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You're Reading Stone Mountain To Dallas - The Untold Story Of Roy E Davis



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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

Roy fled back to Jeffersonville[253], and found that Southern Indiana and Northern Kentucky had edged closer towards opening up to the principles of the Ku Klux Klan. Just a few years before, a black man in Owensboro Kentucky named Rainey Bethea had confessed to the rape and murder of a 70-year-old white woman named Lischia Edwards.[254] Bethea had lived a life of crime, including everything from grand larceny to petty theft. He had been paroled once, but was sent back to jail for breaking and entering. When he was finally freed, Bethea climbed onto the roof of the servants quarters of the house Edwards was staying in, and snuck into a window. He proceeded to violently rape her and kill her. Afterward, he stole several items of jewelry and escaped.

After being caught, Bethea was transferred to the Jefferson County Jail in Louisville. He went through a series of trials, from June to August, during which time he was sentenced to death and went through the process of appeals. Initially, the prosecutor decided to charge Bethea solely with rape, because rape could be punished by public hanging under the laws of Kentucky and the prosecutor preferred the public display over electrocution at the state penitentiary. His decision and the reasons behind it had turned the affair into a nationwide media circus.

This circus grew bigger when the public learned that a lady sheriff was the one to perform the execution. Mrs. Florence Thompson, the Davies county sheriff, had held her position in law enforcement for only a few months when the media frenzy occurred. Her husband had been the county sheriff until he died, and after his death, she took over. Prosecuting attorneys were willing to drop the charges to criminal assault to spare her the ordeal of being forced to perform the public hanging.

Those opposed to integration, nationwide, were fed a constant flow of news from the Louisville courtrooms, and this resulted into a constant barrage of political debate in even the most un-political settings. All eyes were on the trials, and after he was sentenced to hang, all eyes were on the news of the execution. And it fueled journalists with enough to talk about for several days at each milestone towards the execution.

Bethea made his final confession to a priest of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville. After the confession, a black hood was placed over his head and three large straps were placed around his ankles, thighs, arms, and chest. After the noose was placed around his neck, and the deputy was ordered to pull the lever to execute the hanging, it was immediately obvious that the deputy was drunk. Newspapers had a field day telling a story that painted the picture of an angry sheriff screaming at a drunk deputy to execute a black man for rape and murder in front of 10,000 townspeople witnessing the execution. The trial and execution ignited the fires of debate across the land once more, those in favor of integration arguing that Bethea was a single case not to be used for judgment against an entire race, while those against integration were pointing fingers at this as an example of the fruits of integration.

Louisville was also in need of spiritual healing, very similar to Eastern Texas in 1915 after the Galveston and New Orleans Hurricanes. The Ohio River had flooded in late January of 1937[255], leaving over a million people homeless. The flood waters had done over 500 million dollars worth of damage from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to Cairo, Illinois, and both federal and state reserves were stretched to the limits as they tried to bring disaster aid to the water-stricken valley regions. The river was up to 24 miles wide in some places, flooded from just a mile wide under normal conditions. The surge was so sudden that there were not enough boats to rescue all of the people from downtown. Local ingenuity kicked in and volunteers built a pontoon bridge out of empty whiskey barrels.

The Army Corps of Engineers were sent in to create more than seventy storage reservoirs to reduce the height of the water which was a record 25 feet above flood stage. A thousand WPA workers were sent into Jeffersonville to rescue the cities residents, many of which evacuated from the Pennsylvania Railroad depot into the surrounding counties. Fleeing his trouble in Hot Springs and seizing an opportunity, Roy took shelter and protection once again in Jeffersonville, Indiana. After having found favor with local government, it seemed to be the safest place to hide from the long arm of the mafia. He began preaching as a visiting evangelist in his former churches of Jeffersonville and Louisville.

But Roys opportunity was short lived. Deputy Sheriff John Ermey of Hot Springs had issued a warrant for Roys arrest. After the investigation of murder had grown cold, Ermey came across Mrs. Kate Gay and learned that Roy had stolen her automobile. Questioning her as to the conversations she had with Roy, he learned that he had come to Hot Springs from Indiana. And speaking with the Indiana authorities, they learned of Roys criminal past in Kentucky, Georgia, and Texas. Before long, Ermey connected Lon to Roy Davis of Jeffersonville, and convinced Governor Townsend of Indiana to issue a warrant for his arrest in Indiana.[256]

But Roy was able to post bond in Jeffersonville, though his bond hearing looked much different than trials of the past. Rather than a courtroom filled with women of the Klan, he had a single visitor: his daughter Katherine. She had just begun a career as a radio performer, and took time away from her voice acting to support her father.

I cant go back there! Roy pleaded with the judge. I wont live if I go back![257] Katherine wiped a tear from her eye with a white handkerchief.

I believe Ill be ambushed! he said.

Who do you believe will ambush you? the judge asked, looking over his glasses at Roy.

Those in control at Hot Springs! Roy said. I tell you I wont live if I go back there!

Davis and his attorneys convinced the judge that Davis was not a flight risk, and Roys contacts in the Jeffersonville government were able to push his bond through. Within days, he was able to jump bond and flee to Kentucky to live with his daughter. But Governor Townsend of Kentucky learned that Roy had been living in Louisville, having jumped bond in Indiana, and requested a warrant for Davis arrest in Kentucky. Contacting Governor Chandler of Kentucky, Governor Townsend was able to secure a request for the extradition of the Reverend Roy E. Davis from Louisville Kentucky to Hot Springs Arkansas.

But before he could be arrested, Roy fled to the one place that no federal agent or local law enforcement could find him. Roy fled to the barren wasteland that once was Oklahoma.

 

 

1939 began the third wave of the Dust Bowl. The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939-1940[258], and after the third wave hit, many feared the Midwest would become a complete wasteland. Many had already fled Oklahoma. By 1939, an estimated 116,000 families had fled Oklahoma to live in California and that was just one of the destinations for those who left their former lives behind. Those that remained and tried to hold out for recovery were quickly losing hope, especially when the third wave hit.

President Roosevelt ordered the Civilian Conservation Corps to help with recovery. The CCC began to plant a huge belt of over 200 million trees from Canada to Abilene, Texas to help the environment.[259] The trees would break the wind, hold water in the soil, and work towards holding the soil itself in place. But it was a painfully slow recovery process, and the Midwest was emptying. To hold them, the government paid reluctant famers a dollar an acre to change their methods of farming and remain in the region. Times were so bad that author John Steinbeck wrote and published The Grapes of Wrath shortly after Roy arrived, but the people needed no introduction to the story. They were living it every day.

Roy found a rural community just outside of Hooker, Oklahoma to settle in while he waited for the heat from his warrants to tame down. He couldnt imagine any law enforcement federal agent or not to come looking for him in the heart of the Dust Bowl. Dust clouds that seemed a mile high swept over the land, covering everything in a layer of thick, black silt. Each time they came through, everyone had to quickly get inside and remain there, coughing up the dust that seemed to somehow fill the inside of every room even with the doors and windows shut.

The community had a church, but the pastor and his family had moved away. In fact, most of the families had moved away. Only a few remained, and those who did simply entered the building on Sunday mornings to pray that the drought would let up and the storms would settle. Roy was welcomed with open arms when the people learned that he was an evangelist. In fact, they begged him to stay.

Of course, Roy had no intention of staying in Oklahoma very long; he only needed stay long enough to re-establish himself as a law-abiding minister of the Gospel. The people of Oklahoma had no desire to join the Ku Klux Klan, and even less desire to meet late at night in a region ripped apart by thick, black dust storms. Roy began preaching every Sunday about the Children of Israel in the barren wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, comparing Oklahoma to the barren wilderness. And gradually over time, he began to compare California to the Promised Land.

Weve grown complacent! Roy preached, pounding his fist on the pulpit. God has a provided way for us, and yet we choose to live in our own comforts. He has so much better in store!

Israel was a type of today, hed say, comparing the ancient Children of Israel to those who remained in Oklahoma. They could have chosen milk and honey! And instead, they chose to wander in the barren wilderness for forty years! God made them wander until the whole generation that had done evil in his sight was purged from the land! Have we purged the evil from our hearts?

We need another Joshua today, hed continue. A man who is unafraid to lead Gods people. A man who can take us into the Promised Land!

Over time, the people of the church grew even more unsettled. Hearing their condition repeated sermon-after-sermon from behind the pulpit seemed to amplify their suffering. Some began to ask Roy if he was that Joshua, but he would not outright confirm it. As more and more of the churchgoers began talking about it, they began to anticipate someone to lead them out. If not Roy, then who would lead them?

It was in the spring of 1942 when Roy Davis, Jr. arrived. He had left Jeffersonville to follow in his fathers footsteps, and had been preaching at a small church in Galena, Kansas[260] near the borders of Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. Like his father, he began traveling as an evangelist into the surrounding rural areas, most recently in Miami, Oklahoma. As he began to travel westward, father and son reunited, and decided to join forces. Roy Sr. informed Roy Jr. of his plan to migrate west, and they both began to share the pulpit to preach the same message.

Our Joshua has arrived! Roy introduced his son, pointing both arms towards Roy Jr. And he comes bearing news!

Though most Oklahomans could not directly feel the effects of it, World War II was raging in Europe. Germany had begun a U-boat offensive along the east coast of the United States, and the first American forces had been sent to Great Britain. Ten thousand Okies had decided to give up on the state of Oklahoma and flee for California just weeks before, traveling in caravans of trucks, trailers, jalopies, and anything else that would transfer them. With the onset of global war, many war-related industries were offering jobs. It was a golden opportunity to flee, and Roy Davis, Jr. was able to present a very convincing argument to leave Oklahoma behind for California.[261]

Many in the community decided to join in. Houses and land went up for sale, owners willing to part with their possessions for a fraction of its former value. Some very wealthy families helped the less fortunate, and all families helped Roy Jr. and Sr. Within the span of a few months, they had formed a caravan out of Oklahoma that spanned several city blocks. They were California bound, all deciding to transplant themselves to San Bernardino.