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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.

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23 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: Ruby McCollum

  1. Karen Williams on said:

    I saw the documentary (You Belong To Me…) last night, and my heart just hurts for Mrs. Ruby…and EVERY Black woman (and CHILD) that had to suffer at the hands of low-down animals like Adams!! I’ve never ached inside for a stranger like this!I loved Mrs. Ruby by the end of the trial and I pray for each of you–get family members!! May God bless you all!!

  2. Fatmah on said:

    I heard the Actor, James Brolin say on the TV show, “The Talk” today that, his current project is to make a film about Ruby McCollom. If this is true and if this film is ever released, I would hope that it would become a compulsory requirement for all students in colleges & universities, as well as, members of the US military branches.

  3. She killed someone. I guess everyone should kill the other person who has done a heinous crime. Wow. Nice to see all the support for this.

  4. Pamela E. on said:

    I don’t remember the name of the book but I learned about this tragedy from a book my mom kept on her headboard back in the 1970s. I was fascinated by the story and yet scared. There were pictures of Mrs. McCollum and the doctor inside the book. I don’t remember if I read the entire book or just pages of it. For some reason, today I remembered this murder. I was in the middle vacuuming my carpet and the memory came to my mind. I shut off the vacuum and ran upstairs to my computer to run a search on Google. I could not remember names so I used several searches until the name “Ruby McCollum” appeared. Mrs. McCullum was born in Zuber, FL. My dad has lots of relatives in and around that area. I wonder if she was related to my dad. My parents are both gone so they would not be able to tell me. During my search, lots of Jim Crow information appeared. That’s enough to make anyone feel nauseated. I felt compelled to add my comments here today.

  5. Regarding Ms. Mills recommendation of my book, State of Florida vs. Ruby McCollum Defendant, I would recommend that anyone interested in obtaining a copy purchase it soon since I recently took it out of publication. Too many people have been writing screenplays and using some non-public domain material in that book and trying to make it their own. C. Arthur Ellis, Jr., PhD, also author of The Trial of Ruby McCollum: The trial that shook the foundations of the Segregationist South, and Zora Hurston and the Strange Case of Ruby McCollum.

  6. C. Arthur Ellis, Jr., PhD here. One reference overlooked is that I’m the source in pointing out the information on Dr. Dillard Workman in this article, in an annotation to my book, State of Florida vs. Ruby McCollum. Also, I’m the first to mention “paramour rights” in any literature and that is not referenced here. There have been a string of scripts written on the story recently, drawing on derivative articles like this, so I would really appreciate a credit where it is due.

  7. Brenda Williams on said:

    My grandmother knew the McCollums personally, and told us this tragic story when we became young women. We were raised in Tallahassee, Florida and she didn’t want her granddaughters to become some white man’s sex slave. They ran her family out of town after the trial and people in Live Oak acted as if it never happened. I think about Ms. Ruby every time I pass the Live Oak exit on I-10.

    • Hilary Saltzman on said:

      Hello Brenda,
      I would really like to know more about your Grandmothers memories of that time. Is there any way to reach you?

  8. Ms.Mills on said:

    I’ve read the book and the transcript for the Trial. My father was told that Ruby McCollum is a distant realtive, she does look alot like my baby sister but I have not done the research. I recommend the actual transcript from the trial to be read.

  9. marshall on said:

    Such VITAL history should be mandatory reading at ALL historical Black colleges & universities & especially for Black students that major in law.

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