Pearl Decuir

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Pearl Decuir


Pearl Decuir was born on March 7, 1902 in Eastaman, Georgia to John and Liney Rozier, she was one of nine siblings. Although the details and date of their departure from Georgia are unclear, the Rozier family moved and settled permanently at 278 51st street in Los Angeles, where John Rozier found employment in steam railroad car cleaning company.

Pearl completed eight years of education, and worked various jobs—the majority of which were domestic and housekeeping work. Pearl was married to Eddie Decuir for approximately four years until she separated from him. By February or 1930, Pearl was 28 years old, single, and charged for assault with a deadly weapon. According to the police, Decuir shot Len Johnson, a former sweetheart of hers, after she discovered that she was part of a love triangle. Johnson had successfully enticed Decuir to leave her husband for him, and shortly thereafter, she discovered an announcement in the local newspaper that he had taken out a marriage license intended for her younger sister. Pearl Decuir took her father’s 38 calibre revolver, and “shot her lover five times.” Decuir denied the police portrayal of the incident, and maintained that she regularly carried a weapon for self-defense. “Her sister,” she explained, “lived in what is known as a tough neighborhood and whenever she sallied forth on a visit to her sister’s house she carried a gun for protection.” On the night in question, Len Johnson threatened and accosted her. She shot him in the arm, injuring him, but not severely.

Decuir’s lawyer urged the court to have mercy on Decuir: “May I say in this case, however, that your Honor give earnest consideration to the proposition of a county jail sentence in place of the penitentiary. Here is a young woman of another race who has lived a good life, from every report I have…According to the people of her race, who have standing in this community, her pastor and friends say that she has been a good, moral, and hard working girl.” This was not the only support or endorsement Decuir received. Pearl Decuir also had several friendly letters written in her favor in the hopes that it would influence the court to reduce her sentence. These letters included former employers such as Frances J. Bissiri who wrote in March and April of 1931 that Pearl had worked for her and her family for approximately four years, and had “always found her completely trustworthy, always sweet-tempered”. Another former employer, Elizabeth J. Curtis wrote that she had known Decuir for twelve years and was “willing to taker her and stand good for her as long as her parole calls for.” Reverend A. T. Hines also wrote to the court expressing that in the decade he had known Decuir “she had a reputation of being a quiet girl, who loved her home and worked hard that she might be able to add to the comfort of her father and mother, who are advanced in age. I conscientiously believe that if Mrs. Decuir is released and given another opportunity, she will make good as a worthy member of society.” Even Len Johnson, the man she shot, wrote to the court claiming that he bore “no malice” towards Pearl Decuir, and begging for her early release. In addition to these endorsements were fourteen other favorable letters written in support of Decuir.

However, Judge Emmet H. Wilson was not convinced. Decuir’s many endorsements aside, he was unwilling to overlook her act of violence: “I have never been able to get up very much enthusiasm over people who take the law into their own hands and go out and try to kill someone else.” Pearl Decuir was summarily convicted in June and sentenced to serve up to ten years in San Quentin. Living up to her quiet reputation, Pearl Decuir was released on parole to her former, Frances J. Bissiri after two years in prison. Decuir’s parole was contingent upon her employment as Bissiri’s domestic. But Pearl never showed up for work. Shortly after her release, she became sick with tuberculosis—a disease she may or may not have contracted while in prison.

For the next year Decuir’s parole records indicate that she struggled to continue working due to her illness. Unable to support herself, she alternated residence between her sister’s home and her mother’s. When her parole officer checked back in with Pearl in February of 1934, she was showing signs of recovery, but was grieving the death of her father, which had occurred a few weeks prior to the visit. By July of that same year, Decuir was living with her mother and had gained 11 pounds in weight, had fully recovered from tuberculosis, and was gardening and raising poultry on her family’s vegetable garden on 116th street in Watts. The parole officer was impressed wit the family business, and with Pearl’s transition into society after prison. The parole officer wrote that Pearl “stays outside the better part of the day. I find parolee all right in every way…This occupation practically supports them.” By the end of the year, Pearl reconciled with her husband Eddie Decuir, and was living with him on 850 East 54th Street and working at a C.C.C. Camp in Griffith Park.


Araceli Centanino

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