Voodoo Times: This Episode:
The Lady and her Neighbor
by Terence L. Johnson
Former Professor, African and African American History
Former Field Archivist
Link for Citation Purposes: https://bwwsociety.org/journal/archive/ba/the-voodoo-times.htm
Author's Note: The following story is based on accounts of a real event from various newspapers. Some scenes in this story have been dramatized with fictional accounts. Whenever possible every attempt has been made to maintain the integrity of the events as they were reported.
On April 24th, Saturday at about noon in 1948, I, Alberta Jefferson stood in the hall and yelled out to Obie Lee Roddie, “Professor, you will not get away for what you have done to me.”
Professor Roddie had his hand on his coat and at first, I didn’t know whether he had a gun or a knife. But he had nothing when he finally put his hands to his side.
When I pulled my gun out of my bosom, the professor, dressed in his Sunday suit, fell to his knees.
“Get up professor and die like a man,” I shouted.
He staggered toward me.
I put my gun away.
“Now Mrs. Jefferson, I tried to help you with your husband, but I needed more money.”
Then he came toward me and grabbed the belt on my skirt. I pushed off from him.
“I want justice, but I know that Jesus would not like what I got to do!”
He started laughing at me.
Then he lunged at me as he continued to laugh.
I again pushed away from Professor Roddie and again took my thirty-two gun out of my bosom.
Then he said in a soft voice, “I tried to help you. I really tried to help.”
“You hoped to destroy me and my husband. You have to die,” I returned.
Then Professor Roddie got up and started toward me, and then, with my shaking right hand, I shot him with my pistol twice.
The bullet shot sent the professor reeling down a flight of stairs. I looked down at him as he was sprawled down on the stairway dead. One newspaper reported that I blew out his brains. Another newspaper on April 24, 1948, gave my age to be 31 years of age and said that I pumped a bullet into 26-year-old Obie Lee Roddie’s skull.
After Professor Roddie died, I was taken to the police station and questioned. Two White men sat next to me in a small room. One fat guy gripped a cigar in his mouth and blew smoke in my face. I coughed. Then a slender White policeman smiled at me and began his interrogation.
“Tell me what happened lady?”
I turned my eyes from the police officer and began to cry.
“Jefferson,” said the fat policeman.
I continued to remain silent.
The fat policeman once again picked up a charm from his box and shelved it close to my face.
“Lady, we found this on the man you killed on the stairway.”
Then he said, “You know you a hefty woman. You are fatter than me.”
Tears flowed down my eyes. The tears flowed not from the policeman’s calling me names, but because of the awful murder.
“Do you know what this is?” questioned the slender policeman.
“A charm,” I responded softly as I tried to keep my hands from shaking.
The slender man pointed to a grey box.
“Lady, it is all there. We confiscated voodoo formulas, records and financial status of patients, and several boxes of charms.”
The fat man once again blew cigar smoke in my face. I again coughed several times.
Then the slender policemen started to laugh and said, “Lady, you took out your pistol and blew out the man’s skull in his head and he fell dead on those stairs. You must be happy about that. You are happy, aren’t you fatty, about killing Obie Lee. You must like to kill your own Coloreds, don’t you?”
I started to shake, I cried, but I said nothing more to the two men. The slender policeman threw the charm in the box containing the property of Obie Lee Roddie and said, “You Coloreds still believe in voodoo mumbo jumbo.”
When the homicide officer Sgt. Carl Bunch came in the room, it was then that I confessed to all of them as I burst into tears.
“Officers, I shot Professor Roddie because, because he hexed me. He put a curse on me!”
All the White men let out a roar of laughter. Then the fat policeman took my pocketbook and found all the doctor’s prescriptions. He looked at me and then at the others and said,
“This fat Colored dame is a really sick puppy.”
He pressed the prescriptions in her face and said, “If she were on the run, I doubt she would get very far.”
Sgt. Carl Bunch looked at me and then said to the two police, “I think we should let her go home. I don’t think she is going anywhere that we can’t find her.”
The three White men began to laugh.
The police decided that they did not need to hold me. Bail was set, and I was able to go home and await the day of my trial. While I waited for my trial, strange things started to happen to me. Since Professor Roddie’s death I had been almost constantly ill with repeated heart attacks. Because I needed to see so many specialists, the court allowed me to go out of town. When I traveled from my home in Knoxville, Tennessee to Baltimore, Maryland to visit friends, I became so ill that I had to be taken to St. Joseph Hospital. When I went back to my home in Knoxville, my legs, arms, and hands began to shake uncontrollably as I walked through my apartment door. My husband Alex, who had only one arm, caught me before I fell to the floor.
“Alberta!” he yelled.
I could not speak, but only look up at my husband, who rained tears on his face. He brought back a neighbor. The two men got me in a car. I blacked out. When I woke up, I found myself on the Colored side of the hospital. In the hospital, I looked out of the window from a bed. I found that my neck had become stiff. I looked to my left and saw my husband standing with a doctor who explained my condition.
“Mrs. Jefferson you had a seizure and you have high blood pressure.”
I looked at my left arm and saw how a tube was inserted in it with a needle that led to a hollow tube.
“What happened to me?” I questioned.
“You had a seizure and you blacked out.”
I saw the tears in my husband’s eyes.
“Alberta. Baby, your heart is bad. You are really sick.”
I was in shock.
The doctor then said to me, “We have given you some pills that will bring down your blood pressure, but you need to rest now.”
I tried to do as the doctor told me to do. I closed my eyes with the hope of seeing a better day.
When my court case came, I decided to wear my wide-brim white hat and long white dress, and short heels. I made sure not to wear any makeup, for I desired to gain some pity or respect from the court.
While in court, I was asked numerous questions about what happened before that fateful day in 1946.
The prosecuting attorney said to me, “Tell us Mrs. Jefferson, who was Obie Lee Roddie?”
I said to him, “He was sort of like a doctor.”
The prosecuting attorney walked around the court and then back to me and posited another question.
“Mrs. Jefferson, could you be a little more specific?”
I cleared my throat and said, “He knew a little bit about medicine.”
“Can you please elaborate for us, the type of medicines?” the lawyer asked.
Then I said, “I don’t know what they were. He kept them in jars and small bags. They were herbs and medicines that he gave out to people who came to see him.”
“What hospital did Mr. Roddie work in?” he asked.
I stuttered and said, “He did his work at his apartment.”
“What apartment,” he asked.
I got nervous. But suddenly remembered the address.
“500 ½ North Central Street, apartment 66.”
The prosecuting attorney went on to say, “I know for a fact Mrs. Jefferson, that Mr. Roddie did not have a degree to practice medicine. Did you know that?”
I lowered my head and said,
“I know he was not a doctor, but everyone just called him a professor.”
Then the prosecuting attorney said, “So you murdered him in the hall near his door.”
Tears flowed from my eyes. I looked at my husband who set in the court. His eyes appeared sad. I tried to carefully answer the lawyer’s assumption.
“I protected myself against Dr. Roddie’s powers.”
Then the Assistant Attorney General stood up and stated, “Ladies and gentlemen, she shot Obie Lee Roddie, whom she called a voodoo doctor; after he threatened to kill her. But Professor Roddie was unarmed, except with a lot of mumbo jumbo superstitions.”
The Assistant Attorney General picked up from a box a black book. He flipped through it and read a specific passage.
“Dr. Jenkins' recipe for a sickness goes like this. Table salt and turpentine. But if that didn’t work, the person could take two glasses of water and place them under their bed. Then they were to pray over one of them and then pour it out the next morning. Then they were to pray over the other one using the Twenty-Third Psalm and after that drink it.”
The Assistant Attorney General and the jurors began to laugh along with the judge who snickered under his breath.
“No further questions your honor,” said the prosecuting attorney.
You could read in the April 25th, 1948 edition of the Knoxville Journal how Dr. Obie Lee Roddie's customers came from far and wide and they included both Negroes and White people.
Then my lawyer came to ask me a series of questions.
“What do you do for a living?”
“I was a maid, but I cannot work now.”
My lawyer came with his next question.
“What is your condition?”
“Well, I have seizures and doctors say my heart is bad.”
“What do you believe caused this?” came my lawyer’s next question.
“He put a 24-hour death hex on me and my husband.”
Many people in the court began to laugh, the court grew silent when the judge struck down his gavel.
“Did you intend to kill him?
“No, but he tried to hurt me in the hall of my apartment.”
“What about the hex?”
One man in the court giggled.
“One day, when I came from work, I found a sack of roots and weeds in my apartment.”
Many people in the audience of the court began to laugh. Why the laughter died down, my lawyer paused then proceeded with his questions.
“Where is the location of your apartment?”
“I live at 500 ½ South Central Street.”
“Where did Mr. Roddie live?”
“A few doors down from me.”
“Tell me Mrs. Jefferson, what do you think the sack of roots and weeds did.”
I began to cry.
“Don’t you understand? When you walk past your door, the voodoo gets on you. It can hurt you.”
Again laughter filled the court.
The judge’s gavel silenced all in the court.
“Tell me Mrs. Jefferson, how did this relationship with Professor Roddie begin?”
It was at this moment that I began to recount what happened to me and my husband many months ago. I remembered before I met Professor Roddie, I noticed when I walked upstairs to get to my apartment, people going in and out his door. What was so strange about his business was the fact that Whites as well as Negroes were seeing him for help.
I had a big problem. My husband often came in late and went directly to bed. When I asked him where he had been, he said to me, “Woman let me be. I am the man and I ask the questions.”
I remember, one day, looking through my husband’s dinner jacket and discovering a love letter. The love letter was not to me, but to some woman named Alice. I heard from my neighbor that Professor Roddie was a rootworker who had used some sort of voodoo to control the will of others. So I made an appointment to see him. When I entered his room, I saw powders and green plants stacked on tables. When I sat down on his couch, I saw a box filled with bones and skulls.
The Professor said to me, “Now Mrs. Jefferson, I can call you Alberta right?”
I nodded and then he boasted.
“With my herbs and recipes, I can get you out of jail, create love, kill jinxes, hold jobs, cure illness, rent houses, and bust up people. Roberta, what do you require of me on this day?”
My hands began to shake. Then I said, “I need my man back.”
Professor Roddie took out some cards and quickly shuffled them and received a message.
“Alberta, I looked at my Tarot cards and I can tell you that your husband, is in fact, running around. Your man is cheating on you with a younger woman. This woman lives in a house.”
I asked him, “What can I do to stop him?”
Professor Jefferson laughed and held up a jar of red powder in his hands.
“You got to follow your husband to find out where this lady lives. Once you find out, then you sprinkle this go-away powder on your husband’s pants and bury the pants on the property line of her lot.”
I took the bottle of powder from the professor.
“That will be 15 dollars,” said Professor Roddie.
I reached into my pocketbook and gave Professor Roddie his money. I shook his hands and left to do all that he had to say, for I wanted my husband back. I wanted my husband to stop running around with the floozy named Alice.
One day my husband said to me, “Honey, got to go out of town for two days.” He kissed me on the cheek.
“Who are you going to see?”
He threw up his hands at me and then leaned back.
“Why are you such a Dumb Dora!” he said. “Why are you so jealous?”
I went to the kitchen and started to cook some fish as he stood in our living room.
“What about that Alice?” I questioned.
My husband raced into the kitchen, grabbed me by the arm, and threw me onto the floor.
“You went in my coat didn’t you?” he shouted.
I looked up and with tears in my eyes said to Alex, my husband, “Go! Get out of here!”
He stuffed shirts and pants into his suitcase quickly snapped it closed, and left our apartment, slamming the door. When my husband left, I went to see Susan, my old friend.
I knocked really hard on her door. She opened the door and said,
“Child what is wrong? Did he hurt you?”
I said to her, “He is with another woman.”
We came into her apartment, she hugged me.
“Child you need to leave him. You need to leave Alex.”
I told her how I went to see Professor Roddie and what he told me to do. Then she said, “Alberta, I will drive you where you need to go, we gone find that gigaboo gal.”
I got all the root stuff, my husband’s pants, and a shovel, and we drove around and found my husband’s Model T. We followed behind him for a mile. He left our town and went to a small white house with a white picket fence. We drove past the house and waited until it was dark and then went to work.
I dug a hole near a large rose bush in the woman’s yard. My friend Susan tossed my husband’s pants in the hole. Then I took out the root powder given to me by Professor Roddie and poured all of it onto the pants. Then I went back to the car in tears. I left it to my friend Susan to plug up the hole with soil. Then we got into her car and drove away.
A week went by and I hoped to see my husband change. I desired to see him come home and not stay out all night with that floozy. But my husband’s activities did not change. And for the next few weeks, Professor Roddie would see me and my husband in the hall and laugh. When I listened to my favorite show, The Frank Sinatra Show on the radio, my enjoyment was interrupted by Professor Roddie banging on the piano. What I later learned was the fact that he also taught piano lessons in his home.
Then I had the last straw when he started to play his piano-playing jazz compositions, in the middle of the night. So my husband and I protested to the owner of our apartment to get the professor to stop. But Professor Obie Lee Roddie did not stop.
I went and knocked on Professor Roddie’s door. He opened his door and smiled.
“Hello, Alberta. How have you been?”
“I want you to stop playing that piano so hard and loud all through the night. I also want my 15 dollars for the work you claimed would help me with my husband.”
Professor Roddie smiled and turned into a grin and gave a confession.
“The woman Alice, well she paid me money and I told her where the pants were. I had her bury it in the grave of a man who was a murderer. She did what I asked and she paid me 30 dollars. I also broke into your place and got some of your undergarments. I had her put that in that same grave.”
“Why?” I cried.
“The spirit that I worship needed a sacrifice and you seemed to be a good person. My master wanted someone with a heart of gold. That my dear is you.”
I slapped him in his face.
“You monster!” I shouted.
He starred at me with his cold dark eyes.
“Suddenly, I felt my legs shaking as pains grew in my knees.”
He smiled and started to chuckle. Then came with another confession.
“I told your wolf of a husband that I had relations with you. He got only one arm but he tried to hit me. I knocked him down on the ground. Then I sprinkled something on him. I spooked him.”
Then he said, "He ran out of my room like a coward.”
I shouted at him saying, “I want to kill you what you are doing to me!”
My loud voice made a few people come out of their rooms and stood in the hall, listening and watching.
Professor Roddie smiled, “I will put a hex on your and your husband. In 24 hours you will either die or be filled with illness, and then that will teach you. Don’t trifle with me.”
Then he slammed his door in my face.
I again knocked hard on his door. Then several people came out of their rooms, including a man by the name of Henry Reed. Professor Roddie opened his door and came into the hall. He said to me, “Alberta, you are causing a disruption. Look around you, people know that something is wrong with your mind.”
I snapped back at him.
“Professor Roddie, if you ever cross me again, I will kill you.”
I looked around and saw how the tenant Henry Reed rolled his eyes and went back into his room.
After I killed Professor Roddie, I awaited my trial. The Dothan Eagle newspaper explained why my trial took so long to come up. It said of me, “the Negro woman has been almost constantly ill with recurrent heart attacks, all substantiated by doctor’s certificates. And authorities, while professing disbelief in voodoo, nevertheless acknowledged their wonder whether the hex might be working overtime, slowly stretching out death.”
While I waited more than a year for my trial, I read plenty of old newspapers that had been made available to me. As I read these papers, I learned that my case had not been unique. I also learned something about the Negro communities across the country that the most educated Negroes neither talked about nor wrote about. We had a number of voodoo men and women who often took advantage of their race.
I read a news story in the Index-Journal entitled, “Spiritualist Killed because of a Hex.” In that story, it told of a Negro woman by the name of Josephine Whitley who fired shots into the body of a spiritualist by the name of Rev. Kinzo Otto Devontenno VI. Then I read in the Pottstown Mercury about a medium by the name of Mrs. Emma A. Kefalos, who was murdered, and that a voodoo curse was somehow tied to her slaying. Then I read in the Mount Carmel Item about a Negro voodoo doctor by the name of Alonzo Savage, who killed a woman named Elsie Barthel by crushing her skull with a heavy granite block. In his trial, Savage admitted murdering her because she would not pay him for his love charms and spells.
Then my husband gave me a few newspapers that featured stories about me.
Now I realized what types of people lived in our community. These voodoo men and women gained power at the expense of the Negro community. In this way, they were like vampires; sucking the life out of what we could be. The hex that Professor Roddie put on me may slowly lead to my eventual death.
My trial ended sometime in 1949. After I told my story to the court, my lawyer stood in front of an all-White jury and delivered a plea for me.
“This woman feared for her life. The Negro who called himself a professor, well he had a small black book containing “death recipes” and other hexes which bore such labels as “Putting the Burden on Your Folks,” “Giving the Enemy Running Feet,” “Ways to Kill and Harm,” and “Sudden Death.”
Then my lawyer called to the stand Homicide Officer Carl Bunch. Bunch revealed how Professor Roddie was able to attain such a large clientele of believers. Bunch said,
“Well, Roddie was a con artist. He worked with several Negro maids employed in homes. They would find out, by visiting many of the other women’s homes, domestic trouble in which husbands were stepping out on their wives. The maid then would get the details from the wives. Wives told maids everything. The troubled wife was often told by a maid to consult Roddie. When the wife did this, the man would demand a fee and tell the wife what he had learned from maids; about the man’s cheating habits.”
The policemen believed that Professor Roddie did not have any power. He might have talked to servants and got information from some of his clients, but I didn’t tell anyone but my friend Susan about my troubles with my husband. The woman Alice that my husband was seeing lived several miles from us. To the best of my knowledge, Professor Roddie did not know her unit he found, through his conjure, powers. I had pains that he inflicted on my body. That Professor Roddie was a fake voodoo man, in my mind proved otherwise.
My lawyer glanced at me and then returned his attention to the jury.
“I have here in my hand a card of the slain alleged conjurer. The card, he listed Mrs. Jefferson as a foe.”
My lawyer gave the card to a jury member who passed it around to his company of Whites.
My lawyer then picked up a copy of the Bible and held it up for all in the court to see. Then he said, “Do you all believe that the Holy Bible is the divine and inspired word of God?”
The jury all nodded their heads.
“I am not going to ask you whether you believe in witchcraft, devils, or voodooism, but I am going to ask you if you are willing to give another person the right to an honest belief in what may be mere superstition.”
The jurors indicated their willingness by another nod of their heads.
Then my lawyer gave his closing statement.
“You have to understand that Negro history is full of superstition, and my client is a Negro, and my client thought she had been hexed. I am asking for an acquittal for my client on grounds that a person has a right to an honest belief in what may be superstition.”
The judge said to him, “I overrule your motion. Your client is not being tried for her beliefs, she is being tried for murder.”
The jury went to work for 45 minutes to decide my fate. When the jury returned, they said,
“We find the woman, Alberta Jefferson to be guilty of murdering Professor Obie Lee Roddie. Our verdict recommends a minimum sentence.”
At that moment, I gasped in horror.
Sentencing was delayed pending a hearing on a motion for a new trial, usually a preliminary to appeal to State Supreme Court. My appeal was rejected. I was made to serve three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter. Obie Lee Roddie’s story regarding all of his voodoo charges stayed in the news as late as 1954. In many of those news stories, I was merely known as “the woman.”
When I served my time in prison, my husband Alex had run off with the woman known as Alice. I was not alone in the world, for I had my Bible and I dedicated my life to Christ.
Publisher's Note: By special arrangement with the Author, all reader-remitted Membership Fees resulting from the story above, less processing expenses if any, will be forwarded to the Author as means of remuneration. -JP
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