BETTS: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR, 1923-1964, Part IV: World War II

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[Note:  This installment of Betts’ memoir takes her from the 1930s through the Second World War. (For previous posts, go here, here, and here.)]

* * * * *

I spent a lot of summer vacations with my grandfather and grandmother [Dobson] in Newark from the age of six until we finally moved there, so it was familiar to me.  I came to know the neighbors on Choate Street, some of whom were long-time friends of Granddad Dobson and had known my mother when she was young.

Living close to my grandparents was a real treat.  I wouldn’t say they spoiled us, but it felt special when we visited their house, especially when we could go by ourselves—we didn’t have to share their attention with brothers or sisters!  Today, most children are lucky to see their grandparents once a year.  Children need to know their grandparents.

This area of Newark was close to everything one needed.  Main Street was full of all kinds of stores, but the one I always loved to go to was Bob Cook’s store, where we bought groceries and where there was a great selection of “penny candy,” and that was a good thing.  A penny was important when a youngster went to a store, much more important than it is these days!

I had a friend on Chapel Street named Vivian Zimmer, and her family moved to 55 Choate Street.  I spent a lot of time at her house, with her brothers and sister as well as her mom and dad.  They had a player piano in the living room, and we spent lots of weekends at the piano or watching her family play cards together.  Vivian remained friends over the years until she died about three years ago.  She used to come home for visits, so I got to really visit with her often over the past thirty years.  I miss her.  Betty and Ginny England were also neighbors in the years we lived on Choate Street.  I remember so many wonderful people from that part of my life.  I have lots of great memories.

* * * * *

I was lucky enough to make friends easily, so my school years were fun, although I was not a “social butterfly” by any means; I was just determined to graduate from high school.  Basically, I was probably an average student, never on the honor roll, but school was not a struggle until I ran into Bookkeeping.  I signed up for the Business Course in high school because I knew that I wasn’t interested in college, and even if I were, there would have been a huge money problem.  By the time I graduated, Kay was seven years old and Bob was about two, so my parents still had a lot of financial responsibilities.

I had wanted to be a Medical Secretary, but at that time there was no schooling available in Wilmington for such training.  The closest place was Philadelphia, and no way did I want to go that far away.  I graduated from Newark High School in June 1940 and decided to enjoy the summer and then look for some kind of work.  I found a job as a live-in nanny for a very young girl, but I must admit that the job did not last very long.  It was not for me, but my friend Mickey Grundy was interested, so she took the job and worked for that family for over a year.  She was waiting to enter nurses’ training at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, but she had to be nineteen years old to enter, so this job filled in that time for her.

[I had forgotten about that until Mickey and I were talking this year, and she reminded me how much she enjoyed the time she spent with that family.  She also kind of got interested in meeting some boy, too, and decided to learn to roller skate, dance, etc.  All the things I was never permitted to do, remember, because of my physical problems—I told my doctor that I was going to have fun, no matter what!  Guess you know that went over big.]

The weekend after I graduated from Newark High, I went to a graduation get-together at the home of friends of our family.  I met several different people, and among them was a boy named J.B., who had only recently moved to Newark from Iowa.  He was living with his father and also intended to work in Newark, I guess.  My first impression of him was that he was conceited as well as good-looking.  I have to admit that I eventually realized that I was a poor judge of people.  Since all young people did not have cars in those days, J.B. and several others who lived in my neighborhood walked home with me.  We did not see each other much during the summer because he had a lot of new friends, and I also had friends that I continued to see.

Betts in 1942 (probably sent to John Burke)

Betts in 1942

* * * * *

[Note:  There is a gap of about three years (1941-1944) in Betts’ memoir at this point.

Betts and J.B., the young man she met following her graduation from high school, eventually fell in love, and J.B. gave Betts a ring before he left for service as a U.S. Marine in the South Pacific during World War II.  For reasons that remain unclear, Betts and he broke off their relationship during the war.  Thereafter, Betts met, and shortly married, the man who would be our father, Benjamin Leroy (“Ben”) Lamplugh, who also soon went off to join the war effort.

Betts and Ben

Ben and Betts

The memoir takes up Betts’ story again in 1944, shortly after the birth of her first child, George Russell, nicknamed Rus.]

* * * * *

After Rus was born, on May 20, 1944, I decided that, since Ben was overseas, I would have to go back to work.  My job with the railroad was no longer available, since I had taken so much time off due to difficulties with my pregnancy.  About the fifth month, I had bleeding problems, which ended up with a ten-day hospital stay; injections of Progesterone, which was still in the research stage; and, when I was sent home, I spent the next two months in bed.  Luckily, I had a fine, healthy baby so it was all worthwhile.

George Dobson, Betts (with Rus), Isabelle Dobson Knighton

George Dobson, Betts (with Rus), Isabelle Dobson Knighton

Without my parents’ love and support, this would not have been possible.  I had been living with them since my marriage, because Ben was in the military.  The railroad did have a job for me, though, in Maryland.  In September 1944, along with my son, I moved to 2 Byway South, Riverdale Apartments, in Middle River, near Baltimore.  This location was within walking distance of my job.  I worked in the railroad’s freight office, where we handled shipments for the Glenn L. Martin Company in Middle River, a major supplier of aircraft to the government.

Betts, Gertie, and "Trixie," during World War II

Betts and Gertie,  during World War II

* * * * *

My sister Gertie and her daughter Lynne came to live with me early in 1945.  That spring we moved to a larger apartment in the same complex, this one on Byway North.  Our friend Virginia (“Ginny”) England Henderson, her daughter Sandy, and her sister Betty England also came to stay with us.  Imagine:  four women and three babies sharing the same two-bedroom apartment!

Our neighbors marveled that all of us could share an apartment, but it really was a case of survival—we were working mothers with babies, but not much money.  This was a long time before “Women’s Lib.”  Actually, the arrangement worked out fine for us.  Betty England went to high school, so she was home in time to replace her sister Ginny and my sister Gertie as “babysitter.”  Gertie and Ginny worked as waitresses from 4 p.m. to around midnight.  When I arrived home from work around 5 p.m., Betty went to her part-time job in a local restaurant.

Needless to say, we were a busy group!  Sounds like musical chairs or a merry-go-round, and sometimes it felt like that.  We shared a lot of good times all together during a tough period in all our lives, and the babies did just fine.

Among other things, there was rationing of shoes, meat, cigarettes, etc.  Everyone was issued ration stamps, and, when the stamps were gone, we had to do without some things until the next month.  All-in-all, it was a time that proved we could do a lot of things on our own.

I was surprised that I had become a person who could make her own decisions.  When I was growing up, decisions were always made for me, by my parents or by the doctor.  My life was never really my own.  This time of my life proved a lot to me.  We continued to share the apartment until Ben was discharged from the U.S. Army in November 1945.

* * * * *

I don’t believe Ben or I ever realized how difficult the change in our lives would be when he was no longer in the service.  We were no different from thousands of others who had married during the war, I suppose, but because we had not really lived together it proved to be very difficult.  When Ben came home, Rus was about eighteen months old.  Ben expected him to be a “baby,” but, as we soon found out, at eighteen months a child can’t really be considered a “baby.”  Rus certainly didn’t understand what “that man” was doing in our house!  It was a long time before Rus would even go out in the car with his Dad, unless I went along, too.  It took a lot of time and patience for things to get to the point of “normal” living.

At the time of our marriage, Ben was with the 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the summer of 1943.  After being injured in a “jump,” he was transferred to a Field Artillery unit at Camp Rucker, Alabama.  After several months, he was sent to Hawaii, where he was when Rus was born in May 1944, and he then was supposed to be transferred to Japan.

Eventually, Ben was sent to Japan, but he was never involved in any action there because the war ended.  When Ben came home late in 1945, the girls moved into the apartment next door to us.  Eventually, Gertie and Ginny and their children moved to Baltimore to be nearer their jobs.  Ginny’s sister Betty moved back with us and stayed until she finished school, while continuing to work nights at the restaurant.

A few months before our daughter Judy was born (October 5, 1946), we moved into a prefab home in a development called “Victory Villa,” a government housing area originally built for the families of wartime workers employed by the Glenn L. Martin Company.  Victory Villa was filled with Martin employees and ex-GIs trying to get used to civilian life and raising their families.

Ben, Judy, and Rus

Ben, Judy, and Rus

Thanks to the GI Bill, Ben found “on the job training” at Owens Yacht Company in Dundalk, Maryland.  He wanted to learn carpentry, and this was a good place to start.  Ben had an aptitude for the work and did very well.  In those days, the pay scale was low, but we did manage to make ends meet.

Ben also found a part-time job doing maintenance work for Richter Trailer Sales on Pulaski Highway, not far from our home.  He worked for Richter for several years.  Ben was a good worker and kept busy supporting his family.  Of course, he wasn’t home much, but in the post-war period one had to work hard to make ends meet.  Things had finally settled down, and we were able to get along and had no problems.

End of Part IV

Next:  Part V: Trying to Make It in Post-War America

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

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Posted in American History, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Chasing the Delta Blues: The Mississippi Blues Trail, Part 1 (Blues Stories, 25)

john-quincy-adams-picture

[NOTE:  Anyone who has perused the “Blues Stories” page of this blog will know that, of all the stopping places available to  fans interested in “Blues Geography,” my favorite location is the Mississippi Delta, generally regarded as the “birthplace of the Blues.”  Thing is, though, even to me, a Blues aficionado for more than twenty-five years, the Blues sometimes seems to be on its last legs.  In fact, with the recent demise of B.B. King, some Blues scholars believe we have entered the “classical music” phase of the Blues–all the “true originals” have died, and those who remain either merely “cover” classic Blues tunes or, in their own work, whatever their talents, really don’t measure up to the “greats.”

delta-map

 

 

And yet:  the Delta is still there, so perhaps there’s hope for yet another “Blues revival,” this one to carry that music well into the twenty-first century.  What follows is an account of a trip we took, following the Delta segment of the “Mississippi Blues Trail,” in May 2013, a trek that was mostly about the Blues of the past, not the Blues of the present (but then, I’m a historian).

Note:  Except for the maps in this segment and the photos of the Ground Zero Blues Club and the Abbay and Leatherman marker on the Blues Trail in Part 2, the photography was done by my Willowy Bride (referred to hereafter as “the WB.”]

mbt-map

 

* * * * *

May 22, 2013

This morning around 8:00 a.m., we left Pearl, Mississippi, where we’d stopped yesterday to see a Mississippi Braves game, for a leisurely drive up “Highway 49.”  This route, along with its western neighbor, “Highway 61,” helped shuttle thousands of African Americans, including not a few Blues performers, out of the Mississippi Delta and into the “Promised Land” of Chicago and other cities to the east and west.  I had mapped out an itinerary that would take us up route 49 to Indianola, then across on 82 to pick up route 61 at Leland.

On the way to Indianola, we turned off 49 for a quick look at Belzoni, which advertises itself as the “Catfish Capital of the World.”  (Though, to a Blues fan, Belzoni will always be the place Charlie Patton spent time in jail, thanks to the local sheriff.)  The town even hosts each April a Catfish Festival that reportedly draws about 10,000 visitors.

Perhaps the combined Catfish Museum and Welcome Center had been overtaxed by last month’s festival, for, when we arrived a half hour or so after the announced opening time, the building still was locked up tight.  We were able to see a few artifacts on the grounds related to the raising of catfish, as well as one of the town’s collection of “Catfish on Parade,” a group of identically-designed leaping catfish statues that were “completed” (i.e., decorated) by local artists (similar to the tiger statues scattered on the campus of the University of Memphis).  Rather than take the time to check out the other catfish statues located throughout “downtown Belzoni,” we drove on to Indianola.

We had to visit Indianola, the birthplace of B.B. King (sort of) and, now, the location of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.  The Museum is built around a restored brick cotton gin building where, as a youngster, B.B. worked for a couple of weeks a year.  The thoughtfully organized, interactive, no-holds barred approach the Museum takes to King and his career makes for a mesmerizing experience that moved me to tears several times.

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When a friend at our church learned that we were planning to visit his stamping ground of the Delta (he grew up in Greenville), he raved about the King Museum (and he was right!).  He also recommended a restaurant that was only a few blocks from the Museum, the Crown, as a good lunch spot, and we decided to take him up on his recommendation. Turns out that the restaurant is attached to a gift shop next door.

While Mississippians love their catfish fried, the four women who own the Crown take more of a lady’s tea room approach, devising ways to prepare the regional “delicacy” that do not involve frying, which was fine with me.  I had no memory of ever having tried catfish but vowed I’d give it a shot.  I ordered “catfish salad” (think chicken or tuna salad, but made with catfish), a small bowl of chicken and okra gumbo, and a delightful green concoction called a “vegetable salad,” heavy on broccoli but still quite tasty.  And the catfish salad was much better  (i.e., lighter tasting, not as “fishy”) than I expected.

Indianola was a nicer place than I thought it would be.  Like any small southern town, it was low on the sorts of amenities we suburbanites might like to see, but there was a sense of order to it as residents and visitors went about their daily rounds.  The WB and I walked around town for a few minutes to get the lie of the land, as well as of the bayou that runs through it.  My hardy photog began taking shots of the bayou and of a couple of Blues-related sites with her digital camera to add to the ones she’d taken outside the King Museum.

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Newsflash!!  While driving north on U.S. 49, we went by Yazoo City, home of one of my favorite southern writers, the late Willie Morris.  But that’s not the newsflash.  No, what was even more exciting (to me, if not to the WB) was that at one point we drove over the Yazoo River that had given its name to the “Yazoo Lands” (much of the present-day states of Alabama and Mississippi); which were in turn at the center of the “Yazoo Land Fraud”; of which I am the world’s leading living authority (he said modestly!).  All that impressive knowledge of variations on the word “Yazoo”?  It–and $20–purchased a pair of “senior” tickets to the B.B. King Museum. Sigh. . . .

Next on our agenda was the Old Highway 61 Museum, which is housed in a former hotel in downtown Leland.  It’s a small affair devoted to artifacts from and information and pictures about, Blues men and women from the “Mid-Delta.”  As the WB later remarked, it was reminiscent of any number of the museums in small towns we had visited previously–earnest and informative, but fairly quick to go through.

But then we got a surprise–and how!  A sort of ambassador, or maybe unofficial greeter, of the museum, Blues man “Pat” Thomas, son of the slightly better known Delta Blues man  James “Son” Thomas, came in, introduced himself, and proceeded to provide a brief concert just for us on his acoustic guitar as we made our way through the four rooms that comprise the museum.  He played “61 Highway” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”  Talk about “Music to Tour a Blues Museum By”!

When we were ready to leave, I thanked Mr. Thomas, who offered me a couple of white dominos that he had drawn on and signed.  (He’s also a folk artist, and one of his specialties is cats drawn in black magic marker on white dominos.)  He even suggested that the WB take a picture, and she obliged.  When she showed Mr. Thomas the finished product, Pat thought there was too much light in the photo (probably from the overhead skylight in the front part of the museum), so he asked her to take another picture.  And then Mr. Thomas suggested that we step outside, where she could take a picture of Pat and me standing in front of the Blues Trail Marker about his father, “Son” Thomas.

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Mr. Thomas sounded authentic as Hell on his guitar, and he certainly looked “old” enough to be a “real” Blues man, with his wizened, bewhiskered face.  But, here’s the thing:  he neither sounded nor acted “old.”  Fortunately, some of the material on display in the Old Highway 61 Museum was about Pat and his father, and one article mentioned that he was born in . . . 1960!  That’s right, the “Old Bluesman” (really, of course, “Son of the Old Bluesman ‘Son’ Thomas”) is all of 53 years old (i.e., I’m older by a decade and a half!).

The WB was surprised when I told her this.  Still, Pat Thomas’s life was probably not that much easier than his father’s had been, and, as far as I know, he had not yet achieved nearly the recognition of the regionally significant “Son” Thomas.  Still, the time we spent with “Pat” Thomas was exhilarating, sobering, and surely will be one of the highlights of the trip.

End of Part 1

* * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in "Charley Patton", Age of Jim Crow, B.B. King, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Delta Blues, History, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Robert Johnson, Son House, Southern History, The Blues, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

BETTS: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR, 1923-1964, Part III: A Depression-Era Childhood

john-quincy-adams-picture[Note:  This installment of Betts’ story is drawn from her memoir, “Slub of Slife.”  For Parts I and II go here and here.]

* * * * *

We had no bathroom in the house [in Wilmington, Delaware], so we had an “outhouse” (enclosed “piddle palace”), and we got a bath in a large laundry tub in the kitchen.  There was no such thing as a washer or dryer, either.  A scrubbing board and a lot of hard work for Mom—with four children to keep clean, plus Mom and Dad.

At one point, my great-grandmother Mattie Dobson lived there with us.  She was granddad Dobson’s mother.  I do remember her so well.  She was a sweet little lady—snow white hair, and kind of “house bound.”  She was always very nice to us.

We all had the usual childhood diseases, and in those days we were “quarantined”—which meant that we could not go outside until the disease had run its course.  This was supposed to keep other people from getting the disease.  I had rheumatic fever—and remember having to stay in bed for a long time.  It left me with a heart problem, and I spent the next ten to twelve years under a doctor’s care—always being told “No, you can’t do that” when I wanted to play.

My Dad had no contact with his father, William Henry Knighton, for years.  Dad’s mother died when he was around two years old, and he was sent to live with relatives.  In 1931, after Dad heard from his aunt that his stepmother had died in Philadelphia, he and [my brother] George went to the funeral and again met his father.  After a few months, his father asked him to bring the family and live with him in Philadelphia, in his large house at Front and Race streets.  Since work and things in general were bad due to the Depression, we did move to Philadelphia and lived there with Granddad Knighton and his stepsons for a year or so.

William H. Knighton

William H. Knighton

I do not know where my Dad worked during that time, but I do know that he and his father could not get along very well.  We went to a school which was within walking distance.  I don’t remember much about it, except that it was integrated—black and white children went to the same school.  This was different from the situation in Wilmington, where schools were segregated, so it took a while to get used to that.  Granddad’s house was pretty big.  I remember that it had gas lights, big rooms, even a indoor bathroom.

* * * * *

We continued to live with Granddad Knighton, but because of his job we moved to 424 Grant Street, in Camden, New Jersey, in 1932.  I’m not sure what kind of work Granddad did, but I think Dad got a job in a grocery store.  We attended Cooper School, which was the same school Dad attended as a child, although he dropped out of school around the age of twelve. (In those days there were no laws that said a person had to go to school—and Dad had to support himself at a young age.)  My sister Mary Katherine (“Kay”) was born at Cooper Hospital on March 6, 1933.

Granddad Knighton’s house in Camden was a row house.  Guess a lot of big cities had row houses.  This one was larger and nicer than the one in Wilmington, as I remember it.  Life there was interesting.  We had bread and milk delivery by horse-drawn wagons, and “hucksters” came around during the week selling fruits and vegetables.  Ice was delivered in the same way.  This was the 1930s, and people did not have refrigerators or other electrical appliances unless they had money to purchase them, and this was the Depression era.

Keeping house was surely complicated—hard work.  To clean a carpet—use a broom—and scatter rugs were hung outside and beaten with a “carpet beater.”  I remember that my sister Gertie and I would argue about who would clean up the living room.  You see, Granddad Knighton had a favorite chair.  He used to sit in it with his head in one corner of the chair and his legs over the opposite arm of the chair, and sometimes change would slip from his pockets, down the side of the chair.  I’m not sure he was even aware of that, but we surely were!  Whenever we could, we checked down the sides of the chair, and, if we were lucky, we would find enough change to maybe go to the movies.  Movies were a luxury—probably cost five or ten cents for each of us to see a movie.

Granddad Knighton played the harmonica and the banjo—not at the same time, though!  He was a little man, with gray hair and a mustache.  He used to carry a wad of money in his pocket, but Mom always said it was a five dollar bill wrapped around a roll of one dollar bills!

We only lived in Camden for about a year; I guess Dad got tired of arguing with his father.  The summer after Kay was born, Dad went to Newark [Delaware] to visit his cousin and to look for a job, which he found as a truck driver for Bill Covey–Kraft products.  He came home [to Camden] and got [my sister] Gertie and took her with him to help care for the house he had rented (62 North Chapel Street), and she started school in Newark. The rest of the family moved to Newark when Kay was about one year old—in 1934.  (The house we lived in is no longer there; it has been replaced by a parking lot and a couple of office buildings.  That is progress!)

I don’t remember Christmas that year, but I guess we were all together by then.  We just packed up and moved, leaving Granddad Knighton.  This was the end of 1933, and my sister Kay was nine months old.  I’m not sure where Granddad Knighton went; we lost track of him over the years.  I think he kept in touch once in a while with my Mom and Dad, because eventually we knew he was in Minnesota.  He died in January 1947, and my sister Gertie and brother George attended the funeral and met the family he had worked for, for all those years.

[I did not go with them, because at that time (my daughter) Judy was three months old, and I couldn’t leave her and (her older brother) Rus since I had no one to look after them.  Your father (Ben) was a hard worker, and he was not used to taking care of children.  He used to say it was my job—his job was to earn a living (for the family).  That’s how it was in those days.  Actually, that was the way it was when I was growing up, too.  Times have surely changed for the better in some ways!]

* * * * *

We moved to 57 Choate Street about 1936, and my brother Bob was born August 12, 1938, while we were living there.  At that time, my Dad was working for Clarence Dean, managing a grocery store on Main Street.  He was working twelve to fifteen hours or more a day, and eventually he had to quit because he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  He went to work at Continental Diamond Fiber Company (later, the Budd Company) and worked there for more than twenty years.

George T. Dobson

Finally, about 1940, we moved to 50 Choate Street to live with Granddad Dobson.  His second wife, Anna Ring Dobson (my Mom’s stepmother) had died in 1935, and Granddad found it difficult to live alone.  He had a couple of housekeepers, but they did not work out.  Finally, he rented the [50 Choate Street] house and came to live with us at 57 Choate.  Things went well for a while, but then it was decided that we could all live together at 50 Choate Street if another bedroom was added. Granddad Dobson had the room built, and we moved there.

50 Choate St., Newark, Delaware

50 Choate St., Newark, Delaware

You all are familiar with the size of the house at 50 Choate, so you can imagine how crowded it was with Granddad Dobson, Mom, Dad, and five children (Aunt Gertie was married by then so she was spared the crowded conditions.)  I often wondered how it was possible for all of us to live in the same house, but we did not have much in the way of furniture, clothes, or appliances.  TV was not invented yet, but we did have a radio, so you can figure out how long ago that really was!

We lived under rather crowded conditions, but I must say that I cannot remember any time that I was unhappy during my school years.  Mom and Dad were good to us.  I often wonder how they survived raising six children under these circumstances.  They were exceptional parents, I guess.  They often said that, since they were both “only children” when they married, they did not want to raise one child alone, so they had a large family.  I’m sure that they had financial problems along the way, living through the Depression, and we did not have an excessive amount of material things, but we were lucky to have wonderful parents.

I never realized how tough their job really was until I grew up and had a family of my own.  I then understood why my Dad used to go down into the basement and lock the door behind him!  He had a woodworking shop down there and spent much of his time in the basement when he was not at work at Continental Diamond Fiber.  When it was quiet upstairs, he would come up and sit in the living room, listening to the radio.  Needless to say, though, he probably didn’t spend much time upstairs.  Quiet is something you very seldom had in that small house when we were all there!

Things simmered down, I guess, as we grew up, went to work, married, etc.  Mom and Dad were able to spend their last years together in their own home until Mom’s death on September 7, 1973.  Dad survived Mom by seven years, passing away on March 20, 1980.

* * * * *

At the time we moved to Newark [Delaware], the population was about 2500 people.  There was two-way traffic on Main Street and lots of shops—this was long before the concept of shopping centers.  It was also long before Delaware Avenue became part of the main traffic system.

The elementary school, grades one through five, was at Delaware Avenue and Academy Street; the junior-senior high school was located on Academy Street.  [My brother] George and [my sister] Peg started school in Newark in the elementary grades, and I was in sixth grade in the junior high, along with Gertie, who was in seventh grade.  I went all the way through high school with basically the same classmates as those I started with in sixth grade.

My sister Gertie quit school before graduating, as did my sister Peg.  Dad was very disappointed about that; he wanted us to get an education, since neither he nor Mom had gotten one.  He had been working since he was around twelve years old, and Mom had quit school at age sixteen to marry Dad.  I made up my mind that I would graduate and, though he never said so, I think my father was proud of me for it.

Betts as a teenager

Betts as a teenager

George and Kay were able to do even more:  they went through the University of Delaware, George with help of the GI Bill after his World War II military service; and Kay with scholarships from high school, and working, too.  My brother Bob also did not go to college, but he did go to trade school and graduate, having learned the printing trade.

Life in Newark was wonderful, mostly because we didn’t move away from friends anymore.  I still have friends that I met in sixth grade.  I was not active in school affairs or sports because of childhood health problems.  I remember having my tonsils out at about age twelve because our family doctor said that my health would not improve until I did so.  He was quite right—I did get along better without them, but I was still on digitalis for heart problems for quite a while.  I was never permitted to play sports, though I must admit that sports were of no interest to me anyway.

End of Part III

Next:  Part IV:  World War II

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

Posted in American History, Civil War, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anatomy of a Lynching (Teaching Civil Rights, 6 )

john-quincy-adams-pictureA Review of:

Karen Branan.  The Family Tree:  A Lynching in Georgia, A Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth.  New York and other cities:  Atria Books, 2016.

[NOTE:  Here we are again, at yet another review of a book on life in the South during the Age of Jim Crow.  As I’ve said before, trying to reconstruct a picture of what it was like to live in the Jim Crow South is a puzzlement:  one needs to read as many accounts by individual witnesses as possible, then try to combine those first-hand accounts with information from secondary sources, so here we go. . . . ]

* * * * *

family-tree

Karen Branan, talking to her ninety year-old grandmother, asked what her “most unforgettable memory” was, and the old lady replied, “The hanging.  They hanged a woman and some men right downtown in Hamilton when I was young.” (2)  It was this admission by her grandmother that set Branan on a twenty-year odyssey to unearth “the truth” of the events that led to that lynching in 1912 Georgia, especially the role of her great-grandfather, “Buddy” Hadley, Harris County’s newly-elected sheriff, in the affair. Sheriff Hadley was a man Branan had been taught to revere, because family lore had it that he had tried to prevent the lynching but had been unsuccessful.

Branan’s decision to entitle her work The Family Tree, was an inspired one.  The murder victim, Norman Hadley, a local white “playboy” with a fondness for black women, was Sheriff Hadley’s nephew, and therefore a cousin of the author.  Moreover, as she continued her research, Branan also discovered that one of the lynching victims allegedly involved in the murder of Norman Hadley, a mulatto named Johnie Moore, was also related to her.

* * * * *

In highlighting the underlying causes of Norman Hadley’s murder, and of the tense race relations in Harris County, Georgia, and its seat of Hamilton, Branan emphasizes the intricate web of relationships woven by interracial sex (the fathering of mixed-race children by local white men and their black consorts) and one of the county’s major sources of income, the production and sale of moonshine liquor, an endeavor that attracted both blacks and whites, usually working together.

Branan furnishes a map of the Harris County area, as well as a fairly detailed, two-page family tree that she hopes will aid the reader in wending his or her way through the intricacies of the lynching itself, its historical context, and the short- and long-term consequences of the events she describes. The resulting monograph, filtered through her career as a professional journalist, is an engrossing, sometimes confusing tale of race, lust, crime, and violence in a single county (and its environs) in Jim Crow Georgia. It marries “true crime” with a healthy dose of William Faulkner, a study of ties that bind in a small rural area, but can also kill.

In sketching the history of Harris County, Karen Branan begins with her life in the town of Hamilton.  As her narrative unfolds, Branan clearly is surprised again and again at how naïve her view had been of Hamilton during her girlhood.  She soon realizes that if life there, and in the surrounding county, had been as idyllic as she remembered—and as she’d been told over and over again by her parents and grandparents—then there is no room for the grim “truth” she is gradually uncovering, not only about the 1912 lynching but also about its ramifications over the next two decades.  Admittedly, a lot of the “ramifications” she traces depend upon what, to this reviewer, sometimes seems like shaky evidence, but, if the reader accepts the author’s premises, then the whole thing begins to make a sort of sense.

* * * * *

One of the strengths of this work is the Branan’s research in primary sources, especially local newspapers and county and state court records.  Moreover, she began her research in the 1990s, when she still had access to a group she calls the “Ancient Mariners,” elderly Harris County residents, black and white, who, like the character in Coleridge’s famous poem, “unflinchingly shared stories that had haunted them for years.” (262)

Although setting the scene in 1912, Branan also does a nice job briefly reviewing earlier “big issues” like slavery, Reconstruction, the creation of the Myth of the Lost Cause, and the establishment of “legal” segregation in the Jim Crow Era, showing how they actually unfolded in the microcosmic southern world of Hamilton and Harris County.

Branan came to her “search for the truth” many years after the event and, by then, her own life had taken her through college at the University of Georgia (during the tumultuous period when Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes were helping to desegregate that institution); made her a racial liberal; and sent her out of the South to explore journalism on the West Coast and in the Northeast.

The research project she decided to pursue upon her return to the South forced Branan to confront uncomfortable truths, and, more significantly, try to convince her family and others in Harris County that those truths were worth unearthing—and publicizing.  It cannot have been a comfortable position for her, and that might help explain why it took  two decades to complete her work.

* * * * *

And what did Branan discover through her research?

Her great-grandfather was far from the stern county sheriff who faced down a mob in a futile effort to protect the prisoners. In fact, the newly-elected Sheriff Hadley had been told by some of the leaders of the lynch mob that it would be better for his future career, not to mention his health, if he were somewhere else on the day they’d chosen for their revenge, and he’d taken the hint. Subsequently, Hadley “just happened” to be in nearby Columbus on “official business” the day the “Hamilton Avengers” raided the jail; took four prisoners from their cells; marched them across the town square; hanged them from an old oak tree on the grounds of a black church; and fired bullets into the corpses.

Dusty Crutchfield, the only woman among the prisoners, had been given the chance to save her life (because she was a woman, though a black one, and the “Hamilton Avengers” were of course all about protecting “womanhood” from defilement).  All Crutchfield had to do was to identify which of her fellow prisoners had killed Norman Hadley.  Instead of taking the deal, Dusty supposedly told her inquisitor to “Pull the rope, white man!” Yet, this anecdote does not appear in contemporary accounts of the lynching; Branan learned it while interviewing elderly black residents of Harris County who claimed to remember the events.

Nothing was done legally to punish any of the “Hamilton Avengers.”  Rather, the inquest ruled that the four prisoners had been killed “by person or persons unknown.”  Branan’s research suggests, however, that the proper response to that verdict should have been a sarcastic “sure they were!”, because her interviews revealed the identities of many, if not most, members of the white mob.

* * * * *

Despite constant efforts by groups like the NAACP to secure passage of an anti-lynching law in Congress, nothing was done, and for the most mundane of reasons—the Democratic Party, even under “the South’s friend” during the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, relied on southern white votes to maintain its hold on power in the South, and the President’s backing of an anti-lynching bill would have weakened that support.

Georgia was the number one state in lynching for much of the early twentieth century.  Then, in the 1920s, lynchings in Georgia decreased, and from 1927 through 1929 no one died in the state at the end of a rope, with justice administered by a group of local “avengers.”

To help explain this apparent anomaly, Branan, relying on an otherwise unconfirmed bit of information from a local black farmer, argues that a local white woman, Miss Lula Mobley (yes, another of Branan’s relatives!), the head of the women’s Methodist Missionary Society, had convinced local white ladies that the time had come for them to wield their “ultimate weapon,” threatening to leave their husbands and move to Columbus if lynching didn’t stop in Harris County. (Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, anyone?)

And, speaking of local lore, Branan also ran across evidence that, within a year of the lynching, African Americans in Harris County believed that none of those killed in 1912 had been guilty.  As a result, according to this view, there occurred “divine retribution”—one after another of the men suspected of being members of the “Hamilton Avengers” met untimely, violent ends.  As one of Branan’s sources put it, they “died with their boots on. . . Unnatural deaths, you understand.” (194)

* * * * *     

Karen Branan

Karen Branan

Karen Branan’s study of life–and death–in Hamilton, Georgia, in 1912 provides interesting information about events leading to the lynching; tries, with mixed success, to reveal various “secrets” about underlying causes of the lynching; and follows the author’s “search for the truth” without at times revealing said “truth” all that clearly.  As is sometimes the case, modern books about the Jim Crow South that claim to offer the “truth” about that shameful era promise a bit more than they can deliver.

And yet—it is hard to beat Branan’s measured summary of that ugly episode in Georgia during the Age of Jim Crow:

I now understand that the lynch mob was not made up of monsters (perhaps with the exception of one or two), but of ordinary men who had little or no awareness of the history they carried within themselves and who did a monstrous thing.  Unable to deal with their own demons, they took everything out on those hapless four people who represented everything they hated in themselves. They had convinced themselves that the Negro was not fully human and, therefore, that killing him or her was not of great import.  I realize the fact that they lived in a time and a place that reinforced and even encouraged these delusions made it much easier for those men to carry out the lynching. (256)

* * * * * *

 For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

  

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Age of Jim Crow, American History, Books, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, Prep School, prep school teaching with a PhD, Research, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

BETTS: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR, 1923-1964, Part II: Grandparents, Parents, and Siblings

john-quincy-adams[Note:  This is the second in a series of posts based on a family history and a memoir  written by my mother, Betts Lamplugh. (For Part I, go here.) This installment is taken mostly from her “Dobson-Knighton Family History,” supplemented with some material from the first section of  the memoir, whimsically titled “Slub of Slife.”]

* * * * *

Josiah Dobson, my great-grandfather, was born on December 5, 1834, in Halton, England, the son of Thomas and Mary Dobson.  He emigrated to the United States about 1859, settling near Philadelphia.  At the opening of the Civil War, his ardent military spirit prompted him to enlist, on July 1, 1861.  He became a member of Company G, 7th Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteers, the famous “Pennsylvania Bucktails,” so-called because of the buck tail worn on their campaign hats.  The Bucktails saw action at Bull Run, Antietam, the Wilderness Campaign, the Seven Days fighting, and Gettysburg, and they were present at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  In all, they had an active part in thirty-seven engagements, and Josiah Dobson saw his share of the fighting.

Josiah was promoted to sergeant for meritorious service, and when his initial enlistment expired, in 1862, he volunteered to serve for the remainder of the war.  Josiah was relieved from combat duty in 1863 because of a disease contracted in the service and was assigned to the Hospital Corps.  He received an honorable discharge in July 1865.  After the end of the war, Josiah made his home in Philadelphia and then in Wilmington, Delaware.  In May 1869, he married Mattie Dean, and they had nine children.  The second oldest, George Thomas Dobson, who became my grandfather, was born October 12, 1872, in Stanton, Delaware.

* * * * *

George T. Dobson

George T. Dobson

George Dobson had very little schooling as a child and went to work at about age ten, in Newark, Delaware.  There was not much industry in Newark at that time, and I don’t know where he worked.  He served in the Spanish-American War, enlisting on May 7, 1898, and serving in Company L, First Delaware Regiment.  George was mustered out on November 16, 1898.  After the war, he served in the Delaware National Guard’s Company E, 1st Infantry Regiment, from May 4, 1903, until he was discharged on July 25, 1906.

On his discharge form, George Dobson was listed as a papermaker.  I remember that he worked at Curtis Paper Company [in Newark] when I was very young, and I assume he remained there until around 1940.  George married Reba Murray on September 20, 1901, and they had one child, Gertrude Isabelle Dobson (called Isabelle), who was born on May 15, 1904.  Things didn’t go well in the marriage, and the Dobsons were divorced on March 4, 1912.  Reba Murray Dobson left Newark and later married Will Austin, with whom she had three children, Lillian, Dorothy, and David.

Isabelle and George T. Dobson

George Dobson married Anna Ring around 1919.  Anna had a son, Roger, by a first marriage, and Dobson legally adopted him shortly after marrying Anna.  The new Dobson family bought a house at 50 Choate Street in Newark in 1923.  Evidently, young Gertrude Isabelle did not get along very well with her stepmother. She met Isaac Livesey Knighton, known as “Ike,” around 1918, when he moved to Newark to work for his cousin’s husband, William Delaplane Dean, a plumber.  Mr. Dean’s wife’s mother and Ike’s mother were sisters.

* * * * *

Ike had been born on February 22, 1898, in Frankford, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb.  His mother, Jemima Lydia Gallagher Knighton, died when he was about two years old, and he was raised mostly by an aunt, Emma Livesey.  His father, William H. Knighton, married a woman with two sons, George and Wilbur Frost.

William H. Knighton

William H. Knighton

Jemima Knighton

Jemima Knighton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ike worked for Mr. Dean for a while, then went to work in the American Stores market (later called Acme Markets), which at that time was located on Main Street in Newark in the vicinity of where the National 5 & 10 is now located.  Ike and Isabelle were married in Old Swede’s Church in Wilmington on September 26, 1920.  They went to Wilmington from Newark on the B & O train to be married, but they had difficulties getting back to Newark, because the train they took on their return trip did not stop there, so they wound up in Elkton, Maryland.

Isaac L. “Ike” Knighton

Ike and Isabelle lived in Philadelphia for a while, where Dad was interim manager of an American Stores market, at 58th and Chester Avenue, until a new manager came to take over, at which point he was transferred to Milton, Delaware, a place he had difficulty locating initially.  While Ike worked for American Stores, the Knightons lived in several small towns in lower Delaware.  My sister Gertrude (“Gertie”) was born on September 16, 1921, in Lewes, Delaware; I was born on January 8, 1923, also in Lewes; and Anna Margaret (“Peg”) was born June 28, 1924, in Milton, Delaware.

Gertie Knighton

Gertie Knighton

Dad always said he quit American Stores Company because they wanted to transfer him out of Delaware, and he didn’t want to go.  When we moved back to the Newark area, Dad worked for Mom’s uncle, Jacob Zimmerman, who was married to George Dobson’s sister, Elizabeth (affectionately known as “Aunt Lizzie”).  Mr. Zimmerman had a tavern in Wilmington, and I think Dad worked for him for a short time.

* * * * *

My earliest recollections are the things that happened when I was about six years old, and we were living in Wilmington, Delaware.  I can remember my Mom and Dad speaking of having lived in “Hamilton Park,” which is in New Castle, Delaware, but I have no memory of that place.  My brother George was born in New Castle on July 9, 1926.

George W. Knighton and George T. Dobson

George W. Knighton and George T. Dobson

We later lived at #1 New Street in Wilmington—an old row house located behind the huge brick Seeburg & Blackwell Building, which is on Vandever Avenue.  Fraim’s Dairy was located near us at one end of the street.  This was certainly not “Nob Hill,” but this was about 1930, and times were tough for everyone [during the Great Depression].  Guess we were lucky to have a place to live, under the circumstances.

During this time, Dad was driving a “near-beer” truck [during Prohibition] for a man named Guy Bell.  Dad enjoyed driving the truck and always had stories to tell after each trip.  He did have to go to Baltimore and Washington, and he used to say in later years that he hated Washington because of the way the streets were arranged.  It seemed it was easy to get lost in that city.

One time, Dad brought home a little brown and white fox terrier which he named Trixie.  The dog had been left at a gas station, and the owner couldn’t keep it, so Dad brought it home.  (We had Trixie for about a year or so, and, when we were moving to Philadelphia, Granddad Dobson took Trixie to his home in Newark, Delaware.)

My Mom worked in the kitchen at the Memorial Hospital in Wilmington, located across Brandywine Creek, and we used to walk through the park to meet her in nice weather.  On Sunday we used to play in Brandywine Park and look at the animals.  We always enjoyed that park.  Gertie and I attended George Gray School on Vandever Avenue.  Guess life was not really exciting in those days—only thing I can remember clearly is playing on the sidewalk at the dairy and watching bottles moving along on a belt—sounds like fun to you, doesn’t it?

Our house was one of six or eight row houses—small rooms about the size of the one in this house [50 Choate St., Newark, Delaware], though they may have been smaller.  I remember that all of us children slept in the same room—only two bedrooms upstairs.  We used to get into trouble once in a while for not going to sleep once we were in bed.  Dad was a patient man, to a point, and we quickly learned at what point we should be quiet or suffer the consequences.  Good thing he was not a mean Dad—guess we learned respect early in life.

End of Part II

Next:  Part III:  A Depression Era Childhood

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in American History, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Trail of Blind Willie McTell (Blues Stories, 24)

A Review of:  john-quincy-adams-picture                   

Michael Gray, Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes:  In Search of Blind Willie McTell.  Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2009.  

amazon.com

amazon.com

[NOTE:  For a  new project, I’ve decided to revisit a number of works on the Blues and the men and women who played and sang them, books I had read but not reported on in this blog.  Here’s the first, and it’s a beauty!]

* * * * *

Even the “Introduction” to Michael Gray’s biography is worth pondering, because it presents a cogent explanation of the musical journey Blind Willie McTell—and his reputation—took, from late in his life, when few people still remembered him, to the present, when he occupies a special place in the history and legacy of the Blues.

In the summer of 1956, a young white record store owner in Atlanta, Ed Rhodes, learned that Blind Willie was still playing the Blues, only now in the parking lot of an Atlanta music club. (Like the Reverend “Blind” Gary Davis, McTell found himself “singing for his supper” after his reputation faded.)  Rhodes talked Blind Willie into letting him set up a recording session, at the end of which McTell told Rhodes he didn’t want the music released while he was still alive, because, if that happened, “I would just drink myself to death.” (3)

In November 1959, about three months after McTell’s death, Samuel Charters published his classic work, The Country Blues, which, in Gray’s opinion, sparked a revival of interest in the Blues.  Included on the compilation album accompanying Charters’ book was McTell’s 1928 recording of “Statesboro Blues.”  In 1961, a Blues fan connected Charters with Ed Rhodes, and Rhodes gave the Blues scholar a copy of McTell’s 1956 Atlanta performance, which Charters shortly released as Blind Willie McTell: Last Sessions.  Five years later, in 1966, the next full McTell album appeared, Blind Willie McTell: 1940, which had been recorded by traveling musicologist John Lomax and his wife Ruby, for the Library of Congress.

So, while Blind Willie had missed the Blues revival of the 1960s, it finally caught up with him posthumously.  And, although McTell was not available to accompany one of the “British Invasion” bands on stage and be hailed as a hero, as had longer-lived elderly Blues performers, his music lived on in performances by the likes of the Allman Brothers and Taj Mahal.  Finally, in 1991, Bob Dylan released a song he’d written in 1983 and used in his concerts thereafter, “Blind Willie McTell,” perhaps the best Dylan song some of his fans had never heard. (16)  In short, like Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell was relatively unknown during his recording career but became something of a Blues super star following his demise.

robert-johnson

* * * * *

Willie McTell was born William Samuel McTier c. May 5, 1903, in Happy Valley, McDuffie County, Georgia, just south of the small town of Thomson.  He was of mixed ancestry—his grandfather, Elbert McTyeir, was the son of white man, Reddick McTyeir, and his slave Essey.  McTell was probably blind from birth, although the full extent of his disability is still uncertain. His mother, Minnie, was about 15 when he was born; his father, Ed McTier, perhaps 20.  It is possible that Willie’s parents never actually lived together; at any rate, his father, “a gambler and a drifter,” (74) was not in the picture during McTell’s childhood.

Minnie Dorsey took her son Willie to Jefferson County, Georgia, and then, around 1910-11, to Statesboro, in Bulloch County near the Georgia coast, a place McTell always considered home.  Michael Gray describes Statesboro as “progressive,” in the early twentieth-century sense of believing in modernity and progress.  Statesboro was relatively “progressive” in a number of ways, including the establishment of the City Colored School by a dedicated African American named William James.  Of course, the presence of a school for Black children had little impact on the blind McTell.  Willie eventually learned to read Braille at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, where his tuition was paid by a white Statesboro benefactor.  Gray also believes that later in his life McTell attended other schools for the blind in Atlanta, New York City, and Michigan. (173)

Gray also speculates about the effects of blindness on McTell’s personality and on his career as a Blues musician.  He never wore dark glasses, and his stage name, “Blind Willie,” was bluntly descriptive (but, the use of labels like “Blind” and “Blind Boy” was fairly common among visually impaired Blues and Gospel performers).  McTell carried a pistol and knew how to use it.  He also was a snazzy dresser for much of his career (check out the picture on the dust jacket).  Most surprisingly to his contemporaries, and to his biographer, Blind Willie displayed an uncanny ability to navigate the streets of any city he lived in, from Statesboro, to Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and back again.  In short, “everyone is agreed upon Willie’s lifelong transcendence of his handicap.” (175)

* * * * *

Much of McTell’s early musical training was probably informal:  several family members evidently played the guitar, and, in Statesboro, his mother Minnie and a man named Stapleton both helped mentor the boy’s training. The wife of a white physician even gave young Willie a guitar.  McTell must have been talented, because while still a teenager he briefly ran away and joined a traveling circus as a musical performer. Evidently, he did not receive his first formal musical training until after his mother’s death (1920), when he was sent to the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon (1922-1925).  Following the end of his time there, McTell moved to Atlanta, where he “settled for the relative liberty he enjoyed, inclined by personality and quick-wittedness to live his life adroitly and with optimism.” (193)

Ralph S. Peer, a “talent scout” for Victor Records and a pioneer in the development of the “race record [i.e., Black music] industry,” was the first to record Willie McTell, in Atlanta in October 1927. Willie recorded songs between 1927 and 1929, earning “respectable” sales but charting no big hits.  The Stock Market Crash of 1929 dealt a fatal blow to “race records,” and forced Blues performers to look for other ways to continue their careers.  McTell was luckier than most, because he was able to record, either as a solo performer or back-up musician, from 1930 to 1933 and in 1935.

In 1933, Willie McTell married Ruth Kate Williams, a Georgia “preacher’s kid,” who worked as a nurse at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital.  Kate also ran numbers and joined her husband in a bootlegging venture, with Willie singing and Kate selling the hooch.  Willie and Kate moved to Chicago in 1935, and McTell continued to perform whenever and wherever he could, but his career was drying up.  In 1940, he recorded several tunes in Atlanta for John and Ruby Lomax, on behalf of the Library of Congress, playing his twelve-string guitar for two hours, in return for the munificent fee of $1 and cab fare!

McTell’s marriage to Kate disintegrated in 1941, and Kate left for New York City.  Without divorcing Kate, the Blues man established a more solid relationship with Helen Edwards, with whom he lived until her death.  In the 1940s, Willie briefly moved away from the Blues to gospel, a musical genre that had survived the Great Depression, but by the end of that decade he was playing Blues once more, on the streets in Atlanta.  Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, heard McTell sing and convinced him to record  for the new label in 1949.  The following year, McTell recorded his final Blues album, for Regal, also in Atlanta.

central-state-hospital-and-veterans-home-milledgeville-georgia

Willie was going downhill physically by the 1950s, and Helen’s death in 1958 dealt him a blow from which he never recovered.  In the spring of 1959, he suffered a series of strokes;  three of his relatives, concerned about his mental health, committed him to the state  hospital in Milledgeville, where he died on August 19, 1959.

* * * * *

Michael Gray (stevenhartsite--WordPress.com)

Michael Gray (stevenhartsite–WordPress.com)

Michael Gray’s closing chapter is a fine one.  He examines the aftermath of Willie McTell’s passing, including what happened to some of his possessions; the fate of his royalties (one of the boons coming to old performers—or, as in Willie’s case, their survivors—as a result of the 1960s “Blues Revival”); and, finally, the “the spoils of Willie’s ‘heritage.’” (351)  For instance, Atlantans know “Blind Willie’s,” a Blues tavern, and there is an annual  McTell blues festival in Thomson, where he was born and buried and a state historical commemorates his career.  Statesboro, where Willie grew up and where he returned throughout his life, opened a “Willie McTell Trail” and was supposed to receive the “Georgy” award made on the occasion of McTell’s induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, but that never happened–the award mysteriously “disappeared.”

Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell, is a rich book:  a biography of one of the greatest of the early Blues men; a travelogue, recording Michael Gray’s pursuit of the sometimes elusive but always fascinating McTell; and a “journey in time” that takes the reader, through Gray’s research and that of his wife (who explored resources on the Worldwide Web from a computer in Britain) back to the South of the 1920s and 1930s.  Gray also does a wonderful (if at times overly detailed) job of sketching the larger context within which Willie McTell lived, moved, and recorded his unforgettable songs.

In sum, there is a lot to like in this book, for the Blues fan; the student of the Jim Crow South; the scholar interested in picking up tips for researching a figure who left little or no paper trail; and the aficionado of travel writing.

Moreover, Gray’s concluding sentence wonderfully captures the pleasure of studying history:  “The past, as we know, is a foreign country we cannot reach, but we can stare across at it, appalled and in wonderment, from the shores we stand on now.” (357)

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

Posted in Age of Jim Crow, American History, Blind Willie McTell, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, History of Rock and Roll, Piedmont Blues, Popular Culture, Research, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, The Blues, Uncategorized, Urban Blues, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

BETTS: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR, 1923-1964, Part I: Late-Blooming Historian

 

john-quincy-adams[NOTE:  This is the first in a series of posts drawing on a family history and a memoir compiled by my mother, Elsie Elizabeth Knighton Lamplugh (1923-2013).

Mom, known as “Betts,” lavished upon her kids what we would later describe as “unconditional love.”  As we grew up, she steadily supported us in whatever we wished to do with our lives.  For example, Betts thought that her oldest child would end up teaching history, and so did he; but, in her mind, history teachers worked in high school, while his goal was a college teaching position, as a history professor.  But, as readers of this blog know, although I did study to become a professor, I spent my career teaching history on the secondary  level.  So, Betts could chalk up yet another win for “mother’s intuition.”

What neither of us realized at the time, though, was that Betts herself would one day become a family historian and a memoirist.]

* * * * *

Betts at 18

Betts in High School

The first of Betts’ contributions to family lore was the “Dobson-Knighton Family History,” which she completed in 1987 and distributed to family members in Xeroxed form.  My siblings and I, impressed by what she had done, kept urging her to continue trying to make sense of her life as a wife and mother, and she finally capitulated.  The result, a memoir whimsically entitled “Slub of Slife” (i.e, “Love of Life,” the derivation of which will be revealed in Part V), was actually written in reverse chronological order:  the first section of “Slub of Slife” Betts completed began near the end of World War II and carried her story forward to the Fall of 1964, when “changes which affected all of our family” occurred. When she sent me a draft of that installment in March 1995, Betts described it as “far from perfect. . . . Kind of started in the middle—but maybe if I can think back a lot further I may be able to do something about my (our) early years. . . . Kind of feel like a lot of things are best forgotten.”

The second section of “Slub of Slife” that Betts wrote (completing it in July 1995) covered the earlier part of her life, overlapping with the final pages of the “Dobson-Knighton Family History.”  In a note accompanying this part of her memoir, Betts predicted that it would “no doubt bore you to tears, but guess this is the way my childhood was.  Good thing my Mom and Dad and doctor took such good care of me, look how long I have lived.”

One of the ways I tried to encourage Mom to finish telling us her “story” was by promising that, once I retired, I would “try to do something with it.”  That seemed to satisfy her; at any rate, she did not add to the memoir between 1995 and her death almost twenty years later.  For now, though, I am submitting it via the Internet, in installments, an initial effort to keep that promise.

As editor, I’ve tried to blend important family information from the “Dobson-Knighton Family History” with the earlier chronological installment of “Slub of Slife,”  eliminating repetitions.  I also “fill in the blanks” in two places:  between the conclusion of the earlier chronological part of her memoir and the beginning of the later one; and, in the final post,  her life between 1964 and 2013.

* * * * *

Over the course of the research into her family’s history, and in her memoir, Betts availed herself of numerous primary sources:  photos; public records like deeds and birth, baptismal, marriage, and death certificates; military records; and clippings from newspapers in Newark and Wilmington, Delaware, and the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. The work also benefited from information furnished by friends and family members in “interviews,” either in person or over the telephone; and in letters. Useful secondary sources included two published histories of Newark, Delaware, and a pamphlet history of Middle River, Maryland.

It is important to note that Betts began her work on the Dobson and Knighton families sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, before the “computer revolution” that would  bring desktop and laptop computers and Internet access to anyone who desired them.  Although Betts was an experienced typist, she never liked computers.  In fact, their increasing presence in Christiana Hospital, her last employer, was one reason she retired when she did.  Nevertheless, the drafts she prepared of her family history/memoir, work that continued into the mid-1990s, were produced in her home on an early “word processor” (a gift from a friend), but without Internet access.

Betts was extremely fortunate when it came to locating genealogical information, thanks to her brother, George W. Knighton, who lived in Virginia.  Betts’ project dovetailed both with George’s own interest in their family’s history and, especially, with his computer skills.

Betts called or wrote her brother with questions and mailed him drafts of her work for comment.  In turn, George sent printouts of genealogical information to Betts so she might include it in her manuscript.  Betts shipped the finished project to George, who entered it into his computer, added pictures and a few maps, and returned this expanded version to Betts in Newark, where she made copies and distributed them to family members.

Today, this “research model” might seem very time-consuming, but Betts was learning as she went.  She did not drive, so “research trips” in the traditional sense were out.  Mostly, Betts relied on the U.S. Postal Service, the telephone, and the Xerox machine, along with a few books and newspaper articles, to provide information she needed to supplement primary documents, her capacious memory, and the stories she learned from family members, an informal example of what is now known as “oral history.”

* * * * *

The story Betts tells is an interesting one.  She traces her Dobson-Knighton family back to the 1830s and carries her own part in that story through the “changes” that befell her Lamplugh family in 1964.  In her inimitable fashion, Betts remembers living in a crowded house with five siblings and her parents, in the small city of Newark, Delaware.  Through her eyes, we see what a girl’s growing up years were like in that environment, including her family’s experiences during the Great Depression and World War II. Once she became a wife and mother, Betts had other stories to tell, especially about life for a working-class family trying to achieve some version of the “American Dream” after World War II.

* * * * *

Between the 1980s and 1990s, then, Betts Lamplugh produced a record of her own life and that of her families: the one she’d been born into in 1923; and her second family, which she and her husband, Ben Lamplugh, had created with their three children. In a sense, the tale she tells is a microcosm of the broader saga of how Americans survived the Depression, found themselves caught up in the Second World War, and wrestled with the often painful, frustrating task of trying to get ahead in a far from peaceful postwar world.

Betts in her early 80s

Betts: Keepin’ on keepin’ on

NEXT:  Part II: Grandparents, Parents, and Siblings

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

Posted in American History, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

A Doomed Fight for Justice in the Jim Crow South (Teaching Civil Rights, 7)

john-quincy-adams-picture

A Review of

Joseph Madison Beck, My Father & Atticus Finch:  A Lawyer’s Fight for Justice in 1930s Alabama.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.

my ajc.com

my ajc.com

As the title suggests, this book begins with the notion that the story of the author’s father could have inspired Harper Lee’s portrait of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. However, Miss Lee, through her agent, told Joseph Madison Beck that she had never known about either the case of Charles White or Foster Campbell Beck’s role in it.

Sources for this work include Beck’s conversations with his parents; his father’s handwritten family history, which ended, however, at a point before Foster Beck could describe the White case in much detail; newspaper articles; an incomplete trial transcript; and the Alabama Supreme Court’s opinion on Foster Beck’s appeal of the local court’s decision.  The author, Joseph Beck, a member of the Law faculty at Emory University in Atlanta, wasn’t born until five years after the trial, so he had to “surmise, from knowledge of my family and the times, what may have been said, what surely was said.” (viii-ix)

* * * * *

Judge W. L. Parks telephoned young Enterprise, Alabama, lawyer Foster Beck in 1938 and asked (told) him to act as the defense attorney for a 6’5”, 250 pound black man, Charles White, accused of raping a local white girl in Troy, 37 miles from Enterprise.  No member of the Troy bar was willing to take the case, and Judge Parks wanted to make sure a local attorney was appointed to defend White, lest the case attract outsiders like the American Civil Liberties Union.

Foster Beck was not eager to accept the assignment, but Judge Parks pressed, even telling him that his father, Madison Lewis (“Mr. M.L.”) Beck, would be proud of him.  Mr. M.L. was known as a “progressive” on race, at least in Alabama terms.  An entrepreneur with a lumber mill and a general store, Mr. M.L. also overindulged in alcohol and drugs.  Foster was uncomfortable with the idea that Judge Parks might be appointing him because he was his father’s son, rather than on his merits as an attorney.  

At the time, Beck was in his thirties, single, and, as a lawyer, had already earned a reputation for his work in civil cases, where he had protected poorer citizens, regardless of  color, from banks during the Great Depression.  So, in a sense, Foster, too, was a racial “progressive,” but this case would be very different from his usual work.

Beck assumed that he was expected to convince Charles White to plead guilty to raping a white woman, for which he would receive life imprisonment, probably with no chance of parole.  If White insisted on going to trial, however, the death penalty would be on the table, and the prosecution would also be able to present information about White’s criminal history. (White told Beck he’d not been in trouble with the law, but Beck doubted the truth of that statement; as it turned out, his suspicions were justified.)  Foster Beck was a great believer in the majesty of the law, but in Charles White he met a defendant who was not, and who, moreover, refused to plead guilty to a crime he claimed he hadn’t committed, even if that plea might save his life.

* * * * *

Foster Beck did his best for Charles White, but it was no use, as the attorney had probably known from the first.  The “victim,” Elizabeth Liger, was a 20 year-old white woman who acted as if she were mentally challenged (although the author believes she more closely resembled what we would call today an “airhead”).  The local doctor testified that Liger was “still a virgin,” yet claimed that White had raped her.

Charles White was a traveling fortune-teller, and Elizabeth was eager to have her fortune told because she wanted to marry, have children, and get the heck out of Enterprise, Alabama. Three local physicians, none of whom had specialized in diagnosing or treating mental disorders, agreed that Elizabeth had a mental age of 10-12, which meant that she could not have legally “consented” to whatever White did to her, even though he said she had done so.

At first, Beck tried to persuade White to plead guilty, avoid a trial, and thus save his life, but White refused to bend.  Consequently, when the trial rolled around, what Judge Parks had assumed would be a quick and easy process that would not even require him to impanel a jury, became something quite different—a public spectacle, much like the one portrayed in Mockingbird. The result was no surprise: White was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Nevertheless, lawyer Beck could not let it go—he asked White to plead for mercy, hoping that Judge Parks might buck the jury if White did so.  White supposedly asked for mercy (or so author Joseph Beck says he was told), although there is no record of such a plea.  So, Foster Beck appealed the verdict to the Alabama Supreme Court and suddenly found himself shunned by the white citizens of Enterprise.  Lower-class whites vandalized Beck’s office and attacked him when they found him fishing by himself (because none of his former friends would join him).  So much for Foster’s—and for a while, the author’s—belief that Southern whites were not unified in their acceptance of the idea of the depravity of African Americans!

While his appeal was before the state Supreme Court, Foster Beck did what he could to buck up Charles White, even visiting him in Montgomery’s Kilby prison on Thanksgiving Day, 1938.  White seemed vaguely hopeful, but then the ruling came down—both the lower court’s verdict and the death sentence were upheld.  White was electrocuted on June 9, 1939.

* * * * *

 And this is where, if Beck were Atticus Finch, perhaps the book would have ended, but. . . .

Another main character in the book, Bertha Stewart, was introduced to Foster by his sister Frances, Bertha’s classmate at the Women’s College of Alabama in Montgomery (today’s Huntingdon College), where both studied to be teachers.  Upon graduation, Frances and Bertha moved to Enterprise, where Bertha taught high school English.

During their ensuing courtship, Bertha supported Foster’s legal career, including his role in the White case, but Beck was very cautious when it came to making a commitment to Bertha about their future.  Perhaps for good reason:  once lawyer Beck appealed the death penalty verdict against his client to the Alabama Supreme Court, Enterprise locals  ostracized him.  Consequently, Beck’s law practice suffered; his income fell; and he could no longer imagine supporting a wife and family, let alone an elderly, ailing father.

Foster Beck’s law practice in Enterprise did not recover.  He did marry Bertha Stewart, in 1942; their son Joseph was born in February 1943.  Though Beck had been born blind in one eye, his local draft board apparently neither forgot nor forgave him for his role in the Charles White case; at any rate, he was drafted in May 1943.  During WWII, Beck worked for the War Department as a real estate attorney and as project manager for the program that established  Alabama’s Fort Rucker. After the war, with nothing much left of his law practice or of his father’s business interests, Foster moved to Montgomery, where he worked for the Veterans Administration. He died in 1973, still believing, according to his son, “that Charles White had not received justice.” (196)

In the final chapter, author Joseph Beck returns to his comparison of Foster Beck and Atticus Finch, but with little resolution, concluding that, “as men of courage and conviction, the two men were ‘birds of a feather.’  Alabamians should take pride not only in native daughter Harper Lee, creator of the fictional lawyer who inspired so many, but also in native son Foster Campbell Beck, a real Alabama lawyer.” (201)

* * * * *

my ajc.com

(my ajc.com)

Joseph Madison Beck’s paean of praise to his father presents some problems.  First, there is his effort to hold up Foster Beck as the real-life inspiration of Harper Lee’s beloved fictional character, Atticus Finch, despite Ms. Lee’s gentle rebuff of this notion. If Beck continues to cling to this idea, the rest of us don’t necessarily have to agree.

Secondly, there is the way Beck uses his supporting evidence, and the supporting evidence he uses.  As mentioned above, he draws on some primary sources, but even Beck admits that there are gaping holes in that evidence.  Beck does his best to overcome these limitations, for instance by creating conversations that “may have” or “surely” occurred, even though there is little documentary evidence to support them.  On the whole, Beck’s approach is persuasive, but one is still tempted to label the book as  “fictionalized,” or, perhaps better, as “creative non-fiction.”

This work is quite readable. Even someone who knows, or can deduce early on, how the White case will turn out, given the geography and the era in which events transpired, is drawn by Joseph Madison Beck’s skillful effort to re-create life in small town Alabama in the late 1930s (e.g., fairs, hunting, fishing, hog killing) and to show how Foster Beck and the Charles White trial fit into that milieu.

It must also be admitted that Joseph Beck treats his father more even-handedly than one might expect.  He seems more interested in recognizing Foster Beck’s efforts to secure justice for Charles White than he is show that White was innocent as the driven snow, or that his defense counsel was a regular Sir Galahad—Enterprise, Alabama, edition.

In short, while I would not recommend that you toss out your copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, Joseph Madison Beck’s My Father & Atticus Finch might fit well in a History course focused on the “Age of Jim Crow.”  It is quite accessible, and, come to think of it, might even work in conjunction with an English course featuring To Kill a Mockingbird.  Oh, my, I’ve just recommended an interdisciplinary approach!

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Age of Jim Crow, American History, Books, Civil Rights Movement, Education, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Unflattering Views of the Georgia Legislature, 2017 and 1817

[Note:  Four years ago, just in time for the adjournment of the Georgia legislature, I came across a lovely description of the state’s solons from 1817.  Re-reading that post today, as the 2017 session of the legislature convenes, I realized that the earlier description is now a nice, round 200 years old.  So, I decided to revise the 2012 mini-screed and re-post it, in honor of the opening of yet another meeting of Georgia’s finest.

Since that earlier post, our state legislature has distinguished itself in too many ways to list here, but let me just mention a couple that have garnered Georgia national press.  There was the “guns [almost] everywhere bill,” for example; perhaps we can look forward this year to our legislators earning their props from the NRA by closing the remaining, um, “loopholes.”  (Pistol-packin’ in pre-k, anyone?)  Last year, our representatives and senators strove mightily and produced a so-called “religious liberty” bill that our Governor, always aware of the screams from the state’s business community, summoned up the gumption to veto.  Guess what’s being bruited about this year–c’mon now, you can do it!  That’s right:  the “religious liberty” bill–the sequel. . . .  And a new study reveals that elections in Georgia are among the least competitive in the nation:  in a sense our system has evolved to the point that all that matters is incumbency–and the various PACs that shovel money in the direction of the incumbents.]

* * * * *

Dread is palpable all round the greater Atlanta area; wives and daughters are only allowed  to leave their homes under heavily armed escort; the family silver has been taken out of the dining room display cabinet and moved to a secure location.  Yes, friends, the duly-elected members of the Georgia General Assembly have arrived in town, with their usual plans to do as much “good” for (to?) the state, its citizens, and its economy as is humanly possible, unless prevented by cooler heads, a catastrophic “weather event,” or plain, dumb luck.

Now, in fairness, not everyone is unhappy to see our solons roll into to town:  the National Rifle Association, Georgia Right to Life, some elements of our many-sided “tea party” movement, the state chapter of the Donald Trump Fan Club, and more lobbyists than you can shake a stick at can hardly wait for the session to begin.

So, as a public service; to help inspire our dedicated solons as they go about their appointed tasks; and to confirm yet again the adage that “the more things change, the more they remain the same,” here’s a glimpse of a group of their predecessors, offered by a traveler in Georgia 200 years ago.  Peter A. Remsen, a New Yorker on his way to Alabama, visited Milledgeville, which was then the state capital, on December 20-21, 1817, just as the legislative session was winding down, and recorded his impressions:

The Legislature of this State closed its sitting on the morning of the 20th inst.  I did not visit the state house. Some 20 boarders [who were members of the legislature] put up at the house we stoped [sic] at.  But alas!  What would New Yorkers say to see them [?]  I certainly do not hesitate to say that their conduct was beneath that of any crew of sailors that was ever seen.  Cursing, quarrelling, hollowing [sic], drinking, getting drunk.  Disputing landlords [sic] bill.  Drunken men hugging sober ones.  Illiterate, mean appearances, readiness for rasseling [sic] etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc..  On the night of the 18th inst. (a thing at the close of all their meetings) the Governor [William Rabun] at the head, with a horse visited all boarding houses of members [of the legislature].  Draged [sic] them out of bed.  Marched the square and streets, and from report the noise excelled that of wild beasts.  Its [sic] well the North knows not what the South does.  Vice Versa.  [SOURCE:  William B. Hesseltine and Larry Gara, eds., “Across Georgia and Into Alabama, 1817-1818,” GHQ 37 (1953), 332]

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in "Business-Speak", American History, Current Events, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, Popular Culture, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

A Post for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, 2017

john-quincy-adams-pictureThe Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has long been one of my  heroes, beginning when I was a youngster growing up in an industrial suburb of Baltimore in the 1950s.  In the 1960s, when I decided that I wanted to teach American History, I wondered where Dr. King and his legacy would fit in.  He and the movement he represented seemed, at least at that time, part of “current events” rather than “history.”  Fortunately for me, I didn’t yet have to answer that question, either in college (because the American History survey course I took did not make it past World War II); or, after two-years in the U.S. Army,  graduate school (because, even as a teaching assistant, I–that’s right–never took my American History survey course much past the end of the Second World War).

Once I signed on at The Westminster Schools, an Atlanta “prep school,” in 1973 and learned that I would be teaching United States History, the need to fit Dr. King into the American story became more pressing.  Given the pace of the typical academic year at my school, however, I discovered that, by the time I reached the 1950s and 1960s, there was little time left before I had to begin prepping my Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) students for their end-of-the-year, comprehensive, standardized exam.

So many important postwar trends to cover and so little time available!  Eventually, I decided to focus on a few “big themes” for the post-1945 period:  the Presidency; the War in Vietnam; and–wait for it–the modern Civil Rights Movement.  I developed a brief unit on the Civil Rights Movement for APUSH, but I still felt as if I were giving a crucial topic short shrift.

I did eventually get the chance to focus on King and the Movement, but it took me quite a while (look here, here, and here for initial steps along that road).  At last, a few years before the end of my time in the classroom, I inherited a one-semester, junior/senior-level elective course on the Modern American Civil Rights Movement that I taught for several years.

During that same period, I also had the opportunity to assume the editorship of the History Department Newsletter.  In that post, I naturally felt compelled to opine from time to time on issues in the study of American History that I felt were important and should not be ignored at Westminster.  And–surprise!–chief among them was the Civil Rights Movement in general and Dr. King’s role in particular.

Following my retirement, and the launching of this blog (as a sort of replacement for my editorial duties at the History Department Newsletter), I continued to believe that students must understand both the background of the Civil Rights Movement (i.e., the so-called “Age of Jim Crow”) and the Movement itself if they were to understand the modern history of this nation and their own place in it.  And, perhaps inevitably, in January 2012 I decided to offer a post centered on my personal reflections about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, the main sources for which were several editorials I had written for the History Department Newsletter.

nps.gov

nps.gov

That 2012 post soon became one of the most popular at “Retired But Not Shy,” and it remains a personal favorite among the more than one hundred thirty posts on this site.  I revised the King reflection–and re-posted it–in January 2015.  If you haven’t yet read this essay, or if you’re simply in the mood to meditate on Dr. King’s role in the American story as part of your observation of the King Holiday, I’m attaching a link to the more recent version:

https://georgelamplugh.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/civil-rights-and-wrongs-reflections-on-the-rev-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-and-his-legacy/

I hope you enjoy it.

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Age of Jim Crow, American History, Civil Rights Movement, Current Events, Dr. Martin Luther King, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, Popular Culture, Prep School, Research, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments