the African-American community in Swisher County trace their roots to farm laborers who arrived a generation before Moore and lived in shacks on the white-owned farms where they worked. Entire families picked cotton or soybeans and grew their own vegetables. The second generation of black people moved off the farms to work at the town’s many grain elevators or other ag-processing jobs. By the early seventies, most black men in Tulia worked at the Taylor-Ivins seed company. Black women, meanwhile, worked mainly at the Royal Park garment factory. Moore made his living during that period black Tulia’s heyday as a bootlegger. Like much of the Panhandle, Swisher County never legalized alcohol sales after prohibition. In practice, however, the county remains dry for blacks only. Whites drink legally at two unofficially segregated private clubs outside the city limits: the country club, where Tulia’s more affluent citizens meet, and Johnny Nix’s, which caters to farmers and cowboys. For blacks, there is bootlegging. For twenty years, Joe Moore and his brothers ran the only bar in Tulia, stocked with illegal beer purchased nineteen miles away in Nazareth, the nearest wet town. The juke joint, known as Funz-a-Poppin’, was the worst-kept secret in town, according to Moore. It was located in an old converted hotel in “Niggertown,” as Tulia’s black west side was commonly called. Moore was bartender, bootlegger, and eventually caretaker for his three older brothers, each of whom died of cirrhosis. He became a central figure in Tulia’s black community, where he was known as someone who could help out a single mother from time to time, or advise a neighbor having trouble with the sheriff. Moore and his brothers were convicted of bootlegging in the early 1980s and fined, but the police never tried to shut down the bar, according to Moore. Instead, they put him on the “slow payment plan.” Every month, Moore says, he reported to the sheriff’s office and paid $200 in cash, all of which was proceeds from bootlegging. Moore cannot read or write. He says he received receipts for the money, but has no idea where it went, or what happened to the records after the bar was demolished in 1992. Many of the buildings on Tulia’s west side \(now referred to as down in the early nineties to make room for a planned expansion of 1-27 that never materialized. Thelma Mae Johnson, Moore’s girlfriend of twenty years, said she and some friends later tried to organize a private social club in an empty storefront, so blacks would have a legal place to drink and socialize. The city quickly responded with an ordinance banning private drinking clubs within the city limits, and the idea died. Evening entertainment for blacks is confined mostly to house parties now, according to Billy Wafer, who moved to Tulia from Plainview because he felt it was a better place to raise his kids. “We get everybody over, drink, listen to music, talk real loud and tell lies, stuff like that,” he said. Since the bust, though, things have been quiet in the black community. “Right now the atmosphere with the blacks is real scared,” he said. “We don’t know which way to turn without the law messing with us.” Losing Funz-a-Poppin’ was a blow to a black community already in decline. The closing of Royal Park in 1979, followed by massive layoffs at Taylor-Ivins in 1985, devastated black Tulia. JUNE 23, 2000 Families relocated to Plainview or Amarillo, to work in the beefpacking industry. Young people increasingly began to leave after high school and not return. Taylor-Ivins finally closed its Tulia facility in 1995, leaving the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Plainview as the leading employer of blacks from Tulia. Women now largely work as maids or home-health care workers, or at the nursing home in Tulia. “There just aren’t many places for them to work,” County Judge Harold Keeter explained, referring to the predicament of the young blacks rounded up in the Tulia bust. Mattie White, who had three children arrested in the raid, including Donnie Smith, has a different take on the local economy. “There’s plenty of kids my children’s age working in the bank and in the department stores,” she said. “But they’re all white.” A DIRTY JOB As the bust briefly made news around the state, Terry McEachern and Sheriff Larry Stewart have grown weary of fielding questions, particularly about the racial aspects of the sting. Yet several other questions remain unanswered about the operation. According to his own testimony, Coleman resolved his Cochran County theft charge by paying $6,700 in restitution sometime during the summer of 1998. Where Coleman got the money is unclear. His task force salary during that period, according to county records, was about $23,000 per year. After taxes, and the $200 per month garnished for back child support, he was taking home less than $1,500 per month. How did he come up with so much money in such a short period of time? Coleman testified in January that he received no outside income while he worked for the task force. By February, his story changed. His mother had given him several thousand dollars, he testified. By April, the scenario was that a friend of the family loaned money to his mother, who in turn gave the money to Coleman. Several defense attorneys are working on another theory, one that may answer several questions about the operation. In at least one case, the head of the Amarillo D.P.S. narcotics lab testified that the powdered cocaine introduced into evidence by Coleman was unusually weak. In order to get a higher rate of return on their investment, dealers cut cocaine with a variety of relatively inexpensive substances, usually mild anesthetics. Wafer’s attorney, Brent Hamilton, has requested that all of the cocaine obtained in over 100 buys be tested at once, to determine if a common source could be found \(i.e. if they are all cut with the same amount of the to cut all of the baggies holding the drug. A common source would support a devastating theory: that Coleman himself bought a quantity of powder, perhaps in Amarillo, cut it very weak, and put it into evidence for buys he never actually made. He could then use the task force money from the buys he reported making to pay his restitution. After leaving Hamilton’s request pending for several months, Judge Self has agreed to allow five randomly selected samples to be tested. That test has yet to be done. In the meantime, according to Hamilton and other defense attorneys, since the testing plan was first proposed \(and Coleman’s credibility in general has been much more reasonable. Coleman would not be the first West Texas narc to con his own THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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