In the first installment of Crime and Punishment, I shared with you the arrest record of my Uncle Marlin, one of my great-grandfather’s younger brothers. I also speculated that the arrest had something to do with moonshine. Well, I did a bit of asking and confirmed that suspicion. According to my Aunt Madie– one of Marlin’s nieces and one of my grandfather’s younger sisters– it was a moonshining arrest. Here’s how it went down:
On a sticky July day in 1919, a 34-year-old black woman is found murdered in the woods of Enterprise, Ala. She leaves behind a husband, a daughter and a tale shrouded in mystery.
The above sentence sums up what I know about Ella Nance Barnes (1884-1919), one of my great-grandfather’s older sisters. I first heard rumblings of her murder after a family reunion in 2009. I requested her death certificate for the state department of health and it confirmed that she was murdered. It didn’t list the manner of death.
The way the story was relayed to me is that one day two sisters went for a walk in the woods. Only one of them came back. According to family history, Ella’s younger sister Lovie (1894-1979), had something to do with it. And the plot thickens: apparently it was over a man. My oldest relatives– my grandfather’s brothers, sister and cousins– weren’t born when this happened Aunt Ella’s sister-in-law, Aunt Arnie (she married Marlin Nance, another of Ella’s younger brothers), was a little girl and remembered hearing stories about the killing, but never asked too many questions about it.
I would love to get my hands on a newspaper account of this– if one exists. Even a police record– if it exists– would be a great find.
Long before October was deemed Domestic Violence Awareness Month, my relatives knew all too well what it was and what it did.
Abuse separates. It isolates. And it leaves behind a distinct sadness that’s impossible to ignore.
My maternal grandmother’s sister Mamie J. had “violent husbands,” my mom recalled. My grandmother, Lula Bryant Pinkard (1925-1983) would sometimes visit Mamie J in Columbus, Ga., not too far from where she lived in Omaha. The signs of Mamie J’s abuse were painfully obvious: a blackened eye here, bruised flesh there. But one thing remained constant:
“There was just no happiness around that house,” my mom said.
Mamie J had a number of abusive relationships, and they seemed to escalate. During one visit, my mom recalled that Mamie J’s neck had been cut.
“There was this long slash down her neck,” my mom recalled.
In fact, in a bit of tragic irony, that’s the most prominent physical feature my mom remembers about Mamie J: the scar the abuse left behind.