6/4/2020 KELLEY KIDD I saw the video of the killing on the day it occurred. Of course I was horrified by the video of the killing of George Floyd. The death appeared to be the inevitable result of the kneeling officer’s continued pressure on the neck of his helpless prisoner while the prostrate, handcuffed prisoner begged for his life. It was murder, and the actual death was preceded by the torture that deliberate and callous violence is calculated to produce. And it was just as obvious to me that the supporting officers were aware of what was happening while they not only did not try to intervene, but actively warded off the efforts of bystanders to prevent the killing. They were clearly accomplices under Minnesota law, and they would have been clearly “parties to the crime” under Georgia law.

I immediately did a little research into Minnesota Law relating to murder. The State has three degrees of murder, the first of which requires premeditation, a state of mind that summons ideas of advance planning. Since the encounter between George Floyd and the officers appears to have resulted from a reported “forgery” a very short time before, that charge would be extremely difficult to predict ending in a Guilty verdict as the resolution of a jury trial.

But second degree murder appeared to fit what happened here. One of two bases for that charge requires proof of a “predicate” felony. If the prosecution can convince the jury that the officer whose prolonged kneeling killed Mr. Floyd committed the crime of felonious assault, then the predicate offense will be the replacement for the usual requirement that the prosecution show the officer was animated by malice. This “felony murder” provision is a standard feature of most states’ statutory definitions of the crime of murder. In Minnesota conviction for felony murder carries a potential punishment of 40 years in prison. I also believe the prosecution will have some chance of convincing the jury to find malice. But premeditation would have been more difficult.

The other officers should have been charged with aiding and abetting the crime of murder. My problem from the first day of this case with the way it was handled boils down to this. Anyone other than a police officer who did what these men did would have been arrested by warrant on the same day. Of course I knew that the prosecutor would not do that. The delay in prosecuting officers for violence to Black men has become as inevitable as hot weather in July. It has never been excusable. That delay, coupled with the County Attorney’s half hearted announcement that he would be investigating to see “if any crime has been committed’ two days later, has played a huge part in igniting the huge pssionate protest now erupting all over this country.

I am more than grateful that this case has resulted in the rivers of righteous anger that continues to be poured out here. This old man never dreamed he would live to see the time when so many people from all walks of life–including miltary and police–have responded to the call for nonviolent and continuing protest and demand for change. A very conservative Republican white woman told me a few days ago that it has taken this horror to wake her to the call for justice that she has ignored for so long. “Finally now I am beginning to see” she said. Yes.

At terrible cost George Floyd is truly changing the world. May that change continue. Please God. Help us to continue this until the oppression of African Americans becomes only the long sad pages of our history for four hundred years. Amen.

THE AHMAUD ARBERY MURDER CASE: Introduction to Your Commentator

May 12, 2020 KELLEY KIDD, writer and editor. This is the first posting on a subject about which the author expects to continue commenting until at least there is a plea or verdict that appears to resolve the case legally. Some of the facts of the case are unfolding rapidly for public view. New information is coming every day, sometimes multiple times in a single day. A week ago today no arrests had been made, the GBI had not yet begun the investigation that led to two arrests, formal charges had not been made, the coroner’s report had not been made public, the present prosecutor in the case had not made any appearance or even been appointed, the federal government had not been involved in any way, a possibly important video of the deceased’s whereabouts shortly before the shooting had not yet surfaced, the President had not expressed any opinion publicly, and this case was not yet in the daily attention of most of those presently following it.

So this first posting is not about the facts of the case. I refer you to your local and national news sources for that. I do promise to return to those facts as soon as they become clearly enough available to make intelligent commentary possible. I am confident that the rush of new information will at least pause soon. At that time I will give you a “what we know now” posting.

In the American criminal justice system the facts determine the applicable law, or at least they should. I had originally planned to use this initial posting to at least outline the Georgia criminal law and procedure involved here. I will do that very soon. However the factual situation is unfolding so rapidly that I will postpone that effort for at least a few days.

What I can and will do here is to very briefly try to sketch a picture of those elements in my background that bear directly on reporting and on my vision of this case. I do not believe any human being can be totally objective about any situation as emotionally explosive as this. But I believe each of us should try hard to be as unaffected as possible by the preconceptions and the emotional bent our previous experience has given us. The jury will be asked to do that if there is a trial. I hope each of us has been taught even as children that open minded attention and fair consideration are fundamental goals of decent human beings.

So here is your writer, who is aware that he has the very hardest time being fair minded when the subject he writes about is himself. I am a 78 years old white guy from Georgia. I have been a lawyer and a member of the Georgia Bar since 1970. I have been a public defender doing full time criminal defense work since the creation of the statewide public defense system in 1995. I was representing criminal defendants and alleged juvenile delinquents part time for many years before that. It seems to me that my record has been at least pretty good. Although I have lost more than a few bench trials, jury trials and motion hearings, I have also won quite a few. I have recently been honored by the Bar Association for my long service. I continue to do my best to give each of my clients diligent and zealous service. This work is my calling and my passion.

Last year I represented a man accused of Felony Murder and Aggravated Assault. Recently I have asked for the opportunity to represent another man accused of the same combination of offenses. These are the same offenses for which the McMichaels have been arrested in the Arbery case. Some of the same defenses that may appear in the Arbery case were involved in the case I handled last year. Even more recently I won a jury trial in which my client was accused of fleeing to avoid being detained by law enforcement officers. I have been credited at least once with being a key factor in the removal of an abusive officer from a police department. I believe all this experience both informs my view of the Arbery case as well as making it perhaps more difficult to avoid certain bias.

Outside my legal practice my life has of course been dramatically affected by other experiences dealing with race. I am an American who has never lived outside the Mason-Dixon line, a graduate of an all white male military high school, a graduate of Emory College in Atlanta when it was all white and Emory Law School in the first class that included a few token African American male students. In 1963 I attended Harvard College for the summer quarter, and was disappointed to see not one single African American in the faculty or student body.

On the other hand, earlier postings on this blog have related certain experiences in 1963 and 1968 which dramatically altered my views and emotions on the subject of race, as well a my willingness to act on those new revelations. I have studied the history of slavery and racism as a part of my study over the years of American history. Many of my closest associates since 1968 have been African Americans. Beginning in 1968 I actively worked for several years every conscious hour to learn and to pass on information about the problems caused by white racism and by contempt for the poor of all races. My boss in recent years has been a highly competent and dedicated African American lawyer and defender of the poor. Many of our able fellow workers also have been people of color.

One other note about me before I close this introduction. I believe that I may owe my life to a murderer in Baltimore, a man who had undoubtedly killed a number of other men while serving the interests of certain wise guys, whose identities I never knew. He loved me and helped me at a time when few others could or would have wanted to even try. Finally, when I was ten years old the funeral of a murderer in Milledgeville Georgia set my faith in the gospel truth that my God adores each and every one of us humans, even those who do the most evil deeds!

I will be carrying all of these attitudes and experiences into my postings on the Arbery case. My job as a public defender will continue to be my first concern. But my second will be to be making my best efforts to help you understand as much about this case as I can know and you can learn from me. If you have questions or comments about my writing or the case as you see it, please do not hesitate to express yourself in comments on the FB postings I will be making each day in which i also have a much more extensive comment in this Journal of Public Law.

At the end of each of these postings, I will make a declaration similar to this: absolutely every bit of this posting has been researched, written and edited by me. My employer on my day job was not consulted about whether this blog was a good idea. She has certainly not been asked to edit or to even comment on the contents of the blog in general or this posting in particular. I have not received any compensation for anything I write on this blog. And I do not anticipate ever accepting a dime for any of it. I like to write about subjects that interest me, and I enjoy the fantasy that others who read my writing may actually benefit from taking the time to read what I have written. Those are my sole motives for what you see here.


Mam 4, 2020 KELLEY KIDD This blog has already referred to nonviolence several times. There will be a strong emphasis in the blog’s future on nonviolence as a way of life and as a strategy for social, political and economic change.

In a previous posting I have tried to tell the story of how i became committed to nonviolence through the life nd death of Martin Luther King Jr. I have not explained what I mean by “nonviolence”. Dr. King explained his concept of nonviolence on numerous occasions. He usually laid out five interrelated elements. I will follow that prescription here. At some points I will also add my own observations about the origins and the continued relevance of these fundamental elements of a way of life. My purpose is to provide a necessary continuing reference for future analysis and narrative.

  1. The first principle of nonviolence is to resist the wrong. Nonvioence is certainly NOT a philosophy for those who shrink from confrontation. Nonviolence is confrontation. Each of us can probably associate this principle with historical or personal experiences of such behavior. Association for Bible readers may be the prophet Nathan confronting the KIng David by leading him into a trap in which he uses David’s own thoughts to show the King that he has committed murder, and a particularly odious murder at that. He then shows the King that he himself has correctly implied that this murder leaves the King subject to the death penalty. No violence is employed of course. But the prophet is fighting the King’s evil directly, and with great skill and courage. Gandhi is certainly the Old World’s most successful practitioner of nonviolence– and the person from whom King derived is concepts of nonviolent strategy. He insisted that his followers be willing to confront and actively oppose the evils of British imperialism and exploitation.
  2. Second is that nonviolence risks violence from he opponent but with the firm decision not to either initiate violence or to retaliate. The freedom riders and sit in demonstrators of the civil rights movement come to mind. They were defying both evil laws and probable beatings from those who were angry about the demonstrators. Of course they refused to either yield or to fight back when attacked. Thoreau’s famous refusal to pay a tax, a refusal which led to a night in jail, is another older incident that illustrates the principle. I have always believed that the civil rights movement eventually lost its transformative power when riots and tough guy posturing became visible aspects of the African American push for inclusion and dignity.
  3. Third is that the nonviolent resister aims his or her actions at the behavior he opposes, not at the person who is exhibiting or enforcing what is opposed. Someone said this one sounds too much like “Hate the sin, not the sinner”, a slogan frequently used by people who actively persecute gays and lesbians. But nonviolence is a strategy for changing the oppressive use of power by those who are not in power, but seek to change those who are. So the similarities with the slogans of oppressors are superficial, not the reality of the two very different things. The users of the “love the sinner” language are usually trying to sugar coat hurtful use of authority against the dignity and rights of the “sinner.” On the other hand the nonviolent movement is aimed at changing the behavior and abuse of authority of the powerful. Nonviolence simply cannot work if the practitioner fails to avoid demonizing the people he differs with. The reality of this principle is driven by the goal that the practitioner is pursuing: conversion and reconciliation, not defeat and humiliation.
  4. Four is just that. goal. The object is to win the opponent to your position, to become a friend of justice, instead of oppression. Mandela exemplified the strategy by showing a friendly and even loving attitude to his white oppressors, who later acquiesced in his party becoming the dominant political party in South Africa. Dr. King was fond of pointing to India as a nation governed by Gandhi disciples who nevertheless were voluntarily a permanent member of the British Commonwealth. And the civil rights movement did not seek to subject the white folks who had been the oppressors. Instead the movement aimed at sharing power and dignity on a par with and in loving partnership with those same white folks.
  5. Five and finally the willingness to endure suffering without hate and without yielding to despair. That willingness obviously is grounded in the belief that the future belongs to justice and the end of the suffering. Pessimism about the final outcome would produce either despair or habitual masochism. Nonviolence ultimately depends upon the practitiner’s deep faith that he is doing the work of God or the similarly strong faith that ultimately history is so constructed that “the long arc of the universe bends toward Justice.”


April 2020 Kelley Kidd Doctor Martin Luther King Jr’s death hit me harder than any event in my adult life. I started crying when I heard the news and I cried for most of the following month. His body was brought back from Memphis to Atlanta within twenty four hours of his murder. The streets of many American cities were filled with angry Black folks and there were riots in some. Atlanta braced for violence.

A curfew was imposed in Atlanta and Atlantans were told by orders of the Mayor and the Governor of Georgia to stay at home after 8pm. But it was also announced that his body would be available for viewing around the clock until his funeral, which had been scheduled for a few days later. The viewing was in Sister’s Chapel at Spelman College on the Atlanta University Campus. West side of the City. I lived in Decatur on the East Side, and had never been to the University.

I could not sleep on the first night Doctor King’s body was in Sister’s Chapel. About 3am I got up and left my home with the single minded determination to reach that Chapel and to pay my respects to the man who had changed my inner attitudes profoundly five years before with his famous speech at the March on Washington. I went to and then crossed Peachtree Street,the line between East and West Atlanta, crossed it and began looking for someone one the street that could tell me how to get to the Atlanta University. I knew that the chapel was somewhere on that campus. Several times I stopped to question a law enforcement officer, heedless of the fact their job was to enforce a curfew I was violating. Each time the officer gave me some directional help without even mentioning the curfew. I believe the officers could see from my tears that I was on a mission more important to me than avoiding arrest.

Finally I got to a place to park near the chapel, went inside and stood back the casket. I gazed for a long minute or two at the man whose words had converted me to his cause of militant nonviolent action to end discrimination. My guilt was overwhelming. I had done nothing in the five years since my inner transformation in 1963. I silently vowed that my days of inaction were over. From that moment on I would do everything in my limited power to devote my life to the cause of the victims of discrimination and poverty. More than half a century later, that commitment remains central to what I do, and that commitment has been accompanied by a commitment to nonviolence as strategy and as lifestyle. Sometimes my actions have briefly lost sight of that commitment, but it remains central.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Post Biblical Prophecy

April 2020 Christian Sunday School in Georgia during my youth taught theology, Bible stories and the importance of certain behavioral norms. The ten commandments and the duty to support evangelical and church ministries were especially emphasized as activities when the subject of concern was current obligations. The old testament prophets were seen by my teachers as predictors of the coming of Jesus Christ and as denouncers of the worship of graven images. There was nothing memorable in my highly religious upbringing that signaled to me that Jesus or the prophets were social critics whose message would have likely challenged the status quo in my own society, whether one looked at that society from the regional or national level. The exception had come unexpectedly at a graveside funeral when I was ten years old.

I have told the story elsewhere. My experience at the funeral of my home town’s most hated citizen had left me with at least a strong suspicion that each and every human being was loved by a deity who had also created them. The leader of the funeral, the funeral director, had sobbed in sympathy with our heavenly father who he was convinced was in grief over the crimes and death of the murderer whose funeral he was directing. I had sobbed as well, and I never forgot the overwhelming conviction that the funeral director saw life and God more clearly than those of us who had come to the funeral with our much more traditional hatred for the killer we were burying. We had all been taught that God loved believing Christians, especially good ones. A usually unspoken corollary of that belief had been the assumption that God hated evil men. The funeral director empathized with his God, who had brought each of us into the world out of love, and who was heartbroken over our sins and our deaths.

But this funeral epiphany was an anomaly in an early life that taught more by the values of those around me than by explicit lessons from all sources of intentional teaching. I believe most people learn from the examples of those around them. Everyone I knew practiced their parts in a play that they accepted as the script for the way things were and ought to be. And that script did not call for critically looking at the social system or its values.

I did not approve of the racial caste system or the economic class system that was just as real. Neither did I approve of the weather or the calendar. All of these features of my boyhood reality were simply that–reality. I never stopped to consider very seriously whether the injustices I accepted were condemned by the God I worshipped.

Despite the near totalitarianism of the prevailing regime, there were a few influences which were contradictory. And these came primarily from my protestant Christian religion.

A song from summer Bible school seemed diametrically opposed to any notion that some races were of lesser worth than others.”Jesus loves the little children Little children of the world Red and yellow, black and white All are precious in his sight Jesus loves the children of the world”

And did not the revered founders of the country proclaim that “All men are created equal? And endowed them with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These suggestions were given lip service by the same people who made sure that nonwhites stayed subservient and that the advantages of the rich were maintained even at he expense of the suffering of the poor.

Perhaps even more important of these contradictions were some of the teachings of Jesus as recorded in Matthew and Luke. His birth in a stable and the socially low position of his followers seemed to fit the teachings of this savior who was hated by the ruling economic and religious elite. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke portrayed Jesus as a charismatic Jew who was on the side of the poor and despised against the pretensions of the ruling elites. But again that was then, and these were different times. No one ever presented Jesus as a critic of the society I lived in.

As I entered college my vision of politics was about as conventionally Southern moderate as my upbringing would have predicted. It was 1960 and the Democratic nomination had just gone to John Kennedy. During the summer I had spent in the office of Senator Richard Russell I had been a follower of the campaign of John Kennedy. Although Kennedy was of course much more left than Russell, the dean of the Southern Caucus, he never advocated the civil rights cause until he was pushed in 1963 by the events in the streets of Birmingham. But virtually all Southern whites were still Democrats. I was a staunch anti-communist and very suspicious of both labor organizations and civil rights agitators. I suspected organized labor of being susceptible to communist and mafia infiltration, and I suspected civil rights activists for many other reasons which had been handed to me by my Southern culture.

Then I enrolled in the obligatory Bible class that Emory required every undergraduate to take. It was team taught by the Bible department. But several days each week included a meeting of only some of the total enrolled students with one of the faculty, small groups split off from the larger class. My good fortune was to get an old fellow named Hebe Reese.

The “Hebe” was not his christened name, but a nickname earned by his youthful enthusiasm for the Hebrew Bible, an enthusiasm that had not waned with age. He was well respected by men like my Father, who had known him since they were Emory undergraduates. In an all white institution for middle and upper class bunch boys, he had been the Dean of Men for many years. He was gentle, direct and engaging. And he taught what he loved best–the Hebrew prophets, about whom I knew very little. Before I finished that course Hebe had showed me a side of the prophets that was beyond predicting Jesus. The prophets he talked about were convinced their God demanded justice for the poor and the unfortunate, that He was not extremely interested in animal sacrifice or temple attendance, and that He loved all of humanity and demanded that we love each other.

Our classroom for these group meeting was separated by several hundred yards from the main campus area. One day after group I walked with Hebe from our class building back to that main campus area. I asked a question that had been on my mind for several days: what would a modern American prophet look like if there were such a person? Hebe answered almost immediately: consider the possibility that Martin Luther King Jr. is such a person. I found that response so far fetched I dismissed it immediately. I only knew what I had heard about King. So to me he was an agitator who had been making unreasonable demands for. desegregation. It was the spring of 1961. Despite my scepticism the suggestion got stuck somewhere in the back of my mind.

During the next few years I did well enough in school to be presented during my Junior year with an opportunity to go on scholarship to Harvard University for summer courses in 1963. I took my opportunity. So i spent the period the civil rights movement called “Freedom Summer” at America’s most famous liberal institution of higher learning.

You might suppose that a Southern moderate in these circumstances would find himself being influenced to completely re-evaluate his conservative outlook on the issues of the times. But that supposition would be inaccurate. Harvard had as few Black college students that summer as Emory back in Georgia, i.e., none. One of my professors told his class that he had never visited any Southern state and did not want to. He cracked that he would be pleased if bulldozers scraped those states into the Gulf of Mexico. I was horrified, and certainly not moved by Harvard in the direction of sympathy for the forces of change. I returned to Georgia in late August as convinced as ever that no significant change was going to happen for a very long time. I felt no sense of any urgency to end racial discrimination and segregation.

One afternoon I stop trying to play outside because of the heat. My friend Hugh Thompson and I watched The March on Washington on television. We watched many thousands listen to speeches at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. King was to speak last, and I remember enduring what to me were very unconvincing efforts to urge civil rights legislation. Then he spoke.

Marin Luther King’s speech at the March on Washington is justifiably one of history’s most famous. It certainly deserves to be. Its content includes eloquent appeals to brotherly love and for forgiveness of those who fail to live up to both the call of the ancient prophets and those of the idealists who founded the United States. It eloquently describes the aspirations of African Americans and the poor of all races. It also embodies the ideal of universal harmony and fellowship, the love of parents for their small children, and the faith in the future that endures present hardship for eventual triumph. Through his words and demeanor I was moved within a few minutes to feeling enormous sympathy for his cause. I sat down that afternoon one man and got up another. I had encountered the power of prophecy from this Black Christian preacher. Hebe had been right on target.


A partial draft for JJ (April 19 10: 40 am)

OVERVIEW In the first quarter of 2020 two developments highlight the continuing need for a new progressive movement in America. First, the rise and fall of the Sanders presidential campaign. Second, the political and economic response to the COVID19 epidemic. The first elucidated the principal issues that concern American progressives. The second revealed much about the terrible weaknesses of the present political and economic systems in America. This small essay will try to do two things: (1) outline some basic deficiencies in our present systems (2) declare the most important changes needed (3) call for a new democratic movement focused on educating about these matters.


(a) Dishonest separation of political and economic issues.There is a false division of our social system analysis that separates economic and political issues into economic and political. Actually they are so closely related that the separation leads almost inevitably to partial and inaccurate analysis and action. Effective social change requires orientation to see the two systems as interdependent.

(b) Extreme inequality between rich owners and poor working families and individuals.

(c) Lack of needed economic and political policies to support the basic needs of the people in at least the following areas: health, education, environment, child care, freedom of expression.


(a) universal health care


April 11, 2020 KELLEY KIDD I was raised by a Methodist Father in the church where I was both he and I had been Christened as infants, and in the Southern Baptist churches my Mother attended at least once weekly. Naturally I heard much about Jesus and often, Although I converted to become a Jew of sorts in my late 30s I never doubted for long that Jesus was the single most important person in my life who I never met. My preschool enthusiasm for religious matters was intense enough to earn the sobriquet “Bishop Kidd” from pleased family adults. No one would have been surprised if I had decided to become a minister. In high school I became a Presbyterian because fitting my service attendance to my beliefs then was that important. to me.

So who Jesus was and who he is for my own personal faith remains terribly important to me. Like Flannery O’Conner’s Hazel Motes, I can’t get that subject out of my head. And I don’t really want to.

My teachers and parents shared the prevailing views of Jesus that emphasized his divinity as both the only begotten son of God and one of three parts or personalities of a trinity. Those views saw Jesus as both a man and God; his human life was said to be perfect and his death to be a sacrifice for the sins of either the entire world or only of those humans who accepted him as their savior from their own sinful nature. These views seemed to me to clash with the simultaneously held views that every believer in this view was to be as perfect as possible, and that sin would always displease God to the point that the sinner would be punished. These views also seemed to clash with each other.

I wondered how a person could be both man and God, about how he could be the Father of himself, and about why God would want to kill his own son. And if anger at another to the point that it was sinful to call him an ugly name, how could God himself say the ugly things about Jews and Pharisees that several of the stories of Jesus attributed to him.

The so-called Old Testament did seem to predict the later coming of the Jesus I was taught to revere. But it also seemed to predict that this savior would save his people, the Jews. Yet they had rejected him as their savior, or so it appeared from both some of the New Testament and from the apparent existence of Jews and their continuing religion, which I was told was based on the same Old Testament that my religion pointed to as the predictor of Jesus.

Within the New Testament itself I found two geneologies of Jesus that ended in Joseph, the husband of Jesus’ Mother and a descendant of King David, from whom the Messiah was predicted to be that messiah’s forebear. Mary, Jesus Mother, was not said to be a descendant of Jesus. The other two gospel stories did not have such geneologies, but then they did not explicitly describe Mary’s Mother as a virgin either. I began to suspect that the historical Jesus had neither claimed to be without a human father, nor subscribed to the view that he was somehow either God or a person with a special divinity unattainable by other devout Jews who heeded what he taught. I was gradually coming to believe that Jesus was a very special Jew, but as Jewish as any modern Rabbi.

The Jesus I admired was the one who preached the Sermon on the MOunt, he of the beautiful appeal to live as much in the present as the bids and flowers, who asked us to forgive and to examine ourselves instead of condemning others, to care for those who needed care instead of ourselves and the fortunate ones. He was poor and the leader of followers who were usually poor too. His storytelling showed the value of looking beyond the ethnic identity and political label to the willingness to actually practice kindness to everyone. He cared about the intention and the motive as well as the act. And he worshipped his Father God, wh taught these values mattered much more than ceremony and worldly success. I later discovered that the Old Testament prophets also taught these values, but I am convinced no one has ever taught them better.


April 5, 2020 KELLEY KIDD I had a brief but unforgettable career as a critic of fiction, the American novel to be more precise. Since I came from Milledgeville and knew Flannery O’Conner personally, you might suppose that career was inspired by her writing. That would be a good guess. But you would be wrong. Instead I owe only the briefness of that career and its abrupt conclusion to the great Catholic writer from my home town. This is the story of the career from beginning to its unexpected end.

I was a sophomore in college when I became fascinated by the prospect of a career as a literary teacher, critic, and possibly writer, although I had no idea what I might want to write about. The Great Gatsby has enthralled me and Jack London had inspired my determination. But as yet I had no real idea of what to write about.

After my freshman year I had landed a summer job fighting forest fires in Idaho. During that interlude I had learned that Ernest Hemingway had a “log castle” somewhere near Ketchum. By luck I landed there for a day and had gone with fellow fire fighters to the Silver Dollar Bar, a place I had been told was a frequent hangout for the great man himself ! But he had not come in that night, and a few days later a newspaper told that he had committed suicide in that log castle that very night!

Despite my frustrated efforts to get closer to the Nobel Prize winner, I was still interested in writing. Then a beginning course in college English fed real fuel to whatever little fire there was. My teacher for that course was impressed with my answer to a midterm essay question about Poe’s famous short story The Fall of the House of Usher. He asked me to come to his office where I was treated to enough praise and encouragement to inflate my already large ego. I asked my academic advisor to help me register for an upper division course on the American novel. Although the professor of the novel course was not keen on having a sophomore in his class, either the academic advisor or my earlier English teacher must have been persuasive. I got in and soon was doing well.

Actually I did better than well in the novel course for the first half of the course, which ended when the teacher passed back the term papers. each student had picked a novel and chosen a focus for an analysis of the novel. I had picked Flannery’s Wise Blood and zeroed in on her use of the protagonist, Hazel Mote.Anyone who has read the novel will remember that he protagonist is obsessed for most of the novel with his internal struggles with Jesus Christ. He starts by attempting to found what he calls a church without Christ and ends by dying of a self neglect that also includes blinding himself and wrapping barbed wire around his torso.. A long final chapter shows him so obsessed with coming to terms with redemption through Christ that he wastes away and dies. My term paper made the case for the proposition that Flannery created Motes to show us protestants the folly of fanaticism. My professor praised the content and the structure of my apparently brilliant paper.

As April rolled around I was basking in the glow of successes on the college debate team and my brilliant performance as a literary critic of a high order. My professor Doctor Floyd Watkins was my single greatest witness for the proposition that I had a brilliant literary and teaching career ahead of me.

Then one day that same professor told the class that Flannery O’Conner would be visiting the campus within the week. All of us were encouraged to attend a question and answer session with the author. I was especially put on notice that attending her audience with students and faculty would be a great idea. I agreed and took a seat in the semicircle of admirers who sat on the quadrangle grass to be close to the lady in the wheel chair. Although it had only been a few years since I had last seen her, she looked much older.

After several others had addressed complimentary remarks or questions I raised my hand along with several others. She turned towards me immediately and gave us all the first big smile of the session.

“Hello Kelley” she said at once. “It is so nice to see you. I knew you were here at Emory, and hoped you would come out to see me this afternoon.” Every one else in the group turned towards the first–and I believe the last–questioner that the great lady would recognize or greet with enthusiasm. I was a hit before I opened my mouth! But of course I not only did open my mouth, but soon i was telling her all about my term paper. She was interested enough to ask me about various features of my paper, especially how I had found what i was sure was her intention to present Hazel Motes as a valiantly struggling against an unhealthy but powerful obsession that eventually leads him into a murder and then his suicide. Finally she asked if it would be too much to request that I tell her about he grade I had received. I proudly replied that I had been given an A plus, the only one in the class.

“You have always been a smart boy Kelley” she exclaimed with the same friendly voice with which she had greeted me a few minutes earlier. In the same voice she added: “On the other hand your professor was a fool. Hazel Mote is a hero to me! That is why I chose to write about him.”

After a tiny pause she added that it was always lovely to see me. Then she moved on to a question from Thomas Altizer, a celebrated Bible teacher who had authored articles and a book which advocated the view that God actually died on the cross, leaving us since without either Christ or God.

In 2020, nearly 70 years later, I discovered that Flannery O’Conner had written the following note for publication with a second edition of Wise Blood published soon after she had ended my literary career with a single observation:

Wise Blood has reached the age of ten and is still alive. My critical powers are just sufficient to determine this, and I am grateful to be able to say it. The book was written with zest and, if possible, it should be read that way. It is a comic novel about a Christian malgre lui, , and as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death. Wise Blood was written by an author congenitally innocent of theory, but with certain preoccupations. That belief in Jesus Christ is a matter of life and death is a stumbling block for some readers.who would prefer to think it a matter of no great importance. for them Hazel Motes’ integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author Hazel’s integrity lies in his not being able to do so. Does on’s integrity ever lie in what he is not able to do? I think that usually it does, for free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man. Freedom cannot be conceived simply. It is a mystery and one which a novel, even a comic one, can only be asked to deepen.

Was this addition to the novel a reflection on my conversation with the author? Possibly. Regardless, I believe the story is worth telling.


The pageant finally got started with everyone doing their carefully scripted part. Most of the time the cast was silent and still in prearranged poses while choirs and individual performers did their bits to the organ and piano accompaniments. When the lights were low enough in the vicinity of the door that the donkey would be entranced in at the final scene, I sneaked Flossie close to the entrance to test her willingness to go through and perform when the time came. She did everything I asked her to do, and she did it quietly and calmly. she never showed a minute of fretting or fear in the more than an hour the rest of the pageant required.

Then came her moment. As the Reverend’s beautiful baritone voice soloed “Oh Holy Night” the young man playing Joseph entered the sanctuary with Mary carrying the baby doll playing Jesus walking closely by the donkey’s other side. We were not going to risk a fall for the young lady doing the Mary part, although she had ridden the donkey comfortably in the hall a dozen times.The crowd made some soft aww and ahh sounds, signaling that this donkey thing was a big hit.

Suddenly Flossie stopped. She showed no sign of fear or alarm. She just would not budge. Sweet whispers and practiced signals did not even register acknowledgement . She would not move to the front, flank or even rear. The Reverend went through every verse twice while the actors got red faced and panicky. I went out to use my practiced charms, but Flossie remained calmly and firmly rooted to the spot, too far inside the sanctuary to not be very visible to everybody, too near the door from which she had come to be mistaken for taking a planned position. A long moment of embarrassed silence filled the room. Her intended route around the altar was obvious, but she was not going to move at all!

Suddenly she did move so quickly that she snatched the lead rope right out of his hands! She charged to the very center of the alter’s semicircle, stopped abruptly and swung her head towards the audience, studied it for a few seconds as though deciding how to respond to the gasps and mutterings with which the startled crowd greeted her unexpected behavior. She raised her head as though in defiance and brayed at a volume that was surely as loud a noise as she was capable of making. This new alarm seemed to be echoed by even louder human gsps and exclamations. Then she lowered her head and walked slowly to and through the door on the altar’s far side. She appeared altogether pleased with her own performance.

I cannot remember much about the immediate aftermath of the fiasco this donkey thing had turned out to be. If a person humiliates you, you are apt to get resentful. If your own behavior humiliates you, you are more apt to feel guilt. But how do you feel when an apparently sweet donkey makes you look like the village idiot? I was completely absorbed in my own mortification.

The other young folks who had been helping with Flossie were eager to leave, so we loaded the donkey into the truck and proceeded to Andalusia. All I could think about on the way there was How do I keep Flannery O’Conner from getting upset about what had happened. But my young associates assured me that she would not know. They had not told anybody where the donkey had come from and no one at the church was going to be telling her. They did not know either. It occurred to me that these guys did not really know who Flannery O’Conner was, and would not have cared if they had known. . To them she was just the lady at that farm who had lent us that donkey. Through the rear window of the truck I could see Flossie was riding easy, although I got out and remounted in the bed of the truck so that I would be seen taking care for her when and if Flannery O’Conner came out of the house before we could get the donkey dismounted. Sure enough she did. We got Flossie down easily and headed for her stall while Mrs. O’Conner stood in the light of her back porch.

“Well Kelley how did it go?” she asked in a pleasant voice that invited a pleasant answer. That is what she got. I stood just outside the porch lit area and summoned the answer I had decided to give her. “She was very nice all the way there and back. I guess you could say she …er… did all right.” i could hear the tenseness in my answer, but….. Flannery O’Conner suddenly straightened and began to grin.

” You come in the light and tell me that won’t you!” She released the laugh she had held back as soon as I took a step or two into the light. She was laughing so hard I was afraid she would fall, and she did sit down quickly on the porch steps.

“You should see your own face young friend !” she exclaimed between fits of laughter, glancing from time to time to look at my face again. She practically shouted the last thing I can remember from that evening.

“I told you she was a Catholic donkey!”

The Christmas Donkey and Flannery O’Conner: PART II

“Hello Kelley. I am about to introduce you to Flossie, our donkey. Bring your men on back to the horse barn if you like.” She spoke in a very friendly way and i started to relax a little. Flannery O’Conner had said she would lend me her donkey to be employed that night in the First Methodist Church’s Christmas pageant. And I had brought two young men and a flatbed truck to Andalusia for the job.

She was neither attractive nor ugly. In my mind she was someone I knew but could not remember when or where I had met her before. The most striking thing about her was her manner. Direct and friendly in a way I never expected from others and rarely got except occasionally from store clerks trying to help me find something to buy. Later he reflected that here was something else about the way she talked, something unique in his dealings with adults other than his own Father. She was as present as my best teacher when she had just asked a difficult question. And yet somehow she was warm and at ease like my own Father whenever he showed up at my Father’s little store.

As well as I can remember the horse barn was a small thing close to the house. Mrs O’Conner signaled to the other guys that they should stay at the entrance. She opened the gate to the donkey’s stalland introduced me to her as formally as she might introduce someone in a reception line to the guest of honor. While I fed the apple I had brought to my new acquaintance Mrs. O’Conner let me know nicely that Flossie was not a donkey, but a hinny. Donkey was as inappropriate for a female donkey as dog was for a bitch. But the atmosphere of the ceremony was a continuation of the warm treatment I had already received.

Together the others helped me to show Flossie up the wide board onto the flat bed truck, down again and after a strollaroung the yard of the house, back up into the flt bed truck. There was nary a hitch. I was to ride in the truck near Flossie as i was advised she had not spent “a lot of time trucking agound, so she would appreciate the company.”

Just before the truck pulled away and after a brief exchange about the schedule of the pageant and the time of return, Mrs. O’Conner informed me bluntly that “You are going to find Flossie a lot more difficult to deal with when you get her to that Methodist church and try to get her to act like a Protestant. She isn’t one and won’t be comfortable being required to act like one. That is a sweet animal, but a very Catholic one.”

On the way to the church I decided that the last warning must have been in the way of a kind of joke. No serious person could possibly imagine that a donkey had a religious loyalty. Besides Flossie was very docile and even nudged my hand a little when I petted her. She was not going to be any trouble. I felt sure of it.

At the church the first question was how to get the donkey inside to the room the other guys had already set up for her comfort until she should be needed for the theatrical trip carrying mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt at the end of the pageant’s nativity drama. There was already fodder and water and the needed huge amount of newspapers to catch any posterior accidents.

Flossie came down the board ramp to the side of the church as though that board ramp was as familiar as her stall. But when we put the same ramp down for her passage into the church she froze. We begged with pleas and strokes, threatened with a belt and fists, bribed with carrots and apples, blindfolded and tugged, pushed and half lifted the beast, but she stood as still and firm as the Statute of Liberty. After better than a half hour of failing to get forward progress, we tried turning her around for another approach, but this also failed.

Exhausted all three of Flossie’s keepers gave up and sat down for a minute to smoke a cigarette. Suddenly Flossie moved and so quickly that she was in the church and half way down the hall to sanctuary before we could get to our feet and chase her. Which we did. Too late. Near the end of the hall she turned sharply into the pastor’s office, where she instantly half squatted to defecate. She did that copiously on both the rug and the floor and the pastor’s desk.

We of course went to work cleaning up behind her and quiding her into the room prepared for her. Another half hour later we conferenced and decided this gliche was not going to ruin her expected performance. Soon the other members of the cast turned up and all showed affection for dear Flossie. i said nothing about her former misdeeds.

Since the dresss rehearsal was to precede the play, we ahd plenty of time to practice observing Flossie make numerous practice walks around the alter to the imagined Egypt on the other side of the alter and back again. Some of them involved the playing of loud organ music, the darkening of the sanctuary,and the presence of an audience standing close to the donkey’s path. Nothing worried her in the least. She performed beautifully. i began to relax. The pageant was rather silly to me, but Mrs O’Conner was going to be made proud of the donkey she had loaned to me. The writer’s health was not good I had been told, and she would definitely not be attending this performance.