Posted by Literary Titan
Dr. C. Arthur Ellis talks with The Monster about his new book Hall of Mirrors which comments on the various short films and documentaries developed to examine the life and crime of Ruby McCollum.
“Ruby McCollum (August 31, 1909 – May 23, 1992) was known for killing a prominent caucasian doctor in 1952 (whom she accused) that he had abused her and forced her to have sex and bear his child.” – Wikipedia.org
You’ve written many books about the case of Ruby McCollum and the true crime story that shook the south. How does Hall of Mirrors differ from your other works?
I first completed the annotated transcript of the trial of Ruby McCollum, which contained comments on each day of the trial, based upon my direct knowledge of the case. Commentary included various relationships among the key players, including attorneys and witnesses, who were known to me. I was motivated to create this work since various academic publications, including the first edition of Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters by Karla Kaplan, maintained that Ruby McCollum was not allowed to testify at her trial when she actually did testify.
I then published a true crime novel of the story, written from the 1st person perspective of Zora Neale Hurston, the famous African-American anthropologist who reported on the trial for the Pittsburgh Courier, and then the omniscient narrator voice to tell the backstory leading to the murder.
Hall of Mirrors differs from these first two publications in that it comments on the various short films and documentaries developed after my work, as well as on the academic publication, The Silencing of Ruby McCollum, written by Dr. Tammy Evans. I considered all of these works to be without any foundation in fact, and developed with what appeared to be various biases that slanted the truth of the case in order to make political or personal statements. Further, all of these accounts were developed by people who never knew the key characters in the story. Hall of Mirrors presents primary research, not secondary opinion, to allow readers the freedom to develop their own take on the story.
What is your connection to the story of Ruby McCollum?
I was delivered into this world by Dr. C. Leroy Adams, Jr., the murder victim, in the front bedroom of our family home in Live Oak, Florida, just a block from the McCollum home. My father worked with Dr. Adams at the Suwannee County Hospital, and my mother was friends with Mrs. Adams. I knew every other character in the story, some of whom were my relatives.
Do you think Ruby McCollum’s case was instrumental in the struggle for civil rights and do you think her story is still relevant today?
I think that Ruby McCollum’s case was instrumental in the struggle for civil rights since it was the first documented case in which a woman of color was allowed to take the witness stand in her own defense in a trial charging her with killing a white man. In Hall of Mirrors, I place this trial in context, beginning with a similar trial prior to the Civil War, continuing to a case prior to McCollum’s in the Jim Crow South, and ending with the McCollum trial. This establishes a clear path of progress toward equal justice in America’s courtrooms.
I think that the public is witnessing many trials today that continue this march toward social equality, and the McCollum case is a clear benchmark on the timeline of that social progress.
The debate over the Ruby McCollum’s case has continued through the years in part because Judge Adams placed a gag order on Ruby. Why do you think the judge silenced Ruby?
Had Ruby McCollum been allowed to speak freely with the press, Live Oak, Florida would have been a feeding ground for IRS treasury agents, and the white community would have been equally convicted of tax evasion, illegal gambling, racketeering, illegal liquor sales and many related offenses. The judge himself stated that he issued the order to “protect the community,” and this is actually quite true. This being said, Ruby McCollum was visited by a reporter from the Jacksonville Times when she was in the Florida Prison at Raiford and refused to talk with him. This is in a letter written by McCollum and published in Hall of Mirrors. It is likely that McCollum had been advised to avoid the press, should they be able to reach her.
Hall of Mirrors is the most thoroughly researched work on the Ruby McCollum story published since the work of William B. Huie. Written by the author who first published the annotated transcript of the murder trial, this work explores recent attempts to revise Ruby McCollum’s story to suit the motives of various authors, academics and film producers. Hall of Mirrors avoids confirmation and presentist biases and presents this captivating story in its proper historical context.