Ben Hecht said, “Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell time by watching the second hand of a clock.” With that in mind, I perused many 1970s editions of both the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, whose archives offered a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of Atlantans. The Atlanta Daily World offered a sometimes countervailing and often more in-depth take on the same events. Atlanta Magazine offered a great source for historical context, including their “best of” issues as well as a shockingly hilarious profile of the swingin’ Riverbend apartment complex. Back issues of Cosmopolitan magazine supplied tips on hairstyles, celebrities and achieving sexual satisfaction—so different from what they focus on today. Newsweek, Time Magazine, Ladies Home Journal and the Sears catalogue were also great guides for apparel and decorating. AtlantaTimeMachine.com showcases myriad before and after photos of city hotspots. There are an alarming number of 1970s TV commercials on YouTube that sucked away hours of my life that I will never get back. My only consolation is that the posters spent more time uploading them than I did watching them.
I enlisted Daniel Starer at Research for Writers to help pull material I needed for this story. I thought this was a brilliant cheat on my part until the volumes of research arrived on my doorstep and I realized that I would then have to read everything. (A full list can be found here). Dan also located a man named Robert Barnes(website), who filmed a documentary on the Atlanta Police Force in 1975. Robert, an Atlanta native, was kind enough to send me a copy of the film, which shows much of the Atlanta skyline and features lots of helicopter shots of Techwood Homes and downtown. He also shared his memories of growing up in Atlanta, for which I am very grateful.
I spent many hours either on line or in person at the Atlanta History Center, the Auburn Avenue Research Library. the Georgia Tech Library, the Georgia State University Pullman Library and the Library of Congress. (Hey, didja notice all these places have “library” in their names? Maybe we really do need libraries after all.)
To say I hit paydirt at the Atlanta History Center is an understatement. It was there I first found mention of Patricia W. Remmington’s Policing: the Occupation and the Introduction of Female Police Officers (University Press of America, 1981). This dissertation is based on Remmington’s year-long field study of the Atlanta Police Force in 1975. She rode along on beats. She often watched interrogations. They even trusted her with a revolver. From Ms. Remmington’s work, I was able to cull staff rotations, statistical data, organizational structure and socio-economic details of the Atlanta force. As the focus of the study was on women officers, there were several transcripts of interviews performed with both male and female police officers regarding women on the force. Many of the ten-codes, slang (“hmmy,” “trim” and “crack”) and various practical jokes officers played came from Remmington’s observations.
Though I used the dissertation as a starting point, I also spoke with several women police officers who came up in the 1970s. Marla Lawson at the GBI is as entertaining a storyteller as I’ve ever heard. I would also like to thank law enforcement officers Dona Robertson, Barbara Lynch and Vickye Prattes for driving all the way into Atlanta to talk with me. SL, EC and BB gave me insider knowledge on how things still work (or don’t) in various Georgia forces. And, though men don’t exactly get the star treatment in this book, I would like to thank, as always Director Vernon Keenan and John Bankhead at the GBI. Actually, I would like to thank all the officers out there who take care of the rest of us. Y’all are doing the Lord’s work.
I feel I should mention Reginald Eaves, who features prominently in this story. Eaves has long-been a controversial figure in Atlanta politics. A 1978 test-rigging scandal forced him out of the police force. In 1980, he was elected to the Fulton County Commission. By 1984, he was under investigation for extortion and eventually imprisoned in 1988. And, yet…there’s no denying that under Commissioner Eaves, Atlanta saw its crime rate drop significantly. He increased recruit training, instigated a formal path to promotion and made all officers take “crisis intervention” classes to learn how to better deal with domestic cases. He focused most of his resources on black-on-black crime, saying, “No matter how poor you are, there is no excuse for knocking a lady in the head or stealing her purse.” To me, this makes Eaves a quintessential Atlanta politician.
Though some still think of the 1970s as a decade of love and freedom, women of that time were generally still facing an uphill battle. Opening a checking account, getting a car loan or mortgage—even signing a lease—were out of reach for many American women unless their fathers or husbands co-signed. (Don’t get ahead of yourself, New York City. It wasn’t until 1974 that gender discrimination was legally barred). In 1972, it finally became legal for unmarried women to use the Pill, though some still had a difficult time finding a doctor who would write the prescription and a pharmacist to fill it. The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, meant to put a finer point on the Equal Pay Act of 1963, highlighted the fact that women were earning only 62% of men’s salaries. The APD, as all police forces, had to follow the law, so policing was one of the few jobs for women that gave them both economic and social power.
That was the extent of the progressive side of policing. Most men—and many women—felt that women should not be police officers. The stories about people laughing when a female officer came on scene are true. Women were routinely set up to fail, and punished when they did not. There were many areas of law enforcement where women were strictly verboten. This is not to say that men were entirely the problem. A 1974 article in the Atlanta Constitution talks about phone calls coming into the station—all from women—saying they’d seen a woman stealing a police car. They could not fathom that the “thief” was actually a female police officer who was driving the car on her beat. (Another quote, this one from H.L. Mencken: “Misogynist: a man who hates women as much as women hate one another.”)
Thank you, Valerie Jackson, for giving me a glimpse into Mayor Maynard Jackson’s thinking during his first term. The statements he made on behalf of women and minorities are common-place among politicians these days, though seldom followed through in the way Mayor Jackson managed. I think I speak for many Atlantans when I say that his legacy lives on in so many positive ways.
Vernon Jordan was extremely helpful in giving context to the story. I thank you, sir, for your insightful suggestion, which gave me the key to unlocking the narrative. You kept saying you couldn’t tell me much, but you pretty much told me everything. I’m certain I’m not the only person on whom you’ve had this effect.
Linda Fairstein is not just one of my favorite authors, but a woman who served on the front lines of New York City’s first sex crimes unit. Her groundbreaking work was made possible by the same LEAA grants that benefitted many women in policing. Linda, I applaud your efforts to pay it forward for women all over the country.
Special thanks goes to Jeanene English for showing me how hair weaves work. Kate White, you constantly remind me of the great things women can accomplish when we support each other. I would especially like to thank Monica Pearson (nee Kaufman) for one of the more pleasant afternoons of my life. Emily Saliers, thank you for telling me about your Atlanta. Though I’ve never had the honor of meeting Tyne Daily or Sharon Gless, any woman my age knows this story holds a special debt of gratitude to both.
As usual, Dr. David Harper helped make Sara and Pete look like they know what they are doing. I feel I should say something about Grady Hospital, the largest public hospital in the country. This H-shaped behemoth is a testament to the best and worst of us. The ER Sara works in is nothing like the real Grady ER, mostly because it would take thousands of pages to do justice to the wash of humanity packed into the halls on a daily basis. My hat is off to the Grady doctors and nurses for running toward the problems instead of away from them.
Henrik Enemark, my Danish translator, sent me some groovy photos of his high school trip to Atlanta. Ineke Lenting, my Dutch translator, was also a tremendous help. Marty, curator of the Pram Museum, answered a strange question quickly and unblinkingly. Kitty Stockett lent her name to a prostitute (maybe this will finally get her work the attention it deserves). Pam Canale was the big winner of the “have your name appear in Karin Slaughter’s next book” auction to benefit the Dekalb County Public Library system. Diane Palmer put a wicked idea into my head. Debbie T., thank you for your continuing help with capturing Will’s world. Beth Tindall at Cincinnati Media has long been my webmaster and BFF. Victoria Sanders, Angela Cheng Caplan, and Diane Golden are the best team a gal could ask for. Thanks, too, to Kate Elton, my good friend and long-time editor, for making my job so easy. Jennifer Hershey, Libby McGuire, Susan Corcoran and Gina Centrello—thanks for bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan.
My father regaled me one night with tales from the underbelly of 1970s Atlanta. He put me onto Mills Lane and the kidnapping case (as well as Mike Thevis, who will certainly show up in other stories, though I am hesitant to ask my father about his connection to the man who changed the face of American porn). I am grateful to my sister, Jatha Slaughter, for talking to me so openly about her life. And to D.A.—as always, you are my heart.
History is a dangerous thing, especially in the hands of a novice. In researching this novel, I came to understand that no one sees the past in the same way. For Atlanta, there is the white perspective, there is the black perspective, and then, there are the (at times, polar opposite) perspectives of the men and women within these categories. Extrapolate this to the melting pot of our current population and you can begin to understand why, as a writer, I chose to settle on one point of view.
That being said, I’m a novelist, not a historian. I don’t claim to be an expert on Atlanta in the 1970s—or present day, for that matter. I have certainly taken liberties with some details. (There were no five-story buildings at Techwood Homes. Monica Kaufman, like Spike, Snoopy’s brother, did not show up in Atlanta until August of 1975. You will probably get arrested if you hang out in front of the Four Seasons too long looking for that marble fountain.) My main focus in writing this book was to tell a good story. I understood from the beginning that there were several traps inherent in being a southern woman writing about race and gender issues. Please know I worked very hard to make sure everyone—no matter race, religion, creed, gender or national origin—was equally maligned.