Peace Bond — Remembering C.B. King
Dennis Roberts

Want to know how C.B. operated in court? Here's a story. In 1964, C.B. undertook the representation of a Mary Moss who later got a seat on the Albany City Council if I remember this correctly. She had been charged with an ingenious statute someone dug up in a dusty tome somewhere. Georgia then had a statute called something like a "Peace Bond." If you were threatening to beat the crap out of a neighbor or piss on his cattle or what have you, the neighbor could swear out a "peace bond," and you would have to put up a substantial piece of change to get out.

The money was kept by the court and after a certain period of time, maybe a year, if you didn't get into any more shit with your neighbor the case was dismissed and your money was returned. It had probably not been used since Reconstruction. But some City Solicitor (D.A. in Muni Court) dug out the old books, blew the dust off them, and rounded up a couple of god-fearing citizens who swore to god that this Mary Moss had come to town as a rabble rousing commie agitator. She would have been a New York Jew Commie agitator if only she weren't Black.

So these two old crackers sign up to take out two peace bonds against Mary. I believe the total amount to bail out was about $150,000.00 which was an enormous sum of money in those days, and Mary had already spent most of the summer in the lockup. I believe she was from Fitzgerald, Ben Hill County, GA. (This is where I developed the theory that, with all the Irishers in Georgia, the name Chevene [C.B.'s given name] was probably a mispronunciation of "Shivon" or, in Gaelic, Siobhan (close in the spelling but probably no cigar). But I digress.

So we come to court and the first witness is an old white man. He has sworn out a declaration stating that he is afraid of Mary Moss as her very existence threatens him, his family, and his livestock. One of the greatest facilities of C.B. was that he could smell weakness. It was an unconscious thing but he would somehow intuit what was wrong with the case and go for the jugular. At one point he shows this old cracker the peace bond and asks him if this is his signature — not exactly an "X" but not much better. He then steps back and commands: "Would you read this Court the penultimate paragraph."

For the past 40 years I have been trying to figure out a sentence that doesn't seem contrived, where I use the word "penultimate." I won't force you to the dictionary. It means the second to last (sentence) (paragraph) whatever. And C.B. knew something that no one in the courthouse knew. Cracker is just sitting there not even looking at the document, but staring off into space with a goofy grin.

"Sir, I requested that you elucidate the penultimate paragraph."

This one is a bit louder as C.B. has moved from the pit of the courtroom out into the audience about halfway to the front doors. Again, nothing — but even I am starting to get it now because this old 'neck is starting to sweat and it's not that hot with those big lazy fans slowly turning around, and the flypaper death trap for unsuspecting insects hanging like a warning of terrible things to come.

Still silence.

Now C.B. takes himself, majestically, to the rear of the Courtroom (and he called Vernon Jordan, the guy who got Monica Lewinsky the executive job, "My Black Prince" — hey, C.B. was the original Black Prince — he moved with grace and elegance like a panther through the courtroom jungle). Now he's at the furthest reach of the courtroom with his back to the doors. "SIR, I REQUIRE THAT YOU RECITE THAT VERBIAGE CONTAINED IN THE PENULTIMATE PARAGRAPH."

Ol 'Neck: "Cain't read."

"I'm sorry sir" (total bullshit, he was as sorry for this old Peckerwood as I was for Adolph Hitler) "I DIDN'T HEAR YOU" and his voice echoed through the courtroom and all of the Negroes made a stir (we didn't get to Black or Afro-American for quite some time yet) in the balcony (as that is where they sat if they were even allowed in to the courtroom — and in places like "Bad" Baker [County] they would have a kind of modern electric fountain marked "White" and a pitcher with a dipper chained to it — where the water hadn't been changed since Sherman strolled through the 'hood — labeled "Culud," or maybe "Colored," but they were some illiterate white folks in Baker and Ben Hill).

Now C.B.'s voice grows louder as if that were possible and the ceiling fans stop and the fly paper twists as if in a hurricane, and again, he says, "SIR I CANNOT DETERMINE WHAT WORDS YOU SPOKE, MY GOOD MAN" (Oh, C.B. on a roll was a frightening sight for your average dumb peckerwood).

More silence.

Then in a voice which miraculously didn't shatter every window and glass in the building he said, "PERHAPS YOU DID NOT UNDERSTAND MY QUERY, SIR, I ASKED YOU TO CAST YOUR OCULAR GLOBES ON THE PRINT WRIT LARGE BEFORE YOU AND HONOR THE CROWD WITH YOUR EXQUISITE PRONUNCIATION!"

"Can't read, Colonel."

"I'm sorry, MY GOOD MAN, perhaps I missed your intonation of the words writ on said parchment."

"Gah dammit, Colonel, I said, cain't read."

"Aha," sez our hero (these things always made me somewhat apprehensive as I could see my rather limited future unfold — first white man to be lynched in Georgia since Leo Frank). "THEN SIR, WOULD YOU BE SO KIND AS TO ILLUMINATE THE CONFUSION AS TO HOW YOU CAME TO SWEAR THE GREAT OATH, WHICH IN PERTINENT PART REQUIRES YOUR AFFIRMATION THAT YOU HAVE READ AND UNDERSTOOD THE ABOVE SCRIPT AND TO WHICH YOU NOW SET YOUR HAND AND SEAL."

Now, throughout this proceeding a very frightened looking little white old lady sat very still and stoical — but with that last line she couldn't take much more and bolted from her little corner of safety. C.B., in a stage whisper heard clearly in the balcony (as it was meant to be heard), "Rob, that must have been the second peace bond. Could you fetch her back for her moment of fame?"

Oh he could be a cruel SOB when on that kind of a roll.

Well, the bond for number one was dismissed in short order. Even the good burghers of Ben Hill could see that it would be a hard oath to affirm if one couldn't read it.

They then called in a loud voice (well, not that loud, you might actually call it a whisper) for a Miz Mary Jenkins but, hearing no response, the second peace bond was struck.

Man, I was so high I could taste the blood. C.B. and I went outside. He stood on the courthouse steps watched by a half-dozen Sheriffs and Deputies. The group of Black citizens who'd come to town to watch the show and got even more than they anticipated were all over him, hugging, and shaking both hands and wanting to take a picture of their baby in his arms, and tho completely without ego [YAH] he was eating it up.

I sidled up to him in the way I did when I was real apprehensive, one eye on the ugly white crowd assembling across the street, another eye on the Sheriffs who had pistols still holstered but at the ready and who were beating a tattoo with billy clubs on their palms, sidled up and whispered (and this one was heard no farther away than the Colonel's ear) — "C.B.,can we please get the fuck out of Dodge."

And C.B., obviously having a simply delightful time, did reluctantly bid a fond adieu to Fitzgerald, Ben Hill County, Georgia, and if my memory serves me they had, by then, unceremoniously dumped Mary Moss out of the courthouse and I think we drove her back to Albany for some well-earned R&R.

As we piled into the Dodge, faster than any highway patrol vehicle, or so I fondly imagined, C.B. sitting in the back (on reflection Ms. Moss was not with us) and me driving — you'd think that looked strange to white folks, but it actually looked perfectly normal — white boss man at the wheel and darkie field hand in the back, albeit in the equivalent of a $5000 silk suit — as we pulled out onto the main road the fear left me (temporarily) and I started laughing and re-telling the tale of that overwhelming cross and C.B. said, in a rather thoughtful voice, all merriment of his magical moment gone from his voice, "Rob, white folks still ahead."

Copyright © Dennis Roberts


Copyright © 2007

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Last Modified: January 18, 2007.
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