are mere fig leaves masking right wing political goals; sheer casuistry.

Your public pronouncements suggest that you seem concerned about the legitimacy of the Court in today’s polarized environment. We all should be. Yet your actions, despite a few bromides about objectivity, say otherwise.

It is clear to me that your Court is willfully hurtling back to the cruel days of Lochner and even Plessy. The only constitutional freedoms ultimately recognized may soon be limited to those useful to wealthy, Republican, White, straight, Christian, and armed males— and the corporations they control. This is wrong. Period. This is not America.

I predict that your legacy will ultimately be as diminished as that of Chief Justice Melville Fuller, who presided over both Plessy and Lochner. It still could become that of his revered fellow Justice John Harlan the elder, an honest conservative, but I doubt that it will. Feel free to prove me wrong.

The Supreme Court of the United States is respected when it wields authority and not mere power. As has often been said, you are infallible because you are final, but not the other way around.

I no longer have respect for you or your majority, and I have little hope for change. I can’t vote you out of office because you have life tenure, but I can withdraw whatever insignificant support my Bar membership might seem to provide.

Please remove my name from the rolls.

With deepest regret,

James Dannenberg

For those unfamiliar, the Lochner era was a roughly three decade period of time following the decision in Lochner v. New York, 198 US 45 (1905). Lochner was a labor law case where a split 5/4 Court effectively invalidated all state laws that limited the number of hours an employee could be required to work. The Court effectively overruled itself in the 1934 decision in Nebbia v. New York.

Dannenberg's mention of Plessy refers to Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), in which the segregationist doctrine of Separate but Equal was codified.

Image result for plessy v ferguson cartoon
Plessy v. Ferguson Relegated People of Color to a Separate But Equal Railcar. The badly flawed decision became the legacy of Chief Justice Melville Fuller

This resignation accompanied by Dannenberg's rebuke is a serious shot across the bow. Chief Justice Roberts is, I feel certain, rightly concerned about his legacy. The references to Lochner and to Plessy are subtle reminders that decisions made by the Court that are later viewed as flawed tend to stain the legacy of not just the Court, but the Chief Justice in particular.

Since Dannenberg is just the latest of several hundred retired judges, justices, and constitutional scholars to chastise the Court, Roberts would do well to consider a course correction before it is too late.


February 24, 2020

While Decent White People Were Sleeping, The Bigots Stole America

Author John Pavlovitz 
Published 16 February, 2020

It’s morning in America. 

A lot happened while we were sleeping. 

This is not the America we thought existed back in November of 2008—likely the last time many of us were fully awake. 

Back then, we basked in the warm glow of the reality of a black President and we grew comfortable, nestling down into a complacency that only the blind spots of privilege and false information provide. 

The joy of that moment became a slow-acting emotional sedative that slowly squeezed out the urgency from us; one that gradually dulled our senses, that day by day numbed our minds into imagining we had arrived together at Martin’s glorious mountaintop. If we had taken the time to ask vulnerable people, they’d have told us not to fall asleep. 

Believing that the aspirational “we shall overcomes” that once rang out, were now a fixed and unchangeable present, we settled cozily into that place where the heart rate slows and the limbs and eyelids grow heavy—and where without realizing it, slumber suddenly overtakes you: 

one blink awake, the next blink asleep. 

And for eight years we sleepwalked through the world, physically here and moving through daylight but not fully present, not totally seeing—caught between the actual and the unreal world, between the real nightmare and the imagined dream. Yes, we still talked and marched and campaigned and worked, but we did so slightly sedated in the haze of bad stories, willful ignorance, and wishful thinking. 

Meanwhile, the bigots woke up. 

Shaken violently from sleep in November 2008, by the reality of what decades of fear and terrible theology taught them was the absolute worst place they could find themselves—they began to mount a fierce counterattack. 

They created news outlets and social media platforms designed to filter out everything except that which would fully trigger terror within the hearts of their intended targets and would-be allies: 

fantastical stories of a pervasive and coordinated Gay Agenda coming to convert their children; 

of violent, heavily armed, brown-skinned drug gangs overrunning our borders; 

of godless, abortion-mad progressives having indiscriminate sex without fear or care; 

of Muslim terrorist hordes infiltrating our neighborhoods and bodegas; 

of America-hating Democrats coming for their jobs and flags and prayers and guns. 

And we were still sleepwalking… 

They leveraged thousands of Christian pulpits, where every seven days they’d wildly stoke the fires of people’s phobias and fears, weaponize the Scriptures against gays and migrants and Muslims, pervert the expansive Gospel of Jesus into rabid nationalism—and sermon by sermon, enlist them all into service as passionate soldiers in the Army of the straight, white, American, male Lord. 

And we were still sleepwalking… 

Then, to inculcate the terror fully, they propped up a sideshow carnival barker as their chosen one; a barren, empty husk of a man with no discernible moral convictions beyond wealth accumulation—who they could use as a flesh and blood avatar to embody and perpetuate themselves. 

They fashioned a vile, blustery orange idol to rally the fearful and the angry and the callous hearts around; one who would daily dig into the stinking muck to find a deeper bottom—and in the sleep-induced state we were in we thought it was a joke. We laughed ourselves back into a dreamworld where everything would be fine and where decency would prevail and where the system would work; so much so that one hundred million of us slept all the way through an election cycle. 

And here we are. 

I wonder if we’re fully awake now. 

I wonder if we’re ready to cast off the cobwebs of our complacency and enter fully into the bloody fray in front of us. 

I wonder if we’re willing to rouse ourselves into lucidity and step into the jagged trenches of the fight of our lives and for the disparate swath of humanity who we’ve let down. 

I wonder if we’re prepared to face our culpability and admit our failures and make amends with our time and our resources and our votes. 

Or maybe we’ll just find another way to anesthetize. Maybe we’ll self-medicate on social media and reality TV and two-for-one happy hour specials and puppy photos on social media, and again retreat into the comfortable places and once more grow so sleepy that we’ll nestle back into slumber. 
I wonder if there’s still time to undo the present nightmare. 

The only way we’ll have a chance to know is if we wake up and stay awake. 

It’s morning in America. 

There’s mourning in America. 

Rise and shine.