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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Governor Hoey stalls in addressing prison camp scandal

Green remembers his efforts to resolve the case of two prison camp inmates who lost their feet due to the camp's inhumane conditions. Governor Clyde Hoey at first would not take responsibility for their injuries, but Green's threat of publicity, using his Hollywood ties, changed the governor's mind.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
You were involved in a lot of cases of trying to defend black prisoners or to reform the legal system. The Shropshire and Barnes case I read about in your files. Now, that is an incredible thing. Did Hymn To The Rising Sun come out of that?
PAUL GREEN:
Yes. I decided that I would write something about Shropshire and Barnes losing their feet and all ….
JACQUELYN HALL:
Could you tell me about that? That happened in 1935.
PAUL GREEN:
I talked to somebody about that. But this Governor Hoey was the governor and there is the glory of the press. What would we do without the press, newspapers that tell these things? I've got pictures of those boys around here somewhere that were brought to me by a Charlotte Observer reporter, showing them sitting in wheelchairs and both of them looking down at their feet.
JACQUELYN HALL:
William Jones was the reporter that uncovered that case.
PAUL GREEN:
Is that right?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
PAUL GREEN:
Well, gosh, you know more about it than I do.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you remember him, Bill Jones? Do you know who that is?
PAUL GREEN:
I don't remember, but he showed up here over in town where I lived. I said, "My Lord!" He said, "Well, can you do something about it?" I said, "I'll think about it."
JACQUELYN HALL:
It was this Charlotte Observer reporter who came to you and told you about the case?
PAUL GREEN:
Yes, I didn't know anything about it, I was away or something, but this fellow called me up from Charlotte, or wrote me a letter. He was a young man. Did you say that his name was Jones?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
PAUL GREEN:
He said that he would like to see me about a matter. So, he showed up and he told me about this thing. It was so tragic that it passed out of tragedy to the grotesque and there was some kind of vinegar laughter almost about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It was the most incredible thing that I ever read. It just went on and on and on.
PAUL GREEN:
I said, "What can you do?" He said, "There they are." I said, "The State of North Carolina will have to pension them at least. They can do that for them."
JACQUELYN HALL:
So, you found out about it really after it had happened and their feet had been amputated?
PAUL GREEN:
Yes, you see, the chain gang thing, they took the fellows out to work on a project and they had a steel cage on wheels, and sometimes when they would be away from the big center, they would just spend the night there. Well, these boys, I guess, had done something and the old convict boss, his name was Little. I have a picture of him, too. I wonder where we could find that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I saw those pictures.
PAUL GREEN:
You did?
JACQUELYN HALL:
They are in there.
PAUL GREEN:
Well, this boss ties them up in the cage and during the cold night, they lost their circulation and so they got gangrene and lost their feet. I said to this young reporter, I remember that I had just come back from Hollywood, I said, "I'll go see the governor." So, I called up Governor Hoey and this was before the Fred Beal thing and I hadn't worn out my welcome. You see, they are always concerned about someone that will vote for them, so they welcomed the citizens. So, he said, "Sure, come on over." I told him that I had a very important matter that I wanted to talk to him about. So, I go over there with these pictures and I said, "Governor, here is a hell of a thing that happened up in Charlotte." [interruption]
JACQUELYN HALL:
So, you went to see the governor.
PAUL GREEN:
So, I go over to the governor and I show him these pictures and say, "Here is something terrible that has happened." He said, "What is that, Paul?" I said, "Governor, these are a couple of fellows that the State of North Carolina has cut their feet off." So, I tell him the story.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He didn't know about it? Surely he knew.
PAUL GREEN:
Of course he did. He said, "Oh, Paul, that's just terrible." I said, "You're right, Governor, it is terrible." He said, "Well, it's just terrible." [Laughter] I said, "Well, Governor, what are we going to do about it?" He said, "Well, there is nothing that we can do." I said, "Can't the state do something?" "No, we can't do anything. We can't accept responsibility or agree that we are liable. They can't sue the state." He was a lawyer, you know. I said, "Well, Governor, something ought to be done. They can't make a living now." I don't remember, maybe he changed the subject. You know how they always have a secretary run in with a message or something and you know that it's time to go. So, somebody came in and brought him a message and I had to go. So, I said, "Well, Governor, we ought to do something." He said, "We can't." I said, "Well, I guess that I'll have to do something." "Good luck, Paul, do what you can for them." I said, "I know the Paramount News man in Hollywood and when I get back home, I'll call him in Hollywood and tomorrow or the next day, we'll have a team of photographers here and we'll photograph these boys. We'll cover the whole United States with their pictures and …."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you think of this just off the top of your head while you were talking to him?
PAUL GREEN:
Yeah, it just came up. I hadn't thought of it before. He said, "No, no. You can't do that." I said, "You are damn right that I'll do it and I'll even make a speech." So, he got busy then and out of that, they pensioned them.