Sunday, September 23, 2012

Promise Lilles

Cyndy Clement Gay posted a picture of Spider Lillies on Facebook and I was reminded of a column Momma wrote nearly 20 years ago that was periodically rerun. I'm sharing the version I ran after her death in the Fall of 2009. She called them Promise Lillies and here's her story behind that name.

This is a column that Momma first published 16 years ago, in the Fall of 1994. Last week several people mentioned this column to my sister, as they had seen these spider lilies growing around town and remembered this article. She asked me to run it this week and I agreed. At that point something unique happened, particularly in light of the label “promise lilies” that Momma attached to these flowers. The morning after agreeing to rerun this article I came out of my house – the same house my parents moved into back in the Fall of 1948 -- and there in the front yard a single “promise lily” had emerged. This particular lily popped up in a place where there had never before been any of the flowers, at least in the 52 years I’ve been around. So, I don’t ask you to accept it, but I believe that was Momma’s way of saying, “I’m glad you’re finally running that article one more time. So here is the story of the “promise lilies.” – John Agan

They are back again! Yesterday they were not there, but today there is a bright red circle of lilies around each pine tree in the back yard. Some folks call them "spider lilies" and others call them "surprise lilies", but to me they are "promise lilies", and I'd like to tell you why.

Long years ago, about 46 years ago, a newlywed couple moved into a house on the Sibley Road. After the long hours on their jobs they came home to plant the foundation planting around their new home. That autumn the days were short as they are by November, and the planting must be done by the headlights on their car. Long into the night they worked, planting roses in the newly created rose garden, and arbor vitae at either side of the house. Akin Nursery in Shreveport had planned the foundation planting, and the young couple followed the instructions. Each thing they planted such as the sasanquas and the camellias and the azaleas had specific instructions for their care. So much to do, and so little time to get it done.

The young can work the late hours and still spring back full of vitality and energy the following morning. All along the Sibley Road the older residents watched with interest as the newlyweds borrowed a tractor and filled in and leveled the front yard, and did the planting. One couple who lived down the road where the service station and the little convenience store is now located were especially interested. Late one night as the newlyweds worked, a little old man appeared in the car headlights, introduced himself as the husband of one of the friends of the young woman's mother. He asked permission to come down during the day and plant some bulbs around the trees in the yard. He said that there would be nothing to do to them, just wait for the following autumn and one day they would just pop up and bloom; no foliage, just a straight stalk with a large clump of red at the top. They questioned him about the care because everything else they had planted required certain fertilizer, applied at a certain time, spraying and watering. Still, he maintained that there was nothing they had to do to keep them living and blooming. He said to trust him, that he promised they would not be disappointed. He said that he promised they would come back year after year and be a bright spot in the autumn days. With considerable doubt they consented for him to come the next day. Promptly they forget his promise and the trip to see them.

Months went by, and the shrubbery grew. The roses grew and bloomed, and the sasanquas and camellias and azaleas all had their season of blooming and being cared for. One morning in September they looked out into the backyard and there in a perfect circle around each pine tree was a beautiful cluster of red. Yesterday they had not been there and today they were. Then they remembered the promise the old man had made -- just wait and see, he had said. "I promise, I promise, wait and see", were the words they remembered.

The newlyweds were my late husband, J.C., and me, and our elderly friend was Mr. Craton Alexander. He called them "spider lilies" but I call them my "promise lilies" because of the dear oold man who promised the young couple bright blooms year after year and quite unexpectedly. He was right, the lilies kept his promise to us.

About thirty or more years ago, one morning his wife, whom I called Aunt Kate Alexander, could not wake him. He had gone on to be with Jesus. Still for more than forty-five years the lilies have bloomed each autumn. Each time I see them I remember the kindly old man who wanted to help the young couple with their planting. He had to convince me but he was right. His promises were kept and are still being kept, as once again the lilies bloom for me. Even the young husband has now gone to be with Jesus, too, Promises made and promises kept.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Remembering Jimmy Upton

A new Facebook group about Minden raised the topic of Jimmy Upton, so I'm using this space to post an article I wrote about Jimmy after his death. Here goes:

Last week saw the death of one of the handful of athletes who earned All-American honors while performing for Minden High School. Jimmy Upton was the most outstanding of the many star athletes who competed for the Minden High School track team during its “Golden Era” of the 1960s and 1970s. During a 15-year period the Tide won a dozen district championships in a row, highlighted by three consecutive state championships in 1964, 1965 and 1966. The first of these was won under the leadership of Coach Steve Jordan, while the last two championship squads were under the tutelage of Coach Bill Huth.  Upton joined the varsity track team as a sophomore for the 1965 season, played a key role on the 1966 championship team but enjoyed his greatest personal success during his senior season of 1967. Today’s Echo of our Past will be a remembrance and a tribute to Minden’s champion hurdler, Jimmy Upton.

Although Minden High School had always been blessed with outstanding athletes, track and field was not a major sporting event at the local school until the 1950s. During those years a track was constructed at the school under the leadership of Principal W. W. Williams. Yet even though the Minden program began to develop in those years, it still lagged behind the other athletic programs at the school. It wasn’t until 1962 that the Tide won its first district track championship under Steve Jordan. Two years later, in the spring of 1964 MHS was blessed with the stellar group of athletes that had led the Tide football team to an undefeated state championship season the previous fall. For the first time it seemed possible that the school might compete for a state championship in track and field to go along with the four football, two basketball and one baseball championship earned by the boys teams and the numerous swimming titles won by the Tide girls. Indeed, 1964 did see Minden win a state track championship for Class AA. Jimmy Upton was a freshman that year, and while he was a consistent performer on the freshman track team, there was little indication of the star he would become.

By the time the 1965 track season rolled around, Coach Jordan had left MHS and the new coach, Bill Huth, inherited the task of attempting to duplicate Jordan’s success. Early in the season, while some of the older members of the team were still competing with the MHS basketball squad Upton was given the opportunity to participate on the 440 yard, 880 yard, and Mile relay teams, along with running the 120 yd. High hurdles, the race that would become one of his specialties. In the Tide’s first outdoor meet of the season, Upton gave a brief glimpse of the excellence to come when he won the 120 hurdles in a time of 15.9, beating his senior teammate, Mike Holliday. However, by the middle of the season, Upton gave up his place on the relay teams and competed only in the hurdles. He never again broke the 16-second barrier in the 120 hurdles, far from the potential demonstrated by his early season time. He was not even among the 16 Tide tracksters who qualified for the Regional meet by placing first or second in district competition. At the district meet, Jimmy ran the 120 hurdles in a time of 16.4 seconds, coming in third. The Tide went on to earn the regional and the state championships. The victory at the state meet over Cathedral High School of Lafayette was sparked by victories in the all-important 880 yd and Mile Relays.

As the 1966 track season began, the Crimson Tide was the overwhelming favorite to repeat their state championship.  Led by seniors Jerome Vascocu, Ronnie Pope, Jimmy Roberts, Dolan Cooper and Wayne Deloney, the Tide seemed too strong for their AA competition and indeed often challenged the AAA powers out of Shreveport such as Woodrow Turner’s Byrd teams. In those years Minden traditionally opened its track season by competing at the high school indoor meet hosted by Northwestern State College. Competing in the 60-yard hurdles, Upton came in 4th place at the Northwestern competition while the highlight of the meet for Minden was a 30-yard victory over Byrd in the 16-lap relay. Minden next moved to the Martin Relays in Carthage, Texas. Jimmy won the 120-yard hurdles in a meet record time of 15.4 seconds and ran a leg on the Tide 440 yd. relay team that placed 2nd. Over the next few weeks the Tide began facing the stiffer competition of the Shreveport AAA schools and victories were harder to achieve. Upton lowered his personal bests in the 120 hurdles to 14.8 seconds and his time in the 180 yard low hurdles to 20.6 seconds but had only a 3rd place finish at the Shreveport Relays and 2nd in a dual meet against Byrd to show for the two records, respectively. The 880-yard relay team of Vascocu, Upton, Mike McKinney and Pope shattered the previous meet record at the Shreveport relays, but still came in 2nd to the Byrd Yellow Jacket squad in the race.

Stepping back down to face AA competition proved easier as the Tide took part in a meet with other AA schools at North Caddo. The Minden team won an easy victory in the total points while Jimmy Upton won or shared in four first places. He won the 120 and 180-yard hurdles and ran legs on the Tide’s winning 440 and 880-yard relay teams. While the times were not spectacular, as they reflected the level of the competition, Upton was beginning to display the signs of a winner. The next week Minden produced another outstanding performance coming in 2nd at the Fair Park Relays to the Woodlawn Knights. Upton set a personal best in the 180 yd low hurdles with a time of 19.5, which tied the meet record. Unfortunately, he lost to Wayne Williams of Fair Park who set a new record of 19.4 in the same race. Jimmy also ran a 14.9 time in the 120 yard hurdles but only earned a 3rd place for his effort. He also took part on the 2nd place 880-yard relay team and the 4th place 440-yard relay team. Minden’s effort that day was of course overshadowed by the achievement of a Woodlawn football player named Terry Bradshaw who managed to set a national high school record by throwing the javelin over 243 feet.

The next day, running in a postponed meet at Haughton, Jimmy Upton won his first award for Outstanding Track Man at a high school meet. He won both hurdle races and also ran legs on two winning relay teams. Again the times were not impressive, but that was in fact part of Coach Huth’s strategy, to run to win, rather than risk injury by overextending against lesser competition. By this time of his junior season, Upton was beginning to come into his own as a runner. The Tide next faced more quality competition in a triangular meet at Neville including the host Tigers and the Bolton Bears of Alexandria. Upton again won honors as Outstanding Track Man at this meet, tying the meet record with a time of 19.5 in the low hurdles and smashing the mark in the 120 hurdles by finishing in 14.7 seconds, in addition to his relay duties. The next week at Bastrop, he won both hurdle races and ran on two winning relay teams, including the school-record setting 440-yard relay team. Running next in the Northwestern outdoor relays, the Tide romped to a victory in the AA division and Jimmy again won both hurdles and on a meet-record setting 880 yard relay team.
Back home for the Tide Relays Upton won both relays, extending his winning streak in the hurdles to ten races while smashing the meet record in the 120-yard hurdles by more than a second with his time of 14.5. He also took part on Minden’s winning 440-yard and 880-yard relay teams. The Tiders were coming off some of their best performances of the season headed for the District Championship Meet.

In that meet Minden won first place in District 1-AA by a total of 146 points to a mere 63 for runner-up Springhill. Jimmy Upton won first places running on the 440-yard relay team which set a district record with its time of 43.7 seconds; the 880-yard relay team which set a new school and district record time of 1:29.3; the 120-yard high hurdles in a new record time of 14.6; and the 180-yard low hurdles with a time of 20.5 seconds. The next week, Minden romped to a regional championship by 18 points over Leesville, despite a dropped handoff that disqualified the 440-yard relay team. Upton ran on the record setting 880-yard relay team that finished in 1:29.7 and individually won the 120-yard high hurdles in a time of 14.85 and the 180-yard low hurdles in a record time of 19.7. Minden won every running event at the regional meet and Upton extended his winning streak in individual hurdle races to 14. That streak ended the next week as Minden won its third consecutive state championship by an unprecedented 14 points over Hahnville as the locals won first place in both the 880 and the Mile Relays and had individual first-place winners Dolan Cooper in the Mile Run and Ronnie Pope in the 440-yard dash. Upton ran a leg on the winning 880-yard relay team, ran a personal best in the 180 yard low hurdles with a time of 19.4, but losing in a photo-finish and also came in third in the 120 yard hurdles with an excellent time of 14.6 seconds.

Moving into his senior year at MHS in 1967, Jimmy Upton was clearly the feature attraction of the MHS athletic program. Although the Tide expected to be competitive, the losses of Jerome Vascocu, Wayne Deloney, Dolan Cooper, Mark Jones, Larry Brewer, Jeff Jenkins, Ronnie Chandler, and Jimmy Roberts from the squad indicated a 4th straight state championship might be too much to expect. However, from the outset of the season it was clear that Jimmy Upton had become a very special track athlete. Coming off a season in which he earned All-District and All-State honors, Upton let it be known at the first meet of the season, the Northwestern Indoor Meet, that he was only getting better. He shattered the meet record in the 60-yard high hurdles in a time of 7.3 seconds. Next at the Martin Relays in Carthage, Upton broke the meet record in the 120-yard high hurdles, won in an unfamiliar event, the 330-yard intermediate hurdles (not run in Louisiana at that time) and anchored the winning Mile Relay team. He also ran on the other two relay teams throughout the 1967 season. At the Shreveport Relays, Jimmy was named the Outstanding Track Man while setting meet and personal records in the 180-yard hurdles, with a time of 19.0 and the 120-yard high hurdles, finishing in 14.2 in addition to anchoring three relay squads that placed. A new event was added to his repertoire at the Minden Triangular meet where he won his usual first in the 120-yard hurdles but added a victory in the 220-yard dash to go with first places in two of the three relays.

At the Fair Park relays, Jimmy again won both hurdle races in record times and then repeated the feat at Haughton, where he was again named Outstanding Track Man for his performance. The Tide next traveled to Lafayette to compete in the AA division of the Southwestern Relays. Upton won both the hurdles races and came in a surprising 4th in another new race, the 100-yard dash.  The record pace continued to the Tide Relays, where he was again named Outstanding Track Man for setting new records in the 120-yard hurdles and the 220-yard dash, while skipping the 180-yard hurdles. At Woodlawn, Jimmy won both hurdle races with a new record time of 14.2 seconds in the 120-yard race. The next week, Minden seemed to have ended its streak of district championships when Jonesboro-Hodge earned a ½ point victory over Minden; however, later disqualifications for the Jackson Parish Tigers awarded the championship to Minden, as the Tide streak of winning district would extend well into the 1970s. Despite the team’s problems, Jimmy Upton continued his magical season. He won both hurdle races and anchored a winning 880-yard relay team for Minden. His success continued the next week at the regional meet where he remained unbeaten for the season in the hurdles and also anchored both the 880 and Mile Relay teams to regional championships. Jimmy’s last meet as a Crimson Tide athlete was the 1967 state championships and he saved the best for last. At that state meet he ran the 120-yard high hurdles in a personal and state record time of 13.8 seconds, breaking the record for all classes in the event. In the 180-yard low hurdles he streaked to a victory in a time of 18.8 seconds tying the state record. And in the last race of his Minden career, anchored the Tide Mile Relay team home in a state record time of 3:22.8, demolishing the previous record of 3:26.1, held by DeRidder. Despite his efforts, the Tide only finished 3rd in the state competition, ending the championship streak.

Following a senior season that saw him earn All-State and All-District honors, be named the Outstanding Track Man in four meets and go undefeated in 21 hurdles races, even bigger honors came to the local athlete. Invited to participate in the invitation only Prepstacular Meet at Alexandria, Jimmy ran the 180 hurdles in a winning time of 18.6 seconds, came in 2nd to the Arkansas state champion in the 120 hurdles with a time of 13.9 and ran on two winning relay teams. He moved on to the New Orleans Meet of Champions, where he won the hurdle races and was once again named Outstanding Track Man. Next his sights moved to a national level as he competed in the National Jaycee Track Meet and the prestigious Golden West Relays in San Francisco, California, where he finished in 4th place in the 120 yard hurdles in what was considered the most competitive high school track meet in the country. He capped his high school career by being named an All-American in high school track.

Following graduation from MHS, Jimmy signed with the track program at Northeast Louisiana State College (today the University of Louisiana at Monroe) led by legendary coach Bob Gresclose. At the college level, Jimmy was shifted to the longer hurdle race, the 440 yard or 400 meter hurdles. His talent came through at this level also as in 1972, he repeated his high school feat by being named an NCAA All-American, a feat duplicated by no other former MHS athlete except James Britt, the LSU football All-American. Some of his records still stand at ULM and he was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 1994 and into the Graduate N Club in 1998. He was also inducted into the Ark-La-Tex Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.

So now you know a little bit more about a speeding Echo of Our Past, who left us last week, Jimmy Upton.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The new phone book's here!!! The new phone book's here!!!

Much like Navin P. Johnson in The Jerk, giddy over his name being in the phone book, this week has marked one of those landmark moments that only excites those of us with rather narrow interests. On Monday, the schedules of the 1940 U.S. Census were released online. Particularly happy are those amateur genealogists searching for ancestors who have managed to disappear from official records. In my personal family search and while working at the Webster Parish Library I have encountered so many of those folks and just knew the next set of schedules would unlock family mysteries. For those of you who don’t know, while Census totals are released as soon as they are tallied, for privacy reasons the schedules listing names and personal information about individuals are held for 72 years. So this is the year for 1940 to be released. This release sparked some odd feelings for me. This was the first Census to be released where I knew exactly where all my family members were located, so I had no personal stake. I also have my doubts I will be around to see the 1950 Census released in 2022, so I want to “enjoy” working with this Census. Even though I’m not much involved in genealogy anymore, I am deeply involved in local history and these Census schedules are wonderful snapshots of a community at a precise moment in time. So for the past few nights I’ve been able to get new glimpses at life in Minden in April 1940.

My first look-up was personal. Momma always wanted to get a chance to see a Census record in which she was included. Most of you are familiar with her story. Her father died in 1926 when she was three years old. Then in 1929-30 her mother lost her house in Shreveport and her farm in Red River Parish. For the next decade they lived a vagabond existence moving from place to place trying to find work. Momma attended as many as five different schools in a single year. So, in 2002 when the 1930 Census was released, we poured over it for hours and tried every combination of names once the index was released. Unfortunately they were “on the road” when the 1930 schedules were completed so she and my grandmother did not appear in that count of population. However, by 1938 Momma and Nanny had settled in Minden, and while they did move around from rent property to rent property – five houses in four years – I knew they were in Minden. So, even though these 1940 records are not yet indexed, I was able to go to the proper Enumeration District for their residence on Lewisville Road and finally locate them in a Census record. Four years too late for Momma, but it felt good to me.

The next search involved the same ED, just down the road from Momma and Nanny. One glaring historical omission we are trying to fix is the absence of any visible sign that Gov. Robert F. Kennon was a native and long-time resident of Minden. There are hopes to one day erect a fitting monument in Downtown Minden, but there is another spot that merits at least a historical marker. Kennon lived several places in Minden during his life, but his first home as an adult with his own family was on Jefferson St. His next-door neighbor was local attorney, Coleman Lindsey. Lindsey was elected President of the Louisiana Senate in 1939 and when Gov. Dick Leche had to resign and Lt. Gov. Earl Long became Governor, Lindsey assumed the vacant Lt. Gov.’s office. So, we have two homes side-by-side that were at one point home to a Governor and a Lt. Gov. of Louisiana. That was no secret but there was no concise way to easily document that fact. Now there is, as I mentioned on Facebook last night, one page will now document and perhaps ease the process of marking the property for its significance.

Tonight, I’ve been playing with another “fun” (for history nerds) part of the Census schedules – names of streets and neighborhoods. I have been stunned to find that apparently large portions of the black community were lacking street names. References such as “Rear of Batton’s Store to Ravine”, “Front of Harris Store to East St.” and “Short St. by Dow’s” are common. In addition the area known as “Miller Quarters” through my childhood is called “New Quarters.” There is a reference to the “Old District School”, which I assume was probably run by the Baptist 14th District before Webster Parish set up schools for African-Americans, and there is mention of  “Baddie Quarters” of which I’ve never heard (although I do know about the Baddie family.) Perhaps most interesting is when I located my grandparents and my father living on Midland St., I found that area labeled as “Arkansas Hill.” The name makes sense, as all along the northern reach of the Sibley Road the families that came to Minden with the L & A Railroad settled because of the easy access to the entrance to the L & A Shops located just beyond today’s Hamburger Happiness. But, I have never before seen or heard that label applied. The traditional name for the area where the railroad community settled  was Goat Hill, so I’m not sure if Goat Hill applied to the area further south or if Arkansas Hill was used for the entire area.

If you follow my blog and have read this far, you must have some interest in this sort of fascinating information, too. I will be updating, as I play some more with the treasure trove of trivia in the 1940 U. S. Census.

Friday, March 23, 2012

If a Tree Falls in the Forest and No One Takes a Picture, Did it Happen?

I realize that I have about four or five regular followers and it might be easier to just send e-mails, but this is a situation where spreading the word can't hurt. For a long time I've been intrigued by an event I remember from my childhood, the march on Minden City Hall on August 6, 1965 for Civil Rights prior to a brief strike of garbage workers. The most intriguing thing has always been the presence of James Farmer, President of CORE, appearing and making a speech here in Minden on the Friday night after he was at the White House with LBJ for the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Farmer had been invited to Minden by the United Christian Freedom Movement a local group filling the role now held by the NAACP. (Beginning in 1956 in Louisiana and continuing for more than a decade, membership in the NAACP could be a major problem for area residents. The NAACP was on a watch list and each month membership rolls had to be submitted to the Louisiana Secretary of State. In turn the Secretary's office sent lists of members to each parish Sheriff to share with members of the community. NAACP membership was often the trigger to a member losing their job, so local towns created their own independent organizations, too small to merit statewide attention.) After speaking at the 14th District Building on Friday night, Farmer led the march the next morning and then returned to Washington.

I've written about that event before and have long searched for more documented information about that day. J. D. Hampton, head of the UCFM and who would become the first African-American candidate for Mayor of Minden in 1966, spoke to me a few years ago and asked me to help him search for a significant piece of information. Mr. Hampton was certain that on Saturday night, August 7, 1965, the nightly national news on NBC covered the story. We searched but I was never able to locate such footage if it existed.

Today, as I was driving home from Bossier, I got a phone call that reopened my interest. The call came from Billy Wright of Shreveport. Mr. Wright's grandmother lived in Minden on Bailey Street, near the 14th District Building. During that summer of 1965 as a young teenager he was staying with his grandmother as the local protest unfolded. He heard the speech by Farmer on Friday night at the 14th District Building and participated in the march the next day. He had come across one of my articles discussing that story and basically had the same question Mr. Hampton had asked me, but Mr. Wright had an even more personal reason for being aware of television news footage. He vividly remembered getting a call on that Saturday night from a relative in Chicago, calling to tell him that his Chicago family had just seem him on the national news participating in the march. Mr. Wright said that he and a few of his friends had tied white shirts around their heads (the march was interrupted by a downpour) and clearly stood out in the crowd. Mr. Wright wanted to know if I was aware of the footage and I told him what I had learned. But then he asked me a question I had sort of left out of my research. He wondered if perhaps there were existing newspaper photos of the March. He reiterated that he and his friends would be easily visible (there were only about 220 marchers so five young men wearing what might appear to be turbans would be easy to spot. I had to tell him I didn't know. Local news coverage, the Minden Press, the Minden Herald, the Shreveport Times and the Shreveport Journal gave scant mention to the event and certainly no pictures. I had also used source material from the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, the New Orleans Times Picayune, the Washington Post and the New York Times, but none of those papers included images. But I did not check leading African-American newspapers such as the Pittsburgh  Courier or even (I feel really dumb about this one) the Shreveport Sun. I also had not checked the archives at CORE or Mr. Farmer's papers.

So, this afternoon I have sent an inquiry to CORE and am in the process of tracking down Mr. Farmer's papers (his papers from 1980 forward are at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, but I've not yet found the papers prior to 1980). I'm not hopeful Mr. Farmer's collection will be helpful -- his visit to Minden isn't even mentioned in his autobiography (which is understandable, a march of 200 people for a cause that largely failed pales when compared to a Rose Garden ceremony signing transformational legislation the same day as our event), but I find it much more likely that if there were wire service photos, CORE has copies in their files. So, perhaps we will be able to add a visual image of the Civil Rights Era in Minden to our legacy and I hope for our Dorcheat Museum. I'll keep anyone interested updated on any progress

(The picture with this post shows the NAACP's Roy Wilkins, Mr Farmer from CORE, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the SCLC, and Whitney Young of the Urban League meeting in the Oval Office with President Johnson.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Minden and Mt. Lebanon -- The Ties that Bind

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak about stagecoach travel on the Old Wire Road across North Louisiana at the Jonquil Jubilee in Gibsland/Mt. Lebanon. My program was one of several held at the old Stagecoach Inn in Mt. Lebanon. While there I was reminded again of an old axiom I have found to be true over the years, "you never learn anything while your mouth is open." So, while I enjoyed making the presentation, I learned some very interesting information from one of the later speakers, Mary Claire Kettler of Gibsland. Her topic was a history of the Stagecoach Inn itself and the Mt. Lebanon community in general. For years I have been aware of the many ties between Mt. Lebanon and Minden, including many common families and the fact that the Rehoboth Baptist Church is not only the founding church of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, but also the mother church of the Minden (later First Baptist) Baptist Church.

But it was only yesterday I learned a tidbit that is going to drive me back to the research files. Two of the key founders of Mt. Lebanon were Martin Canfield, who came to Louisiana from South Carolina to pick the site for the community, and his brother-in-law, Reuben Drake, who actually made the first land purchase to facilitate that mass migration of an entire community from the Edgefield District of South Carolina to Claiborne Parish, Louisiana. As mentioned, I already knew about the family ties. Drake's brother Abner settled in Minden and became one of the most prominent citizens of our town. That branch of the Drake family provided the land for the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Minden, along with the Minden Male Academy. In addition, Reuben Drake also owned land in what is today's Minden and was part of the "land squabble" between our founder Charles Veeder and Adam Stewart. On the Canfield side, a brother of Martin Canfield, was a prominent member of the Minden Baptist Church and provided the material and supervised the construction of the first church home of the Minden Baptist Church, located on the present corner of Broadway and Miller Streets where the Christian Church at Minden's building is today. So, the ties were clear.

However, during Ms Kettler's program she produced a map of the original settlement of Mt. Lebanon and discussed how the town was planned and laid out along a parallelogram, which served as a central greenspace for the community. Immediately I recognized that Minden was also founded along the same pattern, a central parallelogram that served as a greenspace and was unoccupied by structures for many years. Today that parallelogram is the area between Main and Broadway (Front and Back Street for oldtimers like me). From Minden's founding until 1872 when the first Webster Parish Courthouse was constructed, the only part of that greenspace that contained structures was the area between today's Fogle and Union Streets. This pattern is not common in the South, as most towns are like Homer and have a traditional town square as the center.

Finding this commonality between Minden and Mt. Lebanon has raised some questions in my mind. Traditionally we have given credit to Veeder for Minden's layout, but now I want to explore a bit more. It seems entirely plausible to me that the parallelogram layout came not from Veeder but from the Drakes. I want to study a bit about community patterns in the Edgefield District and also in New York and Indiana were Veeder lived before coming South. But we may need to update out town history a bit and shift some credit away from Veeder to the place it truly belongs.

Monday, December 19, 2011

E Pluribus Unum -- Even in Minden

E pluribus unum – out of many, one – for many years was considered our national motto and for most people is the basis of how we view our society. In addition, Turner’s Frontier Thesis, the idea that the merging of people from disparate backgrounds led to the emergence of a distinctly American culture, is a major tenet of American Historiography. However, as a child growing up in Minden during the 1960s, those concepts seemed foreign to the place I lived. Although we were clearly divided along racial lines into two separate communities due to the American apartheid of segregation, it seemed each of those two communities were largely homogenous in their makeup. We seemed to be a very insular and perhaps even xenophobic place, not open or understanding to outsiders and their ideas. The odd thing is that little more than a century before we in Minden were on the frontier and more than perhaps any other community in North Louisiana were the “poster child” for the American “melting pot.”
I began thinking about this because of a suggestion from Thad Andress for a project for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum (if you look back on this blog you’ll see that Thad often nudges me toward ideas.) On a visit to Nova Scotia, Thad had seen a map showing the eventual “landing spot” of those Acadians dispersed from Canada by the British after 1755. Of course we know that many of them ended up in South Louisiana where they became the Cajuns, but most followed a winding path before reaching that destination. Since the goal of the British in creating a diaspora of Acadian culture was to prevent them coalescing once again, the settlers were scattered across North America. That so many did eventually land in Louisiana was a tribute to the determination of the Acadians.

Thad’s idea was that we needed to create such a map for Minden, showing the points of origin and the path taken by the early settlers of our community. This is a project in its infancy, as he only mentioned this to me last week, but today I pulled out an old newspaper column to get me started on research. I wrote this column for the Press-Herald in 2003 and based it on information in the 1850 Census of Minden. The data reveals that Minden was truly a cosmopolitan settlement in 1850 (I’m not sure many have ever seen those two words – Minden and cosmopolitan – used in such close proximity before.)

I’m still working with the data but some of the facts are pretty surprising. In 1850, Minden was home to natives of 25 of the then 30 states of the United States, plus one resident born in the District of Columbia. Foreign-born citizens listed birthplaces in the following locales: Austria, Bavaria, England, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Prussia, Russia, Scotland and Sweden. As I mentioned in my post about the Ghost Walk, it was likely one could hear three or four languages spoken on one trip down Main Street in those days. Missing from this data is the place of origin of the African-Americans in Minden. We were home to only one free person of color in 1850, but local slaves came from many different places. It seems possible, since it was only 42 years since the end of legal slave importation to the United States, we might have had some slaves who had been born in Africa. But clearly a sizable portion of the local populace had African heritage.

The really fascinating part of such a map will be the path taken to come to Minden. We know of the traditional routes up the Red River and Bayou Dorcheat, across the “Redneck Trail” after the Indian Removal Act and down the Mississippi and across Arkansas and Northern Louisiana. However, there seem to be many other interesting and varied paths to Minden. I’m looking forward to learning more about how out little town became the home of our first residents as this project moves forward.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ghost Walk 2011

Next Saturday, November 12, 2011, will be our annual Ghost Walk to benefit the Minden Cemetery Association. Several years ago Schelley Brown Francis borrowed this idea from the American Cemetery in Natchitoches and it has become a very popular event in Minden. (I really need to attend the Natchitoches version one day, my great-grandmother is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the cemetery, a victim of the 1918-19 flu epidemic. Her entire family was ill with the flu and local officials buried the body and the family was never able to find out precisely where she was interred.) We normally schedule it on the weekend closest to Veterans Day and use the final resting place of our forefathers and mothers to help tell a little of the story of Minden.

In recent years we have usually had a theme and this year is no exception. In recognition of our newly established Fasching celebration -- which kicks off at 11:11 a.m. on 11/11/2011 -- we are highlighting Minden's German roots in several of our characters. So often we focus solely on Germantown when discussing the Teutonic influence on local history, but despite the significance of Germantown, Minden has strong ties to Germany beyond the Colony. Our founder, Charles Hanse Veeder, was of German descent and evidently named our community after his family's ancestral home in Minden, Germany. In the 1960s, Minden Mayor Tom Colten established a relationship with our sister city, Minden, Germany, it is my hope that in the near future we may reopen that relationship to expand our new focus on our German ties. In the early years of our town, there were many German settlers who were attracted to our town because of the presence of Germantown, but others simply because of the uniquely cosmopolitan nature of our community as it sat on the western frontier of the United States near the Republic of Texas. For many years I have been intrigued by the "accents" of our past. I tell my American History students that it is difficult for me to imagine that our Founding Fathers all spoke with what today we would consider a "British" accent, just doesn't seem right to think of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams speaking that way, but it was reality. I've particularly thought it would be fascinating to be transported back in time to Minden Main Street, 1850. While strolling past the businesses it was likely you would hear native speakers in the following languages: English (with British, Irish and Scottish accents), German, Polish, Russian, French and Choctaw. It was the very presence of those German speakers that brought several residents to our town as they knew someone would understand them. (Well, to some degree -- it is true that the Germantown Colony was more commonly called Dutchtown in both Minden and Homer, as demonsrated by the Dutchtown Road that runs from Homer to the area of the Colony, based on the same mishearing of the word Deustch that led to the misnomer Pennsylvania Dutch in American History.)

In the upcoming Ghost Walk among the characters will be a German immigrant stationed in Minden by the Confederate Army who married a local woman and became a vital contributor to our community and transplant to Minden who brought her German immigrant mother to live with her locally and found the presence of a German community a pleasant surprise. Other characters while not directly tied to Germany will highlight the role that the German connection has played in our town. Working with the Secretary of State's museum system and their control of the Germantown Colony it has been repeatedly pointed out to us that our unique German heritage is something we need to embrace and promote. I'm so happy to see Patti Odom and her office have pushed forward with our Karneval to contrast with the French Carnival and am glad that this year the Cemetery Association is joining in to help on that effort.

I hope each of you will make an effort to attend this year. Here are the details of the event.

The 8th Annual 2011 Minden Cemetery Ghost Walk

Saturday November 12th, 2011
The Minden Cemetery Ghost Walk “Living History Lesson”
Price: $10 adults / $4 children under 12 (tickets at gate only)
Location: Old Minden Cemetery off Pine St. on Bayou Avenue in Minden, La.
Contact #: Schelley Brown Francis (318) 423-0192 Cell
Time: Noon – last tour starts at 3 p.m.