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Stories: Past and Present, Civil Rights and the Elderly

Updated on October 5, 2016

Favorite Stories

Writing is a passion of mine. I write about whatever is closest to my heart. Sometimes the subject matter is pleasant and brings wonderful memories. Those selections are my favorites. That’s why my first publication, “Sylvia’s Story” in the Mercer University Press, Crossroads, a Southern Culture Annual (2007) remains close to my heart. It constantly reminds me of a man who stood for what he believed to be right during an era when his views were not popular, especially in the South.

"Sylvia's Story" tells the story of a small town attorney, 'Lige Glover, who put his beliefs into action. It also reveals much about the early years of the twentieth century in the South. Retelling this story forces me to reflect on the past and see how far we've come as a nation since then.

In 1916, a young black woman who lived near the small southeast Alabama town of Abbeville happened to have been in the home of a man the day he died. His death was attributed to poison by the local doctor. Others had been in his home that day, but one person remained under suspicion, a young black woman in her late teens named Sylvia.

There was little evidence to prove this young woman's innocence---and even less to attest to her guilt. But 'Lige Glover believed in Sylvia's innocence. He took her case, although he knew that neither she nor her family could pay for his legal services. The jury, all-male, all-white in those days declared her guilty. My grandfather lost the case, and a date was set for Sylvia's hanging. However, Glover believed so strongly in her innocence that he wrote the governor asking for a pardon.

In those days, news traveled slowly, and the hanging day arrived. A picnic atmosphere prevailed, and Sylvia stood on the gallows, blindfolded as the noisy crowd prepared for a festive occasion. A hanging was an occasion for a holiday. Blindfolded, with the noose over her head, Sylvia listened as the countdown began. It was almost over for this young woman. The trial's outcome, had been determined by an all-male, all-white jury---not exactly a “jury of her peers.” Suddenly, a commotion arose in the crowd. All eyes turned toward a running figure, a man running toward the gallows, frantically waving a paper. And then the crowd became quiet. Sylvia couldn’t see the crowd, but she heard the silence…..and then the words: Sylvia ____ Pardoned by Order of Governor Miller….a telegram that allowed Sylvia to walk away from death.

Years later, an Abbeville man confessed to the murder that almost cost Sylvia her life. My grandfather knew she was innocent, and he stood by her at a time when his view was not popular.

This story reveals the heart of a man---an attorney and a long-time Alabama legislator who fought for public education at a time when Alabama's school children had to purchase their own books. He proposed the first bill requiring the state to purchase books for children. He stayed busy and the Montgomery Advertiser and Birmingham News ran editorials about his legislative activities.

Most important to me is that 'Lige Glover, my grandfather, set the tone for our family to think critically and stand for our beliefs in the face of opposition. Many years later, after the passage of the Civil Rights movement of the '60s, the views 'Lige Glover believed and taught his children, took hold for many others in the county.

I’ve enjoyed writing other fun, nostalgic stories. Most of these stories revolve around people and places in the South. The South is a part of who I am. However, there comes a time when the place we love has goings-on that cannot be ignored. As I tell personal stories, hopefully, others become informed and avoid similar dangers. And eventually, maybe hearts, as well as laws, can be changed to protect all of us.

Other Stories

I realize that my hub, “Forcing Guardianships on the Elderly, Keeping the Sharks Away….” angered a number of people. The anger should have been directed toward those who attempted to harm an elderly woman. But much of that anger was directed toward me---and I in that article, I didn't even name names!

My mother had been overdosed, confirmed by a hair analysis and several physicians, and she almost died. It took months before she completely recovered her previous health and quality of life. Life is precious, and I firmly believe that we must do all to preserve a quality of life for all ages.

There are several ways unscrupulous people can gain control of an elderly person’s estate. In this case, my mother has now deeded her property to my brother and me. The property consists of a house in the town of Abbeville. About 20 minutes away is additional land, over 350 acres of woods, planted pines, and food plots. We made sure she continued to receive all farm income, particularly from the pines, but hopefully the property is secure for the family.

We became concerned when my mother called us about three months ago regarding papers she had signed for a local attorney. She told us that the attorney never gave her copies of papers she had signed. She had even called the county sheriff, whom she knew, and asked him to call this attorney, but still no copies.

The first I heard of her concern was one morning in November 2013; the phone rang, and my mother's voice sounded concerned.

"Nancy, I'm worried....I have signed paper after paper with Charles Woodham, {one of my mother's former students, now a retired attorney and judge}, and I don't know what I've signed." That conversation wasn't the first we'd had on the subject, but this time, her voice was firm, unwavering. She had undergone hospitalization and surgery and was now recovered enough to remember some of the events immediately following the surgery.

My first question, "Have you asked for copies."

"Yes, I called his office last week, and he has not sent copies yet. I'm writing him a letter."

I thought no more about the conversation until the day after Christmas when my mother pulled out a handwritten letter, in the legible but shaky style of a 97-year-old and shoved it in my face. "Here, read this," she insisted.

Dec. 26, 2013

Mr. Charles Woodham, Attorney at Law

{address omitted}

Dear Charles:

A few weeks ago you came to my room with papers that I knew nothing about and insisted that I sign them. Nothing was ever explained to me. It was page after page for me to sign. I did sign them. I will be 98 years old April 1st. I was born in 1916. I think it is wrong to do the elderly this way.

I taught school 29 years and one of my many students was you. It has been a delight to have had you in my English class.

Now it is so difficult for me to ask you again to send me those papers I signed at your request. Quite a few people advised me not to use you as my lawyer. I was shocked at what I learned had happened to people right here in Abbeville.

I am sorry I know all of this.

Charles, please send me the papers you had me sign.

Sincerely,

Marian G. Leonard

P.S. I've waited long enough to receive those papers you had me to sign without any explanation of them. What hurts so bad, Charles, is that I truly believed you were my friend.

Marian Leonard

She told us that she mailed the letter to Charles Woodham, and I forgot about it. Weeks later, she broached the subject again.

"Nancy, I'm really worried. Charles hasn't sent me any papers, and I've even called Will Maddox (the local sheriff), and Will told me that Charles said he put the last paper I signed inside a spiritual brochure on my nightstand. I have never seen any papers.” She was concerned about the signing of past wills, but also concerned because she had signed several pages of a new will after she deeded the property to my brother and me.

On a Monday morning in early February, Windy Gregory, my brother's wife, called Charles Woodham's office and left a lengthy voice mail for his paralegal aid. Windy asked that Mr. Woodham mail copies of all papers signed by Marian Leonard, her mother-in-law, in the last three years to Marian Leonard, and Windy left my mother's mailing address. Windy also promised that her mother-in-law would be filing a complaint with the Alabama Bar Association if these copies were not in my mother's hands within ten days. Weeks passed. No response. No copies.

During the last week of February 2013, I answered another call from my mother. This time, she asked if I would help her get a letter off to the Alabama Bar Association. I took the forms to her room at Providence Assisted Living Facility in Ozark, Alabama, and she handed me another letter that she wanted to attach with the form. She rode with me to the post office, and we dropped the form and the following letter in the mail.

She wanted to add her own letter to the Alabama Bar Form, and here is her letter:

Dear Sir:

I have enclosed a letter that I wrote to Mr. Charles Woodham asking him to send me copies of the material he had me to sign in my room at the assisted living.

I was born April 18, 1916, to Mr. and Mrs. Elijah C. Glover. I taught school in Henry County for 29 years as a senior high English teacher. My friend, Mr. Will Maddox, spoke to Mr. Woodham about his sending me copies of the papers he had me sign at the assisted living where I now live. Mr. Maddox told me that Charles Woodham told him, “I put them in a spiritual folder or pamphlet on her nightstand beside her bed.”

That is not the way it was. Mr. Woodham had his hand on those papers and as soon as he said to me, “Sign here” and the lady who was with him also said, “Sign here,” I signed. I know I should have said, “I want copy of every page I have signed. However, I will be 98 years old in a few weeks---I know exactly where I will be going soon and I am not about to lie over this or anything else. I am not afraid to die.

I would like to have these papers that he had me sign without giving me any explanations at all.

If you will, please see that I get them soon. I am very concerned about them.

Sincerely,

Marian G. Leonard

Oil!

Last week, my mother called and asked me to look at the papers she had received from Mr. Woodham. She noticed immediately that a document giving Power of Attorney to a local woman was missing. The last will he completed, three months after she deeded the property to us, was nothing like my mother’s wishes. In fact, this will completely left her only grandson out of the will, something she would never have considered. Was this to cause confusion at her death?

In a previous will he wrote for my mother in 2011, Charles Woodhan made himself the Executor of the Will, with unlimited powers and authority that answered to no one. Most important, two pages of that will are missing, and these two pages are within the Executor section. She has sent him an additional letter requesting that he send all pages to her. The last line before the missing page reads ….”and I also give to Charles Woodham….”

Could it be that Woodham gave himself the mineral rights to her property?

My mother’s grandparents bought and homesteaded the land in the 1800s, so the mineral rights are definitely clear. The property is known to have oil. A vein of oil extends from the Gulf of Mexico through Malone, Florida, into southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia. I have a copy of a one-year lease my grandfather signed with an oil company in 1944 giving them permission to drill if they chose to do so. My mother signed a similar lease for ten years in 1981. Only recently has the political and economic climate been conducive to on-shore drilling. The oil is rather deep, approximately 10,000 or more feet.

Probate Court

In Alabama, anyone can walk in off the street and contest anyone’s will. With no jury oversight, a probate judge can declare that he or she can tie up the property for years. A recent law passed by the Alabama legislature extends the time from five to ten years that property can be held by the Court. Fighting a contested will could not only tie up the property for years, but could cost tens of thousands of dollars for a family to fight for what is rightfully theirs. Usually, in the case of a situation like my mother’s, the person who would probably walk in off the street would not likely be Mr. Woodham, or even another major player, but someone previously unknown or more likely, a minor player. He or she would start the ball rolling, and there would be enough spoils to divide among several people.

A Widespread Problem

Probate laws vary from state to state, but as I have read more widely on this subject, I have learned that the problem is rampant all over the United States. More oversight must be given to Probate Courts, and laws should be changed to limit the power that attorneys and judges have. But first, ordinary citizens must stay informed. This problem caught our family by surprise.

Families must stick together closely because one of the major problems is that attorneys often try to cause division among families. My brother and I listened to quite a number of divisive remarks designed to divide us. The old cliché is quite true: Divide and conquer. While all families have differences, this area is one where family members must unite. Thankfully, we realized what was going on. Finally, pressure must be made on legislators to provide more protection for the elderly from the Court. We can do that as we go to the polls. I believe, however, that law enforcement is needed now to stop some of these unethical and illegal actions.

I know my grandfather is pleased with my taking a stand on issues that are so clearly right. My mother recalls hearing him tell my grandmother that he had been offered $100 to vote a certain way on a bill that was before the legislature. That was a nice sum in 1922, but accepting that money was never an option. Remaining silent on these topics is not an option for me either.

At the end of the “Guardianships” hub, I closed with a quote from former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

Those words have never been more appropriate than today. As I recall my grandfather, I know he is looking down at all that is happening today. I would love to hear his comments. But for that, I'll have to wait a little longer.

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