Eunice Johnston’s court case played out with unexpected public sympathy, perhaps in part due to her being the key player, in uncovering the Huntsville atrocities. Thousands of mobilized high school students swarmed Montgomery to await the verdict.
Local media and major national outlets supplied glamorous reporters, news crews and satellite dishes, which dotted Lawrence street in front of the courthouse. Media had been covering the Johnston story ever since the massacre even during the months she had been a fugitive. Being first to publish a detailed report showcasing the smart, beautiful Eunice Johnston, along with the sense of closure to the story with the verdict would be considered a huge ‘get.’ Surely, she would have her pick of book and movie deals.
As a show of support the newly formed activist group, Montgomery Together, had set up audio of an Angela Davis’ interview which emitted gently from loudspeakers on a continuous loop.
[Angela Davis heard over loudspeaker]
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs, bombs that were planted by racists. I remember, from the time I was very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street. Our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times, because of the fact that, at any moment, somewhere in --- we might expect to be attacked… (14)
Todd Sheppard had rounded up a fine collection of gay activists and drag queens who descended from Miami and New Orleans. Whatever the verdict, resistors were bound to enjoy a groundswell of positive press for weeks to come. The vibe was like a big old fashioned coming out party for those who had ever felt persecuted!
Verdict predictions ran wild. The case against Eunice Johnston had been mostly circumstantial, except for one surprise, eyewitness testimony. Audiotape was discovered putting Eunice at the Vineyard commiserating with Manny G, the 7 foot tall, blond gang leader with gold teeth. This was also Terrence Battle’s cousin. Rumors circulated that Eunice could be unduly punished for the sins of her who was still awaiting his own trial.
[Angela Davis heard over loudspeaker]
…and then, after that, in my neighborhood, all the men organized themselves into armed patrol. They had to take their guns and patrol our community every night because they did not want that to happen again. And that’s why, when someone asks me about violence, I just find it incredible, because what it means is that the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through. (14)
The unspeakable acts of the klan even silenced their own membership, which manifested in a surprising reversal.
The media picked up on a former klan member’s costume that caused a sensation. The Georgia woman’s white costume was spray painted with a large red “no” symbol a la smoking, whilst holding a blood-stained klan mask at her side appearing as if beheaded.
By the next afternoon, there were dozens of unmasked klanfolk dressed just like her. Hour by hour people arrived dressed in homemade bed sheet costumes with red “no” symbols mimicking the look.
It caused a media frenzy. Video footage flashed around the world putting Montgomery, Alabama on the map with it’s motley crew of anti-klan black folk, white folk, Indian folk, gay folk, trans, young, old, disabled. Red and black paint symbols made their way to foreheads as dots and smudges symbolic of Hindu chakra or Christian Ash Wednesday. There was nothing like seeing garish drag versions of Mariah and Whitney wearing anti-klan garb to make a statement.
In anticipation of the verdict, organizers had secured Montgomery’s Riverfront Park for a celebration concert. The event was made possible by the newly formed Montgomery Together, the unity group aimed at making equal and civil rights top priority. It aimed to be the biggest such event since the Harlem Festival.
Rock icon Prince sent word his Jam of Year World Tour would make a special stop at Riverfront Park, along with an entourage of his famous Minneapolis musicians. In solidarity with Free Eunice, Prince protégé’s were set to perform together.
“This is not only black power, this is equal rights in America. Enough is enough,” read the statement from Prince’s camp.
Meanwhile at First Baptist Choir rehearsal, ladies separated fact from fiction just as they had done every week for decades:
“That Eunice’ll go to hell in a hand basket. You know how rough them gals get in prison! Lawd have mercy on her,” Allison said.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! She’s very light skinned, so I doubt that very much. She’ll probably be made a hero, a white girl saves the day again!” Charlotte said.
“She always identified with her black side. I guess a criminal record will give her street cred now,” Mavis said.
“Sure thing Miss triple cream, light sugar. I do swear I picked her getting off Scott free, due to that pretty smile of hers,” Peggy Ann said.
“First of all, I don’t think facts had anything to do with it. I think it was her color. She is white so that’s how she’ll get off…” Charlotte said.
“They say it’s because her daddy is well connected…” Charlotte said.
“Well that’s pure nonsense. Curtis wouldn’t hurt a fly.…” Mavis said.
“Now ladies that’s enough. We sound like a bunch of chatterboxes,” Sofia said, looking guilt-ridden for adding to the swirl of gossip. “I betcha Curtis’ll be fit to be tied, if he don’t get a chance to testify at trial. He had two strikes against him already, which is why they’re holding him in prison…” Sofia said.
“I’m worried about ole Martha, she ain’t well ya know…” Marjorie said.
“Marjorie I’m sitting right here, aren’t I?” Martha said.
“Oh Dear, I didn’t see you slip in the door dear. You’re as light as a feather,” Marjorie said, ignoring the slight.
“Sam says he now knows first-hand, what meth and crack can do to someone,” Sofia said, changing the subject.
“Was he talking about Rory? I don’t even get what these kids are on. Back in my day, we called it reefer madness,” Margaret said.
“Yes, it was Rory,” Sofia hung her head. “He says Rory don’t ever want to come back home. That he’s as good as lost,” Sofia said.
Sam walked into the First Baptist rehearsal, carrying a bankers box, “What was that I said Mama?” he asked.
“Son. What on earth are you doing in here? I’m so happy to see you,” Sofia said.
“A few errands for the minister,” Sam said. “I heard some singing going on in here but now I can hear some hens chattering too. Tell me what real news!” he smiled wide.
“We were just talking about Rory and those terrible drugs. The poor thing. But I still don’t get how one of our sons woke up and joined the klan. High as a kite or not,” Marjorie said.
“I’m not sure either Marjorie. Rory told me when he put on the historical robe he felt magical, instantly surrounded by attention and fellowship. Maybe like being part of the choir,” Sam said.
“Sam! That’s no comparison and you know it. We ain’t high on anything ’cept life!” Marjorie said.
“I asked him how he could spend time hunting and fishing with them. He said there was no difference between them and all the other whites around here?” Sam said.
“Sam, don’t they lay that stuff on pretty thick like brainwashing. I hear there’s more klan meetings and rehearsals, than a southern white wedding,” Charlotte said.
“Rory said it’s not as crazy as it seems. They only lay it on thick, when they have reporters or the public’s attention. He says they just stand around socializing in between. He says some of them are just there for the free stuff,” Sam said.
“And you believed him?” Marjorie asked.
“I dunno. The way he described them as coming from broken homes, I guess it sounded plausible. In other words, the klan acts as their family to compensate for the love they never got at home,” Sam said.
“It makes me sick to my stomach,” Charlotte said.
“Rory saved Sam’s life, didn’t he Son?” Sofia told the others.
“What do you mean?” Marjorie asked.
“You think them boys really wanted to go after a white guy more than a black guy? They would have lynched me, if Rory hadn’t suggested they go after Todd. He warned them Todd could have AIDs. That’s wrong of course. He doesn’t but that made them stop their attack,” Sam said.
“Alright ladies, I’ve got to run. It was a pleasure catching up on the day’s real news with you all,” he kissed Sofia on the forehead. “Try not to worry. We got Rory checked into Meadhaven rehab for a full week which is a good start,” Sam said.
By trial decision day the celebratory unification up to that point had grown restless for a verdict. As fatigue grew faith in justice waned. Protestors became confused about what was true amid the sensationalized stories.
Finally it was announced, the resolution verdict would come at 4:00 p.m.
“Would the defendant please rise? The court will now hear the verdict,” the judge said.
There was silence on the courthouse steps as viewers and media alike watched the televised broadcast on four monitors.
“Yes, your honor, we have,” the jury foreperson said.
“Will the defendant, Eunice Johnston please rise? Will the foreperson please stand and read the jury’s verdict?” the judge asked.
“We will your honor,” the jury foreperson said.
“Please proceed,” he said.
“On the count of coercion and conspiracy we the jury find the defendant, Eunice Johnston guilty as charged,” the jury foreperson proceeded to reading the verdict on the eighteen counts.
The crowd outside were unified in a disappointed groan, followed by audible reactions of anger.
“On the count of drug trafficking we the jury find the defendant Eunice Johnston guilty as charged,” the jury foreperson said.
Outside the crowd had become increasingly unruly.
“On the count of voluntary manslaughter we the jury find the defendant, Eunice Johnston guil…” The monitor connection cut off. All monitors turned to static for several moments and faded to black.
With the lost feed, the crowd went absolutely berserk. People screamed obscenities at the screens, cell phones rang for no reason, car alarms sounded and car horns beeped. There was the sound of possible gunshots police sirens in the distance.
They had heard three out of eighteen guilty decisions so far. Reporters looked just as confused as the supporters.
Seventeen minutes passed until the television monitors fluttered back on. The crowd in the immediate vicinity were silent, so they didn’t miss anything. The judge’s close up talking head appeared on screen.
“Ladies and gentlemen. As per the jury, Eunice Johnston has been found guilty on all counts,” the judge turned to Eunice seated in the court, “However, Ms. Johnston the court of Alabama state has been informed by the highest authority, The President of the United States that based on the fact you and Sam Hood have, in effect, and I quote the president, ’taken down the South Dixie arm of the klan,’ you have been granted clemency,” the judge said.
The camera remained on Eunice who had tears welled up in her eyes and quivering lips.
The crowd outside remained surprisingly quiet and reflective, perhaps shocked that justice had been served in the end
Eunice Johnston took a dozen key members of the South Dixie klan down, some literally by way of shark net and others by way of their fear and resignation from the organization. Losing the most powerful faction of South Dixie was enough to topple the entire North American branch of the klan forever.