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Newt Carter Comes to Town

Excerpt from Angels Sleep Alone by James Robert Peery

With introduction by Alec Clayton

Newt Carter was a “Holy Roller” preacher in North Mississippi in the 1930s and ’40s whose revival tent filled with worshipers was destroyed in a tornado in his novel God Rides a Gale (Harper and Brothers 1940). Peery died in 1954 before publishing his latest novel, Angels Sleep Alone. Mud Flat Press was recently given the Angels Sleep Alone manuscript and permission to publish it. The main characters in Angels are Maury Carter, Newt Carter’s oldest daughter, and Bob Sessions, a newspaper reporter. In the following excerpt, Newt has been elected to serve in the Mississippi state senate and his just come to town and is talking to Maury about his plans.

Excerpt begins:

And in January, Senator Newt Carter arrived in Madison to begin his term as solon from Poindexter County. His first request of Maury was typical of his innate shrewdness and thrift. He said, “Ain’t you and that Travis girl got a extra room I can use while I’m down here? Cheaper I can git along on expenses the better off I’ll be.”

“Now, Papa,” Maury told him, “We don’t have an extra room. Why don’t you go to one of the hotels? You’ll be going home Friday afternoons usually; and the salary is enough to afford a nice room.”

“Me pay three dollars a day on one o’ them high-a’ mighty places! I shore ain’t gonna do no sech thing. Them bellboys make me nervous. Ever’ time you turn aroun’ they got they hands out waitin’ fer a dime. I’ll see Repersentive Cotter an’ see if we can’t git us a room together at some boardin’ house.”

He solved the problem finally by sharing a room in a rooming house near the river with Cotter. He proudly said to Maury, “It’ll cost me seventy-five cents a day, five days a week; and we can git breakfast and supper at the place. It’s good, homecooked food, an’ I can git somethin’ fer dinner at the capitol lunch stand.”

He told Maury all about the coming session. He predicted that it was going to be pretty much of a bear fight.

“First and foremost,” he said, “we’re gonna repeal that dad-blamed black market tax. It’s a disgrace to the state. A state that’s bone-dry, with legal laws ag’in the sale o’ whiskey, goin’ in business with th’ bootleggers by chargin’ a ten percent tax on whiskey sales. I aim to make a pretty hard speech on that—an we got a clear majority of senators that’ll vote to do away with the law.”

Maury said, “Well, you’ll get the support of the church people and the bootleggers on that. The bootleggers don’t want it, and the church people don’t want it.”

(Sessions had told Maury that the bootleggers had made up a fund of fifty thousand dollars to lobby against the measure. Then, they heard that the anti-saloon league, the churches and the W.C.T.U. were leagued together to fight for repeal, so the bootleggers met again and gave the money back to the original contributors. Said the state’s number one liquor baron: “No use in us spending out money if these folks are going to spend good Baptist money in our fight” . . . And Bob had also told Maury, when she asked him about the possibility of Mississippi joining other Southern states in enacting laws allowing legal sale of whiskey, that such a law would be passed just the day after enactment of a statute legalizing promiscuous fornication on East Kane Street by day.)

Maury said to her father, “Papa, why don’t you just attend the sessions during the first few weeks, and vote and say nothing? You should learn about how they handle things before you ump in and start making speeches.”

Newt smiled and shook his head. “Honey,” he said, “What’ud yuh think I been doin’ all fall after I got elected? I been astudyin’ an’ readin’ up on it. Th’ folks elected me to represent ’em, an’ I aim to do that. I don’t aim to be a senator jist one term, and then go back home an’ give full time to my church. Next term this senate seat swings over to Powell County, an’ I can’t run fer reelection, but whut I aim to do is run fer repersentive in Poindexter County. An’ they ain’t a soul in th’ county can beat me. It fits in jest perfect with my preachin’ business because th’ sessions is held in the spring, an’ my revivals in th’ summer.”

This Post Has One Comment
  1. While typing this from the original manuscript, I was struck by how little had changed (except for how much things cost) between the time Newt Carter came to town when I was an infant and the early 1960s when I was in college and when Mississippi finally tackled the issue of whiskey, which was a hot issue in Newt Carter’s day. His talk about bootleggers and churches could have happened in the sixties. Mississippi did not repeal prohibition until 1966, the last state to do so.

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