You Belong to Me

Sex, Race and Murder in the South

The Ruby McCollum Story

Tameka Bradley Hobbs, Ph.D.

I am Tameka Bradley Hobbs. I am a professor of history as Florida Memorial University, but I was born and bred in Live Oak, Florida in Suwannee County. 

“It was in the 1930’s that the Florida state legislature officially adopted Stephen Foster's "Way Down on the Suwanee River/Old Folks at Home" as the state song of Florida.”

“Songs like Stephen Foster's song kind of play into that idea that when you have, as depicted in the lyrics of that song, an old black man in his later years wishing and longing for his days on a plantation, that is very self-serving on the part of the of the white society here in the state of Florida. Uh, and we see that being repeated time and time again.  In Virginia, the state song is "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," which has some of these same, themes in it.”

So I think it is very disingenuous, very self-serving for these state governments to adopt these songs and place them before the public as something that celebrates an inaccurate depiction of the past.”

I do believe that African Americans find this painful. There's been several campaigns to try to remove that song and make it so that it is not the official state song of Florida, replace it with something that would be more amenable and less painful to African Americans.”

 You have a state song, what it says when the legislature is endorsing the lyrics of this song, and the lyrics of that song romanticize a period in time when men and women were bought and sold like animals at auction, how can you reconcile that? How is that okay? How can we continue to live under a situation like that?

"White decimate the all-black township of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923 following a false accusation of rape made by a white woman. Lynching is at its height. An African American living in Florida had the greatest chance of getting lynched of any black person in the nation. It is a very difficult time to be black in Florida."

“Ruby McCollum stood on a pedestal, and that pedestal was built on bolita money. That was a very precarious position to occupy.”  

 “Ruby McCollum had things that very few black women in the South had. She had education, she had financial stability, and she even had prestige. But none of that mattered in that courtroom. All of her achievements, all of her hard work faded away the moment that she decided to take that gun into her hands and shoot Doc Adams.”

“The lifestyle that Ruby McCollum was able to enjoy was remarkable for a woman of her race. While many other African American women had no choice but to work in the fields, or to work in other peoples' kitchens, or to wash white folks' dirty clothes, this woman was able to live in a fantastic house with fine furnishings. She was able to buy the best and latest clothing for herself and her children. She was able to send her son, Sam Jr., to be educated at UCLA in California. All of these things put her high upon a pedestal, all of which was provided by both the legal and illegal income streams generated by her husband, Sam.”

“The jury was not simply judging Ruby McCollum for the crime of murder. There was a larger scandal that they would have been thinking about that day. Ruby McCollum was responsible for throwing the lid off something that most Southerners had tried to keep secret, and that was despite all the pronouncements about white superiority and black inferiority, that it was common knowledge that there were relationships, friendships, sexual and otherwise, that crossed this color line.”

“And the revelations in that courtroom, all because of Ruby McCollum's actions, were challenging that and bringing into the open air Southern hypocrisy.”

“This is a huge story. How is it that the negro, who is known to be involved in the illegal bolita racket, is able to walk around, flaunting his wealth, and escape being arrested. The white power structure in Suwannee County is livid, and they answers. And specifically, they want answers from Sheriff Howell.  How is it that he has not yet arrested Sam McCollum?   How is it that he has not yet arrested Bolita Sam?”

 “A larger question here is were whites involved in bolita?   It's hard to imagine that a black man would have been able to operate at such a high level and not have any support from the white establishment in the city. And one of the names that keeps coming up over and over again is the name of Dr. Clifford Leroy Adams.”

“There's a link between Bolita Sam and Doc Adams. That common link happens to be Charles Hall. Charles Hall is known to work as a driver for both men, and it's also well-known that Charles Hall is deeply involved in the bolita operation along with Sam McCollum.”

“Who was the other fellow that was supposed to pay the other part of that  bill?  Every witness remembers Ruby asking that question, but the prosecution never asked about it.” 

“Even though Ruby was being moved out of Suwannee County for her own safety, that did not end the trouble. It was common practice in situations like this that when white mobs couldn't get their hands on their main target, that they would turn around and victimize the African American community. Sam McCollum knew this, and he knew he had to get his small children out of town for their own safety and protection. He was able to go into the home, by what means we're unsure, but he is able to leave with a suitcase full of money, his children and some clothes for them. And he takes off, out of Live Oak.”

“Back in Live Oak, every black person feared retaliation.”

“Rumors began to swirl in the days after the murder. People insinuated that it was more than a doctor's bill that was at the base of this controversy. A renowned African American writer is going to come in an attempt to get to the bottom of this case.”

“Meaning, that when enslaved black women gave birth to children who may have been fathered or were fathered by free white men, those children still held the status of slaves.”

“During the period that we're looking at, it would have been incredibly difficult for a black woman to press charges against a white man for rape. And historically looking at this, from the Antebellum time period forward, legally there was no such thing as the rape of a black woman. She was property.”  

“There had been for generations mixed-race children with very bright skin, white skin, some of them able to pass for white who had cropped up in various neighborhoods and various communities across the South. This situation I think would be a little different in the fact that, first and foremost, Loretta by all accounts looked a lot like her father, so just visually it was very difficult for anyone to escape or deny that this was Doc Adams' child." 

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