Ruby McCollum was the richest black woman in Live Oak, Florida, in the 1940’s. She was married to known racketeer, “Bolita” Sam. In 1952, McCollum, a mother of four, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to the electric chair for the murder of white Senator and Dr. LeRoy Adams. McCollum and Dr. Adams had also had a child together. One of the reporters covering the first trial, which consisted of an all-white male jury, was writer Zora Neale Hurston. Her article in the Pittsburgh Courier was titled, “The Life Story of Ruby McCollum.”
Ruby McCollum was born in Zuber, Fla. and was the second of six children. She married Sam McCollum in 1929. When the couple moved to Fort Myers, Fla., Sam became involved with his brother’s racketeering business, thus gaining the name “Bolita” Sam.
On August 3, 1952, McCollum shot and killed State Senator-elect, Dr. LeRoy Adams. She claimed that Adams had forcibly raped and impregnated her, forcing the birth of their child. On December 20, 1952, McCollum was found guilty and sentenced to death after a trial that Hurston wrote, “contained disadvantages on the side of the defense.” McCollum was only allowed to state that she had “submitted herself” to the doctor when her husband was out of town and that they had a child together. When her attorney attempted to build the story from those statements in court, he was given objection repeatedly.
However, in a Supreme Court decision on July 20, 1954, the conviction and sentence were overturned since the presiding judge, Hal W. Adams, failed to be present during the jury inspection of the scene of the crime. The case brought into question “paramour rights”, which is the term given to a form of sexual slavery between a white man and a black woman.
There was an additional trial in which McCollum’s defense attorneys used a plea of insanity for the defendant. McCollum was declared mentally incompetent and incarcerated for 20 years in the Florida State Hospital for mental patients at Chattahoochee, Fla. It’s important to note that the main testimony of Dr. Dillard Workman, Dr. Adams’ medical associate, was also the prenatal doctor for the child conceived by McCollum and Adams and was Adams’ former campaign supporter. Dr. Workman also completed the autopsy of Dr. Adams and testified in court as the medical expert. He supported McCollum’s insanity on the stand.
McCollum was sent to the State Mental Hospital in Chattahoochee and likely given unnecessary and extensive treatments. In 1974, with the help of her second trial attorney, McCollum was sent to a nursing facility. She remained there until May 23, 1992, when she died of a stroke.
In a tag-team effort with Hurston, author William Huie wrote the book, “Ruby McCollum: Woman in the Suwannee Jail”, which was a full account of the Ruby McCollum case. Huie was present for the appeal and second trial of the case.
The intriguing story of Ruby McCollum is told in an award-winning documentary called “The Other Side of Silence” by Dr. Claudia Johnson. As she completed the film, Dr. Johnson was sent death threats by those who wished to keep the racism of Live Oak, Florida a secret.