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The 1978 Miss Black Ripley Pageant

9 Sep

Anyone remember The Miss Black Ripley Pageants?

As I have looked for information on them,  I cannot help but think of what a source of pride these pageants were for the Black community. Starting in 1977 with sponsorship by the Nathaniel Lodge No. 216 and coordinated by James T. Pitts of Pitts Barbershop, these pageants featured Black female contestants in a swimsuit competition, talent competition, formal wear competition, and a question and answer competition.

The first year of The Miss Black Ripley Pageant was 1977 with Jackie Springfield being crowned winner.

The second year, 1978, the pageant was coordinated by James T. Pitts with assistance from Linda Russell, Christine Shaw, and Linda Cooper. On April 16, 1978 at 6:00 pm the Ripley High School Little Theater hosted the pageant. It was also sponsored by The Nathaniel Lodge No. 216. The contestants of the 1978 pageant were Johnnie M. Parker, Mary Owens, Carolyn Graves, Rose Parker, Rose M. Bonds, and Geraldine Clay.

In 1978 the pageant was won by Geraldine Clay with Rose Bonds, Carolyn Graves, and Rose Parker as runner-ups.

New Miss Black Ripley 1978

New Miss Black Ripley 1978

          From The Lauderdale County Enterprise April 26, 1978 Edition

 The 1978 pageant booklet contains the names and advertisements of various additional sponsors and businesses such as Berg and Shafer, Thompson’s Mortuary, Pitts Barbershop, Malone’s Bar-B-Q, Rozelle Criner Furniture Company, Halls Flower and Gift Shop, and Montgomery and Son Plumbing among others. Stroll through the 1978 pageant booklet below.

– Tiffany

– Source: 1978 Miss Black Ripley Pageant Booklet, The Lauderdale County Enterprise April 26, 1978 edition


Miss Rice Park 1979

10 Aug

Anyone recognize any of these lovely ladies?

The Miss Rice Park competition was held in conjunction with a fashion show titled “Beautiful People in Fashions” to raise funds to improve Rice Park. Proceeds from this event went towards completing payments on a concession stand and tennis court construction. This event was held at Ripley High School and admission was $2 per person.


Miss Rice Park

Miss Rice Park – Lauderdale County Enterprise April 5, 1979 edition

Miss Rice Park Contestants – Cynthia Harris, Sharon Watkins, and Trenice Currie.

Little Miss Rice Park Contestants – Kenya Toles, Vera Thompson, and Angela Pierson


And for the winners…

Miss Rice Park Winners

Miss Rice Park Winners – Lauderdale County Enterprise April 12, 1979 edition

Little Miss Rice Park – Kenya Toles

Miss Rice Park – Cynthia Harris




– Tiffany

– Source: The Lauderdale County Enterprise April 12, 1979 edition, The Lauderdale County Enterprise April 5, 1979 edition

Would You Like To See A Movie?

1 Mar

Throughout the years Ripley had its fair share of movie theaters calling the downtown/Court Square area their home. Over the years Ripley had the following theaters,

Roxy Theater the year Rice Park Opened

Roxy Theater the year Rice Park opened

The Strand Theater (0wned by a Memphis based company)

The Roxy Theater

The Dixie Theater

The Webb Theater (owned by Aubrey Webb)

As with most theaters during segregation African Americans paid the same fare as everyone else, but could only sit in the balcony.

I’m curious to know if these theaters ever played popular African American movies of the time, but I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that.

According to a former Ripley resident,

“The Webb Theater was my favorite, but most folks like the Strand the best. Seemed like the Roxy was only around for a little while. I used to pay 9 cents to see a movie. I don’t know how they made any money charging 9 cents. They used to have a little stand that sold snacks and black people could go and get snacks and then you had to go to the balcony. I remember one day me and [name removed] were sitting in the balcony at the Webb. I think we went down there together. He took a water pistol and was shooting water down on the white people. He did it a few times. Then Aubrey Webb come up to the balcony with a flashlight and kicked him out! Don’t remember how they figured it was him doing it. I stayed and watched the movie.”

Dixie Theater - July 13, 1917

Dixie Theater – July 13, 1917

Strand Theater January 21, 1944

Strand Theater January 21, 1944

Advertisements from the Dixie Theater and the Strand Theater featured in the Lauderdale County Enterprise

Other area theaters included

The Savoy and The Capitol – Dyersburg

The Gem and The Ritz – Brownsville

The Gem, The Paramount, The Lyric – Jackson

The Pix – Henning

The Halls Theater – Halls

Do any of you all have memories of these theaters? Which movie theater was your favorite? What movies did you see there? Who did you go to the movies with? Does anyone remember the locations of these theaters?

– Tiffany

Sources: Lauderdale County Enterprise July 13, 1917 edition (Dixie Theater) , Lauderdale County Enterprise January 21, 1944 edition (Strand Theater),,

Image Source: Lauderdale County from its Earliest Times by Kate Johnston Peters (Roxy Theater)

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Shirley Temple

11 Feb

This morning I was driving in to the office and heard on NPR that Shirley Temple had passed. They also played a clip where she described Bill “Bojangles” Robinson as her best friend as a child and credited him with teaching her everything she knew about dancing. I thought about Robinson’s connection to Ripley and searched for a scene from one of my favorite Shirley Temple movies. Enjoy.




– Tiffany

Sleepy John Estes

8 Aug

I started back at work this week and I happen to be parking at a new parking garage that has a southern music theme. I went to get on the elevator and guess who I spotted?


None other than Lauderdale County’s own Sleepy John Estes painted on the elevator doors.

– Tiffany

– Photo Source: my own

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

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