Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Mother’s Strength……passed down

Tonight, while watching the news on local channel WJTV, my attention was captured by the headline “Where is Luther Musselwhite?”

In the spring of 1950 Musselwhite, who was then 31, killed a 65 year old man with his bare fists outside Breakfield’s Fish Camp near Columbia, MS. He was assisted by a Luther Turnage, who held a gun on others, at the camp, to keep them from interfering.

Musselwhite was convicted and sentenced to die in Mississippi’s Portable Electric Chair. Rather than being sent to the State Penitentiary at Parchman, he was held in the Marion County Jail, in Columbia. The first execution was scheduled for December 21, 1951 but, for some reason, did not occur. In 1952, Governor Hugh White ordered that he be executed on October 31, 1952.

Even though Musselwhite had killed a man with his bare hands, and had served in the Marines on Iwo Jima during WW II; when it came to facing his own mortality he apparently wasn’t very brave. He began a hunger strike because of the fear of dying. Governor White declared that he would die “in the electric chair or by his own hands.” The Sheriff of Marion County didn’t want Musselwhite to die in his jail, of malnutrition, so he was moved to the State Hospital at Whitfield and force feeding began.

Per public records, Whitfield wasn’t very well-staffed, at that time. There were over 4,000 patients but only three doctors and three nurses. It was very easy for Musselwhite to gain strength and escape…….and that’s exactly what he did. He was tracked to Lauderdale County, Mississippi and that was his last known location sometime in 1952. He still remains at large, but Luther Musselwhite would be 94, if he were still alive. He was born about July, 1919 to John and Mandy Musselwhite in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Where is Luther Musselwhite? Or maybe, where is Luther Musselwhite buried?

His wife, my third grade teacher, was just “Mrs. Musselwhite” to me. I was nine years old and she, in her early 30s, was “ancient” as far as I was concerned.

The next year, fourth grade wasn’t much better. I loved Miss Flossie Evans, but she soon had to leave, and we were taught by a substitute. On, there’s a photo of the marker, at her grave, erected by her students. At a young age, I learned how Breast Cancer takes those we love.

And then came fifth grade. I went to the newspaper, in Columbia a few years ago to research the Lawless family. The newspaper article headline stated “Entire Family Almost Wiped Out.”  One Saturday morning, in 1952, Mrs. Lawless and her daughter, Kathleen, were in the kitchen preparing breakfast. As usual her husband, an accountant, had gone to his lumber yard office just down the street, and he would come back and eat with the family. That morning, he came back…….with a gun……and killed his daughter and his wife. He critically wounded his mother-in-law, who lived with them, and his young son. He then went to his office and committed suicide. No reason was ever found. I had just been at their house, the night before, at a Girl Scout meeting. Mrs. Lawless was my Girl Scout leader. Kathleen was a 7th grader, and their young son, Billy, was younger than I.

After finding the article, I drove through the cemetery and found the grave. The  three had all been buried together. Somehow, that seemed wrong.

As the saying goes, “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”  All of this could have contributed to a traumatic childhood, but thankfully I was raised by a strong mother…..and her strength, she passed to me. Thanks, mom!
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