Visiting JoAnne Christian in Jail 1963
Dennis Roberts

After the SNCC kids marched on segregated Tift Park swimming pool in central Albany GA one night (early summer 1963) and got apprehended someplace the near side of Oglethorpe without even getting into white territory, it was my job to help Atty C.B. King check up on everybody in jail, start preparing their defense for trial, and arrange for bail as soon as possible. This was about the first thing I did after coming down South to work for C.B. King and the Albany Movement.

The deal was the cracker authorities had sold the town swimming pool to a private party (James Gray, publisher of the Albany Herald) to avoid desegregating it. It was a hot summer and the SNCC kids marched on the pool. The Albany jail was soon stuffed full of marchers and arrangements had been made to start shipping prisoners out to the nearby counties such as Lee County and "Terrible" Terrell County.

One of my first really concerning experiences, also learning experiences, was having the sheriff/jailer of Terrell County (Dawson), where they had taken many of the Albany juveniles, get in my face (this was my first or second day in Albany in summer of 1963) mumbling something I just didn't understand. I took a while adjusting to the accent — some folks I could never understand.

Anyhow I had just been visiting with JoAnne Christian (appropriately named in the best sense of that word). I think she was 14 years old. She had been shipped out to Dawson to alleviate the crowding in the Albany jail.

Although the other cells had lights, JoAnne's cell was pitch black. I asked her what happened to her light bulb and she said the Sheriff took it out because she was leading the others in freedom songs . . . then she said, "but I don't need a light, 'cause Jesus is my light."

When I stopped weeping I angrily confronted the sheriff demanding that her bulb be put back immediately. That's when he mumbled something at me. My response, complete with yellow pad in one hand and sharp pencil in the other: "Is that for the record, Sheriff?" Now I got a bit more for the record, something about "you damn raht is fo da rekud . . . " but then "mumble mumble mumble."

I'll say this for him. He tried saying whatever it was he wanted to say, quite slowly and to his mind distinctly. He definitely repeated his message with the purpose of my gaining a complete understanding of what was on his mind. But finally, "C.B," he sez, "tell dis whaat boy whud ah say."

C.B. came over, fixed me with a look that froze me in my tracks in a way far more indelible to my memory than any sheriff, and said, "Mr. Roberts, the Sheriff here says that "you are lower than a god damn dog for helping C.B. and that he is going to separate your buttocks from the rest of your body, that is, he gonna tear yo ass aloose."

He then took me rather forcefully by the arm, steered me downstairs (with me yelling, "I'll be back JoAnne"), sat me in the car and said to me, essentially, "Rob" (if your last name could produce a diminutive he preferred that), "I've got five little young 'uns at home. I don't want them raised without their daddy. If you can't curb that foolish tongue of yours I'll take you right to the Trailways Station and you can send for your belongings."

Thereafter I never did anything but shuffle my feet, look away, and be HUMBLE.

Copyright © Dennis Roberts

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