Posted on 11/22/2013

Photo taken on February  9, 1963

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African American Woman
Hattie Carroll
Killed at the hands of a bastard
Unjust justice system
Bob Dylan
A death unpunished
Baltimore, Maryland

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The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
On February 9, 1963, at a white tie event called the Spinsters' Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland using a toy cane, William Zantzinger drunkenly assaulted at least three of the Emerson Hotel workers: a bellboy, a waitress, and at about 1:30 in the morning of the 9th, Hattie Carroll, a barmaid. In addition to her work at the hotel, Hattie Carroll, at 51, was the mother of eleven children and she was the president of a social club.

Already drunk before he got to the Emerson Hotel that night, Zantzinger, a white, 24 year old, 6′2″ male, had assaulted employees at Eager House, a prestigious Baltimore restaurant, with the same cane. The cane was a 25-cent toy. At the Spinsters' Ball, he called a 30-year-old waitress a "nigger" and hit her with the cane; she fled the room in tears. Moments later, after ordering a bourbon that Carroll didn't bring immediately, Zantzinger cursed at her, called her a "nigger" also, then "you black son of a bitch," and struck her on the shoulder and across the head with the cane. Carroll was upset, but due to the racial climate, she responded: "Just a moment," and started to prepare his drink. After a delay of perhaps a minute, he complained about her being slow and struck her a hard blow on her shoulder about half-way between the point of her shoulder and her neck. She handed him his drink. After striking Carroll, he attacked his own wife, knocking her to the ground and hitting her with his shoe.

Very soon, within five minutes from the time of the blow, Carroll leaned heavily against the barmaid next to her and complained of feeling ill. Carroll told co-workers, "I feel deathly ill, that man has upset me so." The barmaid and another helped her to the kitchen. Her arm became numb, her speech thick. She collapsed and was hospitalized. Hattie Carroll died eight hours after the assault. Her autopsy showed hardened arteries, an enlarged heart, and high blood pressure. A spinal tap confirmed brain hemorrhage as the cause of death. She died in Mercy Hospital at 9 a.m., on February 9, 1963.

Zantzinger was initially charged with murder. His defense was that he had been extremely drunk, and he admitted to no memory of the attack. His charge was reduced to manslaughter and assault, based on the likelihood that it was her stress reaction to his verbal and physical abuse that led to the intracranial bleeding, rather than blunt-force trauma from the blow that left no lasting mark. On August 28, Zantzinger was convicted of both charges and sentenced to six months' imprisonment.

In June, after Zantzinger's five topflight attorneys won a change of venue to a court in Hagerstown, Maryland, a three-judge panel reduced the murder charge to manslaughter. Following a three-day trial, Zantzinger was found guilty. For the assault on the hotel employees: a fine of $125. For the death of Hattie Carroll: six months in jail and a fine of $500. The judges considerately deferred the start of the jail sentence until September 15th, to give Zantzinger time to harvest his tobacco crop.

After the sentence was announced, The New York Herald Tribune conjectured he was given a sentence that short to keep him out of the largely black state prison, reasoning that his notoriety would make him a target for abuse there. " His then-wife, Jane, was quoted saying, "Nobody treats his negroes as well as Billy does around here."

Bob Dylan, 22 at that time, was one of the celebrities at the March on Washington and on the journey home to New York he read about the conviction of Zantzinger and decided to write a protest song (The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll) about the case.

In 2001, Zantzinger discussed the song with Howard Sounes for Down the Highway, the Life of Bob Dylan. He dismissed the song as a "total lie" and claimed "It's actually had no effect upon my life," but expressed scorn for Dylan, saying, "He's a no-account son of a bitch, he's just like a scum of a scum bag of the earth, I should have sued him and put him in jail." Zantzinger died on January 3, 2009, at the age of 69.

Baltimore Afro-American