FBI investigating racist threat in Polk County

FBI investigating racist threat in Polk County

Chattanooga Times Free Press
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Sunday, 2011-06-26

Beth Burger

Ducktown, Tenn.—More than a week after part of a cinderblock was thrown through a trailer window with a threatening racist message attached, an interracial Polk County couple continue to have sleepless nights.

“I just want to get out of there,” said Ellis Weatherspoon, 45, who lives in Turtletown with his common-law wife, Jennifer, and their 3-year-old son. Weatherspoon, who is black, and Jennifer, 28, who is white, have been together for seven years.

While the Polk County Sheriff’s Office categorized the crime as a simple vandalism case with no apparent motive, the Chattanooga FBI office now is investigating the incident, according to Sheriff Bill Davis.

And things have gotten worse for the couple. On Thursday, the couple found their 6-month-old pit bull/German shepherd mix, Gilbert, dead at the trailer, a rope tied around its neck several times and its body propped against its doghouse…

…Ugly past

Historically, there were consequences for having an interracial relationship in Tennessee.

Dating back to the 1800s, Tennessee law forbade whites from cohabitating or marrying people who were more than one-eighth black, said Daniel Sharfstein, an associate law professor at Vanderbilt University.

A violation was a felony and people could do time in prison, he said. But sometimes mobs took the law into their own hands and lynched the illicit lovers.

Despite the law, interracial relationships were accepted in some rural mountain areas throughout the South, said Sharfstein, who is the author of “The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White.”

“The struggles of everyday life were often more important than something as meaningless as race,” he said. “So when I read about the Weatherspoons, to go out of your way to attack an interracial couple — it’s not just disgraceful, it also goes against a most cherished tradition of life in the mountains where people lived the life they chose to live, free of outside meddling and interference.”…

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