"COURTS FEEL IT IS NOT THEIR BUSINESS TO CONCERN THEMSELVES WITH THE CAUSES OF SOCIAL PROBLEMS. BUT IT IS THE BUSINESS OF AMERICANS": THE RIGHTS OF MAN ARE WORTH DEFENDING, 1942, INCLUDING A PUBLICATION OF PAULI MURRAY AND MURRAY KEMPTON'S ARTICLE ON THE CASE OF EXECUTED SHARECROPPER ODELL WALLER PRECEDING THE FIRST SEPARATE EDITION
MURRAY, Pauli and KEMPTON, Murray. "'All for Mr. Davis': The Story of Sharecropper Odell Waller" IN: The Rights of Man Are Worth Defending, pp. 23-40. New York: League for Adult Education, 1942. Slim octavo, staple-bound as issued, original printed beige paper wrappers; pp. 47. $350.
Second edition of this civil rights pamphlet, published the same year as the first, including an early printing (preceding the first separate publication) of Pauli Murray and Murray Kempton's important article on the improper conviction of Odell Walker for murder by an all-white jury selected from poll-tax payers.
This collection of civil rights-themed articles includes "The Rights of Man Are Worth Defending"; "To Whom It May Concern" by Carl Raushenbush, George S. Counts, and Morris Milgram; "The Bill of Rights Then and Now" by Joseph Schlossberg; "The Emancipation Proclamation" by A. Philip Randolph; "To Check Intolerance" by Melvyn Douglas; "Free Speech Today" by Zechariah Chafee, Jr.; "The Smith Anti-Labor Bill"; "Denouncing the Smith Bill" by William Green; "A Crown of Thorns for Labor?" by Philip Murray; "Peacetime Sedition" by Roger N. Baldwin; "Hi-lights of the First Five Years of the Workers Defense League"; and, of course; "'All for Mr. Davis': The Story of Sharecropper Odell Waller" by Pauli Murray and Murray Kempton. Murray and Kempton's article is arguably the most important piece of writing in this collection. Odell Waller was an African-American sharecropper in Virginia who worked for a white landlord, Oscar Davis. The relationship quickly turned abusive. Davis did not own his land. Rather, he too was a sharecropper. When the owner of the land reduced Davis' acreage, he cut Davis' portion to a punishingly small two acres. This drove the Waller family further into poverty. To make ends meet, Waller's adoptive mother cared for Davis' ill wife for several weeks, but Davis failed to pay her the agreed-upon sum for the service. In response, the Wallers refused to work Davis' fields and Davis swiftly evicted them. In an attempt to prop up his family financially, Waller went to Maryland to put up power lines. While he was away, his adoptive mother and her cousin harvested Davis' wheat crop, only to have Davis refuse to give them the 1/4 share he had initially promised. Waller returned home from Maryland to try to resolve the situation. Waller, carrying a pistol and accompanied by several relatives, confronted Davis. While the actual facts surrounding the confrontation were disputed, Waller claimed that he saw Davis reach in his pocket for what seemed to be a gun. Waller then shot Davis four times. While Davis seemed like he might survive initially, he died the same day of a collapsed lung. Fearing that he would be lynched, Waller fled to Ohio where he was ultimately apprehended by the police and the FBI. The subsequent trial was a disaster. The judge was biased. The similarity of witness statements suggested coaching by the prosecution. Worse yet, Waller was represented by a radical communist splinter group whose lawyers were as inexperienced as they were ideologically motivated. Any self-defense argument was largely abandoned. The core of the defense argument rested on the idea that the jury selection was flawed, as the all-white jury was selected from those who had paid the poll-tax, which excluded African Americans and poor whites. However, the defense attorney failed to submit evidence to that end, meaning that the eventual guilty verdict was not appealable. Though Waller's defense attorneys had refused to allow the Workers' Defense League to take over the case, the WDL nevertheless waged a public relations and fundraising campaign asking for a commutation of the sentence. As a member of the WDL, Pauli Murray lobbied nearly every prominent civil rights lawyer for help and funding. Murray became emotionally involved in this campaign and it eventually drove her to promise, "If we lose this man's life, I must study law." Despite the intervention of the NAACP, John Dewey, Pearl Buck, Eleanor Roosevelt, and even FDR, Waller was executed. Pauli Murray accepted a full scholarship to Howard Law School soon after. In the end, the Odell Waller case started America on the path toward the 24th Amendment (banning poll taxes); led to meaningful reform of the Virginia penal system; and sparked the careers of several of the country's most powerful civil rights advocates including, of course, Pauli Murray. The first edition of this work was published the same year by the Workers Defense League. This edition was published for the League for Adult Education to increase distribution. The publication of Pauli Murray and Murray Kempton's article on Odell Walker in both of these editions precedes the first separate edition of the same year.