Thursday, February 19, 2009

William Zantzinger is finally dead

One of the most haunting songs Dylan ever wrote is The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. It chronicles the death of a 51 year old black woman, Hattie Carroll, at the hands of a 24 year old drunken white racist, William Zantzinger in October 1963. In the song, Dylan calls him Zanzinger. I don't know why he misspelled the name. Perhaps it was a legal issue or perhaps it sounded better. I couldn't find anything about this.

Zantzinger struck Carroll over the head and shoulders with a cane in Baltimore's Emerson Hotel after she took too long to bring him his glass of bourbon. Eight hours later she was dead. Zantzinger served 6 months at a county jail after being convicted of this crime. His defense: he was drunk. Also, Carroll's health was not good so the charges were reduced to manslaughter. His wife, whom he also beat that day, stated "Nobody treats his niggers as well as Billy does around here." Zantzigger was actually freed for a time during his sentence so that he could tend his tobacco crop. He spent more time in jail in the 1990's for 50 misdemeanor counts of unfair and deceptive trade practice.

This is a sad story of injustice but is only uncommon because it was immortalized in a song one of best selling pop albums of the era, The Times They Are a'Changin'. If not for the song, most of us would know nothing about this particular story. Zantzinger died a few weeks ago, a wealthy real-estate developer. I am willing to bet that Carroll's 11 kids didn't fair as well. If it is any consolation, the song did help the cause of the Civil Rights movement and his name has become synonymous with white privilege. Not much of a consolation for the Carroll family.

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