A Kitchen Table Conversation
Americus, GA: Sheriff Fred Chapell and "Slappy"
John Perdew and Randy Battle
Recorded October, 2005

[Randy Battle worked for SNCC throughout the 1960s, and worked in the congressional campaign of Attorney C. B. King in 1964. John Perdew worked for SNCC in Albany and Americus, GA, in 1963-64.]

[Recording of John and Randy at Pat's kitchen table in the days before the performance of Education of a Harvard Guy in Albany, October 2005]

John: We were so hot in Americus that the cops followed us around all the time, and so we made a game of it. We knew that the cops would arrest us if we did any slight thing wrong, like not coming to a complete stop at an octagonal sign ...

Randy: Or not turning on your signal light ...

John: Right, or not turning on a signal light. So we used the signal lights and used the hand signal, so we turned using both the signal light and hand signaled out the window when we were braking. And we drove around at ten miles an hourat most. So we would have a very slow, slow caravan through the projects and through North Lee Street in Americus. And finally they would get tired of it. They would get tired of it before I would.

Randy: That hand signaling used to madden 'em. Sometimes they'd stop us, "Why you stickin your hand out the window like that an your signal light on?"

John: Ha ha ha!

Randy: But look here man, I don't know, there are so many things that amaze me. I don't know. They thought, I believe they thought, they could intimidate us into submission.

John: Mm-hm.

Randy: And we thought that intimidation was just a game we were playing. We thought we were going to intimidate them into submission.

John: We would get back at em. We'd get back at 'em.

Randy: We had our little quirks. We had to scheme 'em so there wasn't nothing they could do to you, because every chance they get they was going to knock you in the head.

John: Mm-hm. I remember Don Harris used to call the sheriff Doc. "All right Doc!" "Whatever you say, Doc!"

Randy: Ha ha!

John: This guy was like a bulldog. You remember Sheriff Chapell? Fred Chapell? Red in the face, already. I mean even when he wasn't mad he was already red in the face. At rest, he would be red in the face, and white hair, and big heavy jowls.

Randy: Thick as an oak tree! Big sucker.

John: Big sucker. And the baddest mouth in the South. I have met people since then, like C.T. Vivian of SCLC, who have met many, many southern sheriffs, you know, in his travels, in Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia — he told me Sheriff Chapell had the worst mouth of any of them. One time I got a call from Amanda, and she said she and Bonnie Jean Daniels, and I believe it was Gloria Wise, were in the women's rest room in the court house and Sheriff Chapell had come in there — they were in the white women's rest room, and so Sheriff Chapell was eager to defend the purity of white womanhood. He went into the bathroom, the women's bathroom, and dragged those three girls out.

Randy: Yeah ...

John: So Amanda called me and I was so pissed, so mad that the Sheriff had the gall to do that, I jumped into the car and raced down to the courthouse and I stomped in there and I waved my finger in the sheriff's face and said "What the hell do you think you're doing?" And he was so nonplussed, he was used to doing the cussing and the fussing and having everybody sort of jump and bow and scrape, he was so surprised this mild-mannered civil rights worker would do him like that, I got away with it.

Randy: Look here man, you remember old Slappy?

John: Oh yes. Do I remember Slappy!

Randy: Man, Slappy, I don't know where he got our telephone number from, that old sucker would call over there and he'd talk about your mama, your auntie, your sister ...

John: Six o'clock in the morning, we'd pick up — this is in the SNCC house in Americus, pick up the phone, "You must a been suckin dick it took you so long to get to the phone you goddam sonofabitch! You communist niggerlover!" He would use every cuss word I ever heard of, and then some.

Randy: Nobody ever had as many cuss words as Slappy had.

John: He would talk and talk and talk, and ... but if you waited long enough, he would, he would ...

Randy: Ha ha!

John: He would calm down, eventually, and he would turn into a normal person. Sort of ...

Randy: Yeah ha ha ...

John: So Bob Mants was the one who — usually, I mean, at six o'clock in the morning I don't feel like talking to anybody usually, or feel like listening to anybody, I want to go back to bed, and I'm not going to talk to somebody, but Bob Mants decided to take him on one day, and he said like, "Oh, okay man, okay ... yeah ... right ... right, yeah . . yeah," and he listened through all of this fury, and finally he started like, " Where do you come from anyway, Slappy?" and so on " Yeah ... yeah ... yeah," and so on, and then " By the way, where are you calling from Slappy?" And Slappy says, "I'm calling from the police station!"

Randy: Ha ha ha!

John: So Bob rolls his eyes at me and he said, "Hold on! Hold on, just a minute, Slappy, I gotta go get a cigarette, I'll be right back. This is real interesting. So hold on just a minute, don't hang up, will you?" So Mants and I we run out and jump in the car, the red Ford, we were just a few blocks from the police station, and we drove over, and we pulled down Jackson Street, and he was standing in the doorway, in the doorway next to the front desk, and we honked our horn and waved ...

Randy: Hee-hee-hee ...

John: I mean, you can't miss him. He had these big black bushy eyebrows that seemed to crawl up and down his face ... ha ha ha ... independently ... this wild hair, he was bald in the middle with this wild fringe of gray and black hair that was never combed, and he just looked like a wild man all the time, and he would just get mad, you would encounter him on the street. And I was the target, I was his main target of his anger. All it took, he would just see me, in the middle of downtown Americus. He would be in the middle of the street or something, and he would ...

Randy: Heh-heh-heh ...

John: He would start stomping, and whaaa — roaring, and snorting, and cracking his knuckles like this! And then he'd go Gaaa! God! And he'd go down like this and he'd be yelling at me, you know ... God Damn ...

Randy: Ha ha ha ha! Nigger Lover! ...

John: Ha ha! One time I ran into him in the grocery store. And he was carrying on like that. And a little old white lady walked up to me and said, "Don't worry. He's harmless." I wasn't willing to take her word for it!

Randy: Heh-heh.

John: The guy was just ...

Randy: He lived around over there by Jimmy Carter somewhere. [Before he became President, Carter owned a peanut farm about 10 miles from Americus.]

John: He was a member of the Slappy family. His first name was Clinton. The Slappy family, after which Slappy Boulevard is named. And the story was ... ha ha ha ... he had spent some time ha ha in Milledgeville, in the state mental hospital, I have no idea whether this is true, but the story goes that they had the patients, or the inmates, I don't know which you would call 'em, they had em outside doing work, and this day they were doing work with wheelbarrows, and they would pick up a load of something in the wheelbarrows and push them across the yard and dump it, and they got upset with Slappy because he had his wheelbarrow, kept his wheelbarrow upside down. "Now Mr. Slappy, you can't carry something in a wheelbarrow upside down!" "Yes I know that!" So maybe he wasn't so crazy after all.

John: He pretended he didn't know which side of a wheelbarrow to use.

Randy: They took him over to Milledgeville and he turned around and got them committed too.

Randy: Ha ha! I heard a story about him. Another story, I have no idea if this is true either, but the story is that his mother ... the first time they had committed him over there ... his mother brought him, and both of em ended up committed to Milledgeville. I heard that story.

John: I heard later that for a period of time he was making a living selling needles, in the black community. He would be peddling them from door to door, selling a few sewing needles, and he would call like a fishmonger, "Nee-dles! Need-dles! " He'd walk up on people's porches and knock, knock, knock, and most people would just wait for him to go away.

Randy: Or give him a nickel for a packet a needles.

John: He was somebody the police would sic on me, you know, like you would sic a dog on someone. I mean, hey, did he ever approach you like that?

Randy: I tell you how you could get him. I useta see him walking down the street. I say, "Hey Slappy!" He say, "What?" I say, "You better come on get your mama, I'm tired of it!" He say, "Good God Almighty!" Bob Mants was the first one to do him like that, "Slappy, come on over here an get your mama, cuz we tired of it!" That was our way of getting him back. And that set him off, "God-d-d-damn, you ... !"

John: Ha ha ha! I have never seen anybody do that, crack their knuckles like that, and snort like a bull, and stomp ...

Randy: And stomp! And do his fist all around. And pull his hair.

John: And crack his knuckles. You could hear him crack his knuckles from across the street.

Randy: Yeah! But doggone, if he was gonna call you, you was gonna get called ...

John: Ha ha. Six o'clock in the morning.

Randy: All you had to do, say, I need to be up at six, you knew you wasn't going to get away from it.

John: Ha ha ha. And that would keep you awake.

Randy: I mean he could think of stuff. Stuff nobody would ever think of.

John: I have never heard anybody cuss like he could.

Randy: And not only could he just cuss you out, he could go on for an hour, an hour an a half if he like to.

John: On and on. I used to hang up on him.

Randy: Say, "Slappy, go home and give your mama a bath! We just left from over there fuckin her!" Ha ha! He slam that phone down! That would be too much for him.

John: We got him back sometimes.

Randy: What was our address over there anyway?

John: 406 Jefferson I believe.

Randy: The thing about us, well I can say me, I was used to being abused, so they couldn't do nothing to abuse me. You committed yourself to it, and then after you sunk your teeth into it, they couldn't do nothing to abuse you.

John: That's right, it was war. It was war. I was determined to get Chapell back. When we got out of jail — well this is in the play — but, Chapell drove us back to the jail to pick up our things, and he was complaining about what a miserable time he had had while we were in his jail.

Randy: Ha ha! You all made him miserable.

John: Because people used to — later on, I met a guy who was at Morehouse, who told me, "Oh you were one of the Americus Four! Yeah, me and my classmates we used to, when we got home from the library or from class, and we came back to our dorm room, we would call the Sumter County Sheriff's office and ask to talk to Perdew or Zev Aelony or Don Harris or Ralph Allen. And the sheriff would curse and hang up the phone. And we would call back at three o'clock in the morning and call back at four."

And Chapell had these two little Chihuahua dogs that he used to let run around in the jail, so we always used to hear, you know how the dogs' nails would click-click on the hard floor and they would yap. Imagine a guy who looks like a giant bulldog with a couple little puny Chihuahua dogs, so incongruous. Sheriff Chapell.

I heard Sammy Mahone, who was one of the local guys in Americus, a SNCC worker for quite a while, and one of my road buddies, met Fred Chapell Junior, the sheriff's son, who was involved in a theater group, and who was totally different from his father, looked different, and acted different, and was very comfortable in an interracial environment. I guess Sammy was helping a producer at one of those playhouses near the Atlanta Symphony. And Sammy got to be friends with him. So I guess he couldn't pass on his ugly legacy to the next generation.

Copyright © John Perdew and Randy Battle

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