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Clarence Horatious Pickett,
Columbus, Georgia
December 23, 1957

Agencies: Columbus Police Department - Georgia

Last updated: 8 months ago

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Clarence Horatious Pickett was beaten by a police officer on December 21, 1957, in Columbus, Georgia, while Pickett was in jail. Pickett died as a result of his injuries on December 23, 1957.

On Sunday, December 22, 1957, residents of the bustling West Georgia city of Columbus were busy with holiday preparations. But not Clarence Pickett.

“Baby, I am dying,” he told his friend Bessie Smith. “I feel like every breath will be the last.” [1]

Just a few hours earlier, Pickett, who was around 42-years-old and African-American, had been discharged from the Medical Center in Columbus after being examined by a white physician Dr. John Edgar Harris. A medical intern, Harris, 24, was a recent graduate of the Tulane School of Medicine. [2] Whatever he had done during his examination had brought no relief to Pickett, who was suffering from stomach pain so severe that he could barely walk or stand. [3] It then fell to Smith to help her friend. She went to a local pharmacy and bought Milk of Magnesia (an over-the-counter antacid medication), as well as rubbing alcohol and liniment, which she rubbed on Pickett’s stomach. [4] Smith, who had no professional medical training, couldn’t have known that she was attempting to fight the onset of peritonitis, an infection of the tissue lining the digestive system. Left untreated, the infection could be fatal.

In contrast to Smith, John Edgar Harris was a trained doctor of medicine. Given the medical knowledge about peritonitis at the time, as well as x-rays presented to Harris during his examination of Pickett, the doctor should have recognized that his patient was in mortal danger and admitted him to the hospital for treatment. Instead, an internal Columbus police report uncovered by the FBI in 1958 indicates, Harris told a police officer, Harris told a police officer, “I definitely think he is putting on.”[5] He then ordered that Pickett be given 75 mg of the painkiller Demerol, wrote him a prescription for Empirin, a form of aspirin,[6] and discharged him from the hospital.

The next day, Clarence Pickett was dead.