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Michael Barnes

Four stories: Murder, suicide and an Austin black juror, the case of the missing parrot, art film guru Michael Barker, and three radical Austin ministers

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Virgil Oliver was the first African-American in the South to serve on a jury of a capital trial of a black man accused of killing a white one.

Virgil Oliver was the first African-American in the South to serve on a jury of a capital trial of a black man accused of killing a white one.

LAW 1: Image of pioneering juror leads to shocking stories about murder, suicide: Taken from my story in the Statesman: “The stiff 1953 image, taken in Austin, comes with a flabbergasting caption: “Virgil Oliver — first Negro in the South to serve on a jury.” Could that possibly be true? Did Austin play such a dramatic role in the struggle for civil rights? Well, yes and no. The backstory for this striking photograph, shot by Neal Douglass and housed at the Austin History Center, leads in completely unexpected directions. To find answers, we turned to ProQuest’s searchable database of Austin newspaper stories and display advertisements dating from the 1870s to the 1970s. Anyone with an Austin Public Library card (AustinLibrary.com) can use this nimble online tool for free.”

LAW 2: Finding Oliver, Case of a missing parrot. Taken from Eric Dexheimer‘s story in the Statesman: “Joe Cotten knows his story’s details can be distracting. “I start to tell people that my parrot was stolen,” he said. “And they’re, like, ‘Wait, you have a parrot?’ “Besides, the questions tend to stray from the whole point: how a seemingly straight-forward case of bird abduction ended with the Tyler police charging Joe himself with two crimes; the dramatic three-day trial ending with a made-for-TV speech by the jury foreman; allegations of police misconduct; hints of a jury payoff; and, finally, a sweeping lawsuit against the City of Tyler.”

MOVIES: The guru of art films, Michael Barker, and his Texas ties. Taken from Charles Ealy‘s story in the Statesman: “It’s probably safe to say that most Austin moviegoers don’t know about Michael Barker. But nearly every top actor and director knows the University of Texas graduate — and the best want to work with him. Along with Tom Bernard, he’s co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, the distributor of some of the world’s most critically acclaimed movies, and he’s a regular on the festival circuit, looking for new acquisitions and making deals. His taste in movies has led to seven best-picture Oscar nominations, with such releases as “Whiplash,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Capote,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Howards End,” “Amour” and “An Education.””

FAITH: Lonely struggles of three radical Austin ministers. Taken from Eileen Flynn‘s story in the Statesman: “On the Sunday after the Supreme Court’s historic gay marriage decision, their churches exploded in rainbow motifs and declarations of love. There was no denying the joy felt by the Revs. Larry Bethune, Sid Hall and Jim Rigby, longtime champions of LGBT equality in Austin. Over the past three decades, the three pastors served as outspoken allies to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They were liberal even by Austin standards. They risked their careers by ordaining openly gay deacons and elders and conducting same-sex weddings. They broke the rules early and often.”