Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Nelson Street: Behind the Catfish & Cotton

By T. DeWayne Moore
Filling in the Silences: Part 2

In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the black schools in Greenville schools were the best in the state. While most state politicians virulently opposed the education of blacks and some districts spent as little as sixty-eight cents a year per black student, the Queen City allocated an annual seventeen dollars for the education of each black child enrolled in public school, which offered not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also courses in foreign languages. Senator Leroy Percy and his allies may have allocated the funds that made it possible, but the principal of Greenville’s main black school, Lizzie Williams Coleman, provided the vision, determination, and hard hand required to shape a curriculum that endowed young blacks with pride, self-respect, and intelligence under the racial stigma of Jim Crow.[1] Possessing great pride in herself and her own black heritage, she was known to exclaim, “I don’t believe in the melting pot.”[2]

The staging at Heathman Plantation for Southern Living magazine invokes a bubolic fascination with the South, a mythic version of a bygone era. Notice the silences, and how space is filled with nostalgia and longing. What don't you see?

An African American family of sharecroppers
in the Delta circa 1935
Born to “pure negro parentage”[3] in Yazoo County around the end of the Civil War, she had moved to Greenville, married the formerly enslaved Jerry Coleman, and started her career as a teacher in the 1890s.[4] Lizzie Coleman possessed an excellent memory and command of mathematics that served her well in teaching elementary students, but over the years she realized the need for a broader educational agenda, which required a deeper commitment to teaching standards and fundraising. After becoming principle of the Number Two School in the 1920s, she required that aspiring teachers attend summer instruction programs, pass the state examination, and observe experienced instructors for a period of time before setting them loose on their own. She taught them to push students to excel in their studies, and she made it mandatory that each teacher raise over one hundred dollars for the school each year, which, along with the city funding, ensured that black youths got the best education in the state. 

Saturday, August 3, 2019

T.J. Wheeler's Epic: "All Roads Lead to the Blues" Chapter 6-8

©2007 all rights reserved By TJ Wheele

Chapter 6
Back Upstairs in the Basement 

With Bukka, resting safely under Leola’s watchful care, I decided, as promised, to head back to see if Furry had woken from his siesta. The sun was just starting to set, as Old Blue and I traveled, once again, up Mosby Street. It was only two and a half blocks to Furry’s, but I followed everybody’s advice to drive, as it was sure to be dark soon. 

Folks, after their Sunday dinners, were starting to head back to church for the evening service, still dressed, to the “ninths”, in their best church clothes. It seemed as they been in church all day, which for me was surprising. In the all white church my family attended, back in Bremerton, Washington, that was unheard of. If the service went a minute over an hour, people would start fidgeting in their pews and would get upset enough to take their collection money back, if they had half a chance. 

While Church goers marched back up to the church across from Furry’s, I marched back up to Furry’s door, and this time, without any prodding, knocked loudly. Opposed to earlier that afternoon, an alert voice responded “Who’s there and what do you want?” 

Addressing him in the same manner as the next door lady I said; “Hey Mr. Furry, it’s me, TJ, the white boy that was here earlier.” A moment or two later, I saw, out of the corner of my left eye, his window shade drawn open to the side for a few seconds, before being pulled closed again. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

T.J. Wheeler's Epic: "All Roads Lead to the Blues" Chapters 4 & 5

©2007 all rights reserved By TJ Wheeler 

Chapter 4: Peanuts for Peanuts 

T.J. Wheeler and "the man himself James Cotton at a gig at the Music Hall around 1987.
It was a triple bill of the James Cotton Big Band, the Johnny Copeland Band, & Tj Wheeler & the Smokers.

With Fifteen bucks now in my pocket, I felt like the character in the old William Moore Blues song i.e. a real “Ragtime Millionaire”. I was more than ready to leave Beale Street and continue my search. Sidekick had mentioned that the current hang for young people interested in music was Overton Square, so I decided that would be my next stop. About a ten minutes drive straight down Union Street, I saw the influx of college-age kids, being all so busy with themselves, and figured this must be the new hip spot. 

Opposed to the dirty, grimy conditions of Beale Street, Overton Square was squeaky clean. In fact, it was so damn cute I wanted to scream. The overall bubbly, Ivy League enthusiasm of everything was quite insufferable to me. After all inside most blues guy, there’s a, not so secret, cynic just begging to get out. I did figure I should at least walk around and see what made this square supposedly so non-squareish. 

Over the next hour or so that it took to check out the club & food scene I made two conclusions; 1: Most clubs had music and none of it was the Blues, and 2: What a hero was. The club music calendars posted had scheduled for southern rock acts or soloists regurgitating James Taylor and Cat Steven’s covers. It was almost enough to make me almost lose my appetite, but not quite!