The Appeal of ROBERT M. HARRIS AND ANNYE C. ANDERSON For RJ’s Estate Was Denied – By This Testimony
So we all know that after a lengthy court battle, Claud Johnson was found to be the illegitimate son of Robert Johnson, and was therefore awarded all rights to his estate.
So, as with any court case, appeals are certainly going to be filed. In this case, the appeal was filed by Robert M. Harris, the grandson of Robert’s half sister, and Annye Anderson.
After the courts awarded Claud the estate, after he was found to be the biological son of Robert Johnson, Harris and Anderson decided to appeal. Citing the fact that there is no DNA evidence, etc, to prove Claud was the heir, they thought the estate shoud stay with them.
However, Claud had a surpirce witness who could prove – literally – he was Robert’s long lost son.
Claud’s mother, Virgie Mae Cain, testified by video deposition that Robert Johnson was the father of her first born son, Claud, and that Johnson was the only man with whom she had been intimate at the time of conception. She further stated that Johnson came to see Claud after he was born. Virgie Mae’s testimony was corroborated by Pearlina Strickland, her childhood friend, who testified that it was general knowledge in the community that Johnson was Claud’s father. Mack Brown, Virgie Mae’s nephew, also testified at trial that he remembered seeing Johnson, Virgie Mae, and Claud together when Claud was a baby. Brown positively identified Johnson from a picture presented at trial and stated that it was general knowledge in the community that Claud was Johnson’s son.
Finally, Claud offered the deposition testimony of Eula Mae Williams, another childhood friend of Virgie Mae. The eighty-year old Williams testified that she and Claud’s mother were friends before, during, and after the time Virgie Mae became pregnant. Eula Mae testified that she and Virgie Mae grew up in the same crossroads community in Copiah County and, as young girls, attended community events together. They shared secrets and obviously relied upon one another for support and companionship. They were also prone to sneak out to “house parties” where they would listen to the music of various blues musicians. It was at one of these celebrations that Virgie Mae met Johnson. Contrary to Virgie Mae’s assertion that no one ever saw Johnson and her engage in sexual intercourse, Eula Mae testified that she did in fact see Virgie Mae and Johnson engage in sexual intercourse in the spring prior to Claud’s birth in December. The resulting courtship is best expressed by Eula Mae herself in response to pretrial questioning by attorney Victor McTeer, wherein Eula Mae described an incident where she, her boyfriend, Virgie Mae, and Johnson all went for a “walk” in the spring of 1931:
Q: All right, so you walked off the road, correct?
Q: And you started to kiss and do whatever people do?
Q: All right. Now, when you started that, what was Virgie and –
A: Doing the same thing we were.
Q: How do you know? You were sitting there watching them while you were -
A: We was both standing up.
Q: Oh, so both of you were standing up in the woods?
A: Sure, we was standing up out there in the woods.
Q: Excuse me, I haven’t finished yet. Virgie and Robert, were they kissing and standing up?>
Q: Was there ever a time when you were not looking at them?
A: Well, yes.
Q: I see. Did you at any point in time remove your clothing?
A: Well, had to.
Q: Okay. Did you observe them remove their clothing?
Q: You were sitting there watching someone else do this?
A: I done told you.
Q: Well, let me, let me share something with you, because I’m really curious about this. Maybe I have a more limited experience. But you’re saying to me that you were watching them make love?
Q: While you were making love?
Q: You don’t think that’s at all odd?
A: Say what?
Q: Have you ever done that before or since?
Q: Watch other people make love?
A: Yes, I have done it before. Yes, I’ve done it after I married. Yes.
Q: You watched other people make love?
A: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Q: Other than…other than Mr. Johnson and Virgie Cain.
A: You haven’t?
Q: No. Really haven’t.
A: I’m sorry for you.
Q: Well, I appreciate that. And perhaps I need the wealth of experience that you have. But share with me this. Did you actually watch them engage in the act? You actually watched that?
Q: When they were engaging in the act, was your husband (her boyfriend at the time) watching, too?
Q: Okay. Did they watch you?
Q: And you watched them watch you?
Eula Mae also testified that Virgie Mae told her she was pregnant with Johnson’s baby in May of 1931, the year of Claud’s birth. Moreover, Eula Mae testified as follows about a chance meeting with Johnson several years after Claud’s birth:
Q: Now, ma’am, when you saw R.L. Johnson there at Shelby some years after Claud’s birth, did you talk to him at all?
A: Yes, we talked about the baby.
Q: Tell us about that conversation…
A: Well, I was just asking when was he coming back down here. He said, “Well, I’m not coming back.” He said, “I’m going pretty good right now.” He say, “I’ll be up here.” He said, “She done got married now, and she got a husband and children.”
The above testimony is more than sufficient to establish the credibility of the witness and to prove the facts asserted. The birth certificate was also entered into evidence. The birth certificate does list RL Johnson as the father of Claud. However, since Mississippi state law (1931) prohibits listing father’s names if the child is illegitimate, Harris and Anderson tried to get the certificate removed from evidence.
At any rate, the appeal was denied, and the judgment of the Leflore County Chancery Court is affirmed.