Monday, July 27, 2009

#BookReview: The Trial of Ruby McCollum - Drs. C. Arthur & Leslie Ellis

On August 3, 1952, Ruby McCollum, a wealthy African American woman, shot Dr. C. Leroy Adams, her white doctor, lover and father of one of her children with another on the way. Initially sentenced to death, the ruling was overturned in 1954 and she was instead sentenced to twenty years in the Florida State Hospital for mental patients.

The Trial of Ruby McCollum is a compelling story in that Ruby McCollum was actually brought to trial and not lynched, as many, both black and white, proposed. Sam and Ruby accumulated their wealth by running the biggest numbers game and moonshine racket in the county. Several white men benefited from the operation, including Dr. Adams, up until Ruby's imprisonment and Sam's death. Killing the only doctor in town that would tend to African American patients was a grave offense for many.

So how does the daughter of sharecropper's find herself in this situation in 1950s Florida? Ruby's husband, Sam, takes a mistress. Seeking revenge, Ruby takes Dr. Adams up on his offer for a fling. What starts as revenge against her husband turns into years of abuse, forced drug addiction and degradation for one woman. Although they have three children together, Ruby finds herself pregnant a fourth time, but not by her husband who has moved in with his mistress across town. Dr. Adams, who, by the way, has no love for black folks, tells Ruby that he'll kill her or have her locked up in a mental hospital if she tries to get rid of his baby. After having the baby, Ruby finds herself in constant pain and Adams begins offering her daily shots of what he says is penicillin and giving her powder to keep in her compact. Ruby has no way of knowing that he's hooking her on heroin and cocaine.

Two years into the affair Ruby is ready to call it quits, but Dr. Adams refuses to let her go. When she finds herself pregnant by him a second time her husband threatens to kill her if she doesn't get rid of it. The doctor threatens to kill her if she does. The solution to her problem? Killing Dr. Adams. Ruby is clearly driven to madness by the actions of both men towards her, not to mention her drug addiction and Dr. Adams constant threats of having her locked up in the mental hospital.

In what was reported by Zora Neale Hurston as one of the most fascinating trials of its time, Hurston wrote "McCollum's trial sounded the death knell for "paramour rights", the presumed right of a white man to take a black woman to whom he was not married as his concubine."

Though the story portion of the book moves swiftly, all trial proceedings are included in the book as well and take a bit more time to work through, but it's an extremely interesting read.

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