Friday, July 12, 2013

First Name Basis: Mary Hamilton

Miss Mary Hamilton

Arrested first in Mississippi

Good Ol' Boys, sheriffs in a southern courtroom, expressing their respect

This morning NPR ran a report on a case which reached the Supreme Court in 1963, of which Mad Dog had been unaware. 

On the Court were William O. Douglas, Arthur Goldberg, Hugo Black and William Brennan.

The case concerned Mary Hamilton, age 28, who was a worker for the Congress of Racial Equality in Alabama, (which must have been roughly analogous to being the field director for the United Jewish Appeal in Berlin in 1936,)  and she had been arrested during a civil rights demonstration in Gasden, Alabama. 

At that time in the South, white men and women were addressed by judges and prosecutors as "Mr. Jones" or "Miss Smith," while Blacks were called by their first names, in keeping with the tradition and prevailing idea that Blacks were child like, mentally retarded semi-human beings.  When Etowah County Solicitor Rayburn addressed Mary Hamilton as "Mary" and asked her questions, she replied, "I will not answer a question until I am addressed correctly," for which she was thrown into jail by a Judge Cunningham, and she was fined $50, which she refused to pay and the case went to the Alabama Supreme Court, which denied her appeal and then to the Supreme Court of the United States, which dismissed the case against Miss Mary Hamilton on summary judgment, ruling that all those brought before the bar of justice ought to be addressed equally, regardless of race.

This startling outcome must have come as a shock to the good people of Alabama, and likely equally disturbing for the good folks of South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana who were likely heard saying things like, "I just don't understand: All our colored down here are happy."

Mad Dog well remembers, living in Virginia in the mid 1950's as a child and  addressing Black adults as "Mr" and "Mrs" or "Sir" or "Ma'm" and seeing the reaction, asking his mother whether or not he had said the wrong thing. 

She reassured him, "You have done nothing wrong. It's other people who have done something wrong."


  1. Why is it that Mad Dog constantly focuses attention on the failings of the South while ignoring the moral reprobates such as Weiner and Spitzer who will soon be back in popularly elected office in NYC (seen by MD as the most exciting city in the world). Can Mad Dog not see that people are foolish everywhere, even in the Northeast?

  2. Anon,

    It's a case of institutionalized depravity in the South--the region that gave us slavery, cigarettes and the Ku Klux Klan.
    Yes, New York gave us Tammany Hall and Chicago Al Capone and Ohio, Warren Harding, but the difference is in enunciated prevailing values.
    Even today, looking at the election maps, those red states cluster in the South. True, there are those Aryan nation, off the grid types lurking about the Dakotas and Idaho and Wyoming, those great plains Wild West states--but those are simply extensions of the rural South.
    What is interesting about the South is the differences among the states--North Carolina has the research triangle, an enclave of enlightenment. Virginia has northern Virginia and the federal government rich areas around Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Even Georgia, has Atlanta and its universities and urban life. Louisiana has New Orleans, which is just plain ectopic. But when you look at Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and most of Florida, and then you add in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma, there are some pretty bizarre prevailing thought patterns.

    Mad Dog

  3. Mad Dog,
    I guess I 'll leave it to you and Anonymous to duke it out as to where the Capital of Crazy should be..( although I think my biased vote would be with Mad Dog's-sorry Anon)...
    As for Mary Hamilton, you wonder how much weaker the civil rights movement would have been without the likes of people like her, willing to take great personal risk for the cause. Just looking at the photo above makes one queasy thinking of being alone in a jailhouse with the likes of the good sheriffs.Thankfully Virginia and the rest of the South were populated with people like your mother as well as those who thought insulting someone every time you spoke to them was OK.

    Regarding your blog on the status of teachers -I couldn't agree with you more that they deserve a pay raise. The value placed on various professions is easily discerned by the salaries and the fact that we pay bankers, financial advisers, accountants -those watching our money-so much more than the folks watching our kids says volumes about what we really cherish. I don't necessarily agree with you though that people would walk by a teacher in the grocery store with barely a hello-I think most members of the community would be quite friendly to the teacher-it's part of the "we really value your work" charade....And if you want a group that makes teachers actually look flush, check out the starting pay for those caring for the developmentally disabled, mentally ill and elderly-right on par with kennel workers and dog walkers. Inanimate objects in a museum or art gallery are guarded and treated with more care than many of the people sitting in our mental health facilities and nursing homes--how does that make sense?

  4. Maud,

    The "we value your work charade?" Yikes. That's even worse than not saying hello at all.

    Mad Dog

  5. Oh, do you think I'm being to harsh? On an individual basis perhaps, since I think most people like and respect their own children's teachers. But collectively and when people are alone in the voting booth deciding on pay raises there seems to be a reluctance to put their money where their mouth is...