10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Life in Ripley, TN

28 Mar

I’ve decided to start a new series for the blog called 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Life in Ripley. This is the first entry in this series.

1. Ripley was known for the largest African American Labor Day Celebration in the United States

My husband always made sure that we made it to Ripley every year for Labor Day. When I would ask why he would always say “Everybody comes home for Labor Day.” True enough, we would bump into his old friends and his family would always come into town. I thought about this memory as I read through Kate Johnston Peters “Lauderdale County From Earliest Times”. Peters mentions that Ripley had the largest Black Labor Day Celebration in all of the United States. This event was planned and directed by Blacks with supervision from three White men. The book does not state what year this celebration began, but it does state that it moved to Rice Park, which was donated to the Black community by WGL Rice. There aren’t very many details about what this celebration included. Did they have contests, pageants, games, a parade, etc? I wonder if my husband’s insistence on visiting Ripley every Labor Day somehow stems from a tradition started in the Black community in Ripley.

Labor Day in Ripley the year Rice Park opened

Labor Day in Ripley the year Rice Park opened


Do you have memories of big Labor Day celebrations in Ripley? I’d love to hear them.


– Tiffany

– Source: Kate Johnston Peters “Lauderdale County From Earliest Times” page 134.

– Image Source: Kate Johnston Peters “Lauderdale County From Earliest Times”. Picture taken the first year Rice Park was opened.


31 Responses to “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Life in Ripley, TN”

  1. Aisha NolaDarling Raison August 26, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    They had pageants early in the year for Miss Rice Park. Hamilton High School Marching Band used to be the leading school that would come to Ripley to play in the parade. There were many traditions with Labor Day that have been lost for a few years now.

    • Tiffany August 26, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

      Thanks for commenting. It would be nice if those traditions returned. This year will be my first Labor Day in Ripley in awhile. All the more special since I understand what Labor Day used to mean to the community.

    • Latrice Clay-Butler August 27, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      Yes! My Aunt, Beverly Stone-Clay (my mother’s sister) and my Aunt, Geraldine Clay aka Ms. Geri (my father’s sister) were both crowned Miss Black Ripley!

      • Tiffany August 27, 2013 at 8:59 am #

        Thanks for commenting Cousin Latrice. I’ll be sure to tell Clay you stopped by. I didn’t know Aunt Beverly had been Miss Black Ripley too.

  2. Latrice Clay-Butler August 27, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    Labor Day in Ripley, TN.! Wow…..so many memories…..good memories! Every since I can remember, going to Ripley for the celebration of Labor Day has been the highlight of the year! The food, family & friends! There was nothing that could compare to it. My siblings & I could hardly sleep the night before leaving from Detroit, headed to Ripley. I don’t think the residents of Ripley truly understood the peace we felt when visiting Ripley. So much has changed since then. I am so happy that I got a chance to be a part of that era….our children just don’t know what they missed out on!

    • Sundra Friend August 27, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      My parents are childhood sweethearts both from Lauderdale County. My Dad is currently 81 and Mom’s is 78 still living thank God! We moved to Michigan in 1954 but growing up we never missed returning on Labor Day to Ripley Tenn. Those days are the highlight of my childhood. The parade then Rice Park so many memories, my Dad can take it back even further the memories and my grandparents often told me stories of “going to town for Labor Day” These days are not as fabulous as those, and we no longer attend because of the parents health but Those were the days! My cousin Debra Drain was also Miss Ripley.

  3. Robert F. Houston Sr August 27, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    I remember as a child going to Ripley EVERY LABOR DAY making the drive from DETROIT

  4. Gladys Robinson Davis August 27, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    OMG how I remember those days. RIPLEY was the place to be for Labor Day. Every one from north,south,east and west would come home for Labor Day. You counld hardly walk on the park and uptown it was just that crowed. Where did those days go we just had good clean fun

    • Tiffany August 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

      Thanks for commenting everyone!

      • Joyce Peete Walton August 28, 2013 at 8:25 am #

        Oh how I remember Labor Day in Ripley, and all its events! By far, the parade was the biggest event, but we simply cannot forget the “The Hole”. “The Hole” consisted of a number of cafes and juke joints. Of course we were not allowed to go there until we were “of age”. Some of you may remember circling through again and again just to see who you could see…looking at all the “out of town” license plates. Then, there were the “Stands” on the courthouse grounds where local individuals sold some of the best food you could imagine. We call them vendors now, but back then they were just “Stands”. Those were the days!!

      • Tiffany August 29, 2013 at 7:59 am #

        Thanks for commenting. I’ve recently started working on a post about The Hole. Stay tuned.

  5. Cultina Johnson-Morgan June 14, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    My parents relocated from Ripley in the late 1970’s but every September we would travel back to Ripley for the Famous Labor Day parade. It was a time of good food, fun, church homecoming and fellow ship. Also, the parade and seeing the floats and the classmates re-connecting was an awesome thing. Their was a comradery that was lost as the years passed.
    I wish that times could go back to the way it used to be and make the long commute back to Ripley a memorable event like it used to be.

    • Tiffany June 16, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your Ripley memories.

  6. Tommie Spivey October 26, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    I hope someone will have a picture of the Lauderdale high school March band/if so let me know.

  7. Lisa Moore October 26, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    I also remember rice park, Labor Day, and the hole.

  8. Sandra Parker Whiteside October 28, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

    I remember the carnival rides and booths at Rice Park during the 50’s and 60’s. Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds. It’s still a big deal but not nearly as big as it was then.

  9. LaJoy October 29, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    I remember growing up and watching the Labor Day parade from the Court House yard in Ripley. You would see everyone gathered in one spot. After the parade everyone would gather at Rice Park for rides and carnival food. Whoever you missed at the Parade you would see at the park. I grew up in Ripley in the 80’s and early 90’s. I wish my daughter could have experienced Labor Day in Ripley like the ones we use to have. Another highlight was getting ice cream from the Ice Cream Parlor during the parade! That’s one of my favorite memories.

  10. Stacy October 31, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

    Some of best memories were of the family “going home” for Labor Day. We would all gather at my grams house after the parade but the party started on Friday of the holiday weekend. We took turns on the piano singing old gospel songs on Friday until the we hours of the morning, saw friends and family later on that Saturday, church on Sunday, and the parade on Monday. Best memories ever! 🙂

    • Rita Barnes April 19, 2015 at 11:56 pm #

      I’m not from RIpley, but my late husband and his family are. I remember the first Labor Day I experienced after we moved to Ripley from Chicago, I was overwhelmed with all the people that came home to celebrate. I asked my husband where did all these people live. My husband later opened a cafe down in the hole, and I really got to see the way everyone celebrated. Those were really great times that I will cherish forever.

      • Tiffany April 27, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

        Thanks for sharing. I’d love to hear more about your husband’s café in The Hole.

      • Gloria (Driver) Goiden October 22, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

        Rita do you know any Drivers or Bonds

  11. Martin Toombs (Corky) August 1, 2015 at 9:00 pm #

    Do anyone has any pictures of the hole from the 70s

    • David October 3, 2015 at 3:24 pm #


      • Tiffany October 5, 2015 at 3:21 pm #

        Hello, If you would like to share any pics you have please email them to tiffany @ blackripley.com (remove the spaces) and I will post them on the site.

      • Martin October 10, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

        Please email pictures if you have them

  12. Bonnie Peterson October 12, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    Hi. I love your website. I’m originally from Brownsville TN, but my Grandmother Sarah Bynum used to have a café up on the street, around the corner from the hole in the early seventies. I will keep my eye out for pictures. Also I enjoyed the posts about “Homecoming” as we have grown to call the Labor Day weekend. My grandmother passed away in August this year so I did not come home for the Homecoming celebration at St Luke Church down off 19 highway; but it has always been a high point of the year my whole life. So I will be back next year. Thank you for creating this forum; I’ll be back here also.

    • Gloria (Driver) Goiden October 22, 2015 at 2:36 pm #

      My name is Gloria Driver Gooden my grandfather J W Bonds lived on Randolph Street next to the water filtration plant. They obtained his property and extended the plant. I spent many days when I was to young to join in the celebrations sitting on his porch and watching the hundreds of people moving in and out the the hole, patting my feet to the welcoming sounds of the blues added to the joyful sounds of Labor Day. Those wonderful smells of good cooking fried fish and bar b que. When I was older I couldn’t wait to go into the hole and park, those were the days. It so sad they could preserve those site like Bill Street. It looks strange now seeing the hole evened out and those cafes gone.

  13. Vivian Beard December 30, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    I just found this & I’m glad I did. I have memories too of growing up gathering around the square for the parade going to the carnival for the funnel cakes & much more.
    I am proud to say that myself Shannon Morgan Deondra Dewalt Debra Tyus & many other are on the board for Rice Park. We have joined together to bring some if not all of these memories back. Please look any of us up on facebook or on the following pages Rice Park Ripley or Blaque & Beautiful Cu33nz to follow us & our journey to bring RICE PARK/LABOR DAY back to how it use to be. Any donations will be greatly appreciated
    Thank you


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