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Best of Black Ripley Awards 2014

29 Jan

In keeping with last year I am back with 2014’s Best of Black Ripley Awards. This is just a way to document the Best of Black Ripley for the past year. This year I am going to highlight the most read posts on the website.

1. 10 Things You Didn’t Know About African American Life in Ripley – #1 Ripley was known for the largest African American Labor Day Celebration in the United States

Just like last year this was the most read post on the blog. Labor Day certainly does hold a special place in the heart of people from Ripley. This post was also the most shared post from this site on Facebook.

You can review the original posting here:
10 Things you Didn’t Know About Black life in Ripley, TN –  1. Ripley was known for the largest African American Labor Day Celebration in the United States

 

2. Lost Ripley – Eylau Plantation

This one was a complete surprise! I was not expecting this one to appear on the list for the most read posts at all. Eylau Plantation was the home of Dr. Samuel Oldham and family. According to the book, Lauderdale County from its Earliest Times by Kate Johnston Peters, Eylau was a show place for the Oldham family. Peters also notes that Oldham treated his slaves kindly (as kindly as you could treat someone you treat as property I suppose).

You can review the original posting here:

Lost Ripley – Eylau Plantation

 

3. Runaway Slave – Memphis Daily Appeal February 21, 1857

The third most read post was the Runaway Slave post in the Memphis Daily Appeal. I always save runaway slave postings whenever I come across them. I cannot help but to think of the desperation and fear that those individuals must have felt as they made their way towards freedom.

You can review the original posting here:

Runaway Slave – Memphis Daily Appeal February 21, 1857

 

4. 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Life in Ripley, TN – 2. The Madison County Area was once involved in a plot to capture a slave thief named John Murrell.

Although this post does not directly involve Ripley, it did take place in the area and is an interesting story involving the Henning family, namesakes of Henning, TN. The story involves plots of slave stealing and inciting slave revolts and helped to create one of the biggest legends in West Tennessee history in John Murrell.

You can review the original posting here:

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Life in Ripley, TN – 2. The Madison County Area was once involved in a plot to capture a slave thief named John Murrell. 

 

5. Lost Ripley – Clay Funeral Home on College Street

And lastly, the 5th most read posting on the site for 2014 belongs to the former Clay Funeral Home on College Street. The Clay Funeral Home was founded by Alex Clay and served the black community in Ripley faithfully. After the original posting, Mr. William Carson provided the site with actual pictures of the funeral home. That type of collaboration is exactly what is needed to preserve the stories that make up this site.

You can review the original posting here:

Lost Ripley – Clay Funeral Home on College Street

You can view the posting with pictures of Clay Funeral Home here:

Lost Ripley – Clay Funeral Home – Follow Up

 

There you have it! Those were the most read posts for 2014. What would you like to see featured on the website in 2015?

 

– Tiffany

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

1 Mar

5. Tom, Hiliary, and Sugar Hill

The building known as the Sugar Hill Library was built in 1842 by Joseph Wardlaw. It was the first framed home built in Ripley and it was built using hand hewn logs. In March of 1948 the home, donated by its current owners the WGL Rice family, began a restoration so that it could become the Sugar Hill Library. It operated as a library for 50 years and  currently it is home to the Lauderdale County Chamber of Commerce. The Lauderdale County Museum operates on the first floor.

Sugar Hill c1900

Sugar Hill c1900

So who were Tom and Hiliary and how do they fit into the history of the Wardlaw House also known as Sugar Hill?

Tom and Hiliary are the names of the two slaves owned by Joseph Wardlaw who were credited with building the house that is currently known as Sugar Hill. It is possible that Tom and Hiliary walked from South Carolina when Wardlaw relocated to the Ripley area.

Joseph Wardlaw died in 1863. I searched for his will to see if Tom and Hiliary were listed, but was unable to find a copy.

A check of the 1870 US Census turned up an African American male by the name of Hillary Wardlaw who was born in 1810 in South Carolina and was currently living in Ripley working as a day laborer. So far he seems to match the Hillary that built Sugar Hill. A check of the 1870 US Census also turned up an African American male by the name of Tom Wardlaw who was born in 1810 in Tennessee. Because Tom is a more common name for a male than Hiliary I am not certain that this is the same Tom who built Sugar Hill, but it very well could be him. Tom’s occupation was listed as farmer. Hiliary and Tom both had several children so it is possible that some of their descendants still live in Ripley, drive by Sugar Hill, and are unaware of the family connection.

So there you have it. Tom and Hiliary were the two slaves who built Sugar Hill in 1842. Their work is still standing 172 years later.

Sugar Hill c2014

Sugar Hill c2014

– Tiffany

Source: Lauderdale County from its Earliest Times by Kate Johnston Peters

Image Source: Sugar Hill c 1900 – TNSOS.org, Sugar Hill c 2014 – my own

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Life in Ripley – Follow Up to #4

5 Nov

The 4th entry in the 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Life in Ripley series told the story of Eleanor Roosevelt being thrown into the conversation regarding African American soldiers being killed in Ripley.

Let me refresh your memory…

#4 Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin Roosevelt 32nd President of the United States, spoke out against the killing of an African American soldier in Ripley, TN.

You can read the original posting here: https://blackripley.com/2013/09/17/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-black-life-in-ripley-tn-2/

If you recall the missing information such as the soldier’s identity lay in old issues of The Commercial Appeal, the daily newspaper of Memphis, TN, particularly the January 27, 1944 and January 29, 1944 issues. Further research also revealed that the January 1, 2013 issue held clues as well.

Here are the missing pieces.

The soldier was killed December 29, 1943 in Ripley, TN. He had come into Ripley from the Dyersburg Air Force Base. According to reports, he was drunk when he was fatally wounded by the Lauderdale County Sheriff, only after he had shot the sheriff. His name was Private Joseph L. Burrell of Co A of the 449th Signal Construction Battalion. Apparently a group of African American soldiers, estimated to be about 50 or 60 left Dyersburg and in the words of the sheriff “descended upon Ripley with the apparent intention of taking the town apart” (Jan 27, 1944 issue). This incident occured in what was described as the “negro quarters” in Ripley. The result of this skirmish is that soldiers from the Dyersburg Air Force Base were banned temporarily from entering Ripley.

Commercial Appeal January 1, 1944

Commercial Appeal January 1, 1944

Commercial Appeal Jan 28, 1944

Commercial Appeal Jan 28, 1944

Private Joseph L. Burrell was born July 11, 1913 in Denbigh, Warrick County, Virginia. He enlisted in the military in Richmond, VA on August 12, 1942. At the time of his death he was 30 years old and was married, but seperated, to Lucille Burrell. According to his death certificate he died due to gunshot wounds of the liver, stomach, pancreas, intestines, lungs, and heart. His death was listed as an accident. Prior to his death and army enlistment he had been employed as a laborer at the Navy Yard in Yorktown. Virginia.

He was buried at the Colossian Baptist Church Cemetery in Denbigh, VA in an unmarked grave. His mother, Florence Burrell, was granted a military headstone for his grave on July 14, 1944.

Joseph L. Burrell

Joseph L. Burrell

On US Census records  for 1920 and 1940 Joseph is listed as Lawrence. He is living with his mother Florence (b. 1896 Virginia), his father Joseph (b. 1890 VIrginia) and his siblings Claris (b. 1916), Noretha (b. 1918), James (b. 1920), and Mary (b. 1922).

At this point I am not sure that the true story behind his murder will ever be revealed. What troubles me is the reason why the Sheriff was called to what was described as the “Negro” side of town in the first place. Were the soldiers being drunk and disorderly? At this point of time in America soldiers were returning from overseas. Overseas African American soldiers had been treated considerably better than they were treated in the US. When they returned to the US they were basically told to go back to their subserviant roles. Historical accounts from across the United States discuss the murder of African American soldiers, some even lynched in their uniforms. White supremacists did not like the fact that African Americans returned to the US in uniform believing that they were equals and this spawned a surge of racial violence. Could this be what happened to Joseph Burrell? What caused him to pull his gun and shoot the Sheriff? Whatever the case may be Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt was right in her assessment that the South was responsible for instances such as this due to its treatment of African Americans.

Commercial Appeal January 27, 1944

Commercial Appeal January 27, 1944

Commercial Appeal January 29, 1944

Commercial Appeal January 29, 1944

– Tiffany

– Image Source: Joseph L. Burrell headstone (FindAGrave.com)

– Sources: Tennessee Deaths and Burial Index 1874 – 1955, Tennessee Death Records 1908 – 1958, US Headstone Applications for Military Veterans 1925 – 1963, FindAGrave.com Newport News, VA Colossian Baptist Church Cemetery Listing, US WW2 Army Enlistment Records, 1938 – 1946, The Commercial Appeal January 1, 1944 issue, The Commercial Appeal January 27, 1944 issue, The Commercial Appeal January 29, 1944 issue, US Census Records 1920 and 1940 for Denbigh, VA,

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

17 Sep

#4 Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin Roosevelt 32nd President of the United States, spoke out against the killing of an African American soldier in Ripley, TN.

“Early in 1944, a disgruntled Tennessean, WT Straub of Memphis, charged that Eleanor Roosevelt was indirectly responsible for a shoot-out between black soldiers and two white law enforcement officers in Ripley, Tennessee, in which one soldier was killed and an officer wounded.” – page 161, Days of Hope by Patricia Sullivan

Why Eleanor Roosevelt? WT Straub had mailed her newspaper clippings of the story involving the incident with the African American soliders and the White police officers that had taken place in Ripley, TN. Because Mrs. Roosevelt had taken a firm stand against segregation she had become an easy target for White supremacists.

Mrs. Roosvelt’s response:

“These articles are sad reading for you – not me.”

This stunned the City of Memphis and the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper demanded an explanation. Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretary responded with:

“Mrs. Roosevelt meant that not she, but the South is responsible for things like that because of the condition there caused by discrimination against the Negro. Certainly she was not responsible for them. If she’d died in her cradle, conditions there would still be the same as they are.”

So just who was the African American soldier that died in Ripley whose story made it to the White House?

I haven’t been able to find him. My guess is that he might have been a soldier visiting home or he was a soldier at the base in Dyersburg, TN who happened to be in Ripley at the wrong time. I have found records of soldiers based in Dyersburg, TN dying in Ripley mainly through things such as plane crashes or other Army related incidents. At this time there was a lot of hostility towards African American soldiers because these soldiers were asserting their natural rights to freedom. These soldiers even had their right to vote protected when civilian African Americans did not! My next step here is to search through the Commercial Appeal archives at the University of Memphis library.

I did find an entry for a W.T. Straub in the 1940 Memphis City Directory. The directory indicates that he was employed as a conductor.

So just who was this soldier? I hope to have more information for you soon. So far my searches have turned up empty.

– Tiffany

Sources: page 161, Days of Hope by Patricia Sullivan, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 27 January, 29 January 1944.

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

4 May

#3 Father of the Blues WC Handy and his band used to perform at the Annual Confederate Veteran’s Picnic in Confederate Park

WC Handy

WC Handy

WC Handy, Father of the Blues, made his way to Ripley, Tennessee in 1907 with his band to play for our Confederate Veterans at their annual reunion picnic. According to the story there used to be a park known as Confederate Park not too far from Walker’s Motel on Highway 51. Each year the local Confederate Veterans would gather here and host a barbeque picnic. The entertainment for the picnic varied, but about 1907 they were able to get WC Handy to perform. Handy and his band would go one to perform at several of these picnics in later years. What would he have played at the picnic in 1907 and after? I’m sure he would have played “Mr. Crump aka The Memphis Blues” or “The St. Louis Blues”. He might have also played “Yellow Dog Blues” or “The Beale Street Blues”.

It is interesting to note that Handy was the son of former slaves playing at a reunion picnic for Confederate Veterans. Oh the irony! Nevertheless, I am positive he put on a good show and that a good time was had by all. Was Lauderdale County’s most famous Black Confederate Veteran Louis Napoleon Nelson in attendance? I’m sure he was.

Today WC Handy is honored in Memphis with a park bearing his name. His Memphis home has been turned into a museum and is appropriately located on Beale Street.

 

 

– Tiffany

– Source: Lauderdale County from its Earliest Times by Kate Johnston Peters

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

14 Apr

This edition 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Life in Ripley, TN comes to us courtesy of Madison County, TN.

2. The Madison County Area was once involved in a plot to capture a slave thief named John Murrell.

This story begins in 1834 with Rev. John Henning whose descendants would go on to found Henning, TN in Lauderdale County. At this time Rev. Henning was making his home in Denmark in Madison County, TN. Rev. Henning suspected that a thief named John Murrell had stolen two of his slaves and he hired a man named Virgil Stewart to track down Murrell and bring his slaves home.

As the story goes Stewart tracked down Murrell and gained his confidence. They traveled together through the West Tennessee wilderness where allegedly Murrell told Stewart about his exploits in slave stealing, horse stealing, and a plot to incite the largest slave revolt in the South. Stewart claimed that on this trip Murrell admitted to stealing Rev. Henning’s slaves and that he had already arranged to resell them. During the course of the trip the slaves were sold by an associate of Murrell’s and they were thought to be in Manchester, Mississippi. As the story goes Henning’s slaves never made it to Manchester, TN and Rev. Henning eventually gave up finding them.

On Murrell’s return to Madison County Rev. Henning had him arrested for slave stealing and Murrell went on trial. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years. You might think that the story stops here, but it doesn’t. Virgil Stewart went on to publish a pamphlet about the ordeal called “A History of the Detection, Conviction, Life and Designs of John A. Murrell, the Great Western Land Pirate” (Athens, TN 1836). This book was heavily thought to be an embellishment of the actual events, but nevertheless it made its way to Beattie’s Bluff, Mississippi and was thought to be the basis of a slave revolt in that area. Several died as a result of Stewart’s lies including slaves and those thought to have helped the slaves plan the riot. The pamphlet went on to make Murrell a legend and if you’re interested his thumb is on display at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, TN.

Here are some extra details:

Slave theft was a felony in Tennessee. Murrell had been charged in 1833 with harboring 3 slaves belonging to William Long in Madison, County. Long had thought that Murrell had taken the slaves in order to resell them. This is why when Rev. Henning’s slaves went missing Henning immediately considered Murrell as the culprit.

Murrell supposedly also admitted to Stewart that he used a slave named Sam from Madison County to run a slave resell scam. The scam involved Murrell selling Sam, after a while Sam would escape and runaway, and Murrell would sell Sam again to someone else. Murrell also used a slave from Tipton County in a similar scheme.

John Murrell Stealing a Slave

John Murrell Stealing a Slave

So there you have it folks. Our little West Tennessee towns and their inhabitants were involved in plots of slave stealing and inciting slave revolts and Rev. John Henning helped to create one of the biggest legends in West Tennessee history in John Murrell.

 

– Tiffany

Sources: Flush Time and Fever Dreams by Joshua Rothman and Beginnings of West Tennessee by Samuel Cole Williams

Image Source: Fold3.com

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.