News from Madison County...

JULY 7, 2004

Madison County

Madison County

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Frank Gillispie
Looking at some famous Georgians
Georgia’s population has grown rapidly in the past several decades. Many new Georgians who come from other states and other nations know little about the state. They often have no idea of the famous people Georgia has produced.

Zach Mitcham
A remembrance for Lemuel Penn
To speak of race, to speak of the South, to speak of loss — these things infringe on our deepest feelings. So it’s quite natural to avoid such topics, to put them out of our minds, to say they are irrelevant to the here and now.

No panic in the Colbert streets Saturday morning, just a road race
If you awoke on the west side of Colbert around 8 a.m. Saturday morning, you probably found 150 or so people running through the streets.
No — no Fourth of July terrorist attack found this quiet country town, nor was a bull running amuck through the streets in the Spanish tradition.

News from
Sheriff pulls alcohol license at Steel Horse
BOC to set a hearing on reported ordinance violation at the Banks Crossing bar
Banks County Sheriff Charles Chapman pulled the alcohol license at The Steel Horse early Saturday morning following an undercover operation at the Banks Crossing bar.

New bill helps Georgia’s poultry growers
After years of political wrangling, Georgia’s poultry farmers now have rights under House Bill 648 that previously were denied.
Georgia Poultry Justice Alliance president Barry Edington spread the news at a recent gathering in Maysville of poultry growers from the Banks/Jackson/Franklin area.

News from
City Schools Again Seek
Tax Authority
City’s Cash Flow Problems Bring Issue From 2003 Back On To The Table Again
An old issue is due to resurface before the Commerce City Council Monday night.

Fletcher to settle ethics complaint
Jackson County Board of Commission chairman Harold Fletcher said Tuesday that he will settle the ethics complaint filed against him.
The Madison County Journal
Danielsville, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233
Fax: (706) 367-8056

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The old courtroom upstairs at the Madison County courthouse in the center of Danielsville, where Howard Sims and Cecil Myers stood trial for Penn’s murder in 1964.

On Race and Justice
Murder case put Madison Co. at center of Civil Rights storm
A lone wooden chair sits in the jury section of the old Madison County Superior Courtroom. The back of the seat is split apart from the frame, all buckled and curled forward. The forgotten chair is like the dusty relic of some violent storm of the past.
Unlike the lower floor of the old county courthouse, where the mix of new and old offers a rustic grace, the upstairs courtroom where that old jury chair sits has a ghostly air, with the white ceiling peeling off in places, exposing the insulation. The safety beam in the balcony area has crumbled away on one end and the walls have vast stretches of mildew and rot.
But 40 years ago this summer, that room had the national spotlight. And people squeezed into the pews to witness the trial of two white men from Athens accused of killing a distinguished black soldier and educator from Washington, D.C., on a lonely Madison County road early one foggy July morning.
It was a momentous case.
The Civil Rights Act passed July 2, 1964, officially ending the Jim Crow era of “separate but equal” by prohibiting racial discrimination in the work place or at any accommodations or facilities open to the public.
But ink on a page in a federal building was one thing. Actually implementing such an act was an entirely different matter — not a legislative one, but a battle of the soul in a racially-divisive society.
And there was resistance. There was violence.
Just nine days after the historic act, two shotgun blasts ripped through the rural quiet of Madison County in the early morning hours of July 11, 1964, claiming the life of Lemuel Penn, a 49-year-old black man, a World War II veteran, a husband and a father of three, who supervised five vocational schools in Washington, D.C., while also being an active church member and Boy Scout leader, who had organized a Scout camp for underprivileged black youth.
The federal government responded in force, sending dozens of investigators to northeast Georgia. The case became a test of the equal rights issue. If there was no justice for a distinguished black educator and war veteran murdered in the night as he drove home from reserve duty to his family, would the Civil Rights Act hold up against the resistance?
The nation watched as the courtroom in Danielsville filled. Two men, Cecil Myers and Howard Sims, both known Ku Klux Klan members, would stand trial for killing Penn. They were accused of following him from Athens, then firing at him with double-barreled, sawed-off shotguns as they sped by in a car driven by James Lackey on Hwy. 172 at the Broad River Bridge at the Madison-Elbert County line.
Boyd Jordan was the man assigned to transcribe it all as a court reporter. He entered the Madison County courtroom Aug. 31, 1964, the first day of the trial, carrying a new podium, which stayed in the courtroom “until just a few years ago.” He then took his place at his shorthand machine and watched as a crowd flocked in, many of them, “perhaps 75 to 100,” were reporters from state and national publications.
Jordan, who has served as a court reporter for 42 years, and currently works for Northern Judicial Circuit Judge Lindsay Tise, had been at the job for less then two years at the time of the Penn case. Despite the national attention, Jordan wasn’t nervous.
“I’d been at it long enough to where it (the attention) didn’t bother me,” he said.
The judge for the trial was Carey Skelton, a World War II colonel and former prosecutor, whom Jordan recalls as a “nice, distinguished gentleman.”
“He was the most patriotic man I ever met,” said Jordan, adding that when he first began working for Skelton, the judge sometimes had him call President John F. Kennedy.
Jordan remembers that he would call up the White House, get the president’s secretary, leave a message that Judge Skelton wanted to speak with President Kennedy, then the phone would ring later with the secretary saying that President Kennedy was on the line for Judge Skelton.
The Sunday before the August term of the Madison County Grand Jury, in which Myers and Sims would be indicted for the Penn murder, Skelton called Jordan and asked him to come in to work.
It was one week before the murder trial and Skelton wanted Jordan to type out his charge to the Grand Jury. The court reporter didn’t leave until 3 a.m. Monday morning.
“I typed it at least 10 times,” said Jordan. “He just could never get it to say what he wanted.”
Skelton’s 27-page Grand Jury charge outlined what was required of jurors, including the setting aside of any prejudice.
“The court is a forum wherein all of the rights of all our citizens; whether they be rich or poor, no matter what their station in life is, whether they be white or black, red or yellow, the deliberation of the jury, both traverse and Grand Jury, should be calmly considered and determined, Gentlemen, according to the established rules of law...” said Skelton.
While the judge offered advice to the jury, he seemed to be speaking to a larger audience too, offering views that America “has gone to sleep,” that the country needs to be vigilant in combating the “twin evils” of “Communism and atheism.”
He also spoke against Civil Rights legislation.
“These Northern politicians in the United States Senate, they are just going to cram it down our throats,” he said.
The judge maintained that the push for Civil Rights legislation pitted property rights against privileges, noting that a man has a right to say who can come into his place of business or who he can hire, but “there is no true right that a man be accepted as a customer, it is, at best, a privilege.”
For the rest of this story see this weeks Madison County Journal.

BOC creates new appraiser position
County commissioners met in private in the BOC chairman's office for about an hour and 15 minutes Friday evening as a small crowd waited in the county government complex meeting room.
When they re-opened the meeting, the board added the latest twist to the ongoing tax assessors' — commissioners' office conflict: they agreed to create a new position in the tax assessor's department. The new appraiser IV will serve as a boss for Rebecca Duncan, the county's current chief appraiser, who is an appraiser III.
The BOC will advertise the position, accept applications, then hire someone to the post. The commissioners voted 4-0 in favor of creating the new position — District 4 commissioner Melvin Drake was not in attendance.
Also Friday, BOC chairman Wesley Nash said the board would release funding for tax assessment postage. The group delayed releasing that funding to the tax assessors until after a report from the state revenue board was released.
That report was released last Wednesday. (See page this weeks Madison County Journal for a complete summary of the committee's recommendations.)

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To read more about the local events in Madison County, including births, weddings, sports news and school news, see this week's Madison County Journal.

No Crime
GBI finds computer glitch was source of tampering concerns
See this weeks Madison County Journal for summary of recommendations from a state revenue committee
A review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined that irregularities in the county property tax records were not the result of tampering, but were caused by a computer glitch.
Sheriff Clayton Lowe issued a press release Wednesday morning stating that the sheriff’s office and GBI reviewed property tax records and determined that “conversion problems” in WinGap, the county’s tax record software, were to blame for strange findings on county computers.
“The Tax Assessor’s Office had reported concerns that a ‘person or persons’ had committed computer trespass after personnel had discovered discrepancies in real property tax evaluations ‘edit history’ of the WinGap program currently used by the Madison County Tax Assessor’s officer,” said Lowe, in a press release issued Wednesday morning. “The review by the GBI and Madison County Sheriff’s Office investigators determined that the WinGap program used by the Madison County Tax Assessor’s Office has a conversion problem when replacing the Gap program. In this instance, the WinGap program generated random numbers that, when discovered by employees, caused concern that property values within the county had been altered. This anomaly in no way changed the property record cards, which is the official record of property values in the county.”