The Fornication Law and Judge Crow of "Bad Baker" County
Dennis Roberts

[The King family of Albany Georgia (no relation to Martin Luther King) — patriarch C.W. King, and his sons Slater King and C.B. King — played a leading role in the Freedom Movement throughout Southwest Georgia. As the only Black attorney in the area, C.B. King fought fearlessly against the region's institutionalized racism.]

In 2003 the ACLU brought a case before Georgia's Supreme Court that resulted in abolishing one of the great statutes — fornication. Not adultry, just garden variety screwing.

I know they used it on young black couples caught in the woods. What monsters those crackers were. We once had a case where young cousins were returning to Albany from a birthday party in Newton. They were stopped by the deputy who accused the driver of being drunk but ultimately let him drive away. But first the deputy marched them into the woods, produced a bottle of liquor and a book of porn pictures, forced them to drink it and demanded they have sex with each other. After they cried and begged he told them to go home and bring him $25 as the DUI "fine".

Fortunately they lived in Albany and not Baker County. C.B. told them not to go back. I can't remember if we sued the deputy (a lawsuit in Baker County with the Hon. Carl Crow presiding and an all-white male jury would be quite the sick joke)

That mention of Carl Crow brings back an interesting memory. Since we worked a number of different judicial districts, many of them with very rural counties, it was easy to have a trial scheduled for say the first Monday in May while a county in another judicial district could also start their calendar on the first Monday in May. In many of those rural counties like Baker or Terrell there might be just one case (mostly resolved by plea) or no business at all. It was not an infrequent experience for have to "meet court" on the same day in two distant from each other counties. He just sent a telegram to one judge explaining his other case in a different county was older so went first. Then he would have to appear at the next term six months later.

But dealing with Judge Crow in Bad Baker was a different situation. You couldn't trust that Crow would acknowledge receiving the telegram or some other game so C.B. asked that I go to confirm that C.B. was detained elsewhere in a different jurisdiction. To "meet court" in Baker, ALONE, was both exciting and terribly frightening. That long empty road between Newton and Albany could be very dangerous. It was the place where the cousins were stopped and ordered to engage in sex in front of the deputy.

That awful vision of that film set in the rural south where some back woods crackers capture these city boys stayed in my mind after hearing that young couple's story. Oh yes, Deliverance was the name of the film. So I put on my only and not very elegant suit and presented myself before The Right Hon Carl Crow who had an overflowing spittoon where he shot his tobacco juice and not very accurately. So here I am before Crow, scared to death but with a simple task. Case is called and there is my client, an elderly and very frightened black man who starts trembling when he realizes Attorney (or often "Colonel") King was not present.

So I do my little spiel regarding the conflict with another jurisdiction, mention the telegram which His Honor denies receiving and stand there waiting for Crow to give us another date. Instead Crow looks at me and says "You try the case."

I explain that I am a second year law student, a law clerk, not a member of the Georgia or any other Bar.

Crow peers over at me and says, "You try the nigger's case or he can try it himself"

By now this poor old man looks like they have just imposed the death penalty. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't reach C.B. to get instructions so I thought, well that conviction will quickly be reversed though most likely he would have served his sentence long before any appellate court saw it and probably not until it reached the Fifth Circut via habeas. I think for a moment I reflected on how the California Bar might treat my future admission if it were revealed that I conducted a criminal defense while still a law student.

I had a briefcase full of blank pretrial-motion forms challenging all-white juries which I always carried if we appeared elsewhere and were told no one filed any. A frequent lie. So I pulled out my pen and filled in "Baker county" and the name of the defendant. Since every cracker in the county who was in any way connected with court business as well as all the loafers who always met first term of court were most likely there I handed my motion to the clerk and announced, "I call the Chairman of the Jury Commission to the stand as my first witness."

An old cracker — who as the Baker Countyites (white division) were described by Judge Leibowitz in a similar county in Alabama in the Scottsboro Boys case — "Their mouths were slits in their faces" stood.

Crow, sensing possible embarrassment told the man to sit down then turned to me and said, "You tell that C.B. to meet court at the next term and he better not play any more tricks that time. Now get out of here."

A very relieved defendant and his "almost lawyer" both trembling visibly, made our way through a mass of angry crackers and got out of town quickly (though always well below the speed limit).

Another quick remark about Baker County. Its total population was about 4800, 65 or 70 percent of whom were black although in 1963 NO black dared "reddish" to vote. There were a limited number of surnames, shared between the black and white population. If you mentioned for example Bobby Hall you had to say "black Bobby Hall" or "white Bobby Hall" and many black and white Hall or Wilson or Taylor and the like were blood relatives. Baker was plantation country and during slavery and continuing into the then present the number of rapes or more "consensual" sex created this situation.

One day C.B. and I were driving in the rural area when we passed a tumbling down shack, most likely the home of a sharecropper. On the porch were 3 or 4 children all very close in age. Among those black children was a little white boy with soft blonde hair and pale blue eyes. I said to C.B. that he must be the child of a white minister in Baker who would dare let his child play with black children though as I said it I couldn't imagine the existence of such a person.

C.B. laughed and said "Rob, that child is as black as I am. It's the kind of trick genetics plays down here." C.B. delighted in pointing out "white" people in the rural who were "black" according to the segregation laws.

Many of them upon becoming adults would board a train leaving Southwest Georgia far behind as they settled up north. Often they never returned for a visit for obvious reasons. I had at least two occasions when a young man, clearly identified as black, would mention an aunt Lucy who lived in Detroit. When I inquired if they ever went to Detroit to visit her the response was, "Oh no, she's married to a white man. He can't see who her people are."

Copyright © Dennis Roberts

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