tv Lectures in History CSPAN May 22, 2016 12:00pm-1:12pm EDT
announcer: here on "american history tv" on c-span 3, on lectures in history, university of georgia professor stephen berry teaches a class about coroners in the 19th century south. he discusses them as an agent of the state and talks about records created from their inquest. he argues that coroners can shed light on the patterns of death in society, and spot threats to public health, like disease or a lack of industrial safety. his class is about one hour and 10 minutes. stephen: good afternoon, everybody. i'm glad to see we are all alive and well. you have all survived seven weeks of american history, death and dying and u.s. history. we have reached week seven. i am stephen berry, your host for all things morbid. mer than anyny grim other day in this class.
we are talking about the history of death investigation, the evolution of the system of death investigation in the united states, which really matures and comes to age in the dawn of the 20th century. it is a 19th century story of how death investigation becomes forensic science and ultimately becomes the "csi" series. now we all have a pretty lurid sense of death investigations provided by local news, right? this graphic is everywhere, i found a million of these. always the same with the police tape and the chalk outlines. so we have a very lurid sense of death investigation. , it leadsf it bleeds school of journalism in the united states. i want to take the evolution of this system very seriously and talk about how it developed over time. starting with the historical importance. and the most obvious area in which death investigation is critically important is to the
criminal justice system, and this is the most familiar aspect of death investigation in the united states. coroners and medical examiners participate from the very beginning of any death investigation. they are there on the scene. they pronounce a cause of death. that sets the entire investigation in motion, and then they are there with the death investigation throughout the process until the very end, when they may, in fact, testify at trial. now, we can't imagine having a society without death investigation and its role in the criminal justice system, right? it would be anarchy. any one of those movies where for a single day they decide all laws are off, you get away with whatever. that is what society would be. we would have murderers. we would be getting reprisal killings in an endless cycle. we need experts to have fair consequences and precision in our legal system. so this is a very familiar aspect of death investigation in
the united states, the role it serves in the criminal justice system. i want to call your attention to two other key roles death investigators have played throughout history, apart from the criminal justice system. and these are less appreciated, i think. the first is in public health. death investigators are critical component to our public health system, and throughout our history, the coroner and the medical examiner had been on the front line and battled with many of the most mortal threats, raising the alarm and uncovering correlations in epidemics no one else has seen. you have to imagine them, they are in a basement, morbid, dank little place, doing their work. and yet, what is washing across their examining tables, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, the rest of us may, in a bad life, see a death or two. they see hundreds.
and so, they are the first to in howterns and shifts people are going out of the world. so they are the ones who sound the alarm. and i will give you a few examples, but you can multiply them a thousand fold. it is coroners in the 20th -- at the turn of the 20th century who are calling attention to all of the industrial accidents that we see as industrialization proceeds in our major cities. in pittsburgh in 1907, it is coroners to raise the charge against u.s. steel, seeing a rash of accidents they do not want. the corporation does not want to advertise this fact. it is the coroners and the m.e.'s office who are seeing these things and leading the charge for improvement in industrial safety. the same thing is true, you guys might be familiar with this 1911 horrific fire at the triangle shirtwaist factory company where 137 young women died, some of
them of the flames and others perished in leaping out of eight stories of that building as it was set on fire. nobody tells that story from the perspective of the coroners, who really led the charge, they had seen the damage. they had seen this time and time again, well before this one factory fire. they have been dealing with this phenomenon, and they were finally fed up. and so in 1911, they are the ones who lead the charge for more industrial safety around the areas of factory fires. another example, in 1924, in newark, new jersey, a pathologist performing autopsies who discovers that radium, the paint they were using on watch dials -- a great innovation in its day, that your watch dial would be painted with this radium paint and would therefore glow, but the way the workers worked with their brushes, they would always point to their
brush so they could get a fine enough line of paint. so they are constantly dipping this brush across their tongue that has had this radium on it. they are dying of necrosis of the jaw, of anemia and other problems. and it is really again the coroners that see not just one, right like my daughter dies , under mysterious circumstances, that is one instance. it is the coroner who sees tens, dozens of these kinds of cases and starts to see a pattern and starts to figure out what is in fact going on. more examples. they are the first ones for traffic safety laws. everybody gets their first car, they are overjoyed, they hit the road, and they hit a tree shortly thereafter. so as soon as you have cars in the 1930's, you are starting to have massive accidents. there is no safety, stop signs, traffic lights. so you are seeing more and more traffic fatalities. and, you know, it's one case here or there, for those who experience it firsthand, but for
the coroner, it is happening en masse. and so here is a new york medical examiner, 1931, the greatest source of danger today is the operation of the automobile. or a wisconsin coroner, more lives were lost in milwaukee over the past years from automobiles than all the contagious diseases combined. so you get the sense of the coroners, they are like the canary in the coal mine. they are the ones who really see the dangers as they come at us. i will give you a few more examples that were interesting to me. coroners are the first ones to raise the alarm about needle sharing. it is the crazy 1933 case of heroin addicts in new york city who are getting malaria. but again, they are the first ones to see the pattern. they are the first ones to see an epidemic of child abuse and
spousal abuse among the working class in the industrializing cities. they are the first to sound the alarm about sids, sudden infant death syndrome. they saw it as a pattern, more and more to babies dying for no apparently good reason. they sound the alarm about aids. you can imagine these kinds of things. they get these cases where if it is needle sharing, they all seem to be addicts. as i make my investigation, they have these track marks. i wonder if they have malaria. what could be going on here? the same thing with aids. cocaine related homicides during the drug wars of the 80's, the coroners are saying, whoa, this a rash of violence i have not seen, what exactly is going on? a case we are familiar with, will smith is in a new movie about concussions in football, based on a real pathologist that worked in an allegheny hospital in pittsburgh and started to diagnose brain damage, repeated
trauma to the head in american football players. and that has become sort of a cause celebre. so this is that role that is not that lurid, police outline, chalk outline of how important death investigations are. seeing patterns, raising the alarm. as our society evolves, what new dangers are there that we need to deal with? and in a related area, in diagnostics. because they work with corpses, not patients, death investigators have never really gotten, i think, the credit they deserve for their role in public health, or the respect they deserve from their medical peers. but the truth is they make their medical peers better. and this has been true throughout history. i will give you one example. at the turn of the 20th century, massachusetts general hospital
made a major push for all the patients to have autopsies. they say, everyone who dies in this hospital is going to go down and have an autopsy, and we will see if the clinician was right. essentially. the clinician says the person, madam, you have died of aids. but the coroner says, no, no. and so they uncover how massively awful their clinicians were in terms of diagnostics. and so what they said was, oh, this has to go the other way. everyone as part of their medical education has to do autopsies and seeing these kinds of things firsthand. they played an important role in improving medical diagnostics, especially through the role of the autopsy, which is just the start of the panoply of tools in their toolkit as forensic science of evolves over the course of the 19th century to produce, and by the term of the
guest turn of -- turn of the 20th century, the modern day medical examiner. ok, i'm going to walk through some of these quickly. at a conceptual level, autopsies have been around forever. that first neanderthal, his neanderthal body drops dead and the other guy pokes it with a stick, wondering what he died of. that has been around forever. they did an autopsy on caesar. they found that it was the second stab. 23 blows, total. autopsies have been around forever, but it is there systematic use that, i think, changes. the two possible candidates for the father of the modern autopsy are there on the right-hand side of the screen. one is karl rokitansky, 1804 to 1878. he presided over a pathology institute at the algemeiner krankenhaus in vienna.
it was really the hub of medical science at the time, so he had access to a ton of cases. when i say a ton i mean a ton, , wow. 70,000 autopsies he supervised. autopsies he performed himself over the course of his career. he averaged two a day, seven days a week for 45 years. that is a a ton of autopsies. aat he did was perfect it as system. how can we do it the same every time so we don't have to introduce any errors so we can produce reproducible results? and to be honest, it disease -- his disease theory was bad. he hated to use the microscope. he was actually, in terms of diagnosing diseases, he was not that great. but in terms of systematizing the autopsy and publicizing it, making it an important part, he played a key role.
rudolph virchow, 1821 to 1902, maybe even more important as the father of the modern autopsy. he is a german pathologist. basically the hub of medical knowledge in the 19th century moves from vienna to berlin. he is the one who really seals the deal on the case that cellular pathology is the cause of the disease. you probably remember this. thoughttes and galen that when we had diseases, are -- our humors are out of balance. we have these four humors that would circulate throughout our body. that is why they draw blood, to sort of reestablish balance. he is like, that is garbage. he worships the microscope. he loved it. so in addition to autopsies, he brought the microscope to the center of death investigation. so he deserves to be called the father of the modern autopsy. both of these things come to the
united states fairly quickly in the 19th century. the most influential is not depicted here. he studied with both of these men and then came to canada and the united states, where he becomes the most respected and revered north american physician of his time. he not only performed autopsies. friend, i have been watching this case, his own medical case, for two months, and i am sorry i shall not see the postmortem. the committee on autopsies said he would not be able to do his own. to his credit, he was right. everything that was wrong with him when they did an autopsy, sure enough, he was right about that. so autopsies have been around forever, but when does it become systematized? that is, as a part of science
and medicine. at the turn of the 20th century. same thing with floating the lungs. anyone know what that is? ok, this will get morbid. as if we weren't already. so in the case of a baby who was born, and you want to figure out if the mother has committed infanticide or the baby was born dead, what you would do is you would take the lungs of the baby and you would submerge them in water. the idea was if the baby had drawn breath, the lungs would be aerated, and they would float on the surface of the water. if the baby had never drawn a breath and had been born stillborn, then the lungs would actually sink. you can do the same thing with drowning victims, see if they have drowned because they take in so much water, the lungs should sink as opposed to float. they have been doing that since 1681, in the case of infanticide. now we do not rely on this much , anymore. they have proven it is inaccurate at least 2% of cases. this is going to get even more gross.
as the body decomposes, gases are released. that is the bloating you see in a civil war corpse. same thing is true with the baby's lungs. so if the corpse is decaying, their lungs will have gases in them that will have them float. it's not great. 2% is not bad for that era in terms of the degree of error, unless you are one of the women convicted of infanticide, then that 2% does not look good at all. this is bloodstain pattern analysis, it is sort of what dexter makes famous, 8% of our weight is blood, so we have five liters, and it runs very close to the surface. every time you have trauma, you will release blood, and it has all these residues that make it difficult to clean. again, you can imagine bloodstains have been used for death investigations for time out of mind. this guy was killed here,
dragged over here. that guy has blood on his hands! that is not what we are talking about here with the splatter analysis and blood typing. blood typing comes of age in 1907, a, b, o, all of that. it is in 1907, they come up with that. they use it for paternity, as you can imagine. is that my kid or not my kid? but they also use it in death investigation. and the bpa, the bloodstain pattern analysis, that that comes in the 1880's. you have scientific papers focused on how blood coagulates, how quickly it dries, whether arterial blood is brighter, and the splatter analysis, what produces what results in the bloodstain on the wall? fingerprints too go way back, but systematized at the turn of the 20th century.
they used to sign ancient contracts in babon, you would stick your thumb in the clay tablet that the contract is chiseled into, right? and even in the 1200s, they knew fingerprints, in asia at least, they knew fingerprints were totally unique and would use them in death investigation. but it did not come immediately to the united states until 1902. there is this very famous case called the shepherd case in which this guy murders someone in his apartment and then busts the glass cabinet door open. he leaves a partial print on one of the shards. they can prove because it is a partial that it was left after the glass has been broken. it was not there before. it was not broken in half. he only put his finger on part of it. it was the first case in 1902, in france, where they convict somebody on the basis of fingerprint analysis. juries were slow to accept it, as you can imagine. people had never thought about
fingerprints. but it moves to the united states pretty quickly. by 1906 in new york, they are fingerprinting every criminal that comes through new york city and making cases on the basis of fingerprints. other examples, the blood alcohol content test. death investigators pioneered the bac test, and in the then the -- breathalyzer, which comes way earlier than you would think. today, 30% of traffic fatalities probably have something to do with alcohol. in the 1950's, it is 50%. probably higher than that before. so having a blood-alcohol test in a breathalyzer test was unbelievably critical. that picture, nothing romantic. it's from the 1927 issue of "science and invention." so they have all of these guys
racing to create a patent for a breathalyzer test. even forensic dentistry goes way back and becomes stabilized around 1900. the first case of using forensic dentistry in court, this is just absolutely crazy, the salem witchcraft trial. there is a guy, the reverend george burroughs, accused of witchcraft, there is evidence he was biting all of these people. of course, these people were probably biting themselves and accusing him. but they use this, and he is convicted and hung. later they say "i'm sorry" to his kids and pay them. but, it is an ignominious early form of bite mark analysis and forensic dentistry. but we all know by the 1870's , right, forensic dentistry and dental records are a key part of murder investigations. so, all of this comes of age in 1900. and i want you to see the
historical importance of coroners and what role they played in our public health system, in diagnostics, and forensic science, the toolkit they developed over that period. that said, there have been some real problems with our death investigation system in the united states, given its importance granting all due respect to its successes. we have a deeply flawed system of death investigation in the united states. now, modern-day m.e.'s and coroners operate in a very complex environment. not always clear if they have legal authority to do an autopsy for a member of the family. they have prosecutors putting their demands. they have organ transplant specialists sitting by their sides, is he dead yet, is he dead yet? they have tough calls to make about euthanasia, assisted
suicide -- i understand. modern-day medical examiners work in a difficult environment. they also have a rich history of corruption and incompetence. think about, it is flipping how important death investigation is. means that whoever controls the coroner's office controls the justice system. the wheels of justice do not turn until the coroner makes some kind of pronouncement about a cause of death and sets the wheels in motion. so if you don't want the wheels to move, buy off the coroner. so here is a great case. in the 1950's, a man was found bobbing in biscayne bay, blindfolded with a knife in his back. and the coroner ruled it a suicide. [laughter] you can imagine the mob bosses who could control a coroner. the death investigation into his death would never get started. even if coroners did not stoop that low, you could imagine they
could routinely get kicked back. you can imagine they get money for releasing crime scene photos, and other bits of nastiness from their own exam tables. and this is the gnarliest bit, quite frankly. 1968 that wetil had the uniform anatomical gift act, which says coroners and m.e.'s could not take anything out of the body before it was put in the ground. not until 1968. so we are familiar with the ghouls, the grave robbers in the early 19th century that would steal whole bodies for uses at the medical college. and we know that practice went out of favor. but, the degree to which they used organs from dead bodies to do pathology tests, there is a great deal about all the way through 1968. there was a massive trade in
human growth hormones, which you get from the pituitary gland. we would never be able to do this, but if you dig up tons of boes that were buried before 1968, i wonder how many of them have their pituitary glands, quite frankly, because the could make all kinds of money selling them on the black market. just some examples, a dallas m.e. in the 1940's was the habit of dropping dead babies on their heads to learn about science, in this case but they are doing , it without consent of the parents. a tacoma, washington forensic pathologist routinely stabbed people and was writing a paper on knife wounds, trying to advance science. m.e. in the 1930s
collected the testicles from the dead to test theories about heroin use and sterility. none of that was illegal prior to 1968. at the end of the class, we will read mary roach's book "stiff," and i will ask you at the end of that class whether we are in a better place now or whether you would donate your body to science. she writes a lot about cases where if you donate your body to science, one possibility, not inevitable, you can avoid this, one possibility is that your decapitated head will be used to test lipstick. and that counts as having donated your body to science. so, there are some problems with corruption and interest in our death investigation system, and problems of incompetence too. death investigation in the united states is one of the least professionalized, least standardized areas of american medicine. this actually bubbles to the surface every once in a while
and then we tamp it back down and pretend not to notice. i will walk you through a few high-profile disasters, starting their, with john f. kennedy. there is probably no autopsy that has been met with greater derision than kennedy's. he was taken not to anywhere in dallas after he was shot. he was taken to bethesda naval hospital because he was a navy man, and his wife thought they would treat his body with greater dignity, and maybe they did. but they are a naval hospital. right? they are not accustomed to dealing with gunshot wounds, much less the president of the united states with a wound of this nature. and then they have secret service people around, the kennedy family is around. they got a lot wrong. they thought there were only two bullets, they could not identify the wound track. with two navy hospital pathologists operating in this
confusing environment, it is a wonder this turned out like it did. which wasn't very good. you guys won't remember this because you were not alive, but i remember this. that's michael jordan, of course, one of the greatest athletes of all time. there is a famous phrase, michael jordan is better at basketball than anyone has ever been good at anything. like you can just compare apples and oranges. he was absolutely fantastic. and he was very close with his father. his father was murdered in 1993 in marlboro county, south carolina. marlboro county had a coroner, the official coroner of marlboro county, south carolina was a part-time coroner and part-time construction worker. said he did not have enough room in the fridge for this very unfortunate decomposed body that had been carjacked and thrown into a swamp where it decomposed. so he did not have anywhere to store it, so he put it in the oven.
fortunately, he saved the teeth, i'm not quite sure why, but this became a major investigation. as you can imagine. in 1993, michael jordan was one of the greatest stars on the planet, and the loss of his father was a real black eye for pathology in the united states. the coroner in this case said, i love this quote, i guess i have done for the coroner's association what tonya harding did for figure skating. it was just a disaster. and ripped from the headlines is antonin scalia. who quite frankly should have had an autopsy. given how high-profile his case is. the guy had all kinds of health problems. he was old. he was way overweight, had all kinds of risks. i'm sure a heart attack is probably what claimed his life, but like with kennedy, the
conspiracy theories that follow in the wake of failing to do any kind of analysis is a problem. so you guys know the story, right? this is very recent. he was hunting at a little mexican border town on a remote ranch. he was found dead by the ranch owner, who said, we discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head. and then what happens, it is remote texas, right? and it's texas. they don't fly him over, he was pronounced dead with a cause of death by phone. essentially. because that is the way the system works. it has all kinds of holes. and once trump hears about this, he says it is a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow. and michael savage, the conservative radio host, says this will get bigger and bigger and bigger, saying we need a war
-- the equivalent of the warren commission, the notion that a supreme court justice has been snuffed out with a pillow over his face. not that that would happen if a standardized system existed. these are just the high profile disasters. quite frankly, we don't have a system. that's part of the problem. as late as 2009, in its report, the national academy of sciences reported that death investigation in the united states is fragmented, deficient, hodgepodge, and disjointed. the reason why, we don't have a system. what we essentially have is the medical examiner, whose goal should be, as always, justice and science, overlaid on top of a much older system, the system of the coroner. and it is the system of the coroner that i want to talk
about for the rest of our lecture today. now i don't want to turn , coroners into the villains of the story. that's not my point. many of the advancements i laid out at the beginning, those were coroners. who discovered, they were on the front lines of our public health and discovered these threats and came forward. i don't at all want to slight them. i do want to say -- i'm a historian, so i want to talk about what is in their dna, that is to say, the coroner's office, going way back to time out of mind, is not interested in justice or science. which we would hope they would be. it's always been interested in something else. something approximating that, but not exactly the same. so does anyone know where the , word coroner comes from? corona.
that is latin for crown. so in hamlet, they call the coroner a crowner. essentially he is a , representative of the king. ok, so what you could do is think way back into medieval england, and you've got the sheriff of nottingham, who is squeezing the peasants and taking all of their money, and none of that money is going to the king, so the king invents the coroner. making essentially -- the king essentially needs someone who can go around the sheriff and make sure that revenue is running where it ought, to the king. the coroner is essentially the king's vulture. it's constantly flying around, and whenever there is a dispute or problem, the vulture descends to see, and says, someone must make sure to represent the king, make sure the king gets his end.
when we have a death, property is loose from its legal mornings. did he own property? did he commit suicide? if he committed suicide, that is a crime against religion. the king seizes the estate. here's the craziest one. if they found a dead norman on the village commons, they assessed a tax on the whole village called "murderum," where we get the word of murder. it comes from this very ancient system. corner, you see the see the english imprint. in france and germany, they developed a medical examiner system much earlier. only in places that have the british imprint do you have the office of the coroner. ok, so, one of the things i would like to suggest is that the coroner is really a creature of the state.
instead of thinking of the coroner as someone on the side of justice or on the side of science. that's what's involving in this . really just a creature of the state. if the state is on the side of justice, if the state is on the side of science, the coroner might be there too, but if the state has other interests, other preoccupations, the the coroner will be the tool of those interests. captured by those preoccupations. and here we arrive at our assignment. for the coming weeks. to illustrate the point i have just made, that the coroner's dna is not necessarily in science and justice, but in representing the interests of the state. we're going to do a little
lesson by doing a deep dive into coroners reports from the 19th century south using csidixie.org. this website takes 1582 inquests that were done in south carolina between 1800 and 1900. it digitizes them, say can read the original rest just records -- records, but it also tells you, was this homicide or suicide? accidental death? all that. what you will see as you get into this assignment, these are the coroners' reports as i first came across them when i was at the south carolina department of archives. you guys know i'm one morbid dude. i have been fixated on death since i was a little kid. and i think i was always destined to open this box of coroners' reports in south carolina. the minute i opened it, how many
are in here? it's all endings, right? i will know nothing of any of these lives, like the happy moments will stop perfectly lost. i will only know the end. every time i take it up, it does not end well. they all end different. for this weird moment, i thought, that's true of all of us. we all end different, we all end the same. no one has ever escaped mortality. at that moment, the poet named death was looking gigantically down. we were all making our varied ways to the grave. just like everybody else in this box. and i became fixated on them. that's part of why it i put this project together and why i'm inflicting it upon you, so you can become fixated on it too.
here you see, the business with the state, this is the state versus the dead body of slave property. it's just a weird way of writing it. and even in legal terms, when you commit murder, you don't commit murder against the person, you commit it against the peace and dignity of the state. so the state it is not money , anymore, but the state has an interest it is protecting all these cases. so this is how i found them, they were a try folded little bundle with a bunch of endings. now we have 1582 of them. that you guys are going to jump into. let me show you how they work so you won't get confused. every one of them has a cover sheet. kind of. it doesn't look like a form, but it is pretty well standardized, and standardized by law. so in this case, it's the state of south carolina.
south carolina has districts. an inquisition indented in the woods near william gardeners. it always starts with that. an inquest has to take place where the body lies. in this case this inquest is , taking place in the woods near william gardner. you always get a date. you always get it date. you get a coroner, in this case he is a justice of the quorum. i won't even get into what that is. you get a dead guy, in this case the body of alexander mcgee. you get the jurors, in this case white man, 12 white men. and then you get this phrase, which i became addicted the finding, "do say upon their oath." it became a rhapsody sort of thing to me, because that was always my queue that someone was walking out. in this case, he became deranged
or insane. he escaped from his family he , died of exposure. this is an era in which they would routinely treat people with problems at home. and so they would essentially lock their loved one up, and he would escape. student: and i guess they were like, mental -- stephen: right. so, not in 1817. you will start to see in south carolina and other places, reform movements for penitentiary, facilities for the deaf and blind, insane. other kinds of improvements. but not in 1817. in this case, he escaped and died of exposure. it does give you some data. what i am saying, that is just one of the pages in a typical coroners' report. in this case, what you have is a
dissenting opinion, what i would call a minority report. in this case, a man was charged take a slave to the slave jail. essentially. and the slave was injured and could not walk past enough, so enough, so gino lashed a chain around his neck and dragged him until he was dead. and 11 jurors said, well, and this guy was like, are you kidding? undoubtedly a racist, undoubtedly in support of slavery, but you thought there were some boundaries at least. so he writes this minority report. and you get the testimony of women and slaves. they can't testify at trial. but they can testify here, before a coroner's inquest.
it is written out by the coroner himself, or another white man, so it is testimony that moves through white patriarchy to be documented. but it is at least their version of what happened. so we get cases where an inquest jury finds that the slave woman died of apoplexy. but her daughter says, my mom was hit with a shovel. so we get traces of what really happened in these inquest files. and you get some hint of the poor whites of the antebellum south. nice -- in this case, every one of these people are making their mark. this is william hall. he can't actually write his name, the coroner has written his name for him. he put an x.
they are all white men, but they are all illiterate, in this case. so you get much more evidence than just the cover sheet. we don't really know what an inquest looks like. there are not people who have left us descriptions of what it was like. this is nothing we do now. somebody dies and you leave the body there for a long time. and you get 12 people to stand over it and call on other people and say, oh, yeah, i saw that guy passed me two hours ago or whatnot. we just don't do it that way. this is a cartoon from 1826. i actually think it's pretty good at getting what an inquest was like. you won't be able to read this, but one of the jurors said, the for he hase, sir, opened one eye. the doctor said, i shall proceed with the inquest.
what is going on here, what do you notice? who is this guy, probably? this guy probably owns the house. you have to be able to decode the way they would draw things in the 19th century. well-fed, clearly high-class, g and the way -- wi whatnot, this cowering dog. this guy is the homeowner. these guys are code for lower class. they are the jurors. unkempt hair. these guys are poor. what you see here is overlapping layers of authority. in this one really cramped space. so there is the authority of the state, who sort of brought them all here to discover if someone has murdered against the peace
and dignity of the state. you get medical authorities in the form of the doctor who's already made his pronouncement. this is actually a religious figure. i don't know if you can see, the collar. religion's legitimacy inheres in giving meaning to our mortality and explaining to us what we should do with our feelings when bad things happen. why would god allow these things to happen? so there is the authority of religion. there is an authority to local knowledge, too. so, ok these guys are not as , well-fed, but they actually know the guy is not dead. so they have an authority based on local circumstances. and then there's this authority of death itself. because there are crammed into -- they are all crammed into this one space, and they're really facing death together in the same intimate place.
so i want you to remember that, when working on this assignment that inquest was the product of , this cultural process of grappling with death and coming to some kind of conclusion. these guys are probably not interested exactly in science or injustice, per se. they have a more simple sense of things. this is a book by one of my friends, laura edwards "the people and their peace." just think about this book as you are working on your inquest. her argument is essentially that what was most important in this peace, notthe justice. whatever was true yesterday
should be true tomorrow. so when you have a death, you peace, andt in the those 12 men, 13 men, they are essentially trying to come to some sort of satisfactory conclusion and return us to the peace. at the county level, where you have the coroner's inquest, their life is much more subtle. laws are often ignored. that is why women and slaves can testify. because it is not exactly a legal proceeding or a judicial proceeding. it is a proceeding of the community to restore order to the community. so women and slaves testified at and inquest because they know what was true yesterday, and what should maybe be true tomorrow. it is different from our sense of the fbi, the sheriff's office, all these people who -- whose sole function is to compel us to obey the law. this is a different sort of endeavor altogether.
i want to sort of aggregate those 1582 cases for us, to give you a sense of what i learned from doing, from seeing this a lot. all of those little bundles, what came out of that massive box. to tell you the truth, what came out is what i should have known before i started, and what a social worker would have told me in two seconds. i went through all these cases to discover, ok, and a social worker would have come to me and said, tell me about this place. i would say, well, it's a land of massive rural poverty. it's a land where most whites are radically underemployed. antis a land of ramp alcoholism.
it is a land where there are no social services. where there is no treatment for addiction. where there is no access to birth control. and she or he would have told me, ok, i will tell you exactly what it will look like from the rgue. they don't teach the kids, so they are going to drown. they don't have access to birth control, so you will have massive numbers of unwanted pregnancies and dead babies. you have massively angry, unremployed, alcoholic fathers who will have a decimating amount of spousal abuse and child abuse. and you will have souls so desperate that they will hang themselves before they live in that world anymore. and so what i now know, if you are a white male in spartanburg, south carolina and the coroner is standing above your body, how you die? a combination of alcohol and
stupidity. so we have this idea the old south particularly has this place of knife fights and eye gouging and dueling, but it is so much sadder than that. if you were a white female, the same. , the coroner standing above your body, how did you die? if you are an african-american male, you hung yourself. so it's all land of no social , services, a place where white men are drinking themselves and their dependents to death. a land of massive rural poverty and inequality. and that's the way people go out of the world, in such a place. ok, your assignment is going to the two -- is going to be to
write up one inquest as a narrative story. take it as a starting point and use it to tell me something about life and death in the 19th century south. you just take one case. and you try to peel it like an onion. tell its story, but also try to branch out. and to give you an example, i am going to end with one story pulled from csi dixie. the story of the death of james cook in hamburg, south carolina in 1876. so this is where we will end, with this one story. this one story from a set of inquests. this map i know is probably hard for you all to see. hamburg is right here, directly across the savannah river from augusta.
so here is the savannah river, which is rolling down to the sea here. and here is the port of charleston. one of the most important cities in the antebellum south. so hamburg had been settled in who namednry schultz , the town after the famous city in his native germany. it became a hub of wagon traffic. pulling cotton from the interior of the south. we do not have railroads yet. most of that cotton is going by river. and then carried to charleston. by boat. so that is 1820. by 1825, they built this railroad. the b&o railroad is a famous common carrier. the baltimore and ohio railroad.
if you look on wikipedia right now, it will say that it was the longest common carrier in the united states, because everybody forgets about the hamburg to charleston line chartered in 1827. it was the world's largest railroad in its completion in 1833, and 60,000 bales of cotton worth $2 million moved through hamburg each year. student: and i'm guessing this area prior to that have a lot of wagon traffic.-- before that was economically depressed? stephen: yes, and that is what we would see afterward. what happens to hamburg is that it becomes a spur town, where the railroad goes around it. finds another route. and so by 1876, hamburg is a ghost town, essentially. what you have after the civil war is african-americans specialized in these places.
the problem if you are african-american after the civil war, part of it is real estate. what real estate do you actually own? none. 40 acres and a mule? forget about it. we are all familiar to the degree of which the african-american church becomes a center to not just religious life, but political life and civil life. part of it is a real estate problem. that's the one building may have. -- they have. it becomes a schoolhouse and a recreation center and a political incubator and a place where people gather. when they are firebombing churches, that is doing more than just attacking the spiritual life of the people. they have been great ones, but now they are ghost towns. correct -- erect an
african-american town where you can safeguard yourself, your kids, and your community. so that's what hamburg is. by 1876, it essentially has 600 residents. 1/5 of them are white. they are fine living in the community, this is great. this is the story that i would tell about hamburg in 1876. july 4, 1876, it's the 100 year birthday of the united states. the president of the united states, ulysses s. grant, says, what do we do? well, every town should have a parade, which is a militia march, and they should write the town's history, and they should read the declaration of independence. we would sort of collective those towns' histories and it would be a biography of america, and it's going to be great. so that is the idea for july 4,
1876. member, a majority african-american town, they don't have a militia or bullets, it doesn't matter, they are marching, having a good time, they have read the declaration of independence. they are marching on the center square of the town which they bought with their own money. and right here are two guys in a wagon, and they are watching these guys marched under their militia captains, a guy named doc adams. this was one witness who remembered the marching. they were most equal to any company, white or colored. no matter where they came from. them well drilled. hansen and butler along to the -- belong to the butler print
-- plantation. to get there, they had to come across the river from augusta, where they have done trading. they are constantly having to come through hamburg on the way to augusta from the plantation. and it is driving them crazy that this is such a successful african-american town. driving them crazy probably that these are black men with guns, that they are so well ordered and well drilled, and they are so happy. on july 4, 1876. this represents everything that they don't want to see in the history of the united states. so they drive their wagon directly into the parade. they could have easily gone around. they don't. they drive directly up to the parade, and they demand that doc adams essentially disperse his militia. he says, i don't know why i would do that. this is what the president of
the united states wanted all his towns to do. he says, doesn't matter, this is the route i always travel. i sort of like that mentality, this is the route i travel. i cannot be in a new place, and a new space, thinking new thoughts. this is the route i always travel. so doc adams relents and says "open order." which is essentially, make a whole. they do. militia goes home on a depressing end to the fourth of july. then, tommy butler and his father go to the sheriff's office at hamburg to swear out a warrant on doc adams and his militia for obstructing a public road. there they meet prince rivers. i want to tell you this story. is one of the more remarkable stories from
reconstruction. he is essentially the trial justice in the town, the mayor of hamburg, and the general of the militia. he wears a lot of hats. so they come to his office to swear the complaint. i want to give you a bit of a back story. this is the best picture we have of prince rivers. he had been born in slavery. he taught himself to read and write. he was a carriage driver in beaufort, south carolina. as soon as the civil war starts, he jumps on his carriage horse and rides to freedom. he joins the united states colored troops and becomes a sergeant. he is attacked in new york because he has chevrons, and even whites there don't want to see a black officer, anymore -- and he more than holds his own. this guy was one tough hombre. his own commander said rivers
had no equal. there is not a white officer in his regiment who has such ability. i see no reason why he should not command the army of the potomac. and if there should ever be a black monarchy in south carolina, he should be its king. he did not become the king of south carolina, as we know, but he was known as the black prince, the power of aiken county. edgefield county, the most unreconstructed county in south carolina has a county carved out of it, and he is trying to make a go of it. at the height of reconstruction. you have these angry men who want to beat the man to death. , maybe these men are drunk. or hotheads. let cooler heads prevail.
he says, come back in a few days. we will see if we can settle this. later, nof days relation to butler, two of the butler boys show up at prince rivers's office. totally is unreconstructed. in his first run at congress, he had lost to a black man. he tried to take it out on local blacks and he burnt down his house. this is a quote from one of his friends. " he could be the most , insolented come an human being that mortal eyes ever beheld." i do not know if you think his confederate service isn't over. he says he is there as the
butler's lawyer but also as a general butler. he demands the militia come to him and that they sacked their arms and surrender those and that doc adams formally apologized to the butler boys for how they treated them on the fourth of july. prince rivers asked if they did all that and butler vouched for their safety. butler said it is owing to how they apologized to mr. butler for how they treat his son on the fourth. so, here's our situation. most of the militia is hold up. they are hold up here in the armory. they have maybe 120 rounds of ammo and their guns are pretty poor. the guns that we thought of in the civil war we thought of as with a riflehrough
and musket on the shoulder of every man in the army, but it's the winchester. that technology comes in right after the civil war. we think it is the gun that won the west, but it was the gun that won the south. african-americans had 120 rounds of ammo and really crummy guns. they start flooding into hamburg and start coming across the bridge from augustine, many of them carrying winchesters. accounts that they bought the local grocer out of alcohol. buy 6:00 p.m. that evening, they are well drunk. the folks in armory are starting to worry about what's going to happen. about 6:00, they opened fire on the armory. the armory returns fire. maybe did, maybe didn't kill one guy, mckee meriwether. he promised earlier in the day that he was want to kill
everybody in the armory and go to heaven and kill jesus christ himself. the key meriwether falls here. they drag canada across the -- ae from augustine cannon across the bridge from augusta. they escape out of the back of the armory and many of them are captured and carried to the dead ring, which is right there. as it happened, we have who is in theess dead ring that day. one of the men there was a lieutenant in the militia. his lieutenant is a man named charles halfway. he was in the dead ring and turns to a friend and says, "what do you think of this?" jack mays had been a cook in the union army. he ran again with operation in hamburg. " i don't know what to think of it.
do you think they will kill all of us?" " i think so." " do you think they will kill me?" " i think so. just pray to god to save your save your wife and children." with that he hung his head and commenced crying. ring right around the african-american prisoner. they just want to open the ring up and turn it into a firing line and be done with it. one white name bill robinson said, no, the way to do it is to go hold a court-martial. whatever the court-martial determines you can do, you can do it. a small detachment move away from the ring and it opened with general butler. they certainly drew up a list. remember one of the boys in the
wagon? they are leaving to consult and draw up the list. hattaway says do all you can for me. he says, i will do all i can for you can i will do it in a short while. hattaway is the first name they call. they carry him down to a low oakfield there with a shoot him in the head. they come back to the ring and do it for more times. ,he last time they call a name at the sound of his name, he is up and running, running fast as he can. he is gunned down. he is presumed dead. one of the gunman says, "what better fun than you want than that?" he had not been killed and that is the reason we have verbatim quotations from inside the debto dead ring. what do you do the next best? day?
you convene a coroner's inquest. the wheels of justice do not turn until the corner makes a pronouncement. is where thee african-americans actually control -- the coroner's office. we write so many books about massacres and about lynchings. i wish we wrote more books about what you do the next day to pick up the pieces. in this case, prince river stood over the dead bodies of the six men and convened a coroner's inquest, because that is what you do. the pages ofgether the testimony and issues an arrest warrant for 87 white man, including matthew butler, future mout south carolina senator fischer that inquest makes it here to the new york times. unfortunately, it does not make it any farther.
the wheels of justice turn .no more to rivers dismay, there was no more links in the chain's of justice. he says now it will be 100 years. he knows exactly what they lost in hamburg co. they wasn't that it happened but that the government would not do anything about it. what happens to rivers? he returns to driving a carriage. to me, this is the arc. it was not the people brutalized or killed during reconstruction. it is to take a person like rivers who could've been in charge of the army of the potomac. he had been the mayor of a town and a state legislator and all those things. his art is from a carriage driver to a soldier to a state legislator to a mayor into a ,arriage driver against
driving white people around. he looked like a piece of statuary, so erect and form was he. what markers or memorials are on the ground? how should we remember what happened at hamburg? monumentthey erected a to the massacre, to the riot as described by them. to mccue meriwether, the lone white who had been killed and promised to kill jesus christ himself, probably caught in the crossfire. inscribed in that monument, in life, he exemplified the highest of anglo-saxon civilization. by his death, he assured to the children of his beloved land the supremacy of the ideal.
to princeent remains rivers and all the men of hamburg? where is hamburg now? this is what happens to hamburg. , the river floods and the moneyaugusta has and the federal poll to get the army of corps of engineers out to short the levees. hamburg does not. away.29, hamburg washes all that they owned and all that they had bought -- none of it protected. it is now known as north augusta. here we are around the site of the hamburg massacre. this is a golf resort. it looks with very well appointed streets right on the river in prime real estate.
what it would've meant to the african-american community to have on this today. how many millions of dollars might that be. i do not have anything against golf. maybe gentrification would've happened anyway. my question is how do we remember what markers remain on the land for us to remember? here's the execution site. remember that low oakfield where they shot down charles hattaway and three others? what is running over that site? that is the jefferson davis memorial highway. so that is just an example of the kind of story that you can write from these inquest and that i hope that you will write in the weeks ahead. does anybody have any questions about death investigations in united states, the corners office in the 19th century south, or anything else?
i know it has been another glum day of death and dying in the united states. i will see you all on tuesday. thanks very much. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] >> you are watching american history tv, all weekend on c-span3. to join us in the conversation, like us on facebook. >> next on history tv, jan gallowaynd grace liam discussed their postwar physical and psychological,, including the personal expanses of mental health issues and adjusting to civilian life. this conversation is moderated by joe klein and as part of the library wartial summit, exploring the wars lessons and legacy. joe: pas