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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


Pop Up Museum @ The 2014 Lauderdale County Tomato Festival – Recap

14 Jul

As mentioned about a week ago Black Ripley sponsored a Pop Up Museum at the 2014 Lauderdale County Tomato Festival. We were there from about 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. I’d like to thank each and every person that stopped by to share their memories of the area.


Welcome Sign


From those memories I was able to learn a lot about the area.

Memories included:

– Tiny, the little person, who worked at either Joe’s or Pitts barbecue spot as a car hop

– A riot at Ripley High School the year of integration

– Life growing up in Arp, Golddust, Durhamville, and Orysa

– Stories of the Great Migration. Families moving North and sending their children back South to Ripley every summer

– Sharecropping on the Eugene Anthony, E.L. Queen, and Eylau farms

– Stories of “The Hole” and the people and businesses that were there

– Recollections of past Labor Days and the Miss Black Ripley Pageants

– Sitting in the balconies of local movie theaters and eating ice cream at the ice cream parlor that was located uptown

– Locating their childhood homes and current homes on a 1927 Sanborn Map

I’m sure all of these memories will make their way into a posting or two 🙂


There were a variety of items surpassing many years on display.

Geraldine Clay and painting

Geraldine Clay and drawing by her grandson of her life in Durhamville in the 1920s – 1930s

Miss Black Ripley Display

Miss Black Ripley Display with information on pageants from 1977 – 1979 along with pageant souvenir booklets. Also included were articles from the “10 Things” series.

Table Display

Table Display featuring Alex Haley’s Warner Bros records on Roots, a wooden nickle from JT Williams grocery, a school book published in 1890 from the area.

Table Display

Table Display featuring “Finding the Good” book by Lucas Johnson on the life of Fred Montgomery, home run baseball from a 2002 RHS baseball game and an article about the game.

Tent Set Up

Tent Set Up

Sanborn Map Display

Sanborn Map Display

It was a great day. I’m very grateful for the participation and encouragement that was received.




– Tiffany

– Photo Source: My Own

Native Son – Alex Haley

9 Mar

As we all know Alex Haley is a very important piece of Lauderdale County, TN history. The story of his family who settled in Henning after emancipation is known through Roots the book and Roots the television miniseries. Haley was hailed as the first African American to ever trace his history back to the village in Africa where his ancestors had once lived. I’m sure that we’ve all seen Roots the miniseries and that some of us can even recite lines from the miniseries. There is no denying the effect that Haley’s Roots had on America. Haley can be seen as the father of modern genealogy because his story encouraged the nation to trace their roots. After Roots was published Haley lived a very busy life traveling to lectures and book signings supporting Roots. As a child I attended Haley’s wake in Memphis, TN and as you all know I have volunteered at the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center in Henning, TN.

I was approached by Adam Henig, author of Alex Haley’s Roots: An Author’s Odyssey and I decided to read his book and interview him. What I enjoyed most about the book was its truth. It did not gloss over the complexity of Haley and it also did not leave out details about the plagiarism accusations that Haley faced.

Overall, I am pleased to have read the text and pleased to have met Adam Henig. Despite Haley’s complexities and the accusations leveraged against him I have a great deal of respect for him and his work and still feel inspired by him and his work to trace my family’s roots and the roots of other families.

You can listen to my interview with Adam Henig below.

You can click HERE to purchase Henig’s book. You can also find out more details by visiting


What About the Ladies?

23 Sep

“A survey of women workers for Tennessee in 1935 found that black female workers, most of them concentrated in West Tennessee, made a median wage of $5.65 a week in all occupations, less than half the median wage of white women” – Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights by Micheal K. Honey

So what were women doing to earn their $5.65 a week in Ripley? ($5.65 a week x 52 weeks in a year = 293.80 a year)

A quick look at the 1940 US Census reveals the occupations of those employed.


Ella Adams – Age 44, Laundress, 40 hours per week, Income in 1939 $250.00

Frances Claybrook – Age 19, Cook in a private home, 50 hours per week, income in 1939 $108.00

Nellie Alexander – Age 48, Cook/Maid in a private home, 54 hours per week, income in 1939 $198.00

Willie B. Alexander – Age 36 (been working 26 years), cook in a private home, income in 1939 $130.00 (worked 26 weeks)

Pearle Bands – Age 32, maid, 21 hours per week, income in 1939 $208.00

Jessie Henderson – Age 42, cook, 40 hours per week, income in 1939 $156.00

Laura Sullivan – Age 35, cook at a cafe, 60 hours per week, income in 1939 $250.00

Alcie Taylor – Age 50, laundress, 20 hours per week, income in 1939 $78.00

Ella B. Tyus – Age 32, laundress, 48 hours per week, income in 1939 $364.00

Magalena Vaughn – Age 50, cook, 42 hours per week, income in 1939 $260.00

As you can see from this small collection of ladies their yearly income varied. One even made it beyond the $5.65 per week mark. What stands out to me is that their occupations were basically the same. Cook, laundress, or maid were the occupations African American women could look for during this time. Could you imagine graduating from Lauderdale County High School, but having to become a maid or work in another position of servitude? Do any of you have oral histories from your family detailing how your grandmother or great grandmother made a living?



– Source: 1940 US Census Records for Lauderdale County, Tennessee, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights by Micheal K. Honey

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.

Book Review – Finding the Good by Lucas L. Johnson II

7 Jul

A few months ago I had the opportunity to attend the Writers Day  program at the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center located in Henning, TN. While there I purchased a book called Finding the Good by Lucas L. Johnson II. It is based on the life of Fred Montgomery, a friend of Alex Haley’s, former Henning mayor, and former curator of the Alex Haley Museum. I was so fascinated by the life of Fred Montgomery that I read the book in one sitting. Not only is it a biography of sorts, but there are details of the author’s life included as well as history related to people and places in Henning, TN.

The book itself is titled after Alex Haley’s famous saying “Find the good and praise it”. There are many interesting parts of the book including the stories of racist treatment from the men who employed Fred’s family as sharecroppers, Fred’s struggles with the deaths of his children, childhood stories about Fred and Alex, actions of the local KKK, details of early African American education in Henning, TN, pictures of Fred and his wife Earnestine, and other stories that allow the reader to understand Henning, TN during the Jim Crow era.


Finding the Good by Lucas L. Johnson II

Finding the Good by Lucas L. Johnson II


Mr. Fred Montgomery died July 12, 2006, but his memory will live on through this book and the countless lives he touched. I recommend this book to anyone looking to learn about African American life in Henning, TN.

Finding the Good on Amazon –


– Tiffany

– Image Source: my own

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: