Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
August 10th, 1913
Frank’s Accuser Is Not the Type of Negro White Men Consider Their Friend.
By TARLETON COLLIER.
Jim Conley is a low-browed, thick-lipped, anthropoidal sort of negro. You look at him and your faith in Mr. Darwin’s theory goes up like cotton after a boll-weevil scare.
Here is a burly, short-necked black man. On his upper lip is a scanty mustache of the kind that most negroes fondle with the vain hope that it will grow into a bushy thickness. Conley is the most common African type as to physique.
Never a flash of brightness, never a gleam of wit, never the sparkle of unconscious humor came during the three days Conley was on the stand. Newt Lee made the courtroom laugh. Conley didn’t. He was always deadly earnest.
This earnestness is common to the most ignorant and illiterate members of the race always, particularly to the negro without a moral sense, without the inkling of a conscience, without scruples.
Delights in Dull Things.
Many people are given over to the fond belief that negroes are happy-go-lucky and irresponsible. Not negroes like Jim Conley. His kind find no pleasure in the simple things. Their recreations are sordid. They find their delight in things that are dull and drab, much as an animal would.
You can well believe that Jim Conley watched at the door while white men and women met secretly.
Jim Conley probably has not convictions concerning a God, nor belief in anything divine. It is this belief that makes the unintelligent negro a lovable person. Jim Conley lacked it, and became repulsive.
Most negroes have a simple faith and an unorthodox theology. Their immorality is ingenuous and child-like, and they err, when they do, through weakness or forgetfulness. Not Jim Conley.
Every Southerner knows Jim Conley’s type.
The negro did not laugh in the three days of his ordeal. He never smiled. And it was not because he was afraid; it is just that his type is not given to smiling.
If eh had squirmed in his seat or seemed uneasy, if he had revealed the slightest impertinence or the least bit of humor, if his eyes had only once seemed to plead with Luther Rosser to slacken the high tension of the cross-examination, then Jim Conley would have become the kind of negro that white men consider their friend, a human person.
Instead he sat there, his elbows on the arms of the big chair, his hands crossed in his lap, his eyes fixed on the eyes of the man who questioned him, and he answered glibly.
Even when he lied he gave back gaze for gaze, and answered glibly.
This little sketch of Jim Conley has nothing to do with whether his story is true or false. It may be the one or the other. The majority of men who have followed the case are of the opinion that a large part of it is true. Be that as as may. This is an attempted picture of the negro who has become the most notorious negro of Georgia, and it is altogether outside of his story.
This is a picture of the negro who watched at the door, who lied, and lied even when he was under oath. His life has been pitched in sordid lines, and he probably forgot long ago that there is such a thing as a conscience or a judgment.
It is just because of this that Conley’s story has been the remarkable production it was—a compound of admitted fabrication and probable truth. The negro has no scruples against falsehood. Little of his life, it is likely, has been true, and he could very easily sit unperturbed and tell a story that was false.
Jim Conley is not clever. He was merely running true to form maintaining his type, when he told his story.
A white man with a similar lack of conscience, and in a similar position could not have been more glib and plausible than Conley. But he would have seemed more clever, and probably would have injured his story because of that cleverness. He would have smiled at times, or appeared careless. Or, if he lacked the temperamental basis of falsehood that Jim Conley undoubtedly has, he would have succumbed and his story would have fallen under the merciless fire of the cross-examination.
Conley Just Unmoral.
Jim Conley was calm, unmoved, unsmiling, even grim—if a negro can be grim. And his story could easily have been true or false. It was sufficiently plausible to be true. It was sufficiently typical of the conscienceless Conley kind of a negro to be false. But however that is, you get the impression that he is not the playful kind of negro you like.
Not clever, not to be coaxed or wheedled or browbeaten into either friendliness or resentment, not to be shamed by a show of his falsehoods, not to be frightened by threat of punishment, Jim Conley with his lies and his placid, unemotional narrative of how he dragged dead Mary Phagan as he would a bundle of rags, gives you to know that the entire sketch of his character may be summed in one word—unmoral.
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