Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday - Part of the American Dream?

In addition to being a "National Day of Listening," today is more commonly known to merchants throughout the U.S. as "Black Friday." Let me tell you that where I live, today was not only "Black Friday," it was a stormy Friday, with lots of cold rain.

My honey left for his part-time job shortly after 7 a.m. to fend off the 8 a.m. shoppers. Actually, today's 8 a.m. opening was a "late" opening, considering that two large, local stores actually opened at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., and their parking lots were full to the max by 9 a.m. I saw on an early morning news show that hundreds of shoppers had "camped out" overnight, wearing heavy jackets, stocking caps, and gloves, outside one of the major "big box" stores that sells electronics. I chose to sleep in.

The thunder, lightning, and rain began early in the morning, but it did not keep me from falling back to sleep for a few extra minutes of "snoozing." It felt good. And it made me thankful that I don't have to get up at 5:30 a.m. and drive 15 miles to the nearest train station to travel 15 more miles, with 13 stops along the way, to get to a tall building in a large and crowded downtown area by 8:30 a.m. Sometimes I can't believe that I made that commute, and several similar ones in different locations, for over 30 years.

Today's shopping adventures by thousands of sale-seekers made me wonder about what our ancestors who lived during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century would have thought about our world's focus on materialism such as that exhibited today. I think it goes without saying they would not believe what happened along the way as we pursued the American dream.

To most of us, myself included, the lives our ancestors lived seemed so difficult and hardship-driven. But their lives, though difficult and without conveniences, were less complicated in some ways that what we know today.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving - Preserving Family History Today

Besides being thankful for all the blessings we have, Thanksgiving is a perfect time and place to become more familiar with our extended families. If you are fortunate enough to still have older family members around you today, take this opportunity to talk to them. Ask them about their ancestors (yours, too!) and the communities they lived in. Ask them if they have pictures you haven't seen and see if they will give you copies. Get them to tell you about the people they knew growing up and the schools and churches they attended. If they served in the military service, have them tell you what they remember about it, and ask about what they did for a living when they were young. You will be preserving a part of your own history, and your life may be impacted by what you hear.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

National Day of Listening - November 28, 2008

This invitation appears on the website,

"November 28th has been designated the National Day of Listening by StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving oral history. This Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks you to start a new holiday tradition—set aside one hour on Friday, November 28th, to record a conversation with someone important to you. You can interview anyone you choose: an older relative, a friend, a teacher, or a familiar face from the neighborhood."

Oral history has long been a useful and valuable tool in genealogy circles, and recording formal oral histories has become more widely-used in recent years because of the ease in using hand-held recorders and video cameras to document the spoken memories of our families' patriarchs and matriarchs.

Let me invite you to take advantage of this Thanksgiving holiday, when an estimated 40 million people will travel "home" to spend the day with their loved ones, young and old, to spend at least one hour interviewing someone who is older than you about life as they experienced it, "way back then."

I have so many things to be thankful for, not only on Thanksgiving Day, but every day. But one of my true blessings in life has been that I have had grandparents and parents who were willing to share their life's experiences, both good and bad, with me. Some of those experiences I have shared with you here on this blog.

This holiday, after you have eaten the turkey and all the trimmings and have watched your team (hopefully!) win, I challenge you to become a "Listener." I know you won't be disappointed.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Announcing The Graveyard Rabbit of Madison County

Our Graveyard Rabbit blogs are multiplying, and I am happy to announce that I will be writing yet another one. In addition to "The Graveyard Rabbit of Holmes County", Mississippi blog I mentioned in my post here yesterday, I will be writing about Madison County, Mississippi cemeteries, as well.

I invite you to visit my newest blog, "The Graveyard Rabbit of Madison County," as I travel through the old graveyards there looking for my ancestors and most likely, yours too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

New Graveyard Rabbit Blog for Holmes County, MS

Today I am announcing the birth of another "Graveyard Rabbit," a new addition to a now international group or "bury" of rabbits known as "The Association of Graveyard Rabbits" founded by Terry Thornton, another Mississippian, and a fellow blogger who writes "Shades of the Departed" under the name "footNote Maven." Terry also writes his own blog, "The Graveyard Rabbit of Hill Country." The Association was formed in October of this year, and already it has bloggers who write from many states in the U.S., from Canada, and from England, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.

On the new blogspot, "The Graveyard Rabbit of Holmes County," I will be writing about old graveyards located in Holmes County, Mississippi, Attala County's neighbor to the west. I hope that you will join me on this journey in search of my ancestors. Maybe you will find some of your ancestors, too, as we travel to cemeteries located in Lexington, Tchula, Coxburg, Ebenezer, and other communities throughout Holmes County.

Welcome to the "rabbit trail!"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dallas and Sallie Barrett

When entering the gates of Good Hope Cemetery, you will see this marker placed there in memory of George Henry and Lucille Rumbarger Barrett. Good Hope cemetery is just barely inside Madison County, in the community long known as "Camden."

A number of Barrett family members were buried in Good Hope Cemetery over the years. One of these individuals was Grover C. Barrett, who was born August 20, 1887. According to the Woodmen of the World monument that marks the location of Grover's grave, he died on March 5, 1912, when he was "25 yrs 6 mos 15 dys." To date, I have been unable to find this young man on a census record or to determine the cause of his early death.

In addition to Grover Barrett, several other Barrett families are buried in this cemetery. Dallas and Sallie Barrett, whose common gravestone appears here, are two of those family members. Emblems engraved on the weathered and aged gravestone indicates that Dallas was a member of a Masonic Lodge, and Sallie held membership as his wife in the Order of the Eastern Star. As it is in the case of so many couples married for many years, when the death of one occurs, the surviving spouse dies shortly thereafter. According to the dates of death of this couple, Sallie died one month short of the second anniversary of her husband's death.

Gravestone of Dallas O. Barrett and Sallie R. Barrett
Dallas Barrett - born Sept. 23, 1860 b. Jan. 11, 1880
Sallie Barrett - born Nov. 13, 1947 d. Oct. 29, 1949

The U. S. Census taken in 1910 shows Dallas and Sallie Barrett were living in Beat 5, Madison County, and were the parents of four children, Tim, age 17; Henry, age 15, Edward, age 13, and Virginia, age 10. Dallas Barrett's occupation was shown as "farmer." Dallas and Sallie, according to the census were born in Mississippi. The parents of each are shown to have been born in Alabama. It was not uncommon for surnames of those enumerated on census records of long ago to have their names mispelled. In this case, the surname "Barrett" was shown on the census record as "Barret," while the gravestone bears the more conventional spelling of the name.

Another Barrett family living nearby appears on the U. S. Census record of 1910. That household was headed by W. E., a farmer, and his wife, M. E. Their large family included eight children, and their names were K. C., age 20, Curtis, age 19; Benny, age 17; Mac, age 14; Madine, age 12; Andy, age 10; Eugene, age 8; Nancy, age 6; Earl, age 4.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Buffalo Community of Attala County

In the left background of the picture here is a narrow, winding road, made of Attala County's trademark red dirt and clay. This road leads to the Buffalo Church and its cemetery. The turnoff for the church and the cemetery is appropriately named "Oprah Winfrey Road," since the old Buffalo Community near the church was the early childhood home of one of America's most well-known women, Oprah Winfrey.

According to Ed Hutchison in his book "Yesterday," a book about his own ancestors, as well as other families who once lived in Attala County, the Buffalo Community was home at one time to some of the ancestors of at least four well-known individuals. These individuals were James Meredith, O. J. Simpson, Tina Turner, and Oprah Winfrey. Most readers recognize the names and know the stories of O. J. Simpson, Tina Turner, and Oprah Winfrey. But for those who may be less familiar with Mississippi's history, James Meredith was the first Black student to attend the University of Mississippi located north of Kosciusko in Oxford.

A number of books and articles have been written in recent years about the significance of the Buffalo Community of long ago and its rich history of residents whose lineages linked them to ethnic ties with Native American, Black, and Caucasian residents in that area and nearby. Some names of those buried in the Buffalo Cemetery or who had ties to the Buffalo Community are Bain, Bridges, Bullock, Drake, McFadden, Presley, and Walker.

One interesting gravestone in the cemetery marks the final resting place of Love Zinkey Funches Shropshire, who was obviously one of Attala County's oldest residents when she died on May 9, 1980, shortly before she would have celebrated her 101st birthday on October 26th later that same year.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Good Hope Baptist Church

Left: Good Hope Baptist Church, established circa 1851

Last week, we traveled to several places in North Central and Central Mississippi, by way of Memphis, Tennessee. We arrived in Memphis late in the afternoon and stayed overnight. At five o'clock sharp, we began the evening by watching the well-trained and now famous ducks leave the fountain in the lobby of the beautiful and old Peabody Hotel for their penthouse home there.

Later on, we took a ride on the trolley down Main Street and on its Mississippi River Loop trip. After dinner, we walked over to Historic Beale Street, where we admired music notes, inlaid in the sidewalk, that bear the names of many famous blues musicians. Before leaving Memphis the next day, we made a trip out to the STAX Recording Studio/Soulsville USA on McLemore Avenue. Along with walls and walls of famous 45 rpm rhythm and blues records in mint condition, we saw the 1973 peacock blue Eldorado Cadillac with 24K gold-plated trim that belonged to Isaac Hayes. A new exhibit of Otis Redding memorabilia, recently donated by his wife, was also on display. The museum was well worth the trip and the time it took to see everything there.

In the afternoon of Day 2, we began driving south, venturing off the beaten path to stop in Oxford, Mississippi, where the Ole Miss campus had some of the best fall color we saw on the trip. Along the way, we stopped to visit relatives, including my aunt and uncle in Lexington, my oldest brother and his wife, and finally, my parents, who live north of Jackson.

However, when one is a "Graveyard Rabbit," one must always "brake for cemeteries." And that is just what we did, not once, but several times. And we took many pictures that I plan to use on The Graveyard Rabbit of Attala County blog.

Attala County, Mississippi has dozens of family cemeteries, some that are easily accessible on paved roads and located next to churches, but many that require a long, off-the-road trek, sometimes over the creek, across a pasture, and through the woods. Since last week's rain made it less than appealing to hike into the woods, during this trip we opted for visiting cemeteries that were located near paved roads.

One of those cemeteries was the one located next to the church pictured here, Good Hope Baptist Church, established in 1851. The location for the old, but very well-maintained church and its cemetery is atop a hill, surrounded on two sides by deep ravines. The dense foliage seen from the church grounds and the cemetery consists of tall pine trees and large hardwood trees brilliant with their fall colors.

It was there at the Good Hope Baptist Church Cemetery, where my paternal great-grandfather, Edward Arthur Branch, is buried, that we ended our trip. A picture of my great-grandfather's Woodmen of the World tombstone can be found on the The Graveyard Rabbit of Attala County blog site located at

Buried in the Good Hope Cemetery beside my great-grandfather are two other Branch ancestors, Mattie Allen Branch, who died in 1870, and Mamie R. Branch, who died in 1900. The cemetery gates bear a memorial marker for two Barrett families buried in this cemetery. Along with the Barrett family, Good Hope Cemetery is the resting place for the loved ones of several other families, including members of the Brewer, Cobb, Leslie, Linn, and Parker families.

In the weeks ahead, I plan to write posts about each of the families named above. If you have information and pictures that relate to these families, and you would like for me to include them as part of these posts, please contact me at

I hope to hear from you.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jim Carr and the "Good People" of Attala County

A few weeks ago while reading through Duncan Covington's "The People of Shrock, Mississippi 1895-1922," I ran across an article that was published in the "Star Ledger" newspaper in 1899. My post is about some "good people," perhaps would-be "saints," who helped a person in need long ago. These good deeds involved a number of Shrock residents, including my own paternal great-grandfather, John Porter, and the account of what happened appeared in the August 14, 1899 newspaper column, signed by "Violet."

"There was a sad affair here several days since. Mr. John Porter found a man by the name of Jim Carr in an old cotton house very sick and without food or medicine. He told the neighbors of the poor man's condition, and, being near Mr. Wm. Holley's, he took his buggy and with neighbors help moved him to a cabin on his place and Mrs. Holley sent bedding and made it as comfortable as possible. The poor man lay on his dying bed, among strangers with no kin near and exclaimed: Good people! Good People! They sent for Dr. Anderson and did all they could for him but on Friday his life ended. The people bought his coffin and clothes and laid him to rest in Old Fellowship grave yard. He said he was on his way to work in timber and had no relatives. Peace to his ashes."

Another article that provides some additional information about Mr. Carr appears in the August 11, 1899 edition of "The Mississippi Farmer" (Vol. 3, No. 40.) This article was written by "Daisy" and relates that Mr. Carr, who was "about 45 years old" when he died, had come to Mississippi to "work in the swamp." He became ill after arriving in Attala County and had not been able to work. When Mr. Carr was asked by those who were helping him before his death if he had relatives they should contact, he told them he had no living relatives at all.

Good people. Yes, good people they all were indeed.

Friday, November 7, 2008

"The Baddest White Man in Mississippi"

David "HoneyBoy" Edwards, well-known Delta blues musician from Shaw, Mississippi, mentions Tillman Branch in his 1997 autobiography "The World Don't Owe Me Nothing." One of the references to the man simply known as "Tillman" states that he owned a "whiskey store on Highway 61." This store was actually located on Highway 51 in Goodman, Mississippi, and during the 1950's and until Tillman's death in 1963, the Goodman, Mississippi business was known as "The Long Branch."

Tillman Branch's family had deep roots in Attala County, Mississippi. His ancestors were respected pioneers, descended from old, well-known colonial families of Virginia, but Tillman's business operations were quite different from those who came before him. His businesses existed in the form of "juke joints" located near Tchula in Holmes County and other outlying areas around Attala County. Tchula's location in the place where the "Hills" meet the "Delta" made it the perfect place for these clubs that became peformance venues for blues musicians, such as Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, and HoneyBoy Edwards, who later became very well-known in their field. Some blues afficianados, such as Junior Dougherty who writes at, even believe that Tillman Branch played a crucial, even vital, role in the development of the music form that later became known as the "Mississippi Delta Blues."

Tillman's operation of "juke joints" or "night clubs" was the outgrowth of his alleged reputation as a fairly successful "bootlegger" during the days when local law enforcement seemed to be tolerant of that illegal activity. According to the book written by HoneyBoy Edwards, Tillman also had a reputation for being a womanizer and a "bad man.." and "...all the white folks was scared of him." Rumored reports of Tillman's relationships with women during those years indicate that he routinely ignored local society's racial boundaries that existed at that time and in that place, much to the chagrin of his legal wife and others who knew him.

Although label-bearing hard liquor was not legal in most counties in Mississippi until the late 1960's, it was still easy to find it for sale throughout the state if one knew where to look. And moonshine or "white lightning" was even more available, particularly behind the closed doors of the juke joints. Not only were Tillman's clubs frequented by many blacks who came to drink and to listen to the blues music that reflected events in their own lives, but they were also frequented by white locals who were seeking a lively Saturday night far away from the ever-vigilant eyes of their God-fearing neighbors. It goes without saying that Tillman's businesses existed outside mainstream society of either Attala County, Holmes County, or for that matter, anywhere in the State of Mississippi at that time.

But times were changing, although not favorably for Tillman and "juke joints" in general. And one of those changes involved cracking down on "liquor racketeers," according to an article that appeared in Time magazine. The voice of Hazel Brannon Smith, longtime editor of the Lexington Advertiser and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, became instrumental in forcing law enforcement to take a second look at illegal activities previously "overlooked" by local authorities. According to the article, sixty-four indictments were handed down in 1946 alone.

I have found no written proof that Tillman was among those indicted on charges of illegal activities involving liquor, but the end to an era of uncontrolled proliferation of juke joints and the illegal activities that went on inside their doors was coming to an end. Another period in Mississippi, however, was beginning, the era of desegretation, with events, changes, and even human casualties that would alter the course of history in the state and in the country. Tillman Branch, the man called by some as "The Baddest White Man in Mississippi" would become one of those casualties, perhaps even a casualty of his own making, when he was died in 1963 from a gunshot allegedly fired by a black man who reportedly disagreed with his actions toward a woman they both knew.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Saints and Sinners of Attala County, Part 2

I have been researching the next story in this series for some time, often running into dead ends, and sometimes encountering resistance by some of those who are still living. But today I finally located the final source of information I need for publishing a post about an infamous relative of mine, a man with roots in Attala County and a man with a tarnished reputation. He had no need for a second name - he was known simply as "Tillman."

Some of you who read my posts may have known Tillman. Many of you may have even liked him for the good things he did before he died. Some, like me, may have been related to him. But you may be more likely to be among the many Attala and Holmes County residents who may have only "heard" about Tillman Branch and his life as the owner of "juke joints" in the Mississippi Delta. Some even called him a "bootlegger."

Tomorrow's post will include my story about Tillman.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day 2008

This is a paraphrase of a statement that I heard today that rings true for the 2008 Presidential Election:

We all remember the day that history is made, but what is often forgotten is that history is almost always made in the months, days and years leading up to the event itself.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, it is indeed a historical one for this country.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What is a Yockanookany?

The Yockanookany is a river, one that is spanned by the first bridge crossed by a traveler when entering Kosciusko from the Natchez Trace. It begins in Choctaw County, Mississippi, near Ackerman, and continues on a course that runs through Attala County, near Kosciusko, and though Leake County, where it becomes a tributary of the Pearl River.

The name has always fascinated me, especially since I have never been able to find the meaning of the word. I know it must be of Choctaw origin, based on it similarity to other Choctaw words and its location in the heart of what was once the Choctaw Nation.

The river runs parallel to the Natchez Trace, and it was likely used by Choctaw people and early settlers long ago to travel through what later became Choctaw, Leake and Attala Counties. The earth and its waters, lakes, streams, and the Yockanookany were sacred to the Choctaw people.

The Yockanookany, its waters and its banks, must hold many stories about life among the people who first lived in that rugged country so very long ago.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Diaries of Judge Jason Niles

Much that is known about life in and around Attala County between June 22, 1861 and December 31, 1864, is the result of information contained in a diary kept by Judge Jason Niles. It appears that Judge Niles may have kept this diary to document events and the effect of those events that occurred during the Civil War. But for whatever reason the diary was kept, its pages contain an invaluable and personal account of what real life in Attala County was like during the three and a half year period the diary covers.

Links to excerpts from the diary have appeared on several genealogical websites for over ten years, and I have read through the entries searching for names of my ancestors there. The diary contains a wealth of information about life in Attala County during the three and one half year period it covers, as it was seen through the eyes of one of its most prominent citizens. Entries in the diary detail the travels made by Judge Niles throughout the county, and they contain names and information about his business associates and friends.

The original copy of the diary kept by Judge Niles was given by a family member to the University of Chapel Hill in North Carolina for permanent preservation as part of the university's Southern Historical Collection. A digital copy is available for reading at

Judge Niles died in 1894, just before he was 80 years old. A picture of his grave marker appears today on The Graveyard Rabbit of Attala County blogspot located at