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Letter From the Editor: Justice and Peanuts

Opinion

Tomorrow is the beginning of another chapter in the South’s history of justice and peanuts. It is the start of the trial of former Peanut Corporation of American (PCA) executive Stewart Parnell.

The fitting background for the event will be the C.B. King U.S. Courthouse in Albany, GA.

C.B. King was once the only African-American attorney practicing criminal law south of Atlanta. In the 1950s, he was “the Negro’s” only shot at criminal or civil justice in the area known today as the Middle District of Georgia.

In 1962, C.B. King went to check on a demonstrator whose jaw was broken during a jailhouse beating. Dougherty County Sheriff Cull Campbell took a cane to C.B.’s head after the lawyer asked to see his client. While still covered with blood, C.B. recounted what happened to national reporters outside.

Both of C.B.’s parents, Margaret Slater and Clennon W. “Daddy” King, were graduates of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, about two hours away. His father made money to pay their college expenses as a “buggy boy” driving for the institute’s celebrated president, Booker T. Washington. “Daddy’s” son would grow up to be the lawyer and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuskegee was big on new farming techniques and brought on Iowa State graduate George Washington Carver to help with soil depleted of nutrients after years of nonstop cotton-growing when slavery had dominated the economy of the South. Carver promoted crop rotation, sweet potatoes, pecans and peanuts.

Peanuts today are a $2-billion industry for Georgia, which last year produced 46 percent of the peanuts produced in the U.S., or 965,000 tons. Figures from the state peanut commission also show that Georgia farmers planted more than 429,000 acres, yielding 4,495 pounds per acre. With 3,500 peanut growers in the state, the industry provides more than 50,000 jobs in Georgia and accounts for 20 percent of the state’s agricultural income.

Justice, however, grew more slowly in Georgia than peanuts. After working in a defense plant and serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, C.B. obtained a law degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and returned to Albany. (His skin color had prevented his entry into any Georgia law school.)

C.B. set up a law practice in the back of an Albany funeral home. Its location alone said justice was dead, but that didn’t stop his lifelong crusade for it.

In a 1964 profile, The Harvard Crimson stated: “C.B. King is a man on a seesaw. He is a Negro in a white man’s profession — one of two Negro lawyers in Albany, Georgia. Albany, a former slave-trading center, today is the home of the Albany Movement, probably the most vigorous local southern rights group. As chief counsel to the Movement, King has defended more than one thousand people arrested for civil rights activities in that city — as well as others, such as John Perdew ’64, in nearby Americus.”

The monument outside C.B.’s namesake courthouse is not the only testament to the success of his lifelong fight against segregation and for justice. Another is Judge W. Louis Sands — the man in charge inside the now 12-year-old courthouse who was the chief judge for Georgia’s Middle District when the new building was dedicated.

The African-American jurist was born in Jones County, north of Macon, in the “blink-and-you-missed-it” town of Bradley. He graduated from the nearby Mercer University School of Law, an option not open to C.B.

Sands is a former assistant U.S. district attorney, state judge, and Army officer who was named to the federal bench in 1994 by then-President Bill Clinton.

In the 75 weeks since he began hearing pre-trial motions stemming from allegations against former PCA executives on federal felony charges stemming from the 2008-09 Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak, Sands has made a transition of his own. He is now one of two “senior status” judges for the Middle District, meaning his caseload is supposed to ease up.

But with the case of United States v. Stewart Parnell et al on his docket, Sands won’t be able to enjoy his new status until he dispatches one of the more complex federal criminal cases to come along in south Georgia — or anywhere else — in quite a spell.

That trial begins tomorrow in the C.B. King U.S. Courthouse in Albany, GA. Judge Sands must first preside over jury selection, and there will probably be protests from some about serving on a trial expected to last for eight weeks.

Maybe if all the jurors who are interviewed tomorrow could first be told of the long and difficult path C.B. King took to bring justice for all to South Georgia, an eight-week commitment really wouldn’t seem like that much.

© Food Safety News
  • Anne

    Thank you for this background about C.B. King, our history as prejudiced Americans, and the evolution of justice in the south. As a California girl transplanted to Oregon, I have not known as much about the background of the south as I should. However, I do know something about the hazards of food safety and the greed and ignorance that corrupt it. Stewart Parnell and his cohorts need to be brought to justice.