Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
August 3rd, 1913
By Britt Craig.
Jim Conley isn’t a cornfield negro—he’s more of the present day type of city darkey—and that’s the only difference between him and Newt Lee. Outside of that there is but little variance.
However, Jim’s ancestors hewd cotton and plowed bottom lands long before Jim had an idea of existing. He’s got the good old country strain in him and he’s as black as tar.
Some folks say he’ll make a witness as good as Newt, and others say he won’t. That all remains to be seen. One thing is sure: There’ll be plenty of pyrotechnics when he begins to show whatever kind of witness he is.
Jim is the hinge of the Frank case. His testimony is expected to swing it one way or the other. If his story sticks and he is as firm as he has been thus far, things will look quite melancholy for the white man. If he falls down as the defense expects then Lord help his neck.
It’s a question of Jim Conley or Leo Frank with Jim Conley’s testimony as the scales.
As has been said Jim’s complexion is not unlike the ace of spades and his features are coarse. He is as full of native dialect as Newt Lee and those who heard Newt will agree that that is a whole lot.
Particular About Details.
He talks slowly and deliberately with a kind of African drawl and some of this vocabulary is so peculiarly niggerish that it is hard to distinguish, at times, what he means. He isn’t bashful by any means and has Newt Lee’s aptitude for unconsciously running over the other fellow’s rights when contradicted.
He’s squibble over a “junbug” and “lightningbug” illustration just as quickly as Newt contradicted Attorney Rosser when that lawyer called his pet light out of its name.
Friday afternoon kind, heartfelt police authorities took him from his cell and gave him a bath.They took him into the back yard where nobody could see, it is said, and turned a liberal hose on him.
They scoured and scraped and scoured and scraped and had him as shiny as the brass trimmings on a 1914 model auto. Then they took him back into the prison and sicced a negro barber on him. The barber shaved his head and and his face until it was as slick as an egg.
Jim has an eye for immaculateness. It was his desire to look ‘p’sentuhble’ that caused his arrest when he washed out his faded blue shirt in the pencil factory in preparation to attend the coroner’s inquest that afternoon.
Watchman Holloway who had an eager eve out for clues and anything else that might throw light on the murder that had been committed the preceding Saturday saw Jim performing his meager washing. Maybe Jim’s shirt was bloody and that was why he was washing it. Maybe there was something else that. Maybe there was anything. Maybe Jim Knew something of the murder.
He called the police and Jim, shirt and all, were taken to headquarters. From that time until the last Friday afternoon he has remained in prison shaveless, haircutless, but quite content with the buffetings of Fate.
Has Dropped His Swagger.
Jim was born in the country and raised in the city. Although there is still within him the vein of bucolic manners and ignorance, he has contracted quite a bit of city airs and city ways that are to his detriment.
One of these is a swagger which he used to assume, but, very likely, has dropped completely during the past few months. Another is a rising admiration of himself and a feeling of superiority that is as common to the city-bred negro as his love for ham. Recent reports, however, say that Jim has lost these weaknesses and has satisfactorily reverted to type.
Then, too, Jim, like most city-bred negroes, is a bit vain. He doesn’t hate himself, by any means. He considered himself “some bear” with the women folks, and it was with the probable expectation that he might meet some of his ‘ladies of color’ at the inquest that he washed the shirt that caused his arrest.
Police officials and Jim’s attorney say that they have been unable to budge him in his story, and that he sticks to it as firmly as a leech. They hopefully expect him to hold up on the stand. They say that it isn’t the rough, bittering kind of tactics that elicits information from him, but kindness and gentleness.
During the rigorous third-degree under which he was put at police headquarters for a solid week, the detectives hammered and hammered on him in vain. They could easily tell that he had a secret, was withholding something was doing a good job on the withholding, but as long as they blazed upon him with police fury, he was as adamant as a new tile sidewalk.
When He Told His Story.
When somebody suggested gentle tactics and scientific procedure upon the negro and forthwith inaugurated these methods. Jim’s story began coming bit by bit, and eventually spilled out is though the bottom had dropped. He “kicked in” with the whole business.
It is either a question of pride or vanity or sulkiness with Jim. If you pounce upon him and try to shake it out of him, like shaking a fox terrier loose from a bone, he’ll talk just about as freely as he’d submit to as unnecessary pulling of a back tooth.
But if Jim is approached gently and scientifically, he’ll rattle away like a 2007 Gazump pulling Hunter street on low gear. The prospects are that he is going to be a witness as interesting as Newt Lee. Not that he already is in fact, more interest centers on him than on any other of the case, purely because of the importance of his testimony. But, from a standpoint of character, fortitude and deliverance, speculation is wide and varied.
It all remains to be seen.
Jim Conley never was so important before.
The odds are he wishes he never had been.
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The Atlanta Constitution, August 3rd 1913, “‘Break’ in the Frank Trial May Come With the Hearing of Jim Conley’s Testimony,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)