Monday, January 8, 2018

Karen L. Cox's "Goat Castle"

Karen L. Cox's books include Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture and Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture.

Cox applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South, and reported the following:
Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South examines a Depression-era crime that takes place in Natchez, Mississippi, a town that prided itself on its image of providing antebellum grandeur to tourists. But in August of 1932, the town made national headlines for the death of Jennie Merrill--one of the last members of the Natchez planter aristocracy. Still, it was Merrill’s eccentric neighbors, originally charged with her murder, who swiftly captured the attention of newspapers around the country. Dick Dana and Octavia Dockery, also descended from southern elites, lived a very different life than Merrill. Their estate, and their once grand home Glenwood, was falling down around them. Inside, conditions were even more shocking. It was ankle deep in filth and the former dining room now served as a pen for their goats. It was a southern gothic novel come to life, and journalists nicknamed the house “Goat Castle.”

While Merrill’s neighbors were charged with murder, they were allowed to go home on their own recognizance. Meanwhile, two African Americans were targeted as suspects. One was George Pearls, a Natchez native who returned from his home in Chicago to find work. The other suspect was Emily Burns, a domestic, who accompanied Pearls on a walk that led them to Merrill’s house where Pearls, along with Dana and Dockery, had planned a robbery. It all went wrong when Merrill was shot and killed. Pearls left town swiftly only to be killed a few days later. Locals would lead deputies to Emily’s home where Pearls had left behind his trunk of belongings. She was immediately arrested and taken to the Adams County Jail.

On Page 99 we learn of Emily’s “confession.” Her signed confession highlights the double standard of justice in a unique way. Not only had she been forced to confess under threat of a whipping, but she had to sign a confession that read, in part, that she had been well treated, as well “as any white lady.” It serves as a vivid reminder that in this case, and in the Jim Crow South, black women who were never accorded the mantle of “lady,” were lucky to be treated as well as a white one.

Page 99 also gets to the heart of the book. While generations of white Natchezeans have repeated the tale of two eccentrics and their goats, lost was the story of Emily Burns. In my research and writing of Goat Castle I have recovered her story, and demonstrated the injustice she endured for simply being a black woman, as evidenced by her forced confession.
Visit Karen L. Cox's website.

My Book, The Movie: Goat Castle.

--Marshal Zeringue