The white community here tried and failed to clear itself of charges of racism last week while the guilt or innocence of the "Dawson Five" remained unresolved.
The question of whether five young black men murdered a white ranch foreman during a rural store holdup more than 18 months ago was pushed aside as defense attorneys continued to push their case that their clients are on trial as a result of the trumped-up charges of a white supremacist society - Terrell County.
For instance, the court proceedings were forgotten on Tuesday when a whites-only swimming pool was drained within hours after Dawson mayor James G. Raines Jr. ordered the local police chief not to arrest black youngsters who tried to use the facility.
Several white officials here deny that discrimination still exists, but their words took on a hollow ring when the pool - just a block from the courthouse here - turned up dry Tuesday morning.
Pool officials said the draining was ordered for repairs, but Dawson five defense attorney Millard Farmer charged that his suggestion of a "swimming party for blacks" was the real motive. The pool, once owned by the city, was sold in 1966 to a club for white teenagers for a nominal sum, and the city - according to sources in City Hall - is still paying off the bonds. The pool cost $130,000 and was sold for $13,500, according to testimony.
Meanwhile, state Judge Walter L. Geer said he will try to decide sometime next week whether to order trials for defendants Johnny B. and James E. Jackson Jr., Henderson and Roosevelt Walson and J.D. Davenport.
The hearings have ended, but Geer said he wants to read voluminous supporting briefs filed by both sides before issuing his decision on several defense motions.
White townspeople here seemed resigned to the national publicity their community has drawn because of the case.
"I guess we'll just have to live through this," said a white shopkeeper, "but I wish they'd get on with the trial."
The prosecution, meanwhile, has taken the position that Terrell County's real or imagined racial sins have no bearing on the guilt or innocence of the five defendants.
Prosecutor Michael Stoddard, referring to the emphasis on racial discrimination , said in his closing argument, "I regret that there is no role playing we can do here to bring [slain ranch foreman] Gordon Howell back to life."
During the pretrial hearing. Stoddard concentrated on undermining the credibility of the defense's star witness, former Dawson policeman William Rucker, who testified that white lawmen here regularly violated the civil rights of black citizens.
According to prosecutions witnesses, Rucher was fired from the local police department after the allegedly staged two burglaries at his home in order to file faked insurance claims which inflated the value of stamp and coin collections supposedly taken in the break-ins.
The defense, claiming the five men were singled out because they were black, concluded its arguments on its motion to dismiss all charges by attacking the white community.
Defense attorney Tony Axam, who is black, evoked the nickname "Terrible Terrell," which the county gained during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
"That's the sort of backdrop we have for 'Terrible' Terrell County." Axam told the judge. "The back-drop of race."