Posted on Leave a comment

“Blind Willie” McTell and the 12-String Strut in Thomson Georgia

12-String Strut art exhibit in Thomson, GA.

Blind Willie McTell

Blind Willie McTell Image courtesy Library of Congress
Blind Willie McTell
Image courtesy Library of Congress

William Samuel McTier (McTear) was born in Thomson, Georgia on May 5, 1898, though some researchers contend that he was born in 1903, and his headstone gives the year of 1901. I have yet to find a source on how he became known as McTell. It is also unclear if young Willie was born blind or lost his sight during childhood. The New Georgia Encyclopedia indicates McTell attended schools for the blind in Georgia, New York, and Michigan.

While in his teens, McTell and his mother moved to Statesboro, GA, and it was here where Willie learned to play the six-string guitar.

By the 1920s, McTell had left the family home, taking to the road as a traveling musician, playing carnivals, bars, parties, churches, and street corners to earn a living.

Young and talented, McTell became popular in Atlanta, regularly playing at house parties and similar events. By this time, he had upped his game to the twelve-string guitar, an instrument that helped him project his music better in the crowded areas he often played.

By 1927, recording companies had noticed McTell and other blues musicians and he cut his first tracks for Victor Records, following that with a 1928 session for Columbia. The New Georgia Encyclopedia lists multiple studios that McTell recorded for, often under different names. Musicians of the era would often record under similar, but different, names in order to avoid contract conflicts. 

McTell was wed to Ruth Kate Williams in 1934. They were to later record several tracks together.

John A. Lomax recorded McTell as a part of the Archive of American Folk Song in 1940. These recordings, held by the Library of Congress, have been released under the title The Complete Library of Congress Recordings.

Commercially, McTells sales were declining during the 40s, and he found himself playing more on the streets. He did record for Atlantic Records in 1949 and Regal Records the same year. His final known recordings were made in 1956 by Atlanta record store owner Edward Rhodes.

Starting in 1957, McTell served as the preacher at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Atlanta and devoted himself to religious music. Blind Willie was to only live a short time longer and passed away on August 19, 1959, due to a cerebral hemorrhage. McTell is buried in Jones Grove Baptist Church Cemetery in Thomson, Georgia.

McTell’s 12-String Strut

Located in the downtown Thomson, GA area is a public art exhibit titled McTell’s 12-String Strut, honoring the locally born Blind Willie McTell. There are twelve, seven-foot-tall Stella guitars in the installation, each painted by a different artist. The guitar models were created by Icon Poly Studio and are made of polyurethane.

The installation was presented to the public in 2016 after a Georgia Department of Economic Development report suggested a public art component and providing additional exposure for one of McDuffie Counties most recognized citizens as part of the county’s tourism marketing efforts. 

Below, find images of 6 of the 12 guitars that are located throughout Thomson. 11 of these are very easy to find. The 12th however took a bit more digging. It is located outside the McDuffie County Government complex.

12-String Strut
12-String Strut

 

12-String Strut
12-String Strut
12-String Strut
12-String Strut

Posthumous Recognition

The Blues Hall of Fame inducted Blind Willie in 1981 and in 1990, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame bestowed the same honor.

Blind Willie McTell Georgia Historic Marker in Thomson, Georgia
Georgia Historic Marker in honor of Blind Willie McTell, located in Thomson, GA

In 1993, a Georgia Historic Marker was unveiled in Thomson, GA,, near the old railroad station, honoring McTell and his legacy. The text (including a few small grammatical errors) reads as follows

Willie Samuel McTear (1901-1959) was born between Big and Little Briar Creeks in the Happy Valley Community. In 1911, he and his mother moved to Statesboro, where he began his life of traveling and performing. Although blind from infancy, Willie developed a lifelong independence based on his acute sense of hearing., remarkable memory and versatile musical genius.

Willie performed and recorded under many names but favored “Blind Willie” McTell. Best remembered for his blues, McTell, had a remarkable repertoire of blues, spirituals, gospels, rags, fold ballads and popular music. McTell played from “Maine to Mobile Bay”, and at theaters, taverns, road houses, churches, medicine shows, train stations, barbecue joints, house parties, and on the streets.

His blues feature his trademark twelve-string guitar played in rapid and intricate patterns of jagged, shifting rhythms accompanying his clear tenor voice. He started recording in 1927 for RCA Victor Atlantic and the Library of Congress. He last recorded in 1956 and returned to McDuffie County shortly before his death and is buried in the Jones Grove Cemetery. Blind Willie was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990.

McTell has also played a considerable influence on musicians after him. Performers as diverse as Taj Mahal, the Allman Brothers Band, Ry Cooder, Jack White, and Bob Dylan have covered his songs or singled out the blind guitar player for his influence on their careers.

 

Do you want to learn to play 12-string guitar? Or maybe you are looking to upgrade your equipment. The unmistakable sound of a well-made 12-string guitar is perfect for solo gigs and band performances, especially when it was designed by the founder of influential U.S. punk band Rancid. Tim Armstrong’s Hellcat is based on the old Fender acoustic that was his go-to guitar for songwriting, and quickly became one of the best-selling Fender acoustic artist models ever. With the Tim Armstrong Hellcat-12, that same classic vibe is offered in a 12-string version that simply rocks. Whether it’s alt-folk tunes at the college coffeehouse or slamming punk with a band, the Hellcat-12 combines great acoustic tone with versatile onboard electronics and a satin body and neck finish for smooth playability, all at a surprisingly low cost.

Blind Willie McTell Music Festival

Blind Willie McTell mural located in downtown Thomson.
Blind Willie McTell mural located in downtown Thomson, GA

The legacy of McTell is celebrated each year at the Blind Willie McTell Music Festival held in Thomson, GA. Ticket prices for the event seem quite reasonable. The lineup for 2022 included Jimmie Vaughn, the Texas Gentlemen, Joachim Cooder (son of the legendary Ry Cooder), and more. For more information on the festival check their website.

Sources:

Burditt, Erin. “Guitars are Back.” The McDuffie Progress. April 13, 2021.

Jacobs, Hal. ““Blind Willie” McTell.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Jun 1, 2020.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click these links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. This commission does not affect any price that you pay. All views and opinions provided are my own and are never influenced by affiliate programs or sponsors providing products.

 

The Rough Guide to Blind Willie McTell is an excellent introduction to the genius that poured from his fingers. It contains 25 key tracks including some of his best known such as Statesboro Blues. Little of the life of McTell is really known and there is no full length biography. To learn more about southern blues I recommend a copy of Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast. Drawing on archives and interviews with musicians, Red River Blues remains an acclaimed work of blues scholarship. Bruce Bastin traces the origins of the music to the turn of the twentieth century, when African Americans rejected slave songs, work songs, and minstrel music in favor of a potent new vehicle for secular musical expression. Bastin looks at the blues’ early emerging popularity and its spread via the Great Migration, delves into a wealth of field recordings, and looks at the careers of Brownie McGhee, Blind Boy Fuller, Curly Weaver, Sonny Terry, and many other foundational artists.

 

 

 

 

 


The Blues Fake Book

from: The Music Stand

The most comprehensive single-volume blues publication ever, with songs spanning the entire history of the genre. Every major blues artist is well-represented, including Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Billie Holiday, Leadbelly, Alberta Hunter, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bessie Smith, Sonny Boy Williamson, and scores of others.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech August 28, 1963

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking in Washington, D.C.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom event.  The text of the speech is below.

I also recommend the linked video below from the National Archives. The film is titled The March. Unfortunately some of the audio has been redacted due to a copyright claim from the King family.

If you want to read more of Kings speeches I recommend this volume. This fortieth-anniversary edition honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s courageous dream and his immeasurable contribution by presenting his most memorable words in a concise and convenient edition. As Coretta Scott King says in her foreword, “This collection includes many of what I consider to be my husband’s most important writings and orations.” In addition to the famed keynote address of the 1963 march on Washington, the renowned civil rights leader’s most influential words included here are the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the essay “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” and his last sermon, “I See the Promised Land,” preached the day before he was assassinated.

Editor James M. Washington arranged the selections chronologically, providing headnotes for each selection that give a running history of the civil rights movement and related events. In his introduction, Washington assesses King’s times and significance.

The I Have a Dream speech

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking in Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking in Washington D.C on August 28, 1963. Courtesy National Archives

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men — yes, Black men as well as white men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.

And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, when will you be satisfied? We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: for whites only.

We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr in Washington D.C.
Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Courtesy National Archives

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right down in Alabama little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.

 

To better understand the Civil Rights movement and the King Years I highly recommend the incredible three volume work by Taylor Branch, America in the King Years.

Branch has been awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and is a National Book Critics Circle award winner. Visit his website to learn more.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click these links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. This commission does not affect any price that you pay. All views and opinions provided are my own and are never influenced by affiliate programs or sponsors providing products. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Chisholm High School Family Tree Monument in New Smyrna Beach

Chisholm Family Tree Wall

In the days of segregation, the city of New Smyrna Beach was no different than
communities across the country. African American students were routed to schools
that were clearly separate but not equal. While not having the financial resources
that were allocated to white schools, that did not mean that students, faculty and
staff, did not have pride in their community school.

Are you interested in learning about the businesses of the Historic West Side, in New Smyrna Beach? You need a copy of History of New Smyrna Black Businesses with Present Area Businesses written by Fannie Minson Hudson. Click the link or the image to the left to order your copy today!

 

 

 

While there is no doubt that the end of legal segregation in education has been a positive for students of all races, it was a difficult shift and has not been without issue. Many believe that the end of segregation often brought the end of community schools and contributed to a breakdown of local community.

Florida State University professor of economics and past director of African-American
Studies,  and current associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Patrick L. Mason  stated that teaching was considered to be one of the highest professions that educated African-Americans could achieve. “They were blocked from most other professions, so you get all these exceptional people who become teachers.”

Dr. Michael Butler of Flagler College has written an incredible book on the struggles of integration in Escambia County, FL. Beyond Integration is highly recommended. 

 

 

 

 

Mason points out that one of the tragedies of integration was the loss of certain
black institutions, of which schools were most prominent. Black schools such as
Chisholm High School were shuttered and students were forced to white schools.
“We went from our schools, which were a thing of great pride, to their schools,
where we were tolerated.” Principals, teachers, and other staff, were often demoted
or put into roles well below their skill level.

Chisholm Wildcat
Chisholm Wildcat located at Babe James Center in New Smyrna Beach

As Chisholm student Michael Williams relates, “It was a neighborhood school, principals and teachers went to the same church, and these people were our role models.”

Roy Brooks, a 1968 Chisholm graduate stated, “At Chisholm, we had personal contact, not only between the teachers with the students, but also the teachers with the parents.” This interaction is something that is missing in the world of education today.

Chisholm High School can trace its roots to the turn of the 20th century. It was then that Leroy Chisholm, a local barber, turned two adjoining houses into classrooms for black children. Chisholm would later fund the Chisholm Academy, a school for middle school aged children. When grades 10 through 12 were added to the Academy, the name was changed to Chisholm High School.

Chisholm High School was closed after the 1969 academic year but its legacy is
not forgotten. The Chisholm Alumni Association is rightfully proud of their
school. On July 14, 2012, the association dedicated a monument on the site of the
Babe James Center in the heart of the Historic West Side of New Smyrna Beach.

The text of the marker reads:

Chisholm Family Tree
Chisholm Family Tree plaque dedicated in 2012

The Chisholm Family Tree

As a mainstay of shaping and cultivating
Our academic growth and maturity, we
Reflect on our proud high school heritage.
We hereby salute the students who
Attended Chisholm High twelve days,
Twelve months, twelve years; teachers
Who inspired and encouraged us;
Administrators and staff who nurtured us.
You were there for us! Let this monument
Be a reminder of our educational, cultural,
Athletic, and social experiences as we
Prepared for a whole new world. We heard
Your words, “Depart from here and use

 

Chisholm Family Tree Wall
Center panel of the Chisholm Family Tree Wall

Your mind toward making a resounding
Positive impact on the lives of others and
This world.” The Chisholm Family Tree Wall
Is dedicated to you and all the Chisholm
Family members world-wide. Thank you
For the memories and we are forever
Grateful. Come back again for a visit.

 

 

Chisholm Family Tree Wall Full View
Chisholm Family Tree Wall Full View

“Oh Chisholm High Forever Our Dear Alma mater Dear”

Dedicated on this date July 14, 2012 and sponsored by
Chisholm High Alumni Association

 

 

 

 

If you have information on Chisholm High School you would like to share, please
reach out to me or leave a comment to this post.

To learn more about Chisholm High School I recommend contacting the Mary S.
Harrell Black Heritage Museum.

In addition, you should reach out to the New Smyrna Museum of History.

The Chisholm High Alumni Organization has a Facebook page. If you attended
Chisholm High School, you are encouraged to get in touch with them.

Sources:

Daytona Beach News Journal July 14, 2018

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click these links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. This commission does not affect any price that you pay. All views and opinions provided are my own and are never influenced by affiliate programs or sponsors providing products.

 


Essence

from: College Subscription Services LLC

Written with the African American woman in mind, Essence discusses a wide array of topics including fashion, entertainment, beauty tips, and culture. Click the link or the image for exclusive deals on a subscription and begin enjoying issues shortly.

Posted on Leave a comment

National Park Service Awards Preservation Grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Duckett Hall at Benedict College

National Park Service awards $9.7 million for preservation projects at Historically Black Colleges and Universities     

News Release Date: August 10, 2021
Contact: NewsMedia@nps.gov

WASHINGTON – The National Park Service (NPS) today announced $9.7 million in
grants to assist 20 preservation projects for historic structures on campuses
of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in 10 states.

Duckett Hall at Benedict College
Duckett Hall at Benedict College in South Carolina was awarded a $500,000 preservation grant.
AJ Sjorter Photographer

“HBCUs have been an important part of the American education system for more than 180 years, providing high-level academics, opportunities, and community for generations of students,” said NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge.The National Park Service’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Grant Program provides assistance to preserve noteworthy structures that honor the past and tell the ongoing  story of these historic institutions.”

Since 1995, the NPS has awarded $77.6 million in grants to 66 HBCUs. Congress appropriates funding for the program through the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). The HPF uses revenue from federal oil leases on the Outer Continental Shelf to provide assistance for a broad range of preservation projects without expending tax dollars.

 

 

Projects funded by these grants will support the physical preservation of National
Register listed sites on HBCU campuses to include historic districts, buildings, sites,
structures, and objects. Eligible costs include pre-preservation studies, architectural
plans and specifications, historic structure reports, and the repair and rehabilitation of
historic properties according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the
Treatment of Historic Properties.

This years’ grants will fund projects including a window restoration project for
Centennial Hall at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, FL, the restoration of pews
and stained-glass windows for the Antisdel Chapel at Benedict College in Columbia,
SC, and the stabilization of Hermitage Hall for future rehabilitation at St. Augustine’s
University in Raleigh, NC.

For more information about the grants and the Historically Black Colleges and
Universities program, please visit http://go.nps.gov/hbcu. Applications for another $10
million in funding will be available in the winter of 2021.

Grant Recipients 

Alabama         G.W. Trenholm Hall Preservation Project Alabama State University
$493,200
Alabama         Williams Hall Historic Preservation Project – Phase II Miles College
$499,869
Florida              Preservation and Restoration of Centennial Hall Edward Waters College
$500,000
Georgia             Park Street Methodist Church Roof Restoration Clark Atlanta University
$500,000
Georgia             Fountain (Stone) Hall Windows Restoration Morris Brown College
$500,000
Kentucky          Renovation to Jackson Hall Kentucky State University
$494,850
Maryland           University Memorial Chapel Roof and Gutter Repairs Morgan State University
$500,000
Maryland           Rehabilitation of Trigg Hall University of Maryland Eastern Shore
$500,000
Mississippi         Preservation Initiative for Ballard Hall, Pope Cottage, and Jamerson Hall Tougaloo
College $500,000
Mississippi         Oakland Chapel Repairs Alcorn State University
$500,000
North Carolina Historic Preservation of Hermitage Hall St. Augustine’s University
$499,379
North Carolina Restoration of Estey Hall Shaw University
$499,890
North Carolina Preservation of Biddle Memorial Hall – Phase II Johnson C. Smith University
$499,868
North Carolina Rehabilitation of Carnegie Library – Phase III Livingstone College
$500,000
South Carolina Historic Wilkinson Hall HVAC System Schematic Design and Replacement South
Carolina State University $500,000
South Carolina Antisdel Chapel Renovation Project Benedict College
$500,000
South Carolina Duckett Hall Preservation Project Benedict College
$500,000
Virginia             Rehabilitation of Vawter Hall – Phase II Virginia State University
$500,000
Virginia             The Academy Building Project Hampton University
$500,000
West Virginia  Canty House and East Hall Restoration West Virginia State University                                                                            $197,219

Posted on Leave a comment

The Unforgettable Headstone of Roy L. Cook in Oakdale Cemetery, DeLand, FL

Roy L. Cook flat headstone

For me, one of the joys of walking through a cemetery is that you never know what you will find. It may
be an interesting inscription, the burial of the famous or infamous, or in the case of Roy L. Cook, well,
you will see shortly. I have never seen anything like this before.

For those easily offended, please consider this your warning. Text and images below may be offensive to readers. This post is not an endorsement of any beliefs that may have been held or espoused by Mr. Cook but rather putting forth historical fact. 

In May 1931, Roy Lewis Cook and his wife, Louise B. had been visiting Atlanta, Georgia. On May 10, they
were on the trip home when Roy began complaining of stomach pains. They stopped in Vienna, Georgia
at the office of Dr. F. E. Williams. Within an hour, Cook was dead from what his death certificate listed as
“probably cardiac failure. Possibly angina pectoris. Was pulseless and in collapse when I saw him and
remained so until death 20 or 30 minutes later.”

Only 43 years old, Cook left behind a widow, Louise, and children Gertrude and Roy, Jr., who went by
the name Louis. According to local newspaper reports, the Cook family were not mourning alone as
estimates between 1,000 and 2,500 people were reported at his funeral in the small town of DeLand,
Florida.

Roy L. Cook was born in DeLeon Springs, FL, October 2, 1888 to Lewis P. and Alice Cook. His father was a
farmer and it appears that the family was highly mobile. In the 1900 census, the Cook family, including
twelve-year-old Roy, were living in Wittich Township, Arkansas.

By 1910, Roy and his young bride Louise were living in Florida with extended family. Roy was working as an automobile mechanic. In 1917 the Cooks were living in Orlando, FL. where Roy worked for himself in the firm of Cook Automobile, Co. His World War I draft registration card states he was tall and slender, with gray eyes and black hair.

The young Cook appears to have been an enterprising person because by 1920, he and Louise, along
with their two children, were living in DeLand and Roy, Sr. owned his own garage. Still living in DeLand in
1930, Roy, Sr. was a partner in the automobile dealership Cook and Rowland. Cook and Rowland was
located at 133-135 S. Woodland Avene. The business was an authorized sales and service dealer for Buick
automobiles. They were also a Vesta Battery Service Station.

Cook was still young, appears to have been financially successful, and it turns out he was a highly
influential individual as we will see.

News of the elder Cook’s demise quickly reached DeLand. His partner L. L. Rowland and an employee
only listed as Mr. Miller left immediately for Georgia to help the stricken widow. They helped arrange
for transport of the body back to DeLand where funeral director J. M. Stith was in charge of
arrangements. Stith worked in the employ of the Griffith-Stith Funeral Parlor, that at one time was
located in the building known as the Dutton House.

The funeral services were held on May 13, 1931 at First Baptist Church with Dr. I. E. Phillips of
Jacksonville in charge. Reports state the church was filled to overflowing with hundreds standing
outside. The same report estimated more than 500 cars from across Florida, Georgia, and Alabama were
at the church grounds. Newspaper reports posted a long listing of pallbearers and honorary pallbearers
including local judges.

Roy L. Cook flat headstone
Roy L. Cook headstone depicting his membership as a Mason.

You may be asking why more than 1,000 people would attend a small town funeral for a small town car dealer. The town had a population only slightly higher than 5,000 in 1930. Yes, it was true that Cook was a member of the DeLand Masonic Lodge, was a member of the Royal Arch Masons, and the Order of the Eastern Star. This would hardly account for this type turn out however. Cook had a much more sinister side in his life and his funeral brought to the public what many might not have openly known.

 

At the time of his death, Roy L. Cook, Sr. served as Grand Titan of the Ku Klux Klan of the State of Florida. It appears that local reporting had is title wrong, calling him the Grand Titian while he most likely served as Grand Titan.

Estimates place between 100 and 200 robed and hooded clansmen lining the Oakdale Cemetery driveway. They were
said to have held “drooping American flags, (and) bowed their heads as the funeral car passed.” At the
burial site, “the degree team of the Klan from Jacksonville conducted an honorary burial order.”
Clansmen from across Florida, Georgia, and Alabama attended the ceremony.

At the close of the ceremony, members from the Order of the Eastern Star placed more than 300 floral
assortments on the closed grave.

In the days immediately after the funeral Cook’s wife Louise was named executor of his estate and also
named beneficiary of all real and personal property.

Roy L. Cook Headstone
Roy L. Cook marker depicting his KKK membership

In May 1932, newspaper advertisements placed by the E.C. Tomoka Klan No. 17 Realm of Florida were appearing in the DeLand Sun News under the headline, “Klansmen Take Notice.” The announcement went on further to let the public know that a new monument was to be placed on the grave of Roy L. Cook, on Sunday, May 15 at 3:30 p.m. George P. Bryan, a monument dealer based in Daytona Beach, erected the monument.

The memory of Roy L. Cook continued to be strong in the years after his death. Members of the Volusia Chapter 186 of the Order of the Eastern Star were reported by the press to hold annual memorial services for former members. After the November 1933 service, members laid flowers on Cook’s grave.

This post is not a tribute to Roy L. Cook. While he is long gone, his memory and most likely his actions cannot be forgotten. We must fight against actions by hate groups such as the KKK. These groups have terrorized our country for too long and we must not allow them to keep doing so. The marker to Roy L. Cook, now in place for nearly 90 years, is a reminder that there is more work to be done, more justice to be fought for, more equality to be won.

To learn more about the terrible and violent history of the Klan in Florida I suggest reading The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida (Florida History and Culture) written by Michael Newton.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click these links and make a purchase, I may receive a small
commission. This commission does not affect any price that you pay. All views and opinions provided are
my own and are never influenced by affiliate programs or sponsors providing products.

Sources
Daytona Beach News Journal
DeLand, FL City Directories
DeLand Sun News
Georgia Certificate of Death
U.S. Census Bureau records
World War I Draft Registration Cards

Posted on Leave a comment

African American Cemetery Bibliography Available Free

Damaged headstone at Oaklynn Cemetery in Volusia County, FL
Damaged headstone at Oaklynn Cemetery in Volusia County, FL
This damaged headstone is located at Oaklynn Cemetery in Volusia County, FL.

I know cemetery wandering and sometimes research are popular hobbies. The state of Florida has an interesting document available through the Department of Historical Resources. The title is Historic African American and African Caribbean Cemeteries: A Selected Bibliography compiled by Sharyn Thompson. Sections include African American, African Caribbean, and Related References. This bibliography contains many different types of sources all the way from books to academic journal articles. Access to some of these sources may be a bit tricky but interlibrary loan programs are your friend. Also, check with your local reference librarian regarding access to databases such as jstor.

Click here to download your free pdf copy.

Posted on Leave a comment

Rufus Pinkney Public Art Mural in Downtown DeLand, Florida

Rufus Pinkney
Rufus Pinkney
Rufus Pinkney at work.

We all live somewhere; whether it be a town, village, or city; urban or rural, small town or giant metropolis. What makes it home though is a sense of community. Men like Rufus Pinkney are what makes a community.

You don’t know who Rufus Pinkney was? Well you must not have lived in DeLand, Florida at any time for the past sixty odd years. Rufus was an institution in the downtown area. Even if you didn’t know his name you knew who he was. He was a local legend. Was he a sports star? Was he a political figure or a prominent banker or lawyer? No. Mr. Pinkney shined shoes. That’s right. He shined shoes and he was a more beloved representative of small town community than any sports star could be.

Rufus was born June 12, 1932 in Palatka to parents Pearl and Rufus Pinkney. As a child the family moved to Miami before Rufus left south Florida, ending up in Mississippi where he met his future wife, Mary Louise Gray. Rufus and Mary had two children; a daughter Sharon and a son, also named Rufus.

Pinkney operated his shoe shine business out of a small building located in the parking lot near 127 E. New York Avenue. Here, according to a Daytona Beach News-Journal article “…is a jumble of polishes, brushes, calendars, shelves of gleaming shoes, and more signs. One praises him as the “Master Engineer in Charge of Preserving the Primary Means of Personal Locomotion,’ and a bulletin board [was] thickly thumbtacked with business cards.” His shop was most recently adorned with a sign painted by Stephen Danko showing an alligator shoe with the words “Shoes Shined by Rufus”. Mark Lane of the News-Journal reports that Pinkney had shined shoes in Deland since 1955 and before that in St. Augustine at the old railroad station.

In addition to his skill at shining shoes, Rufus was a well-known local harmonica player and received the gift of being a great conversationalist. He was an elder at Greater Refuge Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When you saw him he was always dressed well and of course his shoes were never scuffed.

Rufus passed away September 12, 2016 after suffering a stroke. In his 84 years though he touched many lives. Personally, I can remember Rufus from back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s when I worked in downtown DeLand. He used to always stop in for his daily coffee. Sometimes more than once a day would we see him. Rufus never really lingered long though. Despite being in a hurry he was always pleasant and had a smile and kind word for everyone. Lingering was never an option because he was busy. He had to get back to the shop and take care of business.

Rufus Pinkney Mural located in the spot where he used to operate his shoe shine stand.
The mural commemorating Rufus Pinkney.

The City of DeLand and Mainstreet DeLand Association in seeking to honor this local legend agreed that Mr. Pinkney should be included in the city’s mural collection. Artist Robert Ammon of Palm Coast was selected to complete the installation and in 2018 the beautiful mural was unveiled. The mural is located in a parking lot off east New York Avenue, where Mr. Pinkney used to operate his shop.

You can see a video of the mural by clicking here.

There is a Findagrave memorial for Mr. Pinkney here.

Did you enjoy this mural? If so, take a look at the other murals located in DeLand by downloading the DeLand Mural Walk booklet.

DeLand has plenty of other public art for you to enjoy. Take a look at more options through the Museum of Art DeLand.

Enjoy even more public art that is a part of the County of Volusia collection.

Rufus Pinkney

Rufus Pinkney Mural Detail
Detail from the right hand side of the Rufus Pinkney mural.