Quest’anno non ho pubblicato alcun post nel “Giorno della Memoria”, per mancanza di tempo, certo, ma anche perché ne avevo avuto “abbastanza” due anni fa, soprattutto con lo straordinario documentario di Singer “Night Will Fall”. Non sono brava neppure a sopportare il dolore degli altri. Mi accade con le storie dell’Olocausto e mi accade con le storie di un altro olocausto sovente dimenticato, quello patito dagli africani al tempo dello schiavismo . Non troppo tempo fa ho comprato anche il DVD di 12 anni schiavo, il film diretto nel 2013 da Steve McQueen, e ancora non sono riuscita a “gestirlo” pienamente dentro. Allora mi limito a non pensarci, a volte la “smemoria” autoimposta aiuta.
Vero è che, come diceva quel prigioniero di Auschwitz, se Dio esiste dovrà chiedere scusa anche a tutti gli africani che secoli fa furono sradicati con violenza dalle loro terre, portati in America e colà resi spettri di uomini e di donne, umiliati, sviliti, violentati nel corpo e nell’anima. Ho sempre avuto una naturale “simpatia” per gli africani e per gli afroamericani in particolare: forse molto hanno potuto le storie di Richard Wright che leggevo da bambina o quelle di Zora Neale Hurston studiate all’università, o chissà cos’altro. Di sicuro, le loro esistenze di ordinaria sopraffazione le tratto un po’ come le avessi sofferte sulla pelle, ed anche per questo preferisco non rivederli spesso dati film: bisogna non dimentare il passato ma andare comunque avanti, meglio se in un universo immaginato diverso.
Di Ruby McCollum invece non ne avevo mai sentito parlare fino ad un mese fa circa. Eppure anche il suo è un caso famoso in America. Diversamente da molte donne che avevano lo stesso colore della pelle, Ruby McCollum, nata Ruby Jackson nel 1909, è stata infatti una donna afroamericana relativamente benestante. Tuttavia, nel 1952 fu arrestata con l’accusa di avere assassinato un dottore bianco. Per inciso quel medico era stato anche il suo stupratore di tutta una vita, lo schiavista che in passato l’aveva già costretta a portare al mondo i suoi figli e a farli crescere come fossero figli di suo marito. Di nuovo incinta, Ruby si ritrovò suo malgrado “between a rock and a crazy place”: il suo violentatore minacciava di ucciderla se avesse abortito e lo stesso destino glielo “prometteva” il di lei sposo se avesse fatto nascere un altro bastardo figlio dell’uomo bianco.
Ruby fece così l’unica cosa che avrebbe potuto fare, che il suo spirito le comandava, poi si consegnò dolcimente alle autorità confessando il delitto del suo aguzzino. Il processo di Ruby McCollum fu l’ennesima farsa dell’America profonda e razzista, mentre la condanna a morte comminata dalla giuria di bianchi ne fu il risultato consequenziale. Successivamente, grazie al grande clamore sollevato dalla sua storia, e grazie ad una supposta instabilità mentale, fu possibile fare un secondo processo che salvò Ruby dalla pena capitale. Dal braccio della morte al manicomio, insomma: non male per una donna vittima degli abusi più ripugnanti e schifosi!
Non esiste una pagina wikipedica italiana dedicata a Ruby McCollum, così come non esiste per tanti altri spiriti che la meriterebbero, quindi qui di seguito pubblico la sua pagina inglese. Del resto non servono molte altra parole per raccontare la vita esemplare di questa sfortunatissima donna. Che a ben guardare la sua epopea incarnata è solo un altro momento dentro gli infiniti olocausti terrificanti, dimenticati, ma che sono stati, e che a ripensarli veramente riempiono di vergogna, ancora oggi, ogni istante della nostra “smemoria” accortamente ricercata.
Ruby McCollum, born Ruby Jackson (August 31, 1909 – May 23, 1992), was a wealthy married African-American woman in Florida known for killing a prominent white doctor in 1952 who had been elected to the state senate; she was allowed to testify during her trial that he had continually raped her, forcing her to bear his child. Much of her other testimony was prevented by objections from the prosecution.
McCollum was tried and convicted in Live Oak, Florida that year for the murder of Dr. C. Leroy Adams, and sentenced to death. The sensational case was covered widely in the United States press, as well as by international papers, but McCollum was covered by a gag order. Her case was appealed and overturned by the State Supreme Court. When it came time for a second trial, McCollum was examined and found mentally incompetent to stand trial. She was committed to the state mental hospital at Chattahoochee, Florida, for what would have been a lifetime, had not her attorney, Frank Cannon, acting on his own and without compensation, obtained her release under the Baker Act in 1974, as she was not considered a danger to herself or others.
In the 21st century, McCollum and her case have received renewed attention, with new books and four film documentaries exploring the issues of race, class, gender and corruption in local politics. In the long term, McCollum’s case was considered a landmark trial in the struggle for civil rights, and instrumental in changing attitudes about the practice of “paramour rights”. McCollum’s attorney, Releford McGriff, was also part of a team who was crucial in changing Florida’s Jim Crow practice of selecting all-white male jurors.
Ruby Jackson was born in 1909 to Gertrude and William Jackson in Zuber, Florida. She was the second child and first daughter among her six siblings. They attended local segregated schools. Ruby’s parents recognized her intelligence and sent her to a private school, Fessenden Academy, where she excelled in bookkeeping.
Marriage and family
In 1931 Ruby Jackson married Sam McCollum, and they moved to Nyack, New York, as part of the Great Migration of rural blacks out of the South in the early 20th century. During the few years that they lived there, she had a son, Sam, Jr.
In 1934, the couple relocated to the area of Fort Myers, Florida. Sam’s brother Buck McCollum had amassed considerable wealth managing a Bolita gambling business. Sam went into business with him and was reported to be a player in North Florida gambling and liquor sales, which were illegal in the county, but made possible by paying off local law enforcement. The McCollums also sold burial policies and owned a local funeral home. By the 1940s and early 1950s, the McCollums were reported to have “amassed a fortune.”
Sam and Ruby owned a “stately, two-story home,” in Live Oak, Florida, a small town of 4,000 people, which they acquired from the prior bolita operator in the county when he was run out of town. Ruby McCollum drove a new Chrysler automobile each year. The McCollums owned several jooks, served illegal liquor, collected money from the juke boxes, and had a farm outside of town with the largest tobacco allotment in Florida. The McCollums also owned a farm near Lake City where Sam stocked fields with quail for hunting with his prized bird dogs. Ruby McCollum was described as the wealthiest black woman in town, and the couple were considered financially successful and well respected in the community who contributed liberally to their church. Their son and oldest child, Sam Jr., had started college at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) by 1952.
The couple reared four children together: Sam, Jr., Sonja, Kay, and Loretta. McCollum later said that her youngest, Loretta, was her biracial child by Dr. C. Leroy Adams.
Florida was a segregated state where blacks had been essentially disenfranchised since the turn of the century amid passage of a constitution and laws imposing poll taxes, literacy tests and other means to suppress black voting. The exclusion from voting meant that African Americans could not serve on juries and they were generally excluded from any political office. The white Democrat-dominated state legislature following the Civil War had passed laws to create legal segregation and Jim Crow, which kept African Americans in second-class status until a swing in the Democratic party in the 1960s overturned these laws with the passage of the Civil Rights Act under President Lyndon Johnson.
The power relations of white men taking sexual advantage of black women had a long history dating to slavery times, when some female slaves were forced to serve as concubines or occasional liaisons. From the 17th century, Virginia and other colonies established laws making children of slave mothers automatically slaves, regardless of their paternity, under the principle of partus sequitur ventrem. An assumption that powerful white men could take black women as sexual partners regardless of their desires or social status underlie some 20th century relations. This was called “paramour rights” at the time of the trial.
Dr. C. Leroy Adams, had a reputation as a “benevolent and popular doctor who administered to the needy.” In 1952 he was elected to the state senate, with his associate, Dr. Dillard Workman, campaigning for him. Adams was considered to have a potential political future as governor. Workman was also Ruby McCollum’s physician when she was pregnant with Adams’ child, performed an autopsy on Adams, and testified to McCollum’s sanity during her trial.
Shooting of Dr. C. Leroy Adams
On August 3, 1952, Ruby McCollum met Dr. C. Leroy Adams, a prominent white physician and state senator-elect, in his office in Live Oak, Florida. She had driven there with her two young children in the car. She later admitted that she shot him four times with a revolver, after he would not agree to leave her alone. She said that over a period of years, he had repeatedly forced her to submit to sex and bear his child, and that her two-year-old daughter, Loretta, was his.
In notes and letters, McCollum said that he had abused her, and that she was pregnant with another child by him when she killed him. She also said that Adams took part in her husband Sam’s “illegal gambling operation.” An employee at the doctor’s office later described seeing the doctor accept “large deliveries of cash in examination rooms.”
McCollum was arrested and taken to the state prison 50 miles away temporarily, for protection, according to contemporary accounts.
Her husband Sam died the next day of a heart attack in Zuber, Florida, where he had taken his children for safekeeping with Ruby’s mother. The case was first covered for a newspaper outside Florida by anthropologist and writer Zora Neale Hurston, who was on assignment from the Pittsburgh Courier. She had to sit upstairs in the segregated gallery, in view of Ku Klux Klan members who were no doubt present. Her coverage helped McCollum gain a national and even international readership.
McCollum was defended by Frank Cannon, a District Attorney from Jacksonville, Florida. The case was prosecuted by state’s attorney Keith Black, and presided over by Florida’s Third Circuit Court judge, Judge Hal W. Adams (not related to the doctor, but an honorary pallbearer at his funeral). The jury was made up of all white men, some of whom had been Dr. Adams’ patients.
McCollum testified that Adams had forced sex upon her, that they had sex at her home and in his office (located immediately across the street from the courthouse), and that he insisted that she bear his child, but her defense attorney was prevented from presenting their relationship more completely. All of Cannon’s efforts to introduce the doctor’s pattern of repeated physical abuse of her at the office were objected to by the prosecutor and upheld by the judge, except for her testimony about events on the day of the murder. She said he had struck her repeatedly that day and they struggled. Essentially McCollum was silenced in court regarding additional testimony that would have established mitigating circumstances. According to Zora Neale Hurston, who reported on the trial for the Pittsburgh Courier:
“Ruby was allowed to describe how, about 1948, during an extended absence of her husband, she had, in her home, submitted to the doctor. She was allowed to state that her youngest child was his. Yet thirty-eight times Frank Cannon attempted to proceed from this point; thirty-eight times he attempted to create the opportunity for Ruby to tell her whole story and thus explain what were her motives; thirty-eight times the State objected; and thirty-eight times Judge Adams sustained these objections.”
The judge also imposed a gag order on McCollum, preventing the press from interviewing her, and preventing her attorneys the opportunity to determine whether speaking with the press or not would be to her advantage.
Hurston writes that defense attorney Frank Cannon, frustrated by the persistence of the state prosecuting attorney in objecting to have all of the evidence introduced about her relationship with Dr. Adams without objection, turned to the judge and said, “May God forgive you, Judge Adams, for robbing a human being of life in such a fashion.” While this is written by Hurston, and quoted by Huie, there is no record of the statement in the trial transcript, as there is no record of Hurston’s reporting of Thelma Curry, a witness, being thrown off the witness stand and being told to go back where she belongs.
The prosecuting attorney said that McCollum had shot Adams in anger over a disputed bill, which was supported by three witnesses during the trial. McCollum herself testified that she had discussed a bill with Adams that day, but maintained that she fired at the doctor in self-defense when he attacked her. The defense questioned this, pointing out that Adams was 100 pounds heavier than Ruby McCollum and all of the shots were fired into his back. Residents of Live Oak knew that McCollum was a wealthy woman, and she and her husband were known to pay their bills promptly.
McCollum was convicted by the jury of first degree murder on December 20, 1952. She was sentenced to death in the electric chair.
Her case was appealed. During that period before the appeal was decided, McCollum was held in the Suwannee County Jail. Her conviction and death sentence were overturned on a technicality by the Florida Supreme Court on July 20, 1954. The court cited Judge Hal W. Adams, the presiding judge, for failing to be present at the jury’s inspection of the scene of the crime.
Concerned for her mental health, defense attorney Frank Cannon arranged for McCollum to be examined in the county jail, where she had been held for about two years. At the second trial, he entered a plea of insanity. Upon receiving the results of an examination of McCollum by court-appointed physicians, including Dr. Adams’ associate Dr. Dillard Workman, the state attorney Randall Slaughter agreed to the plea. McCollum was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. She was committed to the Florida State Hospital for mental patients at Chattahoochee, Florida, where she remained until her attorney, Frank Cannon, successfully filed for her release in 1974 under Florida’s recently enacted Baker Act.
There was extensive coverage of the trial at the time, but the judge put McCollum under a gag order, and the press was never allowed to interview McCollum. Ellis, who remembers the trial in his hometown, emphasizes that this isolation of McCollum from the press was done less to cover up the affair between McCollum and Adams, which was already making the gossip circuits of the town, than it was to conceal the illegal dealings between whites and blacks in the community, especially since the IRS was in town to collect taxes on unreported gambling and liquor sales. Ellis also writes that it is ironic that this attempt to silence McCollum proved in the long run to be highly unsuccessful, given the number of books and documentaries published since his release of the annotated transcript of the trial.
The noted African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston covered the trial for the Pittsburgh Courier from the fall of 1952 through Ruby McCollum’s conviction just before Christmas that year; she was forced to sit in the segregated second-floor gallery of the courtroom. From January–March 1953, the Courier published Hurston’s series entitled, “The Life Story of Ruby McCollum.”
Hurston, who was unable to attend the appeal or the second trial for financial reasons, contacted journalist William Bradford Huie to interest him in the case, as they had worked together before and he had taken on controversial cases. She shared her notes from the first trial and corresponded with him to furnish additional information. She also asked for bus fare to attend the trial, but Huie did not respond. Huie thereafter investigated the story and, after attending the appeal and second trial, published Ruby McCollum: Woman in the Suwannee Jail (1956). This book became a bestseller, although Huie asked his publisher not to distribute the book in Florida due to his continuing legal troubles there. Huie’s book also addresses his effort to fight Judge Adams’ gag order against the press. He filed a First Amendment challenge, claiming freedom of the press to speak to the defendant, but did not succeed in his suit.
At one point, Adams charged Huie with contempt of court for attempting to influence Dr. Fernay, a witness in the case scheduled to testify as to McCollum’s sanity. The journalist served overnight in jail as a result of not paying a fine the judge had imposed in the contempt charge. During that period, Huie met the director, Elia Kazan. In 1960 they had discussions about Kazan’s directing a film to be adapted from Huie’s book and entitled The Ruby McCollum Story. While other films based on Huie’s books were produced in the 1960s and later, a film on the Ruby McCollum story was not produced.
Huie says in his updated, fourth edition of his work (1964) that he was denied entrance to the Florida State Mental Hospital in Chattahoochee, Florida where Ruby McCollum was held, yet Jet Magazine reporters visited Ruby McCollum there in 1958 and published their interview with her. Huie never interviewed McCollum.
Later years and death
In 1974, attorney Frank Cannon, who was her primary attorney during her murder trial in 1952, visited McCollum in the mental hospital. Without asking for any legal fees, he filed legal papers to have her released under the Baker Act, which allowed mental patients who were considered not to be a danger to be released to their families. Her initial commitment was due to her being found mentally incompetent to stand trial.
McCollum lived after her release in a rest home in Silver Springs, Florida, funded by a trust set up by author William Bradford Huie. He had paid her $40,000 for the right to feature her in a movie he hoped to have adapted from his book about the case, Ruby McCollum: Woman in the Suwannee Jail (1964, 4th edition).
McCollum did see her children again. But, Sam Jr. followed his father into gambling, and in 1975 was convicted in federal court on 10 counts of gambling. He had been living in the McCollum homestead, from which the FBI confiscated $250,000; they later returned a good portion of it to him, after the IRS deducted appropriate taxes and penalties. McCollum’s daughters Sonja and Kay both married and lived in Ocala, Florida. Kay Hope died in a car accident in 1978 and Sonja Wood died of a heart attack in 1979.
In November 1980, Al Lee of the Ocala Star Banner interviewed McCollum at the rest home in Silver Springs. Lee wrote that McCollum had no memory of her ordeal. He reported that psychiatrists said that she may have suffered Ganser syndrome, or the suppression of painful memories. In those years, the State Mental Hospital at Chattahoochee was investigated more than once over issues of patient treatment, overuse of medications including thorazine, and the administration of electroshock therapy, which can affect memory.
On May 23, 1992, at 4:45 a.m., McCollum died of a stroke at the New Horizon Rehabilitation Center, at the age of eighty-two. Her brother, Matt Jackson, had died less than a year before. The family arranged for her to be buried beside him and his wife in the cemetery behind Hopewell Baptist Church in Live Oak. Her name was mistakenly spelled on her death certificate as “Ruby McCollumn”.
The case has continued to haunt people, in part because Judge Adams had placed a gag order on Ruby McCollum. Commentators believed the silences were to preserve white supremacy and secrets of the powerful, which included white participation in Sam McCollum’s illegal bolita operations where untaxed money was used to finance many of the businesses in town. Judge Adams upheld prosecutor’s objections during the trial so that Cannon could not introduce much of the evidence related to Adams’ sexual abuse of McCollum. She was allowed, however, to testify as to her being forced to have Adams’ baby, which was the first time that a black woman had ever been allowed to do so in the United States. This established the trial as a landmark case since no other black woman who had shot and killed a white man had ever been allowed to testify in her own defense.
In the 21st century, new non-fiction and fiction books continue to be published about McCollum and the case.
C. Arthur Ellis, Jr. published a compiled and edited transcript of the trial in 2003, with a revised edition in 2007. His associated commentary describes the importance of this trial in the history of Civil Rights as the first time that an African-American woman testified in court against a white man to say that he had forced sex upon her, and testified to his paternity of their child. Until this time, Ellis notes, African-American women were afforded no protection under the law for rape by a white man. Ellis states that he was motivated to publish this transcript since many scholars were stating that McCollum did not testify at her trial, and a recent Discovery ID Crime to Remember Episode, “The Shot Doctor,” perpetuated this misconception. He also discussed the intertwining of personal and professional relationships among the figures prominent in the case and the trial. He noted that late 20th and early 21st-century professional standards related to conflict of interest would likely classify certain figures as having violated those standards. As an example, he notes that Dr. Dillard Workman was Adams’ medical associate, and he treated McCollum for her prenatal care of her child by Adams. Workman campaigned for Adams in his state senatorial race, but he was commissioned to conduct Adams’ autopsy. He testified about the autopsy during the murder trial. In addition, he testified as an expert witness as to McCollum’s sanity at the second trial. The judge who presided over the trial was a pallbearer at Dr. Adams’ funeral.
In 2006, Tammy Evans published The Silencing of Ruby McCollum: Race, Class, and Gender in the South, released by the University Press of Florida. As the reviewer Elizabeth Boyd writes, “The starkness of the crime was matched only by the evasiveness that characterized its aftermath, and it is this prevarication–this collective dissembling on the part of Live Oak folk, white and black–that is the true subject of the book.”
While Evans focuses on the town silencing Ruby McCollum from the press and creating a “cover story” instead of allowing her to speak freely, Ellis focuses on McCollum’s testimony at her trial, and how it was a first in the history of jurisprudence to allow a woman of color to testify against a white man who forced her to have his child. Ellis also maintains that the silence in the town towards “outsiders” was out of fear of IRS, whose agents were scouring the town to uncover covert gambling revenues for which taxes went unpaid. Ellis also points out that the “cover story” of Ruby McCollum murdering Dr. Adams over a doctor bill resulted from McCollum and Adams actually arguing over a bill at the time of the murder. Witnesses to the argument testified to the argument, leading to the assumption that the murder was because of the argument.
In 2015, Ellis published Hall of Mirrors: Confirmation and Presentist Biases in Continuing Accounts of the Ruby McCollum Story, which confronts the biases of filmmakers and academicians who have revised the story of Ruby McCollum and turned her into a stock character to promote their own agendas. Ellis publishes, for the first time, the letters of Ruby McCollum, written from prison and the Florida State Mental Hospital, and the letters of Adams’s nurse, Edith Park. Ellis notes that one of McCollum’s letters to her attorneys speaks of her turning down an interview with a reporter from a Jacksonville newspaper who visited her in prison at Raiford, a point that has never been made by other writers when they cite Judge Adams’s gag order. Ellis also cites reporters who spoke with residents of Live Oak at the time, dispelling the notion that Live Oak silenced the story. Ellis presents a wealth of facts and accounts by contemporaries of the McCollums that place this fascinating story within its context and demonstrates that the trial, far from being the miscarriage of justice that it is when viewed by present standards, was a landmark in the long march toward equal justice for all. He also maintains that failing to recognize this fact does not serve crusaders for social justice well, since advances in civil rights should be celebrated along the arduous path toward social justice. Ellis maintains that such advances are always painful, seldom dramatic, and often earned only by sacrifice and even death. Ellis ends his monologue by suggesting that Ruby McCollum, rather than being a helpless victim, was an existentialist hero since she acted “authentically,” outside of the boundaries of the societal norms and legalities of her time, much as Rosa Parks did.
Representation in other media
In 1999, Thulani Davis wrote a play, Everybody’s Ruby: Story of a Murder in Florida, which premiered in New York at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, directed by Kenny Leon and starring Viola Davis as McCollum and Phylicia Rashad as author Zora Neale Hurston. The play is highly artistic, but departs significantly from the historical facts.
In 2009, C. Arthur Ellis wrote a historical novel, Zora Hurston And The Strange Case Of Ruby McCollum, based on Hurston’s articles for the Pittsburgh Courier and his own research for his non-fiction book on the trial. Ellis is a native of Live Oak and knew all of the characters in the story.
In 2010, “The Ballad of Ruby McCollum”, a song performed by Peg and Chip Carbone, written by Peg and Chip Carbone and David Schmeling, was recorded at Reveal Audio – Atlanta.
In 2012, The Other Side of Silence (documentary) is a film about McCollum and her case by Dr. Claudia Hunter Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize nominee. It contains an interview with A. K. Black, the prosecutor in the case, as well as the floor plan of Adams’ office, courtesy of C. Arthur Ellis, Jr., Ph.D. She reports receiving a death threat while working on the film. The film was the official nominee at several film festivals in 2012.
In June 2014, Curtain of Secrecy: The Story of Ruby McCollum (documentary), a feature-length documentary about Ruby McCollum opened at the San Marco Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida. It is produced by the Art Institute at Jacksonville, Florida and is directed by Ramona Ramdeen, who interviews Dr. C. Arthur Ellis, Jr., the only living historian who knew all of the characters in the story. Ms. Ramdeen was part of the production team that won the 2014 Student Oscar for PERSON, awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.
In November, 2014, The Shot Doctor, a true-crime film in the Crime to Remember series airing on The Discovery Channel, featuring historian, Dr. C. Arthur Ellis, Jr., whose comments regarding Ruby McCollum’s testimony at her trial were edited out in favor of narrators claiming that there was no testimony allowed.
On February 1, 2015, You Belong to Me: Sex, Race, and Murder in the South, a feature-length documentary about Ruby McCollum and her case, was released on video on demand and DVD, in conjunction with Black History Month and Women’s History Month, and has been featured at several film festivals around the world. The film was produced by Hilary Saltzman, Kitty Potapow, and Jude Hagin (former state film commissioner) through Hummingbird Film Productions, LLC. It was written and directed by John Cork. The documentary started shooting in Florida in July 2013 and was the first project where members of the McCollum and Adams families spoke on the record about the case. The last surviving juror from the trial and others involved in case also participated in the film. The production team is in the process of producing a scripted, feature film on Ruby McCollum.
In November, 2015, C. Arthur Ellis, Jr. wrote a monograph, Hall of Mirrors: Confirmation and Presentist Biases in Continuing Accounts of the Ruby McCollum Story, which analyzes the story and its various treatments in books and film against the facts of the case, and publishes, for the first time, Ruby McCollum’s letters from prison and from the Florida State Mental Hospital, along with the letters of Edith Park, Adams’s former nurse, written to William Huie.
(extract from Roby McCollum’s wiki page)