The year was 1953. Lu Ethel Noel worked at the honky-tonk store of Willie Ramon Dichard. The honky-tonk was quickly filling with both black and white customers for an evening of dance and drink. Lu Ethel Noel busily filled the drink orders of the black clientele because at that time in Harland Creek, Mississippi, “no white man … would wait on black men.”
Lu Ethel Noel appeared to be owned by Willie Ramon Dichard. To her real husband, Eddie Noel, this just did not seem right. He hated the hours he spent alone during evenings while his wife, Lu Ethel, worked at the honky-tonk store/bar. He despised even more the idea that his wife and the honky-tonk owner were lovers.
At his wits end, Eddie Noel courageously confronted the bar owner, stating he came to take his Lu Ethel home. Outraged, Dichard said Lu Ethel would work until closing time and then he’d escort her home. Noel ignored the white man and took his wife by the arm and started for the door. The bar owner, a larger man than Eddie, stopped the pair and a wrestling match began. Eddie was carried outside and thrown off the honky-tonk porch by Willie Dichard.
Eddie would not give up his fearless obsessive fight. Regaining his feet, he slid out a rifle from his automobile and hid it beside his leg. This time, when Willie Ramon approached him, Eddie aimed his .22 directly at Ramon’s chest. In the year 1953, people were certain of one thing: “A black man would never shoot a white man. Never.” Willie Ramon told Eddie to put down his rifle. CRACK — Eddie’s rifle talked; he had enough chatter from the dying honky-tonk owner.
A reader can only imagine the manhunt that ensued after the killing. Immediately afterward, Eddie Noel’s car was trapped in the darkness by two autos coming from opposite directions. A crack shot, Eddie killed one pursuer and blew out his tires. His accurate aim kept both parties hiding at a distance until he escaped on foot into the woods.
Circling back to his home for supplies, clothing, and a blanket to keep himself warm, another battle took place when men surrounded his cabin. The Time of Eddie Noel tells in exciting detail how he triggered his way out and disappeared. Within the next few days and weeks that followed, Eddie was hunted by sheriff's posses, groups of whites ganged together standing shoulder to shoulder at times.
What happens to Eddie Noel is now past history for the reader of this outstanding book to uncover. The Time of Eddie Noel is surely an indictment of America’s racial conscience more than fifty years ago. One can only read this remarkably researched story with a feeling of loathing for the hatred that white America imposed on black people.
There is a second element to this book. It is the tale of Hazel Brannon Smith, whose newspaper carried the details of Eddie Noel’s exploits. But far more importantly, her editorials decried the flouting of the law under the banner of justice and alleged equality. Hazel’s words stripped naked the conscience of America, showing how laws were irrationally and unequally enforced for blacks and whites.
By now, I have written reviews for over one hundred books. I would highly recommend The Time of Eddie Noel as one of the top five books I’ve reviewed to this date. The personalities of Allie Povall’s characters are depicted with a realism that one can only appreciate from reading this somewhat grisly tale. I know what many of them felt like — I lived with them in 1953.