"Now, Warren, there's one thing I'd like you to do for me in your story," said the white editor of this town's weekly newspaper.
"Even if it's only one line. I'd like you to say something about it was a white man who killed . . . Everybody has seemed to have forgotten the fact it was a white man who was killed.
"Now, I don't say I know who killed him. But a white man was killed and somewhere in your story. Warren, I'd like you to mention that."
Carl Rountree, editor of The Dawson News, was neither scolding nor speaking with malice when he made his appeal. He said he simply was tired of seeing his town and country "put on trial for racism" by the national news media.
The "national press boys" should just write about the facts that have focused attention on Dawson and its environs. Rountree said. To with a white ranch foreman. Gordon (Bubba) Howell, was shot to death Jan. 22, 1976, during an alleged holdup at a country store about five miles east of here. Five blacks, collectively called the "Dawson Five," have been charged in the case. It is a judicial matter, not a racial matter, he said.
"There's something else," said Rountree, punching the air with an index finger. "The white man has been in his grave a hell of a lot longer than those fivehavebeen jail."
The last of the "Dawson Five" were released Monday from the Terrell County jail on their own recognizance. Three were released earlier after posting $100 bond each. Their trial has been delayed for up to 90 days to give prosecutors a chance to appeal a lower court ruling voiding the confessions of two key defendants.
What bothers Rountree and other whites here is that the "Dawson Five" matter has moved beyond the death of the victim and those who are accused of killing him - poor rural youths, ranging in age from 18 to 24, all of whom are functionally illiterate.
Through the arguments of the defense and public statements made by local and national black leaders, Dawson and the rest of southern Georgia's Terrell County also have become defendants - accused of racism in the case.
Rountree believes a biased jury has already arrived at a guilty verdict.
"Truth is that Dawson isn't any worse or any better than any other Southern community, or any community anywhere else in this country," Rountree said. "There is here - as there is in Washington, D.C., and New York City - a dual society. Wherever you have ethnic groups, you'll have a dual society.
"The difference here is that the dual society is more pronounced because we're smaller."
Defense lawyers representing the "Dawson Five" contend it is because of that "dual society" that their clients were accused.
"There are two worlds here - one white and one black - and it is of no little consequence to which one you belong, because the duality is pervasive and all-encompassing," defense lawyers said in one of many legal briefs in the case.
"Differential treatment of minorities in the application of criminal sanction is an inherent product of such an environment," the brief said.
Indeed, there is little attempt to conceal the "duality" existing between the races in this town, the seat of Terrell County. Interracial "mixing" - especially between the sexes - is frowned upon. Housing is segregated. Schools are segregated - Terrell County High School is attended by blacks and a handful of poor whites, while the private Terrell Academy is all-white. Recreational facilities are segregated, with public accomodations like the town's swimming pool being used exclusively by blacks, and private facilities used by whites only.
But in a statement echoed by other white leaders, here, Rountree said, " We get along fine with the black community and they get along fine with us...There is here a belief in freedom of choice and freedom of association..."
Rountree was asked if that meant a black with money could send his child to Terrell Academy, where the tuition is $975 a year, or apply for membership in the Dawson Country Club. r. if he chose to could he buy into one of Dawson's white neighborhoods or be interracially married and live in Dawson or other parts of Terrell County."
"Does 'freedom of choice' mean anything like that?"
"No," said Rountree.
Dawson is a quiet, isolated South Georgia community. It is 45 miles from the nearest interstate highway (1-75), 25 miles from the nearest commercial airport (in Albany), 60 miles from the nearest navigable river (the Chattahoochee) and 193 miles from the nearest seaport (Brunswick).
Dawson is about 20 miles south of Plains, President Carter's hometown.
Nearly 5,400 of the county's 11,650 people live in the four square miles that make up Dawson. The county's population is 60 per cent black, 40 per cent white. Its economic base is agricultural. There is some industry with nine firms - including a peanut butter plant - employing 1,293 people.
There are 6,777 registered voters. Though county officials say they keep no tabs on the racial breakdown of the voting population, they estimate that about 50 per cent are black - or "colored," as many blacks and whites here say.
According to 1973 figures, the annual per-capital income in the county was $3,838.
Dawson - "The Spanish Peanut Center of the World" and "The City That Care Forgot" - was incorporated in 1857. The county was created on Feb. 16, 1856, by an act of the Georgia legislature.
There has never been a elected black official in the town or the county.
Though 96 per cent of Terrell's white schoolchildren attent the private academy - grades 1 through 12 - and the county's four public schools are nearly all-black, the seven members of the county board of education are white.
Blacks here "are reluctant to vote because of downright hopelessness," said the Rev. Milton W. Merritt, offering an explanation for the continuing absence of blacks in town and county government.
Merritt, the pastor of the Sardis Baptist Church here and regarded as a black activist, added: "The blacks have had so many defeats...You never really had any civil rights activism in Terrell. Any time you had some really serious movement among the blacks, there was an act of [racial] violence to quell it."
Ima A. Rude, the white executive manager of the Terrell County Chamber of Commerce, attributes the absence of blacks in local government "to a lack of black leadership."
A number of blacks here agree.
A local black businessman who requested anonymity said: "Even when (blacks) go to the polls, a lot of them still are afraid. They work in these white people's houses and on their farms and they're afraid that if they vote the wrong way, Mr. Charlie (the whites) will take away their jobs. So they go and vote with Mr. Charlie."
The blacks here do agree on one subjects - racism. It exists here in its most virulent and violent form, they say. Long before the "Dawson Five" were heard off, blacks here and in adjacent towns dubbed the county "Terrible Terrell."
"There is a good reason for that," said Mary Young, a black Albany attorney who has defended scores of blacks in Terrell and adjacent counties. "Terrell is probably the foremost country in the state of Georgia as far as atrocities against blacks are concerned. Lynchings' beating and mysterious deaths involving blacks have been going on there for years."
"I'll tell you the truth," said an elderly black farmland who asked not to be named. "Black people done come a long way in other places, but here in Terrell there ain't no charge for black people. You cain't even get up and speak for your rights in Terrell if you black. Bound to get in trouble if you do."
Last week blacks got a chance to speak out about their problems during a session with Dawson Mayor James Raines. But, according to the mayor and several blacks who attended the blacks said little and made no concrete allegations.
Asked why blacks did not speak out, the farmhand glared at a reporter with incredulity. "You know why," he said. "You knows they's afraid."
Many blacks here are afraid of Terrell County. If you are black and an outsider, they will vigorously warn you against exceeding the speed limit. In fact, they will advise you to drive under the limit. A lot of blacks have would up in jail or dead because of confrontations with whites on the road, they say.
Looking at a black reporter who had come to the area to do interviews, Irene Willis, 46, a blacks homemarker who lives 17 miles from Dawson, said: "Boy, you better be careful...Dawson's not like Leesburg (her town). White folks and blacks are friendly here in Leesburg. Dawson and Terrell' crazy."
Rountree laughed when he was told about this, "I can't tell you why they believe that," he said. "I 've been in Dawson 31 years and I can't recall any single act of inhumanity against blacks here."Other whites in Dawson and Terrell County made simiral statements.
The "Dawson Five" case will be nearly two years old, if, as expected, the prosecution takes uo to 90 days to appeal Monday's lower-recourt ruling to supress the confessions of two defendants. Many blacks here welcomed the case as a chance to "expose" what they see as the injustice of life in a "dual society." Many whites such as Rountree say the case has hurt the county and has worsened race relations here.
"We don't need all of this," Rountree said of the murder case and its attendant publicity. "What we need here are more smokestacks - industry - more jobs for our young people...We don't have enough jobs to go around for blacks or whites. We are losing a lot of young people because of that."
Many here agree that more industry would help economically and might help eliminate the "dual society." But few people, especially blacks, are optimistic.
"The attitude of Rountree and other white leaders in Terrell is that because we are no way different from the rest of the country in terms of race relations, this ("dual society") should be allowed to continue," said C.B. King, a black Albany attorney who has represented blacks here.
"But because I recognize that Terrell is but a microcosm of the face of America. I realize the country is in a hell of a shape in terms of race relations. It's going to stay that way until something is done to change it."