A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
December 19th, 2010
by R.B. Parrish
In the 1930s, two white prostitutes falsely accused nine black men of gang-rape, in order to avoid facing other police charges. Before the ensuing Scottsboro trials were over, the main accuser, Victoria Price (the second accuser had recanted) was transformed by the white public into a woman of the purest virtue, the epitome of Southern woman; and any challenge to this image was indignantly resisted:
One possessed of that old Southern chivalry cannot read the trial and keep within the law. The brutal manner in which [defense attorney] Leibowitz cross-examines Mrs. Price makes one feel like reaching for his gun. (The Sylacauga News/PBS.)
Too late the chief defense attorney realized that Mrs. Price had become a symbol of white Southern womanhood. (Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South, by Dan T. Carter, p. 210)
Times change, and the colors are different, but human nature remains the same.
Two years out of high school Crystal Mangum claimed to have been once dragged into a bathroom and gang-raped by some friends with whom she had been involved selling drugs. Later she claimed her husband had tired to drag her into the woods and kill her.
In 2002 while working at a strip club, she stole a cab and tried to run down a police officer with it. On another occasion, when asked to stop bothering a woman customer at the club, she began wildly pulling the woman’s hair and had to be removed by the bouncer.
Crystal lost her driving license but used drivers to take her to “work,” which sometimes included entertaining men in their hotel rooms.
In 2006 Crystal Mangum, brought in by police in response to a “drunk and disorderly” call, escaped confinement to a detox center by accusing 2, 3, 5, or 20 Duke lacrosse players (depending on which version she gave) of gang-raping her inside a tiny bathroom (one which might have held two people at best). This got her transferred to a hospital instead, and rendered her immediately credible because her story, like Price’s, seemed to confirm all of society’s contemporary mythologies about race.
On the very day on which candlelight vigils were being held for her, she was performing again at the strip club and giving private sessions in the club’s VIP room for paying guests.
In a meeting with special prosecutors in April 2007, she “demonstrated unsteady gait, slurred speech;” she had taken Ambien, methadone, Paxil and amitriptyline. Some hospitals knew her and would refuse to give her medications when she appeared at their emergency rooms asking for painkillers.
Despite the fact that the press possessed archives detailing much of this, the media insisted on portraying her as the epitome of innocence:
The petite, soft-spoken woman is described by friends as a caring mother and a hard worker. … A school yearbook photo from her senior year shows a girl with chin-length black braids and dark brown eyes. Her lips are pursed in a shy smile. (News and Observer)
Black women, white men. … The wealthy white athletes — many from prep schools … Duke; and the working class woman.… Race and class and sex. (Jesse Jackson)
Like the lies told by Victoria Price, the lacrosse story was the stuff which made one feel comfortable in one’s bigotries.
Crystal Mangum’s trial for arson has just ended with a hung jury. She was, however, convicted of three counts of child abuse for setting a fire in a bathtub while her children were in the house. She had just had a quarrel with her boyfriend and was burning his clothes. His car was also damaged. Police were called for a domestic disturbance, and discovered her living in a tiny apartment with no furniture in the living room other than a single folding chair (and a lot of trash). When police opened the door to the bathroom, smoked filled the apartment and the fire was seen to have scorched the bathroom walls.
Nevertheless, the judge, saying she was a “good mother,” permitted her children to continue to remain in her custody.
Victoria Price was never prosecuted for her lies or for prositution. The white South was too invested in her image to contemplate any other outcome. Forty years after Scottsboro, she sued a TV network which had called her a prostitute in a TV drama.
Crystal Mangum will also likely never be depicted in Durham as anything other than a hard-working, devoted mother who had never danced in front of men before that ill-fated lacrosse party and who was trying to work her way through college by stripping. What other version can be accepted, if the contemporary South’s mythologies about race are still to be upheld?
R.B. Parrish lives in Arizona and is the author of The Duke Lacrosse Case: A Documentary History and Analysis of the Modern Scottsboro. R.B. Parrish may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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