The Full First Chapter

I’m stunned by the big article today on the front of the St. Augustine Record. And in case any of you came over from that piece, I wanted you to have access to the first draft of my full first chapter. It’s going to change, but it’s actually a pretty good, expanded approximation of the talk I gave at the MKR Society on Saturday. And let me just say how gracious everyone was. To the extent there was “conflict,” it was all in fun. I think all of us feel quite a bit of pride in these remarkable Floridians.

What follows on the extended entry isn’t fully formatted yet. But I wanted to get something new up now for anybody coming over from the Record article. I’ll try to put italics and bolds and whatnot in the right place tonight.


“My dear foolish Zelma”: Marjorie writes a letter — in 1933

My dear mother last week located a never before examined adjunct to the Walton case file, which includes voluminous correspondence among the Waltons and various other parties to the case. It’s hard to overstate its value to me and the study of the lawsuit. Much of this will inform what I do from here on out in the book.

But perhaps most fascinating to Marjorie lovers and Florida historians is the letter published below that Marjorie wrote to Zelma in 1933 at the conclusion of a European vacation. Obviously, this letter far predates both the publication of Cross Creek and the lawsuit. It sheds much light on the falling out that Marjorie and Zelma endured in the early 30s, which Patricia Acton’s “Invasion of Privacy” discusses in some speculative detail.


Chapter 1, Scene 2

Under oath and pain of perjury, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Baskin was about to explain and defend the intentions and quality of her work as a ruthlessly talented chronicler of the rural Florida neighborhoods she’d called home for two decades.

No other major American writer of 20th century ever endured such a thing.

So you’ll have to forgive Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Yearling” and “Cross Creek” for disappointing the cracker fashionistas by taking the stand wearing a dress she’d already worn to court at least once that week. This was no time for airs.


Chapter 1, Scene 1

The drinking mob made a racket as it surged down North Third Street toward the swamp and the river. Bloodhounds bayed. Men shouted. Lanterns swayed back and forth on their metal handles, creaking and clanking as they moved past increasingly neglected carriage steps that lined the brick street in one of 1926 Palatka’s most affluent neighborhoods.

The lights were out in the Brown House, the two-story, dark-shingled Walton family home. Its silhouette commanded the large swampy lot at the northern end of Third Street, a few hundred yards from the St. Johns River.


A Bunch of Mannish Hussies

To me, questions of feminity form a sort of twinned core of the case, both separate and related to the questions of privacy and power, or the limits of “self-sovereignty,” as Aunt Katie put it in her written arguments. Obviously, Marjorie’s perceived insult of Zelma revolves around the type of woman she perceived Zelma to be. But what was that type? What did Zelma think Marjorie said? And what did Marjorie actually say? Those are different questions than “Did Marjorie have the right to publish what she published?” But they’re no less important or fascinating. Read the extended entry for a series of examples of how sexualized language shapes the case.


Harassing Railroad Companies Seems To Run In The Family

I spent a not-small-enough portion of my Thanksgiving break rummaging through ancient, partially dry-rotted legal files stored in a small trailer on my aunt’s property in Palatka. Among the dregs of JV and Kate Walton’s my legal career, I was looking for files related to the Cross Creek Trial and Battle for Palatka. This was researching with accountability. I never knew which file would fall open to reveal superroaches, otherwise known as palmetto bugs, large enough to bark. I think the CDC could trace the balky throat I brought home and have carried around this week directly to the toxic air inside the trailer.

Anyway, one of the files I found both relates this blog, and, in a way, to another endlessly rewarding family project: annoying predatory railroad companies. And I want to note it today in honor of the deeply entertaining special rail session of the Florida Legislature currently underway. Here’s a bit of an explanation, from my previous career, of why rail issues interest me.


From Cross Creek to … Abortion?

Last week, because I wanted to mock the strange conservative political infatuation with Republican senate candidate Marco Rubio — a run of the mill corporatist if there ever was one — I spent a few minutes on Rubio’s website looking for policy specifics. I did not find many. But I did stumble across one intriguing passage. In criticizing new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Rubio wrote:

I have more specific concerns about her case history and testimony regarding the Second Amendment at the state level, eminent domain takings and the so-called constitutional right to privacy [emphasis mine] that resulted in the Roe v. Wade decision.

Hmm. I’ve always thought of the Cross Creek Trial and its privacy claims in speech terms. But, of course, as Rubio points out, legal abortion also relies on the concept of privacy as an enforceable right under the U.S. Constitution. I wonder if the clear establishment of the right of privacy in Florida law that emerged from the Cross Creek trial bears at all on the federal abortion ruling that followed almost 30 years later. It sharpens a larger question I need to answer: What, if any, practical implications emerged from the establishment of a Florida state right to privacy? Any lawyers who might happen upon this, please weigh in.


For Veterans’ Day

The following two newspaper notes appeared almost next to one another in the same Aug. 9, 1918 edition of the Palatka Times-Herald:

Negro Registrants Given Big Send Off Sunday

Sunday afternoon at 5 o’clock the colored registrants under the last orders entrained for Camp Devens, Mass., to enter upon training for service. About 150 men from all parts of the county reported. An immense crowd, both whites and colored, assembled and gave the departing soldiers to be rousing send off.

Lieut. Walton Heard From.

Letters received from Lieut. W. N. Walton — in France — one written before he was injured and the other sent from the hospital where he is convalescing satisfactorily– give information of interest. He writes that he was wounded by a shell exploding within a few feet of where he was standing. Seven bits of shrapnel struck him, inflicting painful wounds, all of which have healed, however, save one on the right foot. His host of friends trust to soon note his complete restoration to his usual good health.


“I Ain’t No Porter”

In July of 1943, Marjorie took a train to Michigan to visit a relative. She wrote the following about her arrival in Michigan in the opening paragraph of a letter to Norton:

There were no porters and I had to carry my heavy bags. I tackled an idle colored man in the Michigan Central station and said I was desperate for a porter and would he help me. He said insolently, ‘I ain’t no porter.’

What follows in her letter is a remarkable discussion of “the Negro question” in Michigan. As Marjorie’s opening foreshadows, black labor and white entitlement to service and deference dominate the racial discussion portion of the letter. But you have to hear it in her words to fully grasp the import. Here are the relevant passages:


Homicide Rate in 1926 Putnam County Worse Than 2008 Detroit

How violent was Putnam County, Florida, of which Palatka is the county seat, in 1926?

The most conservative possible count of Putnam homicides in 1926 puts the county’s rate at about 41 per 100,000 population. For comparison, poor, beleaguered Detroit led the US in homicide rate in 2008 with 37.4 per 100,000 of population. The genteel south, indeed.