Monday, June 30, 2014

JERALEAN TALLEY


JERALEAN TALLEY

      Today, Jeralean Kurtz Talley turns 115 years old.  Mrs. Talley, a native of Montrose, Georgia, holds on to her official title as  the oldest living person in the United States and the oldest living person outside the country of Japan.

Mrs. Talley was born on May 23, 1899 to Samuel James Kurtz and Amelia Kurtz.  William McKinley was President of the United States.  On May 23, 2014, some nineteen presidents, fourteen hundred plus full moons and 41,725 sunsets later, Ms. Jeralean  reaches yet another milestone in the time line of her longest life. 

Jeralean, who was among a dozen children of Samuel and Amelia Jones Kurtz, grew up in the outskirts of Montrose, Georgia in western Laurens County, Georgia.  Her grandfather, Andrew J. Kurtz, husband of Rachel Kurtz, was most likely a slave owned by Dr. William J. Kurtz,  who owned nearly two dozen slaves during the Civil War.

Jeralean and her family moved to Inkster, Wayne County, Michigan during a vast migration of African-American farm workers who left Laurens County in the 1920s for Detroit, Michigan. That group includes the family of world champion boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson and Ford Motor Company inventor and innovator, Claude Harvard.  

Jeralean married Alfred Talley, who died in the 1980s.  Although she was from large family,  Jeralean had only one child, a daughter, Thelma Holloway, who is now seventy-five years old. She has three grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren. 

As for Talley, she credits her God for her longevity.  When asked by Congressman John Conyers as to what her secret to a long life was, she pointed upward and said, "The good Lord up above. If it wasn't for Him, none of us would be here."

Talley was almost 107 before she moved out of her home and into her daughter's home.  She gave up bowling when she was a mere 104.   And, she scored a very respectable 200 in her last game.
  
With 115 years behind her Jeralean has many stories to tell.  One of her favorites is the tale of her first and only attempt to drive a car. 

"I tried that one time," in her 30s, she said. 

"I  didn't hit the right one to make it go forward and it went backwards," Talley told Elisha Anderson of The Detroit Free Press.

When her husband Alfred yelled at her, she opened the door and got out of the car and never drove again.

A verified supercentenarian is a person who is at least 110 years old and whose age is documented by at three or more reliable documents as determined by an international body - the most respected organization being the Gerontology Research Group.

The world's oldest verified person ever was a French woman Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122 years, 164 days.   Today, the oldest living person is a  Japanese woman,  Misao Okawa, who is 14 and one half months older than Talley. As of today, Jeralean Talley stands as the 31st  oldest verified living person since 1955 and is poised to move into 25th place within nine weeks. If Talley lives until July 18 of next year, she will be the 10th oldest verified person since 1955.  Verification before 1955 was often difficult because of unreliable or non-existent birth records. . 

Happy Birthday Ms. Jeralean! 

LAURENS COUNTY LYNCHINGS



A Rarity in a Violent South 

Lynching was a horrible and unforgivable part of our past from the Civil War until the end of World War II.  In deciding whether not to write about the subject, I decided by not writing and ignoring what went on is worse than bringing up tortuous memories.  While lynching was not as rampant as some have led us to believe, the number of documented cases of lynching in Laurens County is amazingly very low. In only three cases were Laurens County men lynched by Laurens County vigilantes. In one case, the victim was hung by men of both races. In one of the rarest cases of lynching ever reported, the victim survived the lynching. In three other cases, the victims were executed by outside perpetrators.

Henry Burney was charged with the robbery of Dublin merchant J.M. Reinhart. Having been found innocent of the charges brought against their client, Burney's lawyers sought to charge the prosecuting party with false imprisonment. A mob of forty-two men took Burney from the jail, led him out of town, beat him with fence rails and sticks and stabbed him repeatedly. The lynchers asked Burney if he knew the way out of town. Burney nodded in the affirmative. He was given two days to leave and never came back. Burney traveled to Oconee, Georgia, where he exhibited knife wounds on his face and the rope used to lead him out of town. 

On or about May 23, 1894 Gus Thompson, a Negro, was caught in the bed room of a Mrs. W.E. Couey, who lived about 15 miles from Dublin. Mrs. Couey told law enforcement officials that she had retired to her bedroom when she felt a hand on her bed. She screamed and the person sprang through the window and escaped. Mrs. Couey alarmed her neighbors of the purported crime. After an all night torch light search and a nearly day long hunt, Thompson was arrested and charged with trespassing in a house with the intention of committing a rape or other sexual offense.
   
Following Thompson's admission that he was in the house, but not for the purpose that he was being charged with, the Justice of the Peace committed Thompson to the county jail after a brief commitment hearing. About midnight on the morning of June 3, 1894, without any disturbance or alarm, a band of twenty masked men approached the jail. Three men entered the jail under the pretense of bringing in a prisoner. When jailer J.M. Raffield came to the door, the trio struck him on the head, bound his hands and gagged his mouth. His son-in-law, J.M. Kelly escaped through a window in the jail and tried to alarm the town. The lynchers bound and gagged a kicking and screaming Thompson and took him from the jail. Thompson's dead body was found later in the morning about ten feet from the roadside, bounded to a small tree with approximately twenty bullet holes in his head and chest. There was some speculation by reporters that the lynching would have occurred earlier had Mr. Couey been in town at the time of the alleged crime. 

In the most documented case of an apparent lynching, Andrew Green was killed by a mob composed of black and white men near Govett, Georgia on August 22, 1897. Andrew Green and his wife were having marital difficulties to say the least. It was said that they had lived "as a man and wife should" though he forbade Mrs. Green from coming to town. On Sunday evening, in direct disobedience to Green's commands, Mrs. Green traveled three miles from their home near Garbutt’s Mills to Lovett, Georgia. Finding that his wife was not a home, Green set out to ascertain her whereabouts. Upon his arrival at the Lovett depot, Green found his wife sitting on a pile of railroad cross ties and engaged in a conversation with a Negro couple. Mystifyingly enraged, Green drew his .44 caliber Colt pistol and fired three times in the direction of his wife. All three shots missed his intended target, though two of the shots struck and wounded Mrs. John George, who was sitting with her husband talking to Mrs. Green. Thinking that he had killed his wife, Green bolted into his mule driven cart and attempted to flee the scene. 

     Enter George Heath, a prominent Lovett merchant, husband and father of four. Realizing the depravity of the event which occurred before his eyes, Heath ran after Green, who was violently whipping his mule to sprint. Green drew his pistol again and fired at Heath, who was just a few feet away. The fatal shot struck Heath between his eyes. Heath slumped onto the tracks, just as the Wrightsville and Tennille passenger train was pulling into the station. The train engineers slammed on the brakes in order to avoid running over Heath's perishing body. News of the tragedy spread like a wild fire throughout the town. John George, husband of Green's first victim, joined a hastily formed posse composed of both black and white citizens. 

     Approximately fifty well armed and mounted men set out to the east toward Garbutt’s Mills in hot pursuit. An exhausted and justly terrified Green was captured in short order by his pursuers. In a matter of minutes, the murder of George Heath and the wounding of Mrs. George was avenged. Green's body was riddled with Winchester rifle bullets and pistol balls. 

     A series of fires galvanized the Caldwell area on August 26, 1919. Three Negro churches and a Negro lodge were simultaneously burned by a organized group of arsonists. There was a rumor circulating that the Negroes of the area were going to "start some kind of trouble" in the area. The normally quiet community in lower southwestern Laurens County was thrown into an uproar. Several white citizens made immediate announcements to help the citizens rebuild their buildings.

     In the sixth lynching in the triangle between Eastman, Caldwell and Yonkers, Eli Cooper was shot and incinerated by a mob of unknown origin and size. It was alleged that Cooper had been talking in a manner offensive to the white people of the area. The source of the remarks appear to have come from a Chicago newspaper, which had been circulating among the Negroes of the community. It was rumored that the Negroes of Caldwell would stage an uprising within the next thirty days. Cooper reportedly said, "the Negroes have been run over for fifty years, but this will all change in thirty days." The lynching occurred twenty-three days after an unidentified Negro was lynched in Beckley County for similar utterances. 

     Eli Cooper was taken by fifteen to twenty men from his Laurens County home which was located two or three miles from Caldwell. As many as fifty bullets riddled Cooper's body, which was thrown into the flames which were engulfing Pathway's Gift Church sometime between one and two o'clock of the morning of August 28, 1919. When the smoke cleared, it was determined that Cooper's body was found among the ashes of the church, which had been given to the Negro people of the community by A.P. Pathway, whose plantation was located along the W&T Railroad between Caldwell and Plainfield. Dodge County Sheriff C.N. Mullis, Judge Joel F. Coleman, Dewey Mullis and John L. Crave visited the scene of the regrettable event. Sheriff Mullis was convinced that the lynchers were not from his county and promised to make an effort to determine the identity of the perpetrators. Eighty five years after the lynching, octogenarian residents of Caldwell were interviewed about what had happened. While some residents did not remember the story at all, others recalled that Cooper was lynched for making a pass at a white woman or actually raping the woman. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

SCOTTSVIILLE NEIGHBORHOOD, DUBLIN, GEORGIA

The Scottsville section of Dublin is located in the northeastern section of the city.  Named for a Rev. Darling, or Nathan, Scott, an early resident of the area and founding pastor of Scottsville Baptist Church, Scottsville is generally bounded on the southeast by East Gaines Street, southwest by North Decatur Street, northwest by East Mary Street and northeast by the Oconee River swamp.  The area first began to develop in 1898 when the Dublin Furniture Manufacturing Company establish a factory on the corner of Ohio and Georgia Streets.  Several cottages and a boarding house were constructed along with a factory building.  The company, headed by J.M. Simmons and several of Dublin's leading businessmen, specialized in medium-priced bedroom suites.  The location was chosen because of its proximity to the Oconee River.  Lumber was transported by river which lies within a half-mile of the factory.  The choice of the location turned out to be a poor one. The waters of the Oconee flooded the area when the river was high.  The owners of the factory subdivided the surrounding lands into tiny lots to accommodate "shot gun" style houses for factory workers.  After the factory went out of business about 1907, the factory and its out buildings were abandoned.

In 1909,  R.A. Carter, A.J. Cobb, and Lee O'Neal, all from the Atlanta area, purchased thirty  acres of land which included the former Dublin Furniture Factory on Ohio Street.  They sold one block  of the land to L.H. Holsey, G.L. Ward, J.H. White, P.W. Wesley, R.A. Carter, A.J. Cobb, Lee O'Neal, W.T. Moore, E. Horne, and C.L. Bonner as Trustees for the Harriett Holsey Industrial School.  The school provided education in agriculture, domestic science, and other technical skills and was open to all of the Negroes of Laurens County.  The school became known as the Harriet Holsey Industrial School, in honor of the wife of Bishop Lucius Holsey of the C.M.E. Church.  Today the city maintains a small park on the site of the school.  Throughout the mid-20th Century, M&M Packing Company maintained a slaughterhouse and abattoir on the site.  Today Roche Manufacturing Company maintains a cotton gin on the fringe of the old college campus. 

The subdivision around the homes was renamed  Holsey Park.  Streets in the subdivision were named after some of the United States.  The northern part of Scottsville was owned by Mary Wolfe and called North Dublin.  New streets in the southern part of Scottsville were named for several American states, including Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and California, the latter of which was never apparently opened.  Northern streets in Scottsville were named for Republican presidents and in one case an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, James G. Blaine.  Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, James Garfield, William McKinley and  Ulysses S. Grant had streets named in their honor.

The heart of the Scottsville community was on North Decatur Street where it takes a jog to the left.  Located at that spot was the Second African Baptist Church, the city cemetery and most likely Scottsville School.  The Second African Baptist Church was founded in 1900 as the Scottsville Baptist Church  The original sanctuary building was donated to the members of the church by members of the First Baptist Church who completed their present church building in 1907.   The cornerstone of the church was laid on November 22, 1908 by Pastor B.J. Parker and J.L. Cullens and J. Glenn as Trustees along with the Board of Deacons, which was composed of W.H. Hall, L. Lewis, J. Smith, L. Labinyard, A. Askew and V.B. Rozier. It  was used until May 1, 1934, when  it burned.  A second wooden church was dedicated on November 11, 1934 under the pastorate of Rev. C.H. Harris and is  still in use, but covered now by bricks.   A second Scottsville church  is was established as a Church of God in Christ in 1924 at 410 Alabama St..  It later became Fields Temple Church of God in Christ and finally Zion Hope Baptist Church in the late 1950s.  A third church, Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church was established at 806 N. Decatur Street in the 1920s.  

The city of Dublin maintained a school at 709 N. Decatur Street across the street from the church.   In 1909, the school was staffed by Principal E.L. Hall, First Assistant Pearl Simmons and Second Assistant E.B. Caldwell.   In 1926 Decatur Street school was located in the building that later became a missionary hall for Scottsville Baptist Church. The school burned and its students were sent to Washington Street School.

Across the street from Second Baptist Church is Dublin's first cemetery for blacks. Although the city purchased twelve acres of land in 1906 for a cemetery (Cross The Creek Cemetery) on the northern banks of Hunger and Hardship Creek, the city  cemetery was used for burials into the 1930s. Among the more famous persons to be buried in the cemetery were Rev. Norman McCall, a well known and revered minister of First African Baptist Church, and his wife, along with Susie Dasher, a dedicated teacher, who is the only person in Dublin to ever have a school named for them.   Though there are less than two dozen marked graves in the cemetery today, a 1936 obituary stated that the cemetery contained the remains of "hundreds of Dublin's finest Negroes."

H.H.  Dudley established a cemetery at the northern margin of Scottsville in the 1920s.  Dudley's land was also used as a ball field for the Dublin Athletics, a highly successful semi-pro Negro League team, which included Herbert Barnhill and Jimmie Reese, both of whom eventually made it into the Negro Leagues.

Among Scottsville's most prominent residents was Dr. Benjamin Daniel Perry.  Dr. Perry, a graduate of Meharry Medical College, was one of the city's first black physicians.  Perry was an educator, as well, and was prominent in the promotion of educational endeavors and a promoter of Colored Fairs for three decades.  

Though most signs of their existence are now gone, Scottsville was filled with small business such as groceries, dry goods stores, cafes and laundries.  Among the earliest businesses were Mattie Tinsley's grocery at 508 Alabama St. and M.H. Hall's grocery at 506 E. Mary St. in 1926.   Milo and Elizabeth Castleberry established a grocery and café at 501 N. Decatur in the 1930s.  Pearl Carroll operated a grocery on Ohio Street in the late 1930s.  In the late 1940s, Mattie Miller and Wilson Coley operated general merchandise  stores in Scottsville.  Minnie Stinson opened her grocery on Alabama St. about the same time.   The The new café in the area in the post World War II era was the Green Pastures at 401  Alabama St..   

The Scottsville neighborhood businesses were at their peak in the 1950s.  Mattie Mitchell operated a luncheon room at 403 Alabama St..  Down the street at 508 and 514 Alabama St. were the groceries of Mattie Miller and Doretha Miller.  May and George  Bell operated still another grocery store at 508 Georgia St..  Robert Trawick and his family operated a laundry and cleaners at 517 Alabama Street for several decades,  sometimes operating under the name East Side Cleaners.  In the mid 50s, Wiliam Redick opened another cleaning establishment at 507 Alabama St..  Rosa Moore operated a grocery at 700 N. Decatur for several years as did Susie Mallard at 319 McKinley St.. and James M. Jackson at 506 Ohio St..   In the late 1950s, Ervin and Idearest Jones took over the operation of the former Castleberry's place on North Decatur.   Amos Parks opened still another grocery at 1008 Ohio in the latter part of the decade.   Ruth May operated a grocery at 414 E. Mary St at its intersection with N. Decatur Street for many years in the 1960s and 70s.  

Friday, February 28, 2014

OBIE WALKER


"The Black Boxcar"

In this corner from Cochran, Georgia, Obie Walker!  He was big. He was strong. He jabbed his opponents with machine gun like speed.   Obie Walker thought he could whip every boxer in the world.  But, the Georgia Goliath never got the chance to fight the world champions Max Baer or Joe Louis.  This is the story of a local man, who once reigned as the Prince of boxing in Europe and among his race, was considered a world champion.

Obie Diah Walker was born in Bleckley County, Georgia on September 19, 1911. Before the age of nine, Obie was living with his maternal grandparents, Frank and Elizabeth Powell of the Frazier community.

Obie moved to Atlanta  as a way  to increase his chances for success as a boxer. His first of 100 professional fights took place some eighty five years ago  on February 16, 1929  against "Battling Connell"  in the Auditorium in Atlanta, Georgia.  The hometown fighter had little trouble against Connell, who lost all three of his career professional fights, two of them to the Brute from Bleckley.

Walker won four straight bouts, some people say eighteen,  until his first loss on points to Happy Hunter on February 3, 1930.  

The "Black Boxcar," built like a bank safe,"  would not lose again in thirty fights (28-0-2)  until he lost a close decision on points to Don "Red" Barry at the Arena in Philadelphia.  His last win in America came against George Godfrey, to capture the title of  the Colored Heavyweight Champion.  

That is when Walker's manager Jefferson Davis Dickson made the decision to take his fighter, with a record of 32-2-2, to take on the best fighters in Europe.  Some say that Walker had fought at least sixty other undocumented bouts with colored fighters in addition to his three dozen professional fights.     

The first European  fight came in Sallewagram in Paris, France.  Walker knocked out Belgian giant Louis Verbeeren in the last round of a ten-round match on Groundhog Day in 1934. Fighting primarily in French and Swiss arenas, Walker knocked out all of his first nine opponents. Only one of the ko's came after the third round.  After losing two of his next three matches, Obie, trained by former Argentine champion Norman Tomasulo,  won nine of ten before leaving Europe on a losing note in June 1936 with a defeat on points.

Named "Enfant Terrible "  by his adoring French fans who stormed the headquarters of Joe Louis following the defeat of Max Baer, Walker was praised  for his strikingly unorthodox and  innovative style.  

In commenting on a possible match with Lewis, Walker said, "I ain't been asked yet.  And, I ain't askin." 

Walker confidently  commented on a match with Lewis, the Brown Bomber, "There ain't no fighter in the world who doesn't make a mistake during a fight. Me, I just stand around and wait for that mistake.  

"I can take it.  And, when Louis makes that mistake, I'll swat him," the Georgia boxer proclaimed.  

As he traveled Europe and the states, Walker, a quiet man who could not write and could only read picture books,  showed off his strength by going to carnivals and picking up the strong men and their hefty weights - all at the same time. 

Obie Walker firmly believed that World Champion Joe Louis and he could beat any boxer in the world.  Walker  yearned to get his chance just to fight Louis or Louis' arch rival Max Schmelling, of Germany.  

"Let Louis clean up the states. I'll clean up Europe. Then we will get together and see what for," Walker once proclaimed. 

Walker's first bout upon his return to the United States came in Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia.  Walker had won a fight at Shibe Park, the home of the Philadelphia Athletics, in 1933. Municipal Stadium  was the same outdoor arena where Gene Tunney captured the world heavyweight boxing title from Jack Dempsey. The bout came at the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, where Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952 to win boxing's heavyweight championship.

Walker pulled himself off the mat and won six consecutive fights in his home territory of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina before losing half of his next eight fights.  Seven straight wins brought Walker to the climax of his career.  No longer the Cochran Colossus he once was, Walker, who had returned to his home at 514 Larkin Street,  lost four of his last six fights before the beginning of World War II.  Walker hung up his gloves after a failed comeback attempt after the war when he lost to Elza Thompson at Dorsey Park in Miami in March 1946 in a close 10-round decision. 

Atlanta Georgian sportswriter Ed Danforth wrote of Walker, "Walker became the toast of Paris.  He knocked cold every topnotcher he met on the continent.  Max Schmelling shrewdly dodged him, the best of the Englishmen too, sidestepped the squatty brown man who carried lightning bolts in both fists.  Competent critics say he could have knocked out Schmelling, Joe Louis and Jim Braddock in one night with the space of ten rounds. 

In the 100 recorded bouts of his twelve- year career, the five- foot nine- inch Obie Walker compiled a record of 77 wins, 16 losses and 5 draws. Walker's powerful arms knocked out 53 of his opponents.  Remarkably, Walker was never himself knocked out - a feat matched only by a few dozen American professional boxers in the history of the sport.

On May 4, 1989, at the age of seventy-seven, Obie Walker unceremoniously died in his adopted hometown of Atlanta.  There is no adequate marker to designate the  final resting place of this once proud and powerful Heavyweight Colored Champion of the World.  Maybe now, many more people will know his story, the story of the Black Boxcar, aka the Bleckley Behemoth, who in a  hundred fights never went down to the mat for the count.






COL. JOHN WHITEHEAD


THEY CALLED HIM "MR. DEATH"


       John Whitehead had the "right stuff."  When it came to flying jet aircraft, he had no fear.  Whitehead flew higher and faster than any African American had ever done before.  Almost every hot shot pilot had a nickname.  In the case of John Whitehead, the United States Air Force's first African-American experimental test pilot,  they called him "Mr. Death," not because of his daring skills in soaring through the stratosphere, but because of his gaunt, shrunken face and skeleton-like frame.

John Lyman Whitehead, Jr. was born on May 14, 1924 in Lawrenceville, Virginia, a small town on the border of North Carolina.  As a child, John would spend some time in and around Dublin.

John Whitehead attended West Virginia State College prior to entering the U.S. Army Air Force.  After training at Tuskegee University, Whitehead was assigned as a pilot  with the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group of the Tuskegee Airmen.  The 301st primarily performed escort duty on bombing runs over enemy positions in Europe.

"It was an experiment that was established that was supposed to fail, Whitehead said in a 1984  interview with the Portland Oregonian. 

"But the people who were involved in it weren't going to let it fail," added the veteran pilot, who volunteered in the service after his 18th birthday. 

"I had rather fly through this war instead of walk through," recalled Whitehead, who would enter flight training at Tuskegee shortly after his 19th birthday. 

Lt. Whitehead, who earned his wings in 1944,  finally made it to Europe in March 1945, a few months before Germany surrendered.  As he reported for duty at an airfield near Foggia, Italy, his commanding officer, Captain Bob Friend, observed the five-foot, six-inch, 121-pound pilot's skeleton like frame.  

Friend exclaimed, "My Gawd!  What have they sent us  now as a replacement, Mr. Death?" an Ebony Magazine writer wrote in the January 1951 cover story.

Whitehead liked the name and painted it on the nose of his plane.

In his brief stint with the 332nd, nicknamed the "Red Tails" by the bomber crews who were grateful for their fighter support and the "Black Birdmen" by their Germain fighter opponents, Lt. Whitehead was only able to fly nineteen missions.    Although credited officially with only two kills, Whitehead saw plenty of action, some of it nearly fatal.

After his first hitch in the Air Force was over, Whitehead returned stateside to enroll at West Virginia University.  In 1948, the former "Black Eagle," received a degree in Industrial Engineering.  
Whitehead was recalled to active duty in the now integrated  Air Force in 1948.  As a pioneer in the training of jet pilots, Whitehead was a stern, but patient, instructor.   In his tenure at Williams Air Force Base in Utah (1948-1951,)  all but one of his students received their certification as a jet pilot.

President Truman's Executive Order  9981 mandated equal treatment in the Armed Forces although nearly all of Whitehead's students were white.  


Lefty Selenger, "ranking officer at Williams Air Force Base told Ebony Magazine,  "Whitehead has no race problem. He is better liked than most of us by the white boys."  

Whitehead helped to train the Class of 1952 Charlie, which included some four hundred men who would serve as pilots in Korea and Vietnam.  It was during this time when John Whitehead met Roy Black, a trainee from Lithia Springs, Georgia.

In his book, "52-Charlie," Edward Gushee in describing the relationship between the two best friend pilots, Roy "Blackie" Black and John "Whitey" Whitehead, wrote, "Blackie flew an additional twenty missions and when his tour was over, resigned his commission and returned to Georgia.  John Whitehead, who had been raised in Dublin, Georgia, less than a hundred miles from where "Blackie" was born, stayed in the Air Force as a career officer.

After the Korean War, John Whitehead worked as a liaison between the Air Force and Boeing Aircraft and Northrop, two of the country's largest producers of jet aircraft.   Lt. Col. Whitehead  ended his 28- year career with the Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base in 1974. 

In his nearly three-decade career with the Air Force, Lt. Col. John Whitehead is credited with being the Air Force's first African American test pilot and the first African-American jet pilot instructor.  His heroic and dedicated service resulted in him being awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross with five oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with seven  oak leaf clusters, along with the Army Commendation Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

John Whitehead, who flew millions and millions of miles in the service of his country,  died on September 6, 1992 . He was laid to rest beneath a bronze marker in the Riverside National Cemetery in Sacramento, California.

Col. Whitehead, like Col. Marion Rodgers, another California Tuskegee Airman who once, albeit temporarily lived in Laurens County, joins Major Herndon Cummings to form a trio of former Laurens Countians who called themselves Tuskegee Airmen and who served their country with pride.  

Presently, a bill is scheduled to be introduced into the Georgia legislature  to honor these three heroes by naming the intersection of the 441 By Pass and U.S. Highway 80 West in their honor.    



AN INSIDE VIEW OF SLAVERY


Dr. Charles Grandison Parsons, an ardent abolitionist, abhorred slavery.  The Maine physician wanted to personally see what slavery was really like.  So, in the autumn of 1852, he left his comfortable home in the Far North  and set out to go to the South to conduct what he called, “A Tour Among the Planters.”

In his writings and speeches, Parsons, who fought for temperance as well, saw slavery as a sin and a blight on the nation.  In his travels throughout the South, Dr. Parsons wanted to interview both master and slave.  Along his way, he kept meticulous notes which he assembled into his landmark 1855 work, “A Inside View of Slavery.”  Abolitionists praised the work, while Southerners marked it as pure propaganda. One of his stops was a visit to the home of Governor George M. Troup of Laurens County.

Focusing mainly on Georgia in his writings, Dr. Parsons, a graduate of Bowdoin College,  arrived on November 22, 1852 in Savannah, where he first visited with relatives before setting out on his travels.  

During one of his adventures into the interior of Georgia, Parsons became deathly ill.  After recovering, he set out along the Darien-Milledgeville Road, the coast to capital highway which ran along the northern bank of the Altamaha and the eastern bank of the Oconee River.

His prime target was the venerable George M. Troup, one of the states’ largest slaveholders. Troup was an early leader of State Rights in America after serving Georgia as a Congressman, Senator and Governor.

Parsons arrived at the Troup home, known as Valdosta, where he found the former governor eating his early afternoon dinner.    Troup, as he invariably did,  invited his guest to dine with him.  Troup was feasting on a meal of cornbread, bacon and corned beef.  When Troup learned of the doctor’s feeble health, he ordered a servant to prepare his visitor a pot of coffee, instead of his normal fare of spirits of all kinds.

Parsons observed, “ The upper part of a pig's head — "the minister's face"— was on the table. The ears had not been cut off previous to baking, and they were so very long, and stood up so straight, and wore a mark so singular, that 1 was probably eyeing it too sharply to seem respectful.”

Troup facetiously remarked, "You see I am an honest man, sir, for that is my own mark in the pig's ear."

As the interview unfolded, the doctor discovered that Troup was a typical large slaveholder, who had been unfortunate with his sons.

Troup’s slaves, which numbered approximately one thousand, were spread among  several plantations, Rosemont and the Mitchell Place in Montgomery County and Valdosta, Vallambrosa and the Thomas Cross Roads plantations in Laurens County.  The Montgomery County plantations were originally managed by his brother, Dr. Robert L. Troup.

“He led a dissipated life, and found an early grave. I was told that he confessed to a minister, a few days prior to his death, that he had terrible remorse of conscience in the reflection that many of his own children would be left as his brother's slaves.” Parsons wrote of the late, lamented physician.

In his will, Dr. Troup left his slaves to the governor and his son, George M. Troup, Jr.  The younger Troup, although a graduate of the University of Georgia and an officer during the Indian Wars of 1836, was somewhat of a ne’er-do-well.

Of the junior Troop, Parsons noted, “ Troup's eldest son succeeded his brother as the manager of the lower plantation, where he lived a few years in dissipation, and died from its effects. His youngest, and now only son, was sent to take the place of the first, and he followed in his footsteps. After being wrecked both in morals and mind, he was sent, as I heard, to the Insane Hospital, — and I suppose he was there at the time of my visit.”

Parsons was impressed, if not stunned, as he described some of the slaves in the Troup household, a series of disjointed, unimpressive and atypical of a mansion befitting such a man of Troup’s standing  in society.

“If the sons of his Excellency were as fine looking as any one of the bright boys I saw about his house, he surely had good reason to lament their untimely end. I saw no young men on that river who appeared so intellectual, and so highly endowed with natural qualities, as some of the mulatto servants in Governor Troup's family,” the author recorded.

“They seemed devoted to his happiness, but I ascertained that they fully appreciated their liability to a worse fate after his death, — as he was far advanced in years, and his only heirs were two maiden daughters, who would not be likely to keep the slaves together long after they should be left upon their hands,” Parsons continued.

“Two of the whitest boys walked at my side as I rode to the gate, about fifty rods from the old house, — and I felt so deep an interest in their welfare that I took the liberty to converse with them in relation to their situation,” said the traveler who found an instant affection for the youngsters.

"You have an easy life here, boys," the physician  remarked and added, "You are lucky to find a home so good as this."

"Oh, yes, master," one of the boys sadly replied.  “But we don't know how soon our master may die, and then we shall be sold away, and our lot may then be much harder," one of the young boys commiserated.

Parsons replied, "Well, boys, I would not borrow trouble, but would rather be thankful for so many blessings. You fare so much better than the slaves generally do, that you ought to be happy."

The young boy concluded, "I know that, master," replied one of them, "but still we cannot help thinking what we may have to suffer by and by."

As he resumed his travels, the Yankee doctor counseled the boys, “ Well, be good boys, — don't drink whiskey, — take good care of your old master, — always do right, and you will be sure to fare the better for it. Good evening!"

During his travels in the South, what Charles Parsons observed had a profound influence on his life.  Parsons died in 1864, living just long enough to see Abraham Lincoln  issue the Emancipation Proclamation, but not long enough to the see the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

In summarizing the results of his travels, Dr. Parsons declared, “No man can visit the South for the first time without having his views of slavery, whatever they may be, to some extent modified”