Bessie McDowell

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Bessie McDowell

Murdered June 14, 1956

On June 14, 1956 in the small county of Covington located in Andalusia Alabama, Bessie McDowell a 58-year-old African American woman was the victim of a gunshot to the face.  The situation occurred at the house of Bessie, when two white loan collectors, Claude Ingle and his son Bobby Ray Ingle went to her house to collect on a loan that was owed by Bessie’s nephew.  Bessie’s nephew, Charlie C. Williams was staying at Bessie’s house at the time.  A situation ensued when Charlie did not have the money to pay the two men.  Some accounts say that Charlie had told the two men he would pay them the following day.  It was then that Bobby Ray Ingle slapped Charlie in the face.  Charlie ran into the house for protection.  As Charlie was running into the house Claude Ingle fired a .32 caliber revolver into a window of the house.  Bessie was the victim of the warning shot, it hit Bessie in the face as she was sleeping, and she died on the way to the hospital.  It was later stated by Claude Ingle that he fired a shot because he thought Charlie C. Williams was going to retrieve a gun from the house.

Claude Ingle was arrested and charged with murder but was convicted of manslaughter, he paid a 500 dollar fine and was sentenced to one year of prison.  Bobby Ray Ingle was charged with 2nd degree murder.  The charges were eventually dropped as Ingle appealed his conviction that was affirmed by the Alabama Court of Appeals in Ingle v. State, 39 Ala. App. 698 So.2d 554 in 1957.    

Bessie McDowell, 58 years old of Andalusia Alabama was an active member of her community in Covington County.  Though there is little information and documentation on Bessie McDowell and her life, she was still a loved and important person to her community and to her family.  She was employed as a domestic for the VFW Auxiliary, a volunteer program founded in 1914 to help veterans and their families here in the United States.  Though not fully confirmed through newspapers and other information Bessie McDowell was active in the church in Andalusia as her came up several times in searching for her.  I can only jump to conclusions to add some of my own inferences to her life based on the research I have done.  Her nephew Charlie C. Williams was living with her at the time of her murder.  Through his stay and her community involvement I can only assume that Bessie McDowell was a loving and caring person who wanted to help people in the most ways that she could.

Bessie’s work at the VFW Auxiliary consisted of preparing meals for the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Northeastern University).  The VFW Auxiliary stands for, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.  Volunteers of the VFW provide help and services to veterans and their families and help to promote patriotism within the US.  The US Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit organization that gives 18-40 year old men the necessary tools and opportunities to succeed in business, community service, management skills, individual training and international connections (US Junior Chamber).  Bessie’s services to the VFW Auxiliary and to the Junior Chamber of Commerce provide that her work was for the greater good of society and in helping individuals and families in their time of need.  Her work for the Chamber of Commerce contributed to the improvement of men in her community, to helping pave a positive past for the future for young men to succeed in life.  To this day the VFW Auxiliary and the Junior Chamber of Commerce continue to serve their country and the people in it through volunteers and workers like Bessie who help veterans and young men receive tools, assistance and teachings to have better lives and a better future.

This was a time of racism, oppression and the civil rights era in the south, especially in Alabama, which was home to much of the civil rights movement.  Blacks were struggling and fighting for their rights as human beings, but constant powerful oppression and opposition from white America met their fight.  I feel that it is important to remember Bessie for her work and positive community involvement during an era where it was so difficult to be black, let alone a black woman.  I come to the conclusion that she was a loving woman of people and her family as she let her nephew stay with her at her home.  Newspapers and documentation state that her nephew owed a debt to a Bell Finance company, operated by whites.  During this time it was not okay or safe to be indebt to whites, yet Bessie allowed her nephew Charlie to stay with her for his support.

Bessie was such an active and positive member in her hometown of Covington County.  In the era of racism and the civil rights movement Bessie continued to provide work for the community and her family.  Her work and her love no matter how simple and no matter how little recognition was received Bessie did her work, and provided the love and support to her community and family members.  In a time of great tragedy Bessie McDowell can and should be remembered a bright light and a loving community member who shall not be forgotten.

"About the Jaycees." The United States Junior Chamber. 14 Apr. 2009.

"CRRJ Case Watch." Civil Rights and Restorative Justice. Northeastern University School of Law. 04 Apr. 2009.

"Ladies Auxiliary." Veterans of Foreign Wars: Ladies VFW. 14 Apr. 2009.

The Civil Rights Era in Alabama, 1954-1956

            The State of Alabama was a hot zone for action and events regarding civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.  During this time blacks had united, they started a civil rights movement to fight back against the racism and oppression they were facing both from white citizens and the US government.  This was a power struggle of epic proportions as the white dominant view of society and hierarchy that saw blacks and people of color below whites became challenged.  In this era whites were people of privilege and blacks were not seen as human nor did they deserve equal human rights that whites received both in everyday life and in US government, laws and in the Constitution of the United States.  Racism was alive and it was not hidden, it was in your face.  Birmingham and Montgomery Alabama were home to many marches and boycotts that were some of the first organized black movements to rebel and fight for their rights.  This contextual narrative is aimed to tie the acts committed in the Bessie McDowell murder case to the events happening in the Alabama civil rights movement at the time.  In providing a timeline of events from 1954 to 1956, the year of Bessie McDowell’s death, I can help provide a framework for the era, highlighting U.S. Supreme Court rulings on racial segregation, white oppression to the civil rights movement, and to importantly tie in housing segregation and loans to blacks.  Bessie McDowell was the victim of a gunshot, but more importantly her death was caused by a debt owed by her nephew to the Bell Finance Company operated by a white father and son.  How could Whites giving loans to Blacks be used as to take advantage of blacks, and how can this be tied to the civil rights era and the Bessie McDowell case?  The Alabama civil rights timeline will help to put this troubled time in context to uncover answers to questions unsolved regarding the civil rights era and forgotten deaths that occurred during this time.

Why the case is still open

After doing the research and learning about the Bessie McDowell case, the question now is, “why has this case been reopened?”  I believe that the main reason for this case being reopened is that it was lacking a significant investigation.  There is little information on what happened that night, why the two loan collectors came, there is little information regarding the loan and the debt that was owed.  The situation arose because of a debt so is this a civil rights case?  I feel that it could be because this was a very violent time where whites had the belief that they could kill black people because they were challenging their way of life and because they were seen as less than human.  This case could also be a general murder because the killing occurred because a debt was owed.  Whether this is racially motivated or not the case is lacking significant information of what happened that night and why.  There could be an opportunity to further investigate the Bell Finance Company and their operation during the 1950s.  Reparations and closure could come to the family of Bessie McDowell, with further investigations of the Bell Finance Company, the Ingle family and with gathering information on the killing and why it happened.

The Anniston Star. 27 Apr. 2009 <http://www.annistonstar.com/as-index.htm>.

Black Studies Center. 2009. Proquest. <http://bsc.chadwyck.com/home/home.do>.

"Causes of Housing Segregation." University of Michigan. <http://www.umich.edu/~lawrace/causes1.htm>.

Chicago Defender. 27 Apr. 2009 <http://www.chicagodefender.com/>.

"Civil Rights." Alabama Department of Archives and History. 2009. State of Alabama. <http://www.archives.state.al.us/search_VSearchResult.cfm>.

"Civil Rights Timeline." Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Online. 27 Apr. 2009 <http://www.bcri.org/index.html>.