March 21, 2012 § 10 Comments
In 1963 Bob Dylan wrote ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’, the story of the murder of a 51-year-old barmaid by the wealthy young tobacco farmer William Devereux ‘Billy’ Zantzinger, who eventually received a six month sentence for the killing. That sentence was handed down on the same day that Martin Luther King delivered his I Have a Dream speech in Washington, at the end of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Dylan was one of the marchers. Returning home to New York, he sat in an all-night coffee shop on Seventh Avenue and wrote his song. Influenced, as Dylan observed in his autobiography, by Brecht and Weil, the song (which came out the following year in The Times They Are A Changin’ album) is an excoriating assault not just on racism, but on the collusion of the authorities, the law and liberal opinion:
In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ‘em
And that ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence.
Ah, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.