Albert Jackson had always thought of home as peaceful. After the war it seemed dull. But the article circled in this week’s Floyd County Tribune told him things were changing out there. He read aloud to Delia, his bride-to-be, as she sat on her parents’ living room sofa, straight as a poker, perched like a wren near the edge of the cushion.
“This is from last week, dated December 1, 1920.” He pointed to the article on the front page, making sure Delia saw it. “‘Sunday, C. C. Jackson contacted the county sheriff in Calverton saying that he’d found a body on his property that morning. The deceased was a Negro man, tentatively identified as Lincoln Berryhill, age thirty-four, from Bosley, Oklahoma. That identity was based on items found nearby. Deputy Asa Moore described the condition of the corpse as follows: ‘completely naked, except for a tattered sock on the right foot. Appears to have been killed by a blow or blows to the back of the head, which has a bashed in appearance. Both legs are broken below the knees, with bone visible sticking out from both.’”
If Delia reacted at all to the gory details, he couldn’t tell from looking. The expression on her face, pleasant and somewhat distant, a carbon copy of her mother’s, had not changed since he began reading the article to her. Come to think of it, her women friends he’d met while visiting Longview all wore similar faint, far away smiles.
Wondering why he hadn’t thought before about that intentionally vacant expression, Albert hesitated. Today, exactly as he had each week since he and Delia Carson became officially engaged, Albert Jackson sat with her in the front parlor of her parents’ Longview, Texas, home. Doing his best to fit in, for the time being at least, with the way things were done in her family and in East Texas, he visited from Fort Worth. His Model T made the five-hour trip easily. But as far as he was concerned, the two towns were worlds apart. In Fort Worth, he could stretch his legs, hear talk of men dealing in cattle and land, feel the same as he’d always felt back home in the Texas Panhandle where he knew he was a man involved in the important work of helping feed the country. Everything about Longview felt cramped, a place more like the old South, full of manners and formal courtesies and open secrets.
He’d received an edition of the newspaper he held in the mail each week from his father, C.C. Jackson, since they reached their understanding. First, his father had sent that telegram letting Albert know in no uncertain terms that the fact he fought in the Great War didn’t mean it was the last work he’d ever need to do.
Right away, he’d gone home to Jackson’s Pond and explained to his father he was courting a woman he’d met in Fort Worth and had to be there to win her hand. After a long talk they reached an understanding that got him a bit of a reprieve. They both knew his mother’s dying last year had left the house in need of a woman.
Now that he and Delia Carson were engaged, plenty of things required his presence in her hometown. But his father let him know, with this regular news delivery, that he was watching, and the clock was ticking. After the wedding three weeks from today, Albert and his bride would make their way westward across the more than four hundred miles from Longview to the Jackson Ranch, home.
Albert straightened out a fold in the paper and read on, “Found nearby were overalls and a red union suit, an empty billfold, and a letter introducing Lincoln Berryhill. The letter stated Berryhill was working his way down to Fort Stockton, Texas, to stay with an elderly uncle who once had been stationed there as a Buffalo Soldier. The letter, torn into four pieces found scattered near the clothing, also said Berryhill was a good worker and trustworthy. It was signed Marshall Lee, President of the Bosley, Oklahoma, First National Bank. By press time, no relatives have been located to verify identification, and Mr. Lee has not replied to our inquiries.”
She asked, “What does that have to do with us?”
“Nothing, I hope. But it could mean the KKK is trying to stir up problems out there. They kill people for no other reason than being Negro. I’ve also heard they aim to get elected to office and run the big cities in the state. Dallas, Austin, even Wichita Falls.”
Delia leaned forward a tiny bit, deposited her teacup, still full, on the end table. She turned to face Albert and said, “That’s not necessarily a bad idea. Women right here in our town know we’re safe primarily because of the protection of the Klan. After a brief pause to retrieve and sip her tea, she said, “How can women feel safe out in West Texas if there’s no one keeping the order of things?”
“That’s what the sheriff’s department’s for. And courts.”
Delia said, “Justice sometimes must be swiftly administered. People who can’t or don’t want to live like the rest of us have to be taught a lesson. If I didn’t know better, I would think you were trying to start an argument with me. And here, so near to our wedding.”
“I’m trying to have a discussion, to understand what you believe. If that sounds like arguing, well so be it.” He stopped talking, made a show of checking his watch.
She said, “I think I am due an apology.”
“I have to go. I need to get out to the ranch. I’ll be back next week.”
Delia shot up from the sofa. “You’ll do no such thing. Critical preparations for the wedding and our honeymoon must be attended to.”
“This is more critical.”
She stamped her foot, noiselessly because of the thick rug, but he saw the movement. She said, her voice louder than he’d ever heard, “That’s debatable.”