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In Heaven Above
[Enclosed is the testimony of Freesia Isabelle Davis 27 February 1918-5 May 1968 convicted of first degree murder of Marietta Ariana Morrison]
Marietta Morrison was a quiet lady. The kind that sat back and did what was asked of her-- whether that was under the constant threat hanging over her or her own will, I can’t say. But, if you saw her on the street, you’d probably forget her as soon as she passed you by. If you remembered her, it would only be because she was so pretty. Lord knows, pretty or not, I’ll never forget that woman.
They say she used to be one of them fancy ladies, invited to socials every other day. They say she never had bruises on her face before, that she was as fresh as a rose. Everything seemed to be different before. Things changed when she married, though. A tall, mean lookin’ man her parents threw her away to when they got sick of nursing her out of constant hangovers. That’s what they say, anyways. I s’pose I’ll never know the truth. I was only there for the real bad parts.
After working for as many families as I have, you get used to endings. You get used to the fact that everything that begins is going to end, whether its a job or a life. But you also learn to pay it no mind, to accept it just as you’d accept the fact that I am black and Marietta was white. That’s another thing, too. When you’ve got skin as dark as mine, you have to accept that the world is never going to be color blind. You’d have to be a fool to deny that. It’s how I got here anyway.
When I came along, Marietta had just given birth to her third and last little ‘un. It showed, too. When a white young lady like her has got bags the size of the Mississippi river under her eyes and ribs poking through her dress, you know something’s mighty wrong. Mr. Jim, her husband, noticed too. That’s how I came along. Wanted to keep his wife in check, I s’pose. Someone to do the housework when his wife won’t and keep an eye on her. I knew it wasn’t out of the goodness of his heart. He made sure to keep her shut up good. After marriage, he dragged her to the countryside, to a farm in the outskirts of the city. My daily commute there was no joke, but when you see a soul as broken as Marietta’s you do what you can to fix them.
My first day of work, I set around to cleaning the place up. The house was small, but lord no one seemed to taking any care of it. Took me well over a week to get the whole place clean enough for me to get around to anything else. The little ‘uns were no easier, mind you. When your own mama won’t care for you, you get to setting your own rules. I saw it as my Christian duty to help them. They turned out mighty fine, even after everything that’s happened.
I tried to get her out of the room, lord knows I tried. I took to leaving her food on one of them pretty flower trays no one ever used outside her room. Most days, it went untouched. Sad thing is, I know how she felt and I knew there was nothing I could do for her. My mama always said, people can only be helped if they want to be helped. I never saw the inside of that room. The only time I ever saw her out of it was when she’d be in the garden tending to them rose bushes.
I would be washing the dishes or else doing my chores in the kitchen when I’d see. Even under all the bruises and pain, she was a pretty young thing. Too young to be married with three little ‘uns but pretty enough to be locked away. She would always be tending to them rose bushes outside. They seemed to be the only thing able to bring her any happiness. At least, able to bring her out of the room. It was one of these times that was the beginning of the end.
I had made some of my famous peach ice tea for the little ‘uns and decided to offer some to Marietta as she tended to the roses.
“Hello Ms. Marietta,” I said, holding a tray with a glass on it. White folks don’t like to touch anything a black hand has. “Would you like some peach tea? It’s awful hot out here.” She looked up at me, peering with those striking grey eyes. I s’pose they were bright once-- before.
Then, she smiled and I was so surprised I nearly dropped the tray. Her newest bruise, deep purple by then, almost disappeared. “Yes, Freesia, that would be lovely…” If that girl wasn’t pretty enough, her voice sounded like a single, beautiful wind chime. She took the glass and I turned to leave.
“Wait, Freesia!” she cried out. I stopped and turned back to her, worried. She was biting her lip and was looking nervous as all heck.
“Ms. Marietta, is everything all right?”
“Freesia, have you ever wanted to die?” The question was so unexpected, I couldn’t move.
“Ms. Marietta, is everything okay?” My voice was unlike my own, strange and slow. She looked away and spoke quietly.
“Thanks for the tea, Freesia.” It was clear I had been dismissed, so I went back into the house.
The next few weeks I made sure to keep a close eye on Marietta. As a good Christian (or so I like to think), the idea of her killing herself seemed to sinful, I banished any thought of it from my head but it troubled me anyway and I made sure to hide any and everything she could possibly use. But in the end, it was no use.
His name was Lawrence, and a gentleman he was. He made it his business to come ‘round the house in his suit and tie and sweet talk Marietta every chance he got. It wasn’t long before she took a fancy to him, either, which was what he wanted, I s’pose. I tried warning her, saying that men who went around trying to woo ladies as pretty as her were no good. But when you’re as broken as Marietta was, a tall, handsome Southern gentleman like Lawrence may as well be a knight in shining armor coming to save his damsel in distress. So off she went with him.
Mr. Jim was as angry as I’d ever seen him when he found out. Lord, I thought he would steal the breath from me, the way he grabbed me ‘round the neck, shouting, shouting how it was all my fault. It was no use telling him that I had tried to warn his wife. I didn’t tell him it was his fault it happened in the first place, that if her face had stayed the rose it was before, maybe she would be the one ready with a hot meal when he came, the one raising his children and that I wouldn’t be there in the first place. I only hope the lord can forgive me.
Two weeks later, the letter came. It was short, saying that Marietta had gone and done it because that good for nothing was only a cheat looking for pretty young things like her in exchange for money. But she did it before anything could happen. That’s when Mr. Jim called the po-lice on me and landed me here, writing my confession to a crime I didn’t commit.
I am a black woman in a cruel, white world where anyone is willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that it was not me who did this. But I know better and so should the rest of the world. Marietta was a woman, as broken as my future has now become in a hard, unforgiving world. She was not the first and will not be the last. I s’pose that by dying she found the wings she lost so long ago. I can only hope that she is now flying with the angels in heaven above.
[Freesia Isabelle Davis was lynched 5 May 1968 for the murder of Marietta Isabelle Morrison despite insufficient evidence. Above is her last given statement]