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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


West Tennessee Mysteries – Bessie Coleman Visits Memphis, TN

3 May

This is the first edition of the West Tennessee Mysteries series and it is coming to us courtesy of Memphis, TN. If you have a mystery you would like to see featured here, please feel free to contact me.

Bessie Coleman’s Memphis Visit

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was the world’s first African American female pilot. On October 12, 1922 Bessie Coleman flew in Memphis, TN in front of a crowd at the Tri-State Fair. Coleman refused to fly for segregated crowds, so her show in Memphis had to be integrated. Thousands of people came out to see Coleman perform and the Memphis show was considered a success. A few mysteries remain about Coleman’s trip to Memphis. While at a luncheon Coleman’s trip was brought to my attention by a woman who was interested in learning more about it. She was interested in knowing where Coleman stayed, what might she have visited while in Memphis, and most importantly she was looking for a photograph from the Memphis event. The Memphis Commercial Appeal had written a short article about Coleman’s visit, but they only used a stock photograph of her and not one from the actual event.

Through looking in the 1922 Polk Memphis City Directory I was able to pull a list of hotels. This directory did not identify which hotels were for African Americans, but I recognized a few of the hotel names.

Marquette Hotel

Plaza Hotel

I also used the directory to find newspapers of this time that might have covered the story.

The Commercial Appeal

The Daily News

The Memphis Press

The News Scimitar

The Southern Sentinel

Labor Review

Progressive Farmer

The last two newspapers probably wouldn’t have carried a story on Coleman’s visit, but they were newspapers available to Memphians at the time.

It makes me wonder if any of the people from our favorite West Tennessee Towns would have made the journey to Memphis, TN to attend the Tri-State Fair and see Bessie Coleman.

So the mystery remains, where did Bessie Coleman sleep while in Memphis? Where did she keep her plane? How long was she in Memphis for the performance? What restaurants, churches, night clubs, or stores would she have visited? Will we ever be able to put together an itinerary of her visit?

I look forward to finding out more about her visit and sharing it with you all.



– Tiffany

– Source: Google Images

Eat Ripley Tomatoes

29 Apr
Eat Ripley Tomatoes

Eat Ripley Tomatoes


Photo Source: My own

Lost Ripley – Clay Funeral Home on College Street

17 Apr

Clay Funeral Home was a business started by Lauderdale County native Alex Clay. Clay was born in Lauderdale County, TN in 1882 and he passed in 1951. He was the son of Elias and Mary Jaroe Clay both former slaves. Clay Funeral Home was located at 168 College Street. He was one of the first graduates of Lauderdale County Training School graduating in 1908. According to the US Census prior to his work as an undertaker he worked as a farmer. Clay buried many of Lauderdale County’s Black citizens. It is also thought that Clay owned Canfield Cemetery located on Scott Drive in Ripley, TN. According to oral history the Clay funeral home was located behind a few homes on College Street, one of those homes belonged to Junius (June) and Cordelia Clay, who are believed to have been cousins to Alex Clay. The land on College Street were Alex Clay made his business was given to him by Chaney Jaroe, his grandmother. Prior to the Clay Funeral Home being in this spot this location was home to the bush arbor that was home to Miles Chapel CME Church before a lot was secured for this church on Elm Street. After his death he left all of his assets to his wife and children. I have not yet been able to determine the exact location of Clay Funeral Home. I also haven’t been able to locate picture of it. If you have pictures of it that you would like to contribute, please let me know.



– Tiffany

– Source: Oral History interview with Geraldine Clay, Lauderdale County From its Earliest Times by Kate Johnston Peters

TWB – Traveling While Black – Another Follow Up

28 Mar

Awhile back I posted on the listings that one could find in the Negro Motorist Green Book for establishments in Memphis, TN. Below are some of the ads I found in the Memphis Negro Yearbook and Business Directory for 1949. If I find more information on these businesses and others featured in the Negro Motorists Green Book I’ll be sure to post.



Mitchell Hotel 160 Hernando St


Marquette Hotel 507 Linden

Both of these hotels are owned by Black women. I wonder if there is a backstory there. I will continue searching for pictures of the actual establishments.

– Tiffany

– Source:  Negro Yearbook and Business Directory 1949 (Memphis & Shelby County Room – Benjamin Hooks Library)

Dr. C.D. Coleman – Jet Magazine Oct 28, 1954

6 Jan
Jet Magazine October 28, 1954

Jet Magazine October 28, 1954

While reviewing old issues of Jet Magazine I came across an entry for Dr. C.D. Coleman. In October of 1954 he was elected as Notary of Lauderdale County, TN. I looked Dr. Coleman up on and discovered that he was born in 1883 in Mississippi. His full name was Charles David Coleman. His mother, Francis, was born into slavery in 1852 in Alabama. Dr. Coleman worked as a physician and owned his own practice. He was married to Gertrude Love Coleman on September 30, 1915 in Lauderdale County, TN. According to information found on Dr. Coleman passed away March 10, 1966. It’s unclear how he ended up in Halls, but I personally am glad he chose Halls and chose to break racial barriers in Lauderdale County by becoming an elected official.


– Tiffany

– Jet Magazine October 28, 1954

TWB – Traveling While Black – Follow Up

3 Jan

In my last post title Traveling While Black a reader left a comment asking if any of the businesses featured in the Negro Motorists Green Book were still around. Being a lifelong Memphian the only business listed there that I still knew of was the Lorraine Motel which is now the National Civil Rights Museum. From this point I started putting the addresses of these businesses in Google Maps to see if any of the buildings were still around. I did discover that the Mrs. E.M. Wright’s Tourist Home located at 896 Polk Avenue in Memphis in the 1956 Green Book is still standing. I decided against posting a picture of it, but you can easily find a picture of it through Google Maps. According to property records the home at that address was built in 1913 and it has 4 bedrooms, so Mrs. E. M. Wright had plenty of space to rent out. While it is no longer Mrs. E.M. Wright’s Tourist Home it is home to another Memphis family. I wonder if this family has any idea what their home used to be.

Negro Motorist Green Book 1956

Negro Motorist Green Book 1956

– Tiffany