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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,

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Who was Lation (Ligon) Scott? – Dyersburg, TN

1 Nov

While looking through the search terms that lead people to this site I noticed recently that there have been quite a few searches for “Ligon Scott Dyersburg”

Lation (or Ligon) Scott was murdered in Dyersburg, Tennessee December 2, 1917 after ten days on the run. He was tortured and then burned at the stake. His charge was that he had attacked the white woman that he worked for.

When I read of Mr. Scott’s torture and subsequent death it gave me chills. What I also think about is how people participated in the acts as if there was nothing wrong with what they were doing. According to the NAACP’s investigation of his death he was poked and prodded with fire pokers. He had his eyes burned with a fire poker, he was castrated, his flesh was branded and burned. Next, they lit a fire and watched him burn to death. Mr. Scott’s lynching was turned into a spectacle with many of Dyersburg citizens attending. There were descriptions of children leaving Sunday School to attend the lynching. One of the citizens was quoted as saying “The best part about it was the burning. This hanging kills too quick”.

You can read the NAACP Report in The Crisis here : http://books.google.com/books?id=Y4ETAAAAYAAJ&lpg=PA179&ots=ziyk_UG9ei&dq=ligon%20scott%20dyersburg&pg=PA183#v=onepage&q=ligon%20scott%20dyersburg&f=false

I wanted to find out who Lation (or Ligon) Scott was. I searched through US Census Records for Dyer County for 1900 and 1910 and found no record of him. I also searched for a death certificate and found no record of him there either. The article in The Crisis mentioned that Ligon was a preacher with the Holy Roller Church. It also mentions that he was included in the selective draft, so I searched for his World War I draft card and finally found him.

Lation Scott was born December 25, 1893 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. He had a 3 year old child and was living apart from his wife. He listed himself as a self employed farmer. He was living on what appears to say RFD #2 in Dyersburg. His draft registration card was completed June 5, 1917.

Using details in The Crisis article I decided to see if I could locate the area where the lynching took place. The article in The Crisis states the location as “a near by vacant lot, the corner of which adjoins the public square, and which is within a stone’s throw of two churches and the residences of several ministers as well as of the Mayor of the town. It is the property, jointly, of several sisters, prominent women of Dyersburg. The court house and the post office, attractive new buildings, are in sight of the spot” (p. 181)

I then turned to the Sanborn Maps for Dyer County and discovered that maps were available for 1914. Sanborn Maps were not published again until 1929, so I decided to stick with the 1914 maps. As you know, Sanborn Maps show structures so it would be easy to identify a vacant lot. Do I know that the lot was still vacant in December of 1917? I do not, but at least I can find a starting point for further research using the 1914 maps.

Here is Court Square in 1914 with all lots adjoining Court Square outlined in red. (Sanborn Maps 1914 Index Key Sheet 1)

Court Square 1914

Court Square 1914

Using different sheets of the Sanborn Maps gives us a closer view of Court Square. The image below is Sanborn Maps 2 and 3 combined to give us a better view of Court Square including the buildings and vacant lots.

Court Square SB 2 and 3

Court Square SB 2 and 3

Combining the two maps lets me see that the only vacant lot near Court Square was at the corner of Mill Avenue and West Court indicated by the red dot on the map. Using the description in The Crisis we can see that (1) the corner of this lot does adjoin the public square, (2) it is near two churches (one of them shown) and (3) the court house and post office are in sight.

So if this in indeed the lot where this horrible crime took place then the address of that lot is 107 N. Mill Avenue.

So what is left?

Using the information on the WWI draft card a search for Mr. Scott on the US census should be tried again in an effort to locate his family members. I did a preliminary search for an African American male born in 1893 living in Holly Springs, MS with the surname Scott and there were a few hits, however none had the first name  Lation or Ligon. Perhaps he also had another name that he went by as a child. Also, newspaper accounts of this incident should be viewed to locate any clues such as the name of the family he worked for and those he associated with in Dyersburg.

Hopefully more can be done to discover Mr. Scott’s background, the family he belonged to, the identity of his wife and child, and where he might be buried.

– Tiffany

– Sources: The Crisis by NAACP Volumes 15 – 18, Sanborn Maps Dyersburg, TN 1914 (Index Key Map 1, Map 2, and Map 3), US Census Records for Dyersburg, TN 1900 and 1910, Tennessee State Deaths and Burials Index 1874-1955, US World War I Draft Registration Cards, Google Maps for 107 North Mill Avenue.

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.

Genealogy Look Ups

22 Feb

I’ve been brainstorming ways that I could further my research on the Black community in the West Tennessee area. I’ve decided that with the amount of time I spend there that I should begin doing genealogy look ups. If you have information that you need assistance with that can only be found by actually visiting the West TN area, please let me know and I will be happy to assist. Please leave your details in the comments section.

I hope everyone has been enjoying their Black History Month so far.

– Tiffany

Jet Magazine – August 27, 1964

20 Jan

I hesitated before posting this particular clipping, but decided to anyway since it can be found in Jet Magazine. I couldn’t help but to giggle at the fact that Jet Magazine used to publish gossip.

Jet Magazine August 27, 1964

Jet Magazine August 27, 1964

I have an idea who this is about,  but I really wonder if they ever discovered that their gossip made it into Jet Magazine.

 

– Tiffany
– Source: Jet Magazine August 27, 1964

Higher Education

16 Dec

As a graduate of Tennessee State University which is an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) I began to wonder about Black college graduates from Ripley and the surrounding areas during segregation. Of course these individuals would have had to have attended HBCUs. I decided to do a search of Tennessee’s HBCUs to see if I could find graduates from the Ripley area.

I decided to start with a quick search of Tennessee State University commencement records.

1932 Graduates of Tennessee State University
Dupree D. Davis – Jackson, TN
James C. Jones – Henning, TN
George A. Newbern – Jackson, TN

1935 Graduates of Tennessee State University
Johnnie Turner Baker – Dyersburg, TN
George Charles Newbern – Dyersburg, TN

1936 Graduates of Tennessee State University
Kathaleen F. McCadden – Elementary Education – Covington, TN
Ida Belle Powell – Home Economics – Jackson, TN
Arthur Lee Robinson – Agriculture – Dyersburg, TN

Other Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Tennessee include,

Fisk Univeristy – Nashville
Lane College – Jackson
Lemoyne Owen – Memphis
Knoxville College – Knoxville
Meharry Medical College – Nashville

Over the course of the next few weeks I hope to do more research into the Black college graduates from this area.

Source: Tennessee State University Digital Archives Records – http://www.tnstate.edu/library/digitalresources/commencements.aspx

– Tiffany