Hattie DeBardelaben

Background

On March 23, 1945 Hattie DeBardelaben, a 46-year-old widow, entrepreneur, and farmer, was beaten with a blackjack by a police officer during a warrantless search of her home. After the beating, DeBardelaben was taken into custody and placed in the back of a police car where she later died.

Deputy sheriffs for Autauga County and two other law officers approached Hattie DeBardelaben, along with her two grandsons: Charney Nelson, age 11, and Freddie Nelson, age 6 or 7, outside of her home.  DeBardelaben was in the yard sitting on a stool making lye for soap.  When the officers asked DeBardelaben if she had any chickens or whiskey for sale she responded in the negative to both questions.  According to reports, one or more of the officers struck DeBardelaben multiple times, knocking her off her stool, causing her to roll on the ground in the lye, and then kicked and beat her while she was on the ground.

DeBardelaben’s son, Edward L. Underwood, age 15, and her nephew, James Callier,  age 16, came into the yard during the beating.  The officers beat James and struck Edward as he came to his mother’s defense. Two other sons, Johnnie and Bennie DeBardelaben, who had been working in the field, ran up from the fields to the house.

The officers claimed that they were investigating liquor violations. No whiskey was found on the DeBardelaben property.

After the search, the officers put Hattie DeBardelaben and her fifteen year old son, Edward Underwood in a police car.  Ms. DeBardelaben died from her injuries on the way to the Prattville jail.

Legal Status

On March 29, 1945, Emory O. Jackson, President of the Birmingham NAACP, wrote to Thurgood Marshall to request the assistance of the Justice Department, and wrote directly to Francis Biddle at the DOJ. On March 31, 1945, Jackson sent a letter to Alabama Governor Chauncey Sparks requesting a state investigation.

On April 11, 1945, Assistant Attorney General Tom Clark instructed the FBI to investigate the DeBardelaben killing.

As far as could be determined by CRRJ, there was no federal investigation of the matter. No state or federal charges were ever brought against any of the officers in connection with the killing.