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The Life and Crime of Ruby McCollum

C. Arthur EllisDr. 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.

C. Arthur Ellis Amazon Author Page

Hall of Mirrors: Confirmation and Presentist Biases in Continuing Accounts of the Ruby McCollum StoryHall 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.Buy Now From Amazon.com

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors: Confirmation and Presentist Biases in Continuing Accounts of the Ruby McCollum Story4 StarsHall of Mirrors breaks down the presentist and confirmation biases of the life and trial of Ruby McCollum in 3 poignant chapters that are structured in an academic, journalistic fashion and are designed to elucidate the innocence of the protagonist — not from the crime itself, but from actual moral wrong-doing. Presenting the facts objectively, Arthur Ellis Jr., the most renowned Ruby researcher of his time, returns a decade after he compiled the definitive transcription of McCollum’s courtroom case to give his own interesting account of revisionism through a retrospective analysis that seeks to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Ruby McCollum.

Unable to sum up the morally muddled events, the author evokes existentialism, saying, “ an inquisitive young mind will take up the challenge and write a dissertation on it,” as if he is too old to conclude a case that he grew up with; despite this implication of personal incompetence and conclusive shortcoming, the author shines through the shortsightedness of fellow commentators to demonstrate the fact that Ruby, by choosing her own destiny, regardless of what the legality of the setting might have been back then, had become the Rosa Parks of her time.

“McCollum also created her own values to bring meaning to her own life through a steadfast commitment to define herself according to her own terms, regardless of the race, class and gender issues that she faced in the Jim Crow South.”

These actions lead us to think she was actively trying to transcend her life and times by acting “authentically,” even if that entailed murder. The recollection that Ruby was “caught between two guns” describes danger for her as something inevitable. In confronting the discrepancies from documents and documentaries, Ellis Jr. describes Ruby as a woman that was not simply at the wrong place and time, but one that chose two of the wrong men. More importantly, however, she is characterized as a woman with pride that chose her predicament and would not back down or conform to solitude and silence like her contemporary women, or those that preceded her, had done.

An important theme in recounting evidence for Ellis Jr. is to not shortchange real judicial and social progress we’ve made since the times of Jim Crow, and to examine very closely the judicial trappings of the time to not sway opinions from the modern day legislation, lest risk an entanglement with fact and fiction; in staying true to reality, Ellis Jr. provides us with real liberty by setting Ruby free and telling her truth.

In telling that truth, Elis contends that Ruby’s decision to murder her paramour was, in fact, her own — one separate from the many pressures and competing urges she, and all of us, face on a daily basis — and that regardless of the will to choose it was a “reasoned choice,” a death sentence for her abusive lover rather than an act of pure self-preservation. Ruby McCollum took it upon herself to act as her own agent and to reclaim what was left of her tarnished self-image and physical life at the cost of another’s. Ellis Jr. makes it clear that he fully grasps the details of the case, but he implies that he does not fully understand if she if guilty outside of a textbook, and instead leaves the reader by the appendix to define Mrs. McCollum’s actions outside of the discrepancies that he works diligently to debunk.

Through testimonies from contemporary friends and foes of the trial that support Ruby’s case and her autonomy when committing a homicide, Elis does well to remain as loyal and objective to the image of Mrs. McCollum and her criminal circumstances as possible. Fittingly, Hall of Mirrors is an aptly named monograph of a woman’s civil rights struggle that is complete with flashbacks paralleling forward to the norms of modernity and current jurisdictional tendencies that, coupled with an excellent understanding of real morality that offers a third way of looking at right and wrong — beyond black and white law — by promoting the tenets of Existentialist burden and the reliance of identity to foster the correct choice of acting authentically in a bind, it shows us that actions do really speak louder than words. Buy Now From Amazon.com

Pages: 206 | ISBN: 0982094086

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