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Tennessee Deliverance–1963…

Here’s an ancient incident w/a lesson for today’s budding activists. It happened to me back in ’63 (I was 21). I won’t be around much longer, so pay attention. CountryStore-001

My Nashville bride didn’t like her New York stay. So, as agreed, she and the kids moved back to Tennessee.

I soon followed with a few belongings along with my old family photo album and other memorabilia.

Stopping my tricked-out ’57 Pontiac at a country store just outside Springfield, TN, I got some gas and a used tire at a cost of $11.

I tried to pay for it with a check—being short of cash—but the clerk refused. He and several others in rocking chairs by pickle barrels got into funnin’ each other about “damn smart-assed, nigger-lovin’ yankee boys trying to make good southern-folk look like fools.”

I admit I always was somewhat of a smart-ass…making it clear that they were doing just fine of their own.  When the clerk smarted back, “You pay cash, boy, or I’m calling the po-lice!” That’s when I committed my second mistake.

“Fine,” I said, “you go ahead and call the po-lice; the check is perfectly good.” (Which it was, but he had every right to insist on cash. I should have either returned the tire or coughed up the money.)

Of course, when the cop came it turned out that he was the nephew of the old coot and I got treated to a preview of the movie, Deliverance…10-yrs ahead of schedule.

As I made my third and final mistake (starting to explain my side) the pig backhanded me, knocking me senseless to the floor and threw me in the back of his squad car. I never saw any of my property again.

I was driven to the combination courthouse, jail, police station, City Hall and Confederate monument in the center of town and taken straight to a solitary cell. I was stripped to my underwear and given no bedding. There was a rusted broken bunk, a putrid sink and toilet with large worm-things crawling out of it.

After awhile I noticed a female occasionally crying in the next cell. Thru a small vent I learned that she was a 15-yr-old runaway from Chicago caught hitchhiking w/in the county line.

Over the next week I heard cops enter her cell. Her brief screams were stifled, there were muffled scuffles and her sobbing resumed when they left. Poor girls don’t much talk about what cops do…not if they’re smart.

Modern Monkey Trials...

Modern Monkey Trials…

On the eighth day I was taken to court in shackles and seated in the jury box w/several other prisoners. I was the last one called…the optimus scene in this theater of the absurd.

Others were given small fines for various misdemeanors of public intoxication and such.  One old black guy was charged w/public urination in an alley and the event was cause for great hilarity in the courtroom.

The place was packed w/a dozen-or-so local deputies in the front pews and State Police lining the wall. There was a ceiling fan turning slowly–hardly enough to disturb the flies—and the crowd had hand fans w/the logos of local businesses, people eating candies or chewing gum and tobacco, and a black boy running in and out, collecting money and fetching “cold drinks” of RC Cola and Dr. Pepper.

The whole scene seemed lifted right out of the Scope’s 1925 Monkey Trial. My magistrate—Judge Durham—was a skinny guy that stood maybe five foot nothing. He had his boots crossed on the top of the huge desk and played for laughs to the court w/a foot-long cigar. Yup, just good-ol’-boys having a good-ol’-time.

The black defendant was clearly an old hand at this racist game and played up to the court and judge in full Stepin Fetchit caricature. Once the court got their raucous laughter at his expense, he was released w/a 30-day sentence to clean the streets.

Until I was called the old black guy was the feature event. The state’s attorney wore one of the only suits in the room, was about 25 year old, and was apparently a circuit prosecutor from Nashville, the capital about a half-hour south.

He spoke with me as my case was called and tried to convince me to take a plea bargain. (This was before Miranda, so if you didn’t have a lawyer, the state’s attorney “represented” both prosecution and defense, certainly down South.)

When I told him that I wasn’t guilty of anything (other than being stupid) he read out the handwritten list of charges: A stolen car, false ID and passing a bad check. I had to study him a moment to see if he was going to bust out laughing….

I assured him that I was precisely who I said I was, that the car was mine, and that I had money in my checking account. I said that he could call the New York bank to verify this.

I also told him that the police never checked my identity one way or the other as I was never booked, photographed or finger-printed. I was never asked anything by the judge.

The whole “trial” was over in about 15 minutes. The judge found me guilty and that was that. The sole argument was the judge telling his audience that I “was a damn yankee-boy trying to tell good, God-fearing Southern folk how to run their lives.” Everyone quite vocally agreed.Ignorance

He sentenced me on the spot (I’m still shackled in the jury box) to “11 months and 29 days in the county workhouse at hard labor.”

(The time short of a year prevents me from getting into a state court.)

I was shuffled back to the lock-up when the prosecutor visited me and asked if I was willing to reconsider “cooperating,” he’d try to work a deal for me.

To me it was all surreal. I insisted on my innocence and was essentially resigned to the whole madness; I had already spent some 4 years in the South previously (101st Airborne and civil rights).

At one point he took the check out of his folder and, seemingly surprised, said, “Hey, you didn’t even sign this. It’s just a blank check!” I explained that I never got the chance before the cop arrested me.

Having me brought back to court, he started to explain to the judge what the problem was. Ol’ Judge Durham went off. The circuit state attorney now became the “Ed-jew-cated college boy from the big city trying to tell country folk how to run their affairs!” I was beginning to think that we were both gonna end up in the workhouse.

Nevertheless, in the course of his rant, while the judge still found me guilty, he declared that I had “time served” and ordered me to “pay the court costs.” The prosecutor got me out of there in a hurry and told me that the eight days would cost $16 ($2-a-day). I asked him if they accepted checks (he wasn’t amused).

Not having any money, or anything else, he paid the costs out of his own pocket and said goodbye after telling me to get outta town as fast as I could.

I went around the courthouse to the police door and asked for my property back. The deputy looked at his watch and told me “You better be on the other side of that county line by the time the sun sets on your ass, boy!

I was, walking all the way. Remembering that girl, I didn’t put my thumb out until I passed the county line. They kept everything, my wallet and ID, car and all my belongings including the family photo albums.

So you think I would have learned, eh?  Nope. The following year I got into it with some civil rights issues and ended up doing almost two years on a rock-quarry, chain-gang (most of it at $2-day court costs).Exceptional

Some years later I went back to Nashville to a convention of my National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI).

I had become a Criminal Defense Investigator (CDI) in Detroit in 1973. The keynote speaker was the Davidson County Sheriff.

When I explained later who I was at a cocktail reception he surprised me by remembering precisely who I was. “You made quite a stir. Your articles in the Nashville Tennessean after you got out of the workhouse got that quarry gang closed down and put under federal receivership.”

When I explained that I was interested in getting my record expunged, he said, “What record? ALL those records during the civil rights’ years were wiped off the books. Even the FBI records were cleared. It’s like you and all those other ‘Northern trouble-makers’ never existed.” He laughed.

There it is…like it never happened… And now here we are in the middle of the corporatist class war.  Hardly skipped a beat… (Well, there are some changes. They call ’em the Tea Party these days, not the KKK).

Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD) October 2013

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