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People Top 5
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- December 16, 1985
- Vol. 24
- No. 25
A Georgia Farmer May Get to Keep His Land Thanks to a Masked Marvel from Atlanta
The situation appeared hopeless, at least to those who underestimate life's ability to imitate art, in this case a fantastical Thomas Pynchon novel. As it turns out, Lorick's problem was nothing that couldn't be solved by the combined efforts of a kindly local sheriff; some armed farmers led by a militant right-wing "librarian" from Oklahoma; a long-lost relative whose husband has been accused of forgery; a masked man in a pin-striped suit; the NAACP and the Atlanta Falcons.
The problem began when Lorick took out a loan to build himself a yellow brick home in 1974 and three years later was forced by mounting bills to mortgage his house and land. By 1983 his total indebtedness had reached $112,000, and last March the Cook Banking Co. foreclosed and auctioned off the property for $90,000. The buyer was the Cook Banking Co. Lorick declined to leave the land his family had worked. "I got no place to go," he says. "It hurt me that I had worked hard all my days and they would put me out."
In August the bank filed suit to evict Lorick. "We have been kind and patient with Mr. Lorick," says Lonnie Barlow, the bank's attorney. "We gave him 10 days to harvest his soybean crop. He has done everything to delay the legal process and has tried to take advantage of the bank. If you borrow money, you have to pay it back. If I went blind and lost my law practice, they would take my Cadillac."
Enter Tommy Kersey, 46, the wealthy Unadilla, Ga. farmer who helped organize the 1978-79 American-farm-movement tractorcades to Washington. Kersey lives near Lorick and knows him well. "Oscar's situation is like a lot of other farmers'," Kersey says. "Twenty thousand farmers in Georgia will be foreclosed in the next 18 months. Oscar ain't going to leave this farm," Kersey vowed.
With Kersey's help, Lorick enlisted the NAACP, and using $1,000 from contributions the PEOPLE article had attracted, retained Fort Valley attorney Alvin McDougald. Kersey also contacted Larry Humphreys, a banker's son from Velma, Okla. and founder of the Heritage Library. Humphreys describes the Heritage organization as "a library and research center dedicated to the preservation of our Christian heritage and constitutional republic. We document, preserve and disseminate hidden and suppressed truths which are vital to our national interests." Abolishing the federal reserve system and canceling all debt are two of the library's primary goals.
On Nov. 15 mild-mannered Bleckley County Sheriff Ed Coley arrived, unarmed, to try to talk Lorick into leaving the farm that now belonged to the bank. Coley found Lorick's home turned into a fortress, with hay bales scattered around like bunkers, manned by two dozen armed farmers from far (Oklahoma) and near, some in camouflage fatigues and carrying rifles. A giant American flag flew over Lorick's carport. Huge banners emblazoned with "Oscar Stays—Banks Go" and with biblical citations in support of debt cancellation hung everywhere.
Sheriff Coley entered the yard and politely asked Lorick to leave. Lorick politely declined. Humphreys was in the process of explaining to the sheriff why the legal orders of the county were not actually binding when James Lingo, a young NAACP field-worker from Albany, Ga., stepped in: He announced that attorney McDougald was even then in Macon looking into a possible lawsuit against the bank, which the lawyer suspected of certain improprieties in its dealings with the illiterate Mr. Lorick. The sheriff, who had never made any secret of his sympathy for Lorick, said that he would give him time to exhaust all his legal remedies and then left. The embattled farmers, after firing a celebratory fusillade, decamped. A press conference spread the happy news of Lorick's reprieve.
And who should read of Lorick's plight in a Miami paper but Linda Dixon, the second cousin of Lorick's wife, Virginia. Dixon brought the matter to the attention of her husband of four months, Melvin Dixon, 43. Melvin quickly pulled together 18 people to put up $75,000 and struck a deal with the Cook Banking Co. to buy the farm for that amount in full settlement of all Lorick's debts (except $8,359 in back taxes). The Dixon group would lease the farm to Lorick for $1 a month until he could buy the property back with the money from the made-for-TV movie of his life, which would surely be forthcoming. "The quicker we bought the farm, the sooner a movie offer could come through," Melvin reasoned. (Kersey and the NAACP had the same idea, and two film companies are interested.)
The Dixons announced their plan at a press conference on Nov. 22, and who should hear the news but Detective Jim Tedder of Fort Pierce, Fla., who quickly contacted Sheriff Coley with some news of his own: Melvin Dixon was wanted on two 1985 felony warrants, one for forgery and one for grand theft. Dixon, a certified chef, cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the 13 inmates of the Bleckley County Jail, one of whom was himself. Alas, poor Lorick was back to square one, and that made news.
And who should hear that news but Atlanta businessman Frank Argenbright. He was riding to work wearing his Gucci belt and shoes, with his alligator-skin briefcase beside him, when he heard of Dixon's arrest on his car radio. It wasn't two ticks of his gold Rolex before Argenbright decided to buy the farm back for Lorick. "I said, 'This man has suffered enough,' " he recalls. " 'Do something.' "
His lawyer, Herb Shellhouse, struck the usual $75,000 deal with the bank, and the Friday after Thanksgiving Argenbright was in Cochran to put $7,500 down. He also gave Lorick his $8,000 Rolex in exchange for Lorick's promise to let the man's little boy stay on the farm for a week. The 38-year-old blond Atlantan insisted on anonymity. Calling himself "A.N. American," he wore a ski mask in Oscar Lorick's carport and announced to the world, "I don't give anybody anything. Oscar is going to raise the money himself to pay for his farm within 60 days. He will sit in front of the Georgia-Pacific Building [in Atlanta] and sell American flags for $5. I'll work out a deal with the Atlanta Falcons to raise their attendance with an appearance by Oscar Lorick. [The Falcons have booked him for this week's game against the Vikings.] Oscar and all of us are going to help earn this money. There is no way we are not going to do this," Argenbright said. "This is America."
Indeed it is. Indeed it is.
- Joyce Leviton.
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