Sunday, February 17, 2013

At the Reformatory

"In 1913 my sister Eloise was born down in Milledgeville, in Baldwin County. When the lynch mob from Marietta went down there to Milledgeville and took Leo Frank from the prison, right away my father came back up here to Haralson County and had the folks that helped build the house up there on that land for Mrs. White, he had them help to build him a house back here.
"I learned more from the annual that they printed. I think it was printed as a weekly or a monthly tribune, The Future Citizen. The Georgia prison in Milledgeville printed it. I don’t know but what that they were the ones that bound it. And he had an annual for the complete time that he was down there. And it told when he was appointed. Uncle Edgar, the lawyer and the politician in Atlanta, he got my dad appointed to that position at the boys' reformatory. Edgar was Dad's brother. Hoke Smith was the governor. I think it was the same year that Dad either finished the University of Georgia, or dropped out, or something. I never did see anything that showed he received a degree. John White, who went up there, they were there at the same time, he was a doctor there in Buchanan and he put in a drug store when he retired from being a doctor. And he told me that he and Tom Latham graduated from University of Georgia the same day. But I never did see Dad’s certificate of completion that he had anything. But John White said he had a B.E. degree. So I don’t know. But very soon after that, it was probably in June when he graduated, very soon after that, in 1906 or 1907, he was appointed by Gov. Hoke Smith as superintendent of that reform school there in Milledgeville. And he also was the -- I don’t know what you’d call him. Not the president. But he had full control over all the federal prisons because his boys that he kept there were housed in a part of the federal prison. They fed at a separate table from the federal prisoners that were there. In that Future Citizen tribune, they bound that thing, the page that says things about my dad, why they took it and they put it all together, bound it, put it in a hardback cover, and gave it to him, I guess. Or he bought it. I don’t know which. And we kept it until Eloise passed away. I don’t know what those girls done with it, they make out like they never saw it. Didn’t know anything about it.
"Well, you remember Leo Frank was a Jew and he was the manager of that pencil factory, the National Pencil Company, and the building is still there. Used to be the old Atlanta Woolen Mill, out on Highway 78 going out towards Austell, right across the river. It’s up on the hill on the right. And it was a pencil factory. And Mary Phagan worked there. She worked on Saturday. I don’t know what the reason was. Had extra hands come in to work on Saturday. And they found her strangled to death in the basement of that building. And Leo Frank was the only one that was supposed to be in the building at the time. And he was convicted on circumstantial evidence as the murderer. And of course he was sentenced to die. And Governor John Slaton told them, he pardoned him. Probated him. Commuted it to life in prison, I believe was the first thing. Well, the anti-Semitics all over the country jumped all over Governor Slaton about it. His word to them was, 'I remember a man who was hanged who was absolutely innocent. and I would never have that kind of a charge laid against me. Therefore I’m commuting his sentence.' And they ran him out of the state of Georgia. He resigned the governorship and left the state of Georgia. But they went down there, cut the telephone wires and knocked out the transformers so there’d be no lights in the prison. And they went to my dad and mother’s place where they lived, aroused my dad in his pajamas, in his nightclothes, and took him to the prison with his keys and went in the gate, because they had a big gate, a big fence all the way around the prison. And then they went in the front door of the prison and into the guard room. And there they found the guard asleep. And they aroused him and they put the guard and my dad in a cell right next to the guard’s office. And they took the key, of course, and took Leo Frank and carried him up to Atlanta. But Dad had one of those old high-wheel Indian motorcycles. Back then it didn’t have a battery. It was a magnetic motor in there. And it had the carbide wire driving it. Well Dad, undoubtedly, he and the guard, I guess the guard had done it on purpose. Dad said they had a big, heavy steel rod. But I don’t think it was a big heavy steel rod. I think it was a piece of real stiff wire that they laid alongside of the cell in the guard room. In the guard’s office. And they got that thing through the bars and they used it to open the drawer in the desk and drag out the keys where they could get out of the cell. And Dad rode that motorcycle all the way over to Barnesville to notify the sheriff that Leo Frank had been kidnapped from the prison. And he told about the sandbars and the curves and all that he had to negotiate during the night. And he had the motorcycle. I rode that motorcycle and got a chunk took out of my butt! Course, out there on that dirt road, you can think about going down that steep hill, down toward the river, right there is where it happened. That thing slid off of the ... I was running up in the middle of the road, the best I can remember. And the rear wheel slid off of the road and down into the rut. And that flipped the thing around. And i fell and the chain is what eat up my butt. But...
"As I say, he told me about the details of his travels to Barnesville. And he told about some of the details that he had with some of the boys that had been sent there for correctional training. And he talked just like it was a school. They had a certain number of hours they had to study, with their books. And then he let them work. They cultivated the area. And they had guards that I think the prison official furnished those guards to guard them when they were out in the field. And then he had charge of all of their play. Recreational play. And they had right near any type of recreation that they wanted to apply themselves with. Because in that manual it would say that they split the boys up in teams. And this team would play that team. And I think they called them the reds and the blues. I think that was the name they gave them. And they’d play football, the reds against the blues. And they’d play baseball, the reds against the blues. I don’t remember that I ever heard it or read that they played basketball. And I wondered if basketball had not been a prominent game at that time.
"Just as quick as that happened -- now John White told me this, and Dad might have told John White that -- that Dad, that the guys who come down there and lynched Leo Frank knew that Dad recognized at least one of them. And Dad, knowing that he did recognize that one, he got afraid. He didn’t want to stay there. He didn’t know what might happen to him. And here was mother and this little girl. So he just turned in his resignation and he left Milledgeville and came back to Haralson County. Course, I don’t know what he put on his resignation, the reason for leaving or anything. Because I never was able to find even a copy of the paper down there that told about what reasons he gave. The only thing was the last page in that manual stated -- they never did call him Thomas Latham, they called him Tom. 'Professor Tom Latham has resigned the position of superintendent of the boys’ school,' they called it, at Milledgeville. And it wasn’t maybe just five or six lines, that’s all that was in there. And it gave no explanation whatsoever. What I learned was from what Dad told me and what Mama told me about that night. Of course she was scared to death, within an inch of her life. She didn’t know what was going to happen to her. And she couldn’t use the telephone and they had no lights. And of course that made it even worse. But I think she was just as anxious to get out of Milledgeville at that time as he was. So they went out there and Uncle Henry was dead. He died in 1911 or 1912. But Uncle Abijah and Uncle Victor and Uncle Virgil, he had just entered University of Georgia. I don’t think he finished his first year there. But this was during the summer months. Vacation time. And those three boys, with Mr. John Eaves, built the house for Daddy there on that property on Eaves Bridge Road. There in the spring or maybe in the winter they had moved into that house that his brothers had built for them, back home in Haralson County." -- T.J. Latham

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