This Murder Exposed A Small Town's Well-Known Secret

Vivian Malone entering Foster Auditorium to register for classes at the University of Alabama
Leslie Taylor-Grover
June 22, 2020

Everyone in town knew Ruby McCollum. She was pretty, had a rich husband who loved her, and was the only Black woman in town who knew all the white folks’ secrets. But she had her own secret to keep.

The most prominent doctor in town, a white man and Senate hopeful, had been raping her for years. White men raping Black women without punishment was an open secret in those days. There was even a term for it: “paramour rights.” 

The doctor would frequently wait until her husband was out of town, and then invoke his “rights.” But it was getting worse.

The doctor was becoming more possessive and cruel towards McCollum. He even forced her to give birth to one of his children. Finally, she snapped.

She marched to his office, gun in hand, and made sure he’d never hurt her or any other woman ever again. She was arrested and tried for the murder of the doctor, in the first ever case challenging “paramour rights.” 

She was sentenced to death, but later was found “mentally incompetent” to stand trial. Years of rape and abuse from the doctor seemed to have taken their toll.

Black bodies are not property. While her story is tragic, it’s also a reminder that we must sometimes do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves and call attention to the objectification of our people.

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