HILLSVILLE, Va. — It’s been well over 100 years since five people were killed and many were wounded inside a Carroll County courtroom. The echoes of the gunfire on that cold March 1912 day have long disappeared but the wounds left behind in this little town have continued to fester.
“I didn’t even talk about it until I was 42, my family forbade me,” said local historian Mark Harmon. “They didn’t want to talk about it, they said, ‘You’re going to make someone upset with you.’”
That’s because the grudges and hard feelings between the families and people involved in the shootout have been passed down through the generations.
“The school superintendent forbade the school teachers from talking about the courthouse tragedy in the schools,” said local attorney and actor Tom Jackson.
Jackson played Floyd Allen in several performances that eventually got people talking again. The plays themselves were performed in the very same courtroom where the real life drama took place.
“The mayor of Hillsville came to me back in the 90s cause he knew I wrote plays,” said writer Frank Levering. “He said, ‘You need to write a play about the shootout,’ and I took him seriously, but I was afraid of it.”
Despite that, Levering wrote the play and it debuted in 2012, the 100th anniversary of the shootout.
“We were scared to death when we first did the play,” said Jackson. “We actually had deputies sitting in this courtroom during the play to make sure we didn’t have problems.”
It turned out the play helped start a conversation that was long overdue.
“Instead of hearing your family’s side you are hearing both sides,” said Harmon. “You get to meet other people and find out these are human beings not some monster created in some book or family-lore.”
The true story of what led to the tragedy at the Carroll County Courthouse may never be known but at least now people aren’t afraid to talk about it.
“I’m not sure we can tell them what the truth is,” said Levering. “But we can make them think about it, we can make them ask what the truth is.”
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