After Arrest, Town Shamed by '68 Killing Seeks Renewal
MARTINSVILLE, Ind., -- The fate of Carol Jenkins, a 21-year-old black woman who came here to sell encyclopedias, and the reputation of this almost entirely white town have been intertwined since the rainy September night in 1968 when a stranger stabbed her in the heart with a screwdriver and left her to die in the street.
For nearly 34 years the outside world assumed that the killer was from Martinsville, with its Ku Klux Klan past, and that the police had covered up for the murderer.
Martinsville, which according to the 2000 census has 11 blacks among its 11,698 residents, became a place, as James Patterson, a black columnist with The Indianapolis Star, wrote recently, "where black folks traveling on State Road 37 know better than to stop after dark."
So when the police announced recently that they had charged in Ms. Jenkins's death a 70-year-old man who had ties to the Klan and had never lived in Martinsville, Mayor Shannon L. Buskirk said he felt as if a burden had been lifted not only for the family of Carol Jenkins, but also for his town.
"It's a great day for Martinsville," Mr. Buskirk, 56, said at a news conference last week. Maybe now, he said, talking at city hall a few days later, "people will say, `maybe they're not as bad as they've been labeled.' "
But while many people here viewed the arrest as vindication, for some it has also become a chance for Martinsville to look at itself for what it has been - a place, like many others, where racial hatred existed for generations, and where a legacy of intolerance still lingers - and to move beyond its resentments.
In his sermon on Sunday, the Rev. J. Christy Wareham, the minister at the First Presbyterian Church, told a parable of a village that outsiders saw as a place that "hates people because of the color of their skin." The hearts of outsiders had become hardened toward what they thought of as the killer village, he said, and the hearts of the villagers had subsequently become hardened about other people.
"Truth became impossible," Mr. Wareham said.
One of the truths that no one talked about was that even though they did not know her killer, there were some people who felt guilty about Carol Jenkins's murder.
Mary Ann Land was a junior at Martinsville High School in 1968. Last week Mrs. Land, 50, spilled out years of pent-up emotion in a letter to the town's newspaper, The Reporter-Times.
In 1968 there were people in this town who hated black people, Mrs. Land, an accountant and mother of two, wrote. "If you weren't one of them, then you knew someone who was. It might have been a neighbor, or it might have been your grandpa, or your Uncle Bob."
"I've also lived with the fear that I could have known the person who so brutally killed Carol Jenkins," she wrote in the letter, which has not been published. "He could have been my neighbor, or he could have been a relative of mine," she wrote. "But I dare say, in 1968, most people who lived here could have come up with someone they knew who might have had that kind of anger or rage to do something so despicable."
"My grandpa was a bigot," Mrs. Land said in an interview. He had a terrible temper, she said. "What if it had been my grandpa?"
But she is not a bigot, she wrote in her letter, and she has resented being labeled one all these years, "just because I was born here." Mrs. Land talked about many of these things at Tuesday's Rotary luncheon at the First Presbyterian Church. She was given an ovation.
In the 1920's, Indiana was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, and at its peak Klan-endorsed politicians ran the state. In 1925, there were 1,600 Klan members in Morgan County - there are no separate numbers for Martinsville, the county seat - or about 27 percent of the county's native adult white males.
"Martinsville in the 1920's was no more or less a hotbed of the Klan than any other Indiana town," said James H. Madison, a professor of history at Indiana University at Bloomington, and the author of "A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America," about the 1930 lynching of two black men in Marion, Ind.
The Klan's influence in the state fell sharply by the late 1920's, and by 1967, when the Klan arrived in Martinsville as the culmination of a multicity march, the mayor, James Gardner, urged the residents to "disregard and ignore" them.
Today, Professor Madison said, there is no evidence that Martinsville is a dangerous place for blacks. What matters, he said, "is that people think it is."
One of the town's newer residents, Dianna Griggs, 42, an internist who is black, recalled that years ago she had been "literally afraid to stop in Martinsville." She arrived in the late 1980's after her husband, who is a pathologist, and is white, got a job at the county hospital. The town could not have been more welcoming, said Dr. Griggs, who is a member of the Martinsville women's club.
"Any time we go anywhere outside of Martinsville, and people find out where we're from, they're amazed we call this home," she said. "They expect to hear reports of intolerance and prejudice."
Still, in terms of many of its attitudes, as well as its composition, Professor Madison said, Martinsville, an overwhelmingly Republican, conservative Christian town, has not changed as rapidly as most small to medium-size towns in Indiana. One reason, he suggested, could be that the conclusions outsiders drew about the Carol Jenkins murder led some residents "to sort of dig in, to draw a line."
Whatever happened over the years - whether it was a hard-fought high school basketball game where a handful of Martinsville fans were accused of yelling racial taunts at opposing black players, or a city official ranting about Middle Easterners and gays in a letter to the editor of the local paper - outsiders seized upon it as yet another example of Martinsville's entrenched racism. For many townspeople, the incidents were further proof of how unjustly judged they were.
"No matter where we go," said Bette Nunn, 70, the managing editor of The Reporter-Times, where she has worked for nearly 40 years, "people look at you — especially if they have black people in their community — as `You're one of those mean people, one of those bad people.' "
Four years ago, Mr. Wareham, a relative newcomer from Los Angeles, formed Pride — People Respecting Individuality and Diversity in Everyone — whose 25 members try to promote tolerance and to improve the town's image. Every year the group holds a dinner in honor of Albert Merritt, a black man who established a club for poor boys in Martinsville in the early part of the century.
Pride, whose members include a judge, a retired reading teacher and a doctor's wife, is hardly a bunch of rabble-rousers, but still it has stirred resentments. Like a lot of other people in town, the mayor says Pride spends too much time apologizing for things that have never happened.
"I have never mistreated anybody myself, and I don't feel that I have to apologize for anything," Mr. Buskirk said.
Last fall Martinsville was back in the news after the assistant police chief, Dennis Nail, wrote a letter to the local paper complaining about "queers," "Billy Buddha," "Hadji Hindu" and the outlawing of organized school prayer.
Neither the mayor nor the police chief disciplined Mr. Nail or publicly criticized his letter, which he had written as a private citizen. Mr. Nail was given a standing ovation at a packed City Council meeting.
But a group of 750 citizens, including Bill Cunningham, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, took out an advertisement in the local paper condemning Mr. Nail's letter.
In the fall of 2000, the Indiana State Police, with help from Martinsville police, began reinvestigating the Carol Jenkins murder. There had never been a coverup of the case they said, only a lack of evidence. Officials arrested Kenneth Richmond last week at a nursing home in Indianapolis, after his daughter, Shirley McQueen, 40, came forward and said that she had been in the back seat the night her father drove to Martinsville with another passenger, a white man whom she could not identify.
She told the police that she had watched as her father spotted a black woman walking down the sidewalk, got out of the car and chased her down. The other man grabbed the black woman from behind, and her father stabbed her in the chest with a screwdriver, his daughter said.
When they got back in the car, her father and the other man were laughing. "She got what they deserved," she quoted them as saying.
Mr. Richmond pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, and is being held without bond.
It is too soon to tell when Mr. Richmond, who has a long psychiatric history, will be brought to trial. No one here thinks that the history of the town that was written after the murder can be erased overnight. "We are not at the end of the road, but at the fork in the road," Mr. Wareham said in his sermon.
But the minister said he thought the mayor had made a hopeful beginning at last week's news conference. The mayor had made a point of saying that, more than anything, he was happy for Carol Jenkins's family, which, had suffered for so long.
He told her stepfather, Paul Davis, who had raised Carol as his own daughter, and who was at the news conference, to call him at home if he needed anything.
Mr. Davis, 74, a retired machine repairman, said, "He sounded sincere."
Mr. Davis has no love for Martinsville. He hired his own investigator two years ago because of what he considered police inaction in the case.
The mayor "was so happy the guy wasn't a Martinsville citizen," Mr. Davis said, talking in his home in Rushville, Ind., where Carol's high school graduation picture has hung on the wall in the family room for 33 years.
Mr. Davis's daughter had gone to Martinsville to sell encyclopedias for a single evening after the factory where she worked had been shut down by a strike.
"It's not about Martinsville," Mr. Davis said. "It's about my daughter."