Posts filed under ‘Alabama’

Cropper Killed By Fort After Attempting to Leave Plantation (1899)

Wilson Coleman, a husband and father, is murdered in cold blood by John B. Fort, a landowner who was angry because Coleman sought to leave his farm and work on another. Coleman was unarmed, and totally defenseless, when Fort fired a bullet into his abdomen. Fort was told to leave Coleman alone prior to the assault but refused to do so, he fled only after firing the shots that took Coleman’s life.

John B Fort was never held accountable for the murder. He pursued public office, and even campaigned for sherriff of Dallas County but withdrew the from the race before the primary was held. Fort died in January 1911 in Safford. He was noted in the obituary posted in the newspaper to be a quote “honest and upright citizen”.

According to the 1880 Census for Liberty Hill, Wilson Coleman was born in 1845 in Georgia. He worked as a farm laborer all of his life. His wife was named Eliza Ann (b. 1848, Virginia) and children were Violet and Betsy.  Sadly, Eliza Ann passed in March 1880 from pneumonia. Both girls grew to adulthood, married and had children, and continued to reside in Dallas County for the rest of their lives.

Wilson Coleman, and his family, never saw justice during their lifetimes. I can only hope in sharing this story to preserve his name. Coleman was a man murdered for seeking work, and a better opportunity, for his family. After his death, his wife certainly faced hardships, and two young girls would become orphans when she died. At the moment of Coleman’s death, he faced his killer, and though their eyes met, his humanity was never recognized. Fort looked at him like an animal to be hunted; but when Coleman’s blood was shed, he was discarded with less care than an animal carcass. Coleman died on the steps of a grand home, never crossing the line so many African-Americans were trapped behind, never realizing the dreams he worked so hard for. Like so many croppers, his hands dug into the earth, and sweat watered the crops, yet he never received the benefit of his labor. John B. Fort should have spent the rest of his life in jail but instead was praised until the day of his death. My words will never be adequate enough but I leave them so Fort will finally be held accountable for this terrible crime.

__________

JOHN B. FORT

A White Man Instantly Killed Wilson Coleman, A Negro.

ON CRAIG SMITH PLANTATION.

Dallas county has its first killing this year. It took place on the plantation of Hon. J. Craig Smith, in Liberty Hill precinct Thursday morning. From the report received at the Times office yesterday, the following facts have been learned: Wilson Coleman, a negro, has been living on the Fort place, about three miles from Safford but decided to move over on the Waller place which belongs to Hon. J Craig Smith.

Mr. John B. Fort, a young white man who also holds the position of Justice of the Peace for Liberty Hill precinct decided to take the negro to task about moving away from him and he rode over to the Waller plantation With his rifle.

Mr. Smith asked him politely not to bother his tenants and that he was perfectly willing for Coleman to move back to the Fort place if, the negro wanted to and that he had not asked him to move on his plantation. “Let him alone”, said Mr. Smith, and, “go awav from this plantation”.

Fort promised to do ; so and Mr. Smith went to his house to do some writing accompanied bv his overseer Jacob Schuler. Hardly were they seated when a report came that Mr. Fort was outside, at the gate and Mr. Smith told Mr. Schuler to go and tell Mr. Fort to leave the negro alone. Schuler reached under the bed to get his pipe, but before got to the door he heard the report of a fired from a Winchester (unclear). Both jumped up and walking out on the porch, they saw the negro falling dead with his back on the steps leading to Craig Smith’s house. Mr, Fort had shot Coleman through the abdomen, death ensuing instantly. Only one shot was fired. From last accounts Mr. Fort made his escape and has not been apprehended yet.

CLIPPED FROM: “The Selma Times”, Selma, Alabama. 28 Jan 1899, Sat  •  Page 1. Source: newspapers.com
Retrieved: 11/20/2019.

Background – Sharecropping System

“The idea that sharecropping was a free and fair economic system is ridiculous. Even the idea that the 13th Amendment ended slavery in the United States is not even, in theory, correct. ..In fact, I tell them, slavery never ended in the United States. Not even for a single day. The 13th Amendment allowed us to maintain slavery but use different language to avoid the pain of acknowledging slavery. Slavery changed form, but it never ceased to exist….In fact, I tell my class, sharecropping only ended in the 1950’s.” – “Sharecropping: Slavery By Another Name” by Tyler Rust

After the Civil War, enslaved Africans were legally freed but had no place to call home, no resources or money, no claim to land, and lacked education that would be needed to rebuild their lives. At the same time, Southern planters desperately needed cheap labor to maintain their plantations, the backbone of the economy and way of life. Since African-Americans could not be considered slaves or property to anyone, an arrangement called “share cropping” was developed to exploit the labor of free African-Americans, who worked under the same conditions as what existed in slavery under the guise of being “employees”.  Poor whites and other minority groups also worked as sharecroppers.

In the sharecropping system, tenant farmers, called “croppers”, were allowed to work and live on former plantations and assigned a few acres to farm. In the years following Emancipation, US Census research shows that prior to 1910, more that 90% of freed African-Americans lived in the South. Most continued to live and work in rural areas where they, and their ancestors, were held as slaves. The life of a cropper continued much in the same way as that of a slave. Croppers kept a small share of the crops  they raised but gave the majority to landowners. Farmers were required to repay landowners for expenses such as rent for the home they lived in, the cost of seed, feed for animals and credit for items purchased at the landowner’s store. Landowners charged high interest rates to impoverished croppers, who had no other choice but to pay in crops and labor because they lacked basic necessities needed to become independant farmers. At the end of the planting season, most croppers had little or no income or crops of their own.

I remember the story of a daughter, “Josie”, born to Alabama sharecroppers. Josie, along with her siblings and father, worked in the fields; her mother worked for the landowner as a domestic. Josie shared with me that even as an adult, she resented that her mother was not fully able to care for her own children because she was needed to care for the children of the white family who treated them harshly. In tears, Josie said that the elder daughters helped to care for the home, and helped to raise their younger siblings, while their parents worked long hours. Josie loves her mother dearly, and has no hard feelings towards her. She was angry at “the way things were”. Josie didn’t dare express any hostility towards the landowner, not even years later and far removed from that life, but the pain was still felt. As a little girl, all Josie wanted was her mother, at home with her. She grieved a tremendous loss as her mother was forced to work in another home, with other children, in order to keep her own children fed and clothed. Josie grew, as an adult, to become a very loving and devoted mother of her own children as well as church mother who was held in high esteem in the community. Her home became a place for gathering, and she became a mother to many.

Most croppers could never work enough to repay landowners (and it is not just one person farming but often several generations of families, including children) so they were tied to the plantations with debts owed to the landowner. In this way, the landowner controlled the movements (freedom) of the cropper, could place demands on them and keep them tied to the plantation.

Laws favoring landowners made it difficult or even illegal for sharecroppers to sell their crops to others besides their landlord, or prevented sharecroppers from moving if they were indebted to their landlord.” PBS: Slavery By Another Name

I have heard stories of the difficulty and intimidation croppers faced when trying to leave the plantations they worked on.  Even with the passing of years, I could still hear tremors of fear and trauma invoked in many of these memories due to the cruelty in which croppers were treated. Despite the risks, a large number of African-Americans moved from rural areas into cities or left the South entirely, seeking better opportunities and a better life. The mass exodus of African-Americans living in the South to moving North became known as the Great Migration. According to US Census research, between 1910 and 1970, an estimated 6 million Blacks left the South.My own family is included among these numbers.

Public Domain Pic: http://wallpaperswide.com/

November 21, 2019 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

Newspaper: The Planter, Wagon Train, and The Negro Began History of Marion Junction

A history of Marion Junction, Alabama, and some of it’s families. Also known as Fort’s, Bridges, Harell’s, and Harrell’s Crossroads.

source: newspapers.com

 

The Planter, Wagon Train, and The Negro Began History of Marion Junction

Fifty Three Huguenot Families First Settlers

DESCENDANTS NOW COUNTY LEADERS

Does Tremendous Business In All Kinds Of Produce

by O.S. Wynn

When one would go back to first Origin In the history of any Black Belt settlement, three things invariably are found the ambitious planter, the wagon train and the Negro.

It is so at Marion Junction, one of the thriftiest settlements in Dallas county, and the center of a vast hay country, where older residents recall stories told them by their parents and grandparents who made the trip to Central Alabama by wagon train from the older centers of population. Often the reason for striking out for new land was the desire to secure greater acreage for cotton, and the wagon train and the negro were the instruments by which the dreams of a cotton kingdom were to be worked out.

Harrell’s Roads

The first settlers chose to build their homes at what is now Harrell’s Cross Roads, and where a stage coach station was established soon after Cahaba became the first capital of the state. Travel between Tuscaloosa and Cahaba flowed through the little settlement, and ; near this place was constructed 25 miles of plank road, on which toll gates were established every three miles, for maintenance.

Near Harrell’s was first established the Associate Reform Presbyterian Church, which was moved to Harrells proper in 1893, and afterwards to Marion Junction, when the tide of settlement set in that way.

French Huguenots 

In the early fifties three families of French Huguenot descent came out from South Carolina and settled at Marion Junction, which took its . name from the fact that it was a junction point for the town of Marion. These were the RASCOE, the RAVASEE and the BOSWELL (families) who built homes and farmed in the fertile section about the Junction. The home built by the Ravasee family was one of the most pretentious in the whole country around when it was completed in 1857 and it is today occupied by Pettus Randall, once sherriff of Dallas county.

In 1856 (?) the name of the post office at Marion Junction was changed to Bridges, as a compliment to Capt. Bridges, the widely known and popular railroad superinendent. In the early nineties the name was changed back to Marion Junction because of the confusion resulting from the separate names of the post office and the railroad station, which was never changed.

County Leaders

Early settlers who descendants are today leaders in the Marion Junction community were the FORTs, the RANDALLs and the MOOREs who developed their section by a strict attention to farming and business interests. Other names connected with the building of the town are COCHRAN, JOHNSON, GOLDSBY, HARRELL, TABBS, CRAWFORD and W.A. JONES. Many big plantations are spread out in all directions about Marion Junction which is the center for Hazen, Bellevue, Massillon, Hamburg and other communities. “Wallnutta” one of the richest plantations in the county and owned for many years by COL. SAM WILL JOHN is at Massillon. It is now the property of SOUTH TRIMBLE of Washington, once clerk of the House of Representatives, who raises fine cattle.

Thriving Community

Situated at the junction point of the Southern Railroad’s lines between Selma, Meridian, Mobile and Akron and connected with Selma by an excellent pike road, Marion Junction enjoys ample and varied means of communicating with every section of the state and far beyond. Along with heavy shipments of cotton, hay, cattle, milk and lumber which go out from the Junction to domestic markets, hardwood shipments lor foreign ports are heavy. There are 100 white families in the community; a number of mercantile establishments and grocery tores; an express office, a bank, four churches, an excellent school, and a famous hotel and eating house conducted by Mrs. W. P, McCollum.

Holds Church Record

Marion Junction holds the record as a town in which every family goes to church on Sunday. A census taken several years ago revealed the fact that there were not more than two persons within five miles of the churches who did not attend services with regularity, it is not surprising, therefore, to find each of the four denominations represented there, housed in well-kept buildings and served by active and influential pastors. The Associate Reform Presbyterian church, the oldest religious influence in that section, has 40 members and is served by the Rev. Boyce Grier of Camden. The Methodist church, with membership of 100 has as its pastor the Rev. J. F. Feagin. Recently the Rev. R. L. Alexander from Howard College. Birmingham, assumed the pastorate of the Baptist church, which fills a big place in the community. An active and devoted congregations numbering 777 carry on the work of the Southern Presbyterian church under the Rev. George R. Kirker. The women are well organized in church societies and a literary club also does splendid work.

Active Lodge

For the past 32 years the Knights of Pythias have been a strong force for good in the lives ot many in the communlty. The lodge is called the Justice H. Rathbone No. 80, and Charter members still living are John J. Chisolm and W.B. Chisolm. Bart Fort joined the lodge the year after its organization and he is still an active member. Officers are; E. F. Randall, chancellor commander; Rev. J. F. Feagin, vice chancellor commander; H.M. Morrow, prelate; A.H. Moore, master arms; J. C. Chisolm, keeper records and seals. Trustees of the lodge are Hugh Hopper, E.B. Moseley and H.P. Randall.

Fine School

The Marion Junction school was established in 1888 and is on Dallas county’s accredited list, sending out its graduates into the secondary schools well equipped to carry on their studies in higner education. H.L. Morrow is principal, and teachers are Mrs. H. L. Morrow, Miss Isabell Phillips, Mrs. Miree Fuller and Miss Edna Leatherwood. Graduates who received diplomas this year were Luella McCaslin and Harris Louis Gilmer. Enrollment for the year was 75 pupils. The trustees are W. S. Randall, James Alexander, P. L. Kirby, Warren McCaslin and A. B. Moore, who succeeded his father, the late A. A. Moore, 20 years ago, after the latter had served since the first public school was opened.

Want High School

Citizens of Marion Junction are eager to see a high school established here which would serve the western half of the county as the Plantersville high serves the northern and central section. Many boys and girls go away to preparatory schools each year , and tne need for a splendid high school building which would supply every facility for securing a high school education one which is becoming more keenly felt each year.

Fine Banking Record

The Marion Junction State Bank holds a unique place among other financial institutions of its kind, in the 11 years of its history only $16.05 have been charged off in losses. The bank does an excellent business as is attested by the 15% per cent profit made on its capital stock in 1923. Of this profit, 10% per cent was paid stockholders as dividend and the remaining 5% per cent was applied to the bank’s surplus which is given at $15,000 in the last statement made. The bank has a capital stock of $26,000 and $50,000 on deposits at the present time. This figure goes much higher in the late summer and fall.

Bank Presidents

Dr. J. M. Donald was the first president of the bank, when it was organized in 1913. Other presidents who have served since Dr. Donalds death are H. C. Armstrong, president of the City National Bank, Selma; C. L. Gilmer of Marion Junction, and P. B. Harrell of Selma and Marion Junction, now serving his third year as president. Hugh Hopper has served continuously as cashier since the bank was established. Directors are P. B. Harrell, C. L. Gilmer, H. P. Randall, W. J. Gilmer and Hugh Hopper. The bank owns its home, an attractive brick building, well equipped.

Home of Johnson Grass

Marion Junction, one of the biggest hay shipping points in the entire country claims to be the original home of the Johnson grass hay. The story of how this hay was brought to the section by William Johnson is tinged with romance. Johnson, then a young man, was visiting the home of his sweetheart in Newberry, South Carolina, When he was asked by the young lady’s father to inspect a new and peculiarly prolific grass which had been discovered in the garden. Idly Jonnson picked some of the heads of grass and placed the seed in his vest pocket. Returning to Marion Junction he planted the seed in a corner of his garden. Within a year the garden had to be abandoned to the grass, which speedily asserted its light to the soil and overran the entire farm, to that Johnson became financially embarrassed and had to move to other land.

Old Mowing Machine

In 1874, G. W. and H. C. Randall, the latter the father of Speers and Pettus Randall, prominent merchants and planters, cut and shipped the first hay from the waving fields of Johnson grass which surrounded the Junction. The mowing machine used for this purpose is now in the possession of Pettus Randall who keeps it because of the historical interest which will some day attach to it. Commercialization of the Johnson grass hay was due largely to H. C. Randall who turned commercial traveler, carrying miniature bundles ot the hay about in grips, until he had established a ready market for it. Only recently one of his earliest converts to Johnson grass hay, John C. Ramsey, died in Mobile. Ramsey was a stock dealer, and Mr. Randall made him the proposition that he would ship him a car of Johnson grass hay which was to be placed in the feed racks of Ramsey’s stable with an equal quantity of Timothy hay. If the stock refused to eat the Johnson hay, Ramsey would not hay to pay for it. The plan secured Randall a lifelong customer, for the Timothy hay was left in the rack, and the Johnson hay was eagerly seized on by the stock.

“Pop” Gears

When “Pop” Gears, the famous race horse owner, wintered his siring of horses in Selma, he was a big customer of the Randalls, and would buy several carloads of the hay a season. Big Hay Shipments Marion Junction is one of the biggest Johnson hay shipping points in the world, sending out from 800 to 1,000 cars a year, M. V. Waugh is a big shipper and a cattle raiser also. Some alfalfa is grown, but tire greater emphasis is laid on Johnson grass, although both grow to perfection here. Immense hay barns are to be seen on all sides of the Junction, with great stores,’ of the fragrant, well-cured hay.

Fine Grazing

Cattle are raised in great numbers on the splendid natural pasture lands which add to the wealth and beauty of the Marion Junction section. The hard winter just past took toll of cattle here, as in other sections but losses are being replaced and a number of head of cattle have been shipped into this section recently. The dairy industry Is growing rapidly and thousands of gallons of milk are sent in to the Selma Creamery annually.

Alfalfa King

Among the larger shippers, who use both truck and train to get their milk to Selma are: A.B. Moore, J. J,. Kirkby, Kendrick and Bondurant, R. B. Wallace of Browns, who is known as the “Alfalfa King” of Dallas county, with a herd of splendid cattle and many others. Wallace, by the way, was for seven years a missionary to Africa, and was attracted to the fertile Black Belt section near the Junction because of the seemingly limitless possibilities which the section offers to the agriculturist and cattle man. He owns 880 acres of as fine land as can be found, and is rapidly developing every inch of it.

Lumber Mills

In spite of the fact that Marion Junction is surrounded by a vast acreage of hay lands, both pine and hardwood are to be found In considerable quantity nearby, and several big lumber mills operate at the Junction. Joe D. Springer and Son have a planer mill with dry kilns and they dress and ship from 30 to 40 cars of lumber a month. The Dallas Lumber Company has a mill and there is a new mill now in course of construction, owned by M.W. Smith of Camden. Tht Pioneer Pole and Shaft Company of Memphis is a hickory mill which turns out material for shaft automobile wheels, golf sticks, skis, many of which are shipped to Norway, and other hardwood products. The mill was established a year ago and consumed 3,500 square feet of lumber a day, with a payroll of $3,000 a month. Its plant is valued at $20,000, to care for improvements and enlargement now under way, Eben Iglehart, manager, estimates that the mill has standing timber sufficient for five years cutting within a radius of 100 miles of Marion Junction. Large export shipments are made.

Turkeys Plentiful

The hay lands are a natural range fur the turkey, and large flocks are raised by many farmers. Last year over $14,000 worth of turkeys were sold and shipped to eastern markets. Several carloads of dressed turkeys were shipped and the prospects are good for similar sales this year.

Cotton

Many acres are devoted to cotton in the neighborhood of Marion Junction and the forecast is made that 3,000 bales will be raised this year. Crops are clean and in better condition than last year, in spite of late spring.

 

________________

Source: Newspapers.com

Retrieved: November 19, 2019

CLIPPED FROM
“The Selma-Times-Journal”. Selma, Alabama.13 Jul 1924, Sun  •  Page 64

Newspapers made available courtesy of

 

November 20, 2019 at 5:44 am Leave a comment

“Gentleman By Day and Klu Klux Klan By Night…” A Chilling Recollection of Marion Junction, Alabama

Grace Lee and James Boggs. Source: e-flux-systems.com/The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center

I found James Bogg’s recollections of growing up in Marion Junction (Dallas County), Alabama in the 1920’s/1930’s to be not only interesting but deeply moving, and often painful… 

My Fort ancestors originated in Marion Junction, what Boggs describes is surely what they have also experienced … That Blacks, descendants of African slaves, had been given their freedom yet the shackles of the plantation system persisted leaving Blacks impoverished and disenfranchised. Free Blacks still inhabited the slave cabins of their ancestors, toiled in the fields as sharecroppers, and were kept “in their place”, segregated from Whites. There were constant threats of rape against Black girls and women, trauma was birthed in generations conceived from rape. Constant threats of physical harm or even death… the simplest gesture or word could lead to assault. The Klan rode at night, terrorizing Black communities. Boggs says the end of slavery did not result in freedom for Blacks, “But in the eyes of Negroes the Civil War was the war which made it possible for the United States to be industrialized, the war which resulted in the Bargain of 1877 between Northern capital and Southern landed aristocracy, which left the former slaves living and working under a caste system as brutal as that of slavery itself...” Chapter 7: Rebels with a Cause – James Boggs 

Public Domain: Photo published before 1923

Amidst the darkness blazed a revolutionary firebrand. James Boggs refused to beaten down. As a teen, he would escape the oppression of the South, seeking a better life. Boggs bravely, or recklessly, faced an unknown future riding on trains to reach the North (called “hoboing”) and emerged as a champion for human and civil rights.

Boggs found his soul mate in wife (married in 1953) Grace Lee Boggs, a philosopher, author and human rights advocate.  Together, James and Grace were a force to contend with. The couple became noted activists and raised awareness of and fought for causes including civil rights, labor rights,  feminism, Black Power, Asian Americans and the environment. They also founded a charter school and helped to establish several community organizations that inspired positive change in communities ravaged by poverty and civil unrest. The couple shared a deep and abiding love that lasted, on earth, for forty years until the death of James in 1993.  The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership was founded in 1995 in Detroit to carry on their work and honor their legacy.

James Boggs: Not Just a Southern Gentleman, A Revolutionary

James “Jimmy” Boggs (May 27, 1919 – July 22, 1993) was born and raised in rural Marion Junction Alabama. He was one of four children born to Earnest Boggs, a blacksmith and iron ore worker, and Leila Boggs, a cook. Recalling his life in the South, Boggs said most Black families were poor but always had something to eat (due to the agricultural environment),”Down south nobody was hungry, not even black folks. We always had chickens, cows and hogs down south. Down south people were ragged. We didn’t have no shoes, no clothes, much; but you had food..” (“In Love and Struggle“, Ward).

Grace Lee Boggs writes in her autobiography that “Mama Leila” had lived with the couple for 6 years and during that time, she grew very close to her. Grace Lee recalls she,”..had worked in the white man’s kitchen all her life but like many southern blacks she saw herself not as a victim, but as a survivor, someone, who despite obstacles, succeeded in winning self respect and the respect of others…” (p. 85-86, “Living for Change: An Autobiography”) 

Mama Leila never learned to read or write so she instilled in Boggs, and all of her children, the importance of getting an education. Mama Leila emphasized that her life could have been better had she gotten an education and been able to take advantage of job opportunities, that would have improved her life, and that of her children. At that time, the agricultural economy of Alabama still relied heavily on the labor of Blacks. Educational opportunities for Black children were severely limited, and often non-existent.

At 15 years old, Boggs sought to make his mother proud, despite working hard to further his education there were no further avenues to continue his studies in Dallas County. Boggs left Marion Junction to live with grandparents in the industrial city of Bessemer, where he attended Dunbar High School. Boggs graduated from Dunbar in 1937 and shortly after, left Alabama by hopping trains headed North. The experience of riding the rails left an indelible mark on Boggs, who , for the first time saw and experienced a much bigger world and interacted with people from all walks of life.

“Boggs was born on May 27, 1919, in Marion Junction, Ala., not too far from Selma. His place of birth, as we have come to learn, was infested with nightriders and members of the Ku Klux Klan, who were not opposed to expressing their feelings about Jim Crow using a noose. This was no place for someone with an inkling of resistance, and by the time he was 18, Boggs caught the first train smoking for Detroit, following a trail that had been worn by thousands of blues people from the region. He arrived in Detroit with empty pockets and a head full of dreams..” James Boggs: A visionary revolutionary 

Dunbar High School (Wikimedia Commons)

Boggs eventually made his way to Detroit, where he found a job in the auto industry. Boggs married his childhood sweetheart, Annie McKinley in 1938, and they had seven children together. The marriage ended in 1952 with divorce.

Boggs  felt there was more work for him to do; he saw great injustices happening in society and felt called to lead the way for change as a revolutionary. He later commented, “I am a factory worker but I know more than just factory work. I know the difference between what would sound right if one lived in a society of logical people and what is right when you live in a society of real people with real differences.” (The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook). Boggs fought against oppression to became a well-known political activist, author and organizer of community causes.

Discovering Ancestry in Marion Junction

Marion Junction is a small, country town just off Hwy 80, hidden behind thick trees, from which gravel roads emerge, wandering into vast farmland. Alongside the main road travelling through the center of Marion Junction is a lone railroad track, once belonging to the Southern Railroad Company another intersecting rail line was once part of the Cahaba, Marion & Greensboro Branch. Also noteworthy is Church Road, which leads to the Presbyterian Church, where Burwell Jackson Fort Sr. (1797-1836) was once a member and elder. Continuing along Church Road leads to Marion Junction Community Cemetery, where generations of the Fort family have been laid to rest.

Map of Marion Junction and Land once held by the Fort Family, 1913. Source: Alabama Wills and Probate, Burwell Jackson Fort, 1913.

The Fort family once owned a vast stretch of land in Marion Junction area , as indicated in the 1913 probate records of Burwell Jackson “Jay” Fort, Jr 1827-1897 (Find A Grave) At one point the town was named Forts in their honor, changing its name in 1857 to Marion Junction with the coming of the railroad. The plantation owned by the family continued to be referred to as Fort’s, as did the post office.  According to probate records, the lands lie right at Marion Junction, some of it is improved and some unimproved. Property included in the estate of Burwell Jackson Fort Jr. included: a large residence house on one part, a smaller residence house on another part, a dwelling (hotel?) and a restaurant combined and two double Negro cabins (although records indicate there may have been as many as 5 slave cabins). 

After the death of Burwell “Jay” Jackson Jr., his personal property, homestead and lots of land were parceled and sold off individually and the proceeds divided among the heirs. The “spacious country home where B.J. Fort II and his family lived  has been modernized and restored to its original grandeur and is now the home of his great-grandson, Earnest Franklin Randall.” (“A family called Fort: the descendents of Elia Fort of Virginia” by Homer T. Fort, Drucilla Stovall Jones, p. 591). The home is part of Morning View Stock Farm, which was registered as an Alabama heritage farm in 1977. E.F. Randall died in 1979 and is buried in Marion Junction Community Cemetery alongside his ancestors.

Residing in one of the Negro cabins on a plantation owned by the Forts, was my ancestress Julia Fort (1824-1882), an enslaved woman. Julia worked as a housekeeper, laundress and cook for the Fort family.  During the course of slavery, Julia bore at least 5 children who identified as mulatto, the father of the children is reported to be of European origin and was born in Alabama, meaning he was likely a member of the white Fort family. I see incredible strength in my grandmother Julia to endure what she did, and then to raise and nurture children alone, without any help…when she also struggled every day for her own survival is remarkable.

The children of Julia Fort I have discovered so far:

  • Joseph “Joe” Fort (1845-1925) m. Malinda Brantley, 7 children
  • Wyatt Fort (1850-1914) m. Anna Reese Fort, 12 children
  • James “Jim” Fort (1855-?) m. Darnella Curtis, 5 children
  • Monk Fort (1856-?) m. Julia Watkins, 9 children 
  • Lizzie Fort (1861-?)

Marriage licenses show the connection between Julia’s family and the Forts. Her sister Sintha married Thomas “Tom” Harrell in December 1872, the ceremony was conducted on the E.W. (Elias William) Fort plantation. Also, in Dec 1874, Julia’s son Monk Fort (my ancestor) married his wife Julia Watkins on the Fort plantation.

Julia died on August 28th 1882 and is recorded as being buried at an unknown Negro cemetery along Harell’s Road.

Just as Boggs made the journey, Julia’s children and grandchildren would one day leave Marion, working as croppers on farms across Dallas County. Others sought work in industrialized cities, some making the migration to cities Up North, including Detroit (as Boggs did). Julia’s descendants carried on the name Fort, and alternately were called Ford.

Marion Junction: Chalk Line Around a Cotton Town 

Boggs says about Marion Junction: “James Boggs, born in Marion Junction, Alabama, never dreamed of becoming President or a locomotive engineer. He grew up in a world where the white folks are gentlemen by day and Ku Klux Klanners by night. Marion Junction is in Dallas County where as late as 1963, although African-Americans made up over 57 percent of the total county population of 57,000, only 130 were registered voters….” The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook by James Boggs

Bogg’s life is also recorded in the book “In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs” by Stephen M. Ward.

Growing up in Marion Junction, he said, meant walking a chalk line all the time…. Jimmy remember the Marion Junction of his childhood as a ‘cotton town’ comprised mostly of Black farmers. There were, he told an interviewer, about 500 or 600 Black people and between 100 and 150 Whites….

Public Domain Image, Photo Published Before 1923. Source: Timothy H. O’Sullivan (1840-1882)

Most of the White residents came from what he described as ’20 major White families’. Boggs was actually related to one of these White families. His paternal grandmother was employed as a domestic in the home of Thomas Boggs, paternal grandfather, a White man who owned land in Marion Junction. The full measure of their relationship is unclear but they had 3 children: Ernest (Bogg’s father) and his twin brother, and a third brother. Predictably the White Bogses did not acknowledge the Black Bogses as family and shut the three brothers out of family affairs, even denying them the opportunity to see their father when he died.

..Boggs described this part of his family tree as an example of the South’s “integration by rape“, explaining the cook or maid or field hand won’t have no alternative to resist the approach made by the boys. Well the White boys first sexual relations in the south is generally with a colored girl because the white girls are kind of dainty little things that you don’t go round spoiling at that early point, you go and catch a colored girl, this is a normal way of life in this town…” Jimmy says that, “Lots of Negroes had this kind of family relation in the South..”

Boggs shared a particularly close bond with his great-grandmother, Big Ma. Born enslaved in the 1850’s, and living through emancipation, Big Ma shared with Boggs her recollections of slavery, the cruelty inflicted on Blacks, and offered hope by sharing the spirituals and words of wisdom passed down in the family.

One of the stories that left a mark on Boggs involved what was called “The Buck Dance” which meantwhite people would come up and say N— dance, and then start shooting at the feet of blacks so they would dance at everything.  As a childBoggs witnessed the “Buck Dance” when the Sheriff of Selma came to town “..shooting and raising Cain to see the colored folks run..

About the Civil War, Big Ma was careful to point out not that Blacks had been freed but that slave holders had surrendered. Ward writes,”She saw the change as something that had been won by somebody, not something that had been given. She realized that there had been a struggle, and that somebody had to lose…” 

Conclusion

Today, Marion Junction remains a small town, the footsteps of the past have been overgrown with thick brush and the absence of memory. The recollections of James Boggs, and the voices of our Elders, is threatened by the modern world and its conveniences of being forgotten or deemed not relevant, even as this generation reaps the benefits of the sacrifices and tears wept for our freedom.

Let us not forget that in a small town a barefooted black boy, the descendant of slaves, fought for his education at a time where, according to the expectations of an oppressive (and racist) societym to be nothing more than a field hand. And with the knowledge he acquired, he refused to “stay in his place” and fought against inequality and oppression for all people. Boggs saw the poor and downtrodden not as victims but as agents for needed social change, and spent his life working to inspire and empower people through writing and activism.

Had my grandmother Julia Fort lived to see the accomplishments of James Boggs, I think she would have been proud to say he was from Marion Junction. But she can no longer speak so in this generation, each one of us must be that voice… and carry on the memory of our Elders, and preserve what they fought so hard for or risk losing it all.

The people who are striving for power must themselves be transformed into new people in the course of the struggle. Their will to struggle, their vision of what they are struggling for, their social consciousness and responsibility, and their capacity to govern must all be systematically increased. The struggle must therefore be an escalating one, focused on problems the people can learn from…” ~ James Boggs (Racism and the Class Struggle)

Further Reading: 

Marion Junction – Topo Quest

July 24, 2017 at 3:12 am 3 comments

SNCC Field Report 1963: Bruce Gordon Documents Fight for Voter Registration, Efforts to De-Segregate Selma

In Our Hearts discusses family stories and genealogy… but to really understand the past, and the lives of our Elders, we must go beyond mere historical documents. Only by listening to firsthand accounts, and by researching the events, forces, and struggles that our Elders experienced, can this generation truly appreciate what the many blessings, and opportunities, that we have inherited because of the prayers, efforts and sacrifices made by those who came before us.

This article is dedicated to my beloved Uncle.. who shared with me his struggle to register to vote in Alabama, and his courageous efforts to have his vote count

Bruce Gordon (Source: Google Images)

“...The demonstrations gave the Negroes a new determination to become first class citizens…our work must be continued not only in Dallas County, but expanded to the surrounding counties. It is difficult to document the spirit and drive that must motivate these people through apathy and fear, to commit the simple act of coming to a court house to register to vote… ” Bruce Gordon, SNCC

Source:  Field Report from Bruce Gordon: November 9, 1963 (Selma, Alabama)

Length: 10 pages, typewritten

An incredible, moving historic document published on the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website, recorded by Bruce Gordon of the SNCC, records the courageous efforts of the Civil Rights Movement to register African-Americans to vote in Selma, and the surrounding counties of the Alabama Black Belt; and records efforts to de-segregate Selma in 1963. 

Negroes account for 58% of the population of Dallas County, and (better) in excess of 50% of the population of Selma, 28,600, yet Negroes control little of the economy and none of the politics of Dallas County or Selma… Dallas County has a long and negative history, as far as race relations are concerned, with 21 reported lynchings between April 1882 and January, 1913. Today police brutality, shots in the night, beatings, and economic reprisals are not rare forms of keeping Negroes out of the economic and political life of Dallas County. These factors, plus discrimination by registrars are the main (factors) for lack of Negroes registered in Dallas County..” (page 1)

Retaliation documented in this report includes that of 30 teachers who were threatened and fired from their positions after attempting to register to vote.

In the early fall of 1962, workers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) (page 2) came to Selma to explore the possibility of creating a voter registration project. After receiving support from local churches, local civil rights organizations and The Dallas County Voters League, the possibility turned into a reality. As word of the project spread, calls for help and information about the project flooded the small house rented by the SNCC, across from the county jail, that served as its office. The voter registration project began to quickly expand with high school students emerging as its new leaders.

Voter registration programs were started in the rural towns of Sardis, Orrville, Hayden, Bogue Chitto and Beloit…connecting otherwise isolated areas of Dallas County to news, information and connecting them to a growing Civil Rights Movement.

The Dallas County Voters League and SNCC did not stop with voter registration but also worked to end segregation in Selma, presenting a list of demands to Mayor Heinz. If demands were not met, street demonstrations were planned. Two events rallied the demonstrations ahead of time – one being a letter Mayor Heinz submitted to the local newspaper stating he would not acknowledge any demands, the second being the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963. Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church (video, biography.com)

In the face of such horror, sit -in demonstrations and picketing began in Selma. The brutal retaliation against demonstrators did not quell the resistance but served to shine what became a national spotlight on the oppression, discrimination and injustices that African-Americans faced in Selma (and the South in general). Gordon writes that,”This was the first time in the history of Dallas County that Negroes had actively demonstrated against this unjust social system. These demonstrations greatly reduced the fear and apathy that was prevalent at that time, among local Negroes….”  (p.4) Despite intimidation, and a growing number of state troopers sent to Selma to stifle the protests, the Civil Rights Movement continued to rally support as African-American citizens, the descendants of slaves who never experienced any freedom, gathered to pray, demonstrate and attempt to register to vote in growing numbers.

The field report documents the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, its members and the opposition faced.

This groundbreaking work would lay the foundation for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the march from Selma to capitol city, Montgomery in 1965. Selma to Montgomery March 1965

 

For More Information: 

Civil Rights Movement Veterans

October 1963: Freedom Day in Selma (SNCC Digital)

Retracing the Selma to Montgomery March

Commons Wikipedia: English: Photograph shows marchers carrying banner “We march with Selma!” on street in Harlem, New York City, New York. 15 March 1965. Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:We_March_With_Selma_cph.3c35695.jpg

 

July 22, 2017 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

Farms Recognized as Alabama Century and/or Heritage Farms (A Resource)

Old Windmill: wpclipart.com

A valuable resource for history buffs and those researching their family roots in Alabama… 

Alabama Century & Heritage Farm Program

The Century Farm & Heritage Program was created to recognize  and honor farms that have been in operating as a family farm over a long period of time, and have played a significant role in the history of the state. 

About the Program:

In 1976, the director of the Alabama Historical Commission and a representative from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries met to discuss some way to recognize small family farms that had been in operation over a long period of time. Out of this original meeting the idea for the Century and Heritage Farm program was born. They decided recognition should be given to these farms because they had played such a significant part in Alabama’s history.

The population in rural Alabama at that time was rapidly changing as people moved to urban areas. The number of family farms was diminishing rapidly at the time as it still is today. It was decided that farms with over one hundred years of ownership should be awarded a certificate to recognize this significant achievement.

Currently, more than 500 farms have been recognized from all across Alabama.

About the Family Farms Recognized: 

A “Century Farm” has been held continuously by the same family for at least 100 years and currently is being used for some agricultural activity. The farm must be at least 40 acres of land and owned by the applicant or nominee.

A “Heritage Farm” has operated continuously as a family farm for at least 100 years and also  includes important historical and agricultural aspects, including one or more structures that is at least 40 years old. The farm must be at least 40 acres of land, owned and operated by the applicant, who resides in Alabama.

All applicants must complete an Ownership Registration Form supplied by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

One of the Farms recognized includes the McCrary farm of Madison County: State’s oldest farm, with its 101-year-old farmer, is tucked away in New Market (gallery)

A Listing of Recognized Farms Can Be Viewed At: Farms Recognized as Alabama Century and/or Heritage Farms   The listing is organized in alphabetical order by county.

This is an important listing that will help not only preserve the history of family farms in Alabama but can also be used to help assist with genealogy, and assist with research of rural Alabama.

The names of farms and plantations can be found in historical records such as: census records, marriage documents, directory listings, draft cards, and used to help find cemeteries located on farms/plantations. This information can help in the research of individuals, even those not related to the landowner.

How to Submit Your Family Farm to the Century & Heritage Farm Program: 

If you feel your farm meets the above qualifications and you would like an application or if you have any questions about the program please contact Amy Belcher at (334) 240-7126 or by e-mail amy.belcher@agri.alabama.gov

You may also visit the main website for information and application: Alabama Century & Heritage Farm Program

 

July 6, 2017 at 12:59 am Leave a comment


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