Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Have you ever thought about the significance of something as simple as a bell?

Not only were church bells of old used to announce the time to anyone within hearing distance, bells in general have been used since the earliest of times as a type of alarm, warning those nearby of things that were about to happen, things that were both "good" and some things that were "not so good." While bells have long been included in religious celebrations, the tolling of a bell may also serve as an announcement that a child has been born, a couple has been married, or to inform a community that a death has occurred.

During medieval times, the simple ringing of a bell was believed to have kept evil spirits away, and it was a common practice to ring a bell at the bedside of the deceased prior to burial. In modern times, bells of all sizes, types and sounds are commonly used in our homes, schools, and other public places. Even our doorbells and the bell that ding-dings in our cars when we don't buckle up have evolved from early uses of bells as warning or announcement devices.

Today, bells continue to be a part of the simplest of our holiday traditions, both religious and secular. But neither Christmas nor a New Year's wish would be the same without bells.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My First Word Cloud

Today, I learned to create a "wordle." Better known as a "word cloud," this collection of single words summarizes something. I know.......most bloggers already have word clouds that regularly appear on their blogs. For me, learning to create a wordle was not something that seemed important enough to invest the time it might require.

But I changed my mind when I read today's newspaper. There it was........a wordle that occupied half a page.......chosen words that summarized significant events occurring in 2009! Wordles have made it to the mainstream news media.

Now I was inspired. I wanted a wordle for my blog. So I set about learning how to develop a wordle for publication here on Mississippi Memories. Not just any wordle would do, I might add. I wanted to create something unique, one in which the words would represent people, places, and things that were recurring subjects of posts published on this blog throughout the year. So here it is first word cloud.

I must admit that I needed help.....I am not a creative person....and what I found were many web sites that allow a novice like me to develop simple word clouds. In creating the wordle above, I used the web site

The web site offers three choices of methods for creating word clouds. I chose the first of the three methods, one that required me to type in the actual words that I wanted to appear in the finished wordle. The second method requires the user to type in the URL where the program will automatically search text for words that will be included in the resulting word cloud. The third choice involves choosing an already existing wordle from a gallery of those
created by other users. In addition, the web site allows a choice of several layouts for the finished word cloud, i.e., vertical, horizontal, half-and-half, along with a few others, to select a font from a long list of choices, and to choose from several color schemes that include both black and white and white and black.

This was a fun experience, and it made me feel "creative."

But will there be other wordles on my blogs? We'll see.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Our House to Yours

Felix - waiting for the Christmas festivities to begin.

Merry Christmas to you, my readers.

And thank you for visiting Mississippi Memories throughout the last eleven months. For our family, the Christmas holidays come at the end of a busy and eventful year. One of our daughters was married in June to a wonderful guy we are happy to call our new son. Our oldest grandson graduated high school, and another grandson graduated kindergarten and became a first-grader. (Yes, he actually graduated in a red and white cap and gown.) Another daughter, who feared she would lose her job as a result of the country's economic woes, kept it after all. And a small, furry kitten adopted us.

For all these things, we are thankful.

And from our house to yours, we wish you all the Blessings this Christmas Season holds.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Poem by Eddie Draper, a Mississippi Poet

My Angel Must Have Just One Wing

My angel must have
just one wing
She does not visit oft'-
But when she soars
around my realms
my spirits break on loft---

My angel must have
just one wing
my luck no constant streak---
But what beauty - 'neath that wing
Protector's guiding meek---

My angel must have
just one wing
Oh fly my way and light-
And curl your web
and drape my soul
I need your wing tonight---

by Eddie Draper

Mr. Draper, a native of the Mississippi Delta, now lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee where he is a songwriter and musician.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"One Night of Madness," A Book Review

Mississippi, a state long recognized for its great writers and their widely-recognized literary contributions, has a new author on the scene. Stokes McMillan, a native of Attala County who now lives in Houston, Texas, has recently published his first book, "One Night of Madness," and early sales show the book is already a huge success. McMillan's book, which grew out of his interest in a scrapbook he inherited from his mother that contained photos taken by his late father, is the result of over seven years of research, interviews, and skilled writing that brings the details of the story all together.

The setting for "One Night of Madness" is Attala County, Mississippi, where several generations of McMillan's own family once lived and where his father was a photographer for the local newspaper owned by his family, The Star-Herald. The cover of the book itself is a copy of an actual photograph taken by the author's father, Billy McMillan, a photograph that won him an award for Best Picture of 1950 from the National Press Club.

As he develops the backdrop for this book about the murder of a black family by three white men, McMillan, uses his personal knowledge of Attala County and his appealing and easy-to-follow descriptive writing to intricately tell a story that began several decades before the tragic events of early 1950 unfolded. His keen use of detailed information gleaned during personal interviews with certain central characters in the book allow the reader to become intimately acquainted with the real people about whom the story is told. Throughout the book, the author further documents this true story that drew national attention with copies of more photographs taken by his father and with facts about the people and the events he uncovered during years of research in various archives.

"One Night of Madness" is a book that I highly recommend. It has all the elements of a successful movie, including love, race, fear, revenge, politics, and courtroom drama. And for me, reading the book was a spell-binding experience, one that I will not forget. I expect we will see more books by this talented new author - I sincerely hope so.

To read more about Stokes McMillan and a recent article about the book in Jackson, Mississippi's Clarion Ledger, click on the link provided here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fatal Shooting of Tillman Branch Reported in Holmes County Herald

Early this morning, I began some research to find a newspaper article that reported the death of Edward Tillman Branch, the subject of my blog post here yesterday. First I visited the site. I have used this site before, with success, to conduct research about various ancestors. But I had not used the portion of the site that includes the Small Town Newspaper archive until today. Actually, I first found the article I needed, detailed later in this post, by searching on the News portion of Google's website. What I found was that some of the articles included in the Small Town Newspaper archive can be read there for free. The Small Town Newspaper archive contains copies of three Mississippi small town newspapers, including the Holmes County Herald, published in Lexington, Mississippi. Scanned copies of the Herald, beginning in the 1960's, are available for viewing, and I was quite surprised, and very pleased, with what I found.

Although I have not yet found the original news article that reports Tillman's death when it occurred in the spring of 1963, I did locate a copy of the Herald's publication on January 2, 1964. The front-page article is similar to many newspaper articles still published early each new year that provide a timeline of significant events, serious and light, that happened during the previous year. Included in the article was a report dated April 18, 1963 that read "Kosciusko negro charged with fatal shooting of Tillman Branch in Goodman night club." The name of the nightclub nor the gunman's name was not stated.

Edward Tillman Branch was buried in Seneasha Cemetery in Attala County, and a photo of his grave stone can be seen here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Edward Tillman Branch, 1901-1963

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I am reading "One Night of Madness," a true account of tragic events that took place in Attala County, Mississippi in early 1950. Interestingly, Stokes McMillan, the author, has included a brief description of one of my paternal grandfather's cousins, Edward Tillman Branch. An excerpt from the newly-published book containing a brief biographical sketch of "Tillman" as Branch was known, is included here:

"Tillman Branch was ten years older than Leon (Turner.) Born to a prominent Attala County Beat 4 family, he was a big, mean fellow rumored to be involved in moonshining, prostitution, bribery, and bootlegging. He had killed at least two men through the years and had served time in the state prison. Twice married to white women, Tillman also kept black mistresses in a house trailer off Highway 51 near Goodman. One of the wives, fed up with these extra-marital affairs, kidnapped her husband's favorite black mistress and sent her packing to Detroit. Tillman found his lover and returned her to the trailer. Beneath his unsavory aspects, Branch was a keen businessman. His most lucrative business was located just south of the Goodman city limits, where Tillman owned one of the most popular juke joints around.

Although the white bars along (MS) Highway 51 were unruly, disorderly businesses of unrestrained debauchery, none of them could compare to the sheer, uninhibited wildness of Tillman's juke joint, the Blue Flame. Also called "The Spot" by locals, the Blue Flame had it all: boozing, dancing, fighting, gambling, cockfighting -- and an occasional shooting to keep things lively.

Tillman worked the bar in his joint and was the only white person there, but he was bad enough that no one messed with him. He ruled the Blue Flame with a blue-steel snub-nosed .32 caliber pistol, whose trigger guard was bent from pistol whippings of unruly patrons.

Leon Turner and Tillman Branch somehow met and being two of a kind, they formed a relationship of mutual interests and respect. Tillman, a successful entrepreneur with money, power, and prestige was a role model to Leon. The men got along but at a distance -- they were too alike to fraternize closely.

Branch's Blue Flame did a brisk business selling moonshine. Tillman owned several local stills to supply this commodity: he also bought from independent operators like Leon."

Although the lives of Leon Turner and Tillman Branch intersected many times, by no means did they parallel one another. But their deaths bore one similarity: neither man died of natural causes. Additional details about the life of Tillman Branch and his death on April 14, 1963, at the hands of a gunman that he allegedly knew, are not included in McMillan's book. But "One Night of Madness," does chronicle the life and subsequent death of Leon Turner. Fortunately, for those involved, the tragic events related in the book finally came to an end when Turner died at Mississippi's Parchman State Penitentiary in February 1968. I encourage you to read the book for the entire story.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"One Night of Madness" by Stokes McMillan

In case you have visited Mississippi Memories and found no recent blogs, I want to explain what has happened. I have been busy reading "One Night of Madness," the riveting new book by Stokes McMillan that recently hit the streets. McMillan, a native of Attala County, Mississippi, tells the story of a crime that occurred over 50 years ago in Attala County, Mississippi.

Look for a complete review of the book here sometime next week.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Boley Conner and His Seven Sons

Thanks to Jane Swanson, a Conner family descendant and also one of my blog readers, I am posting a photo of Boley Conner (seated,center of front row) and his seven sons. Boley's wife and the mother of his sons was Anne Trawick Porter.

Photo courtesy of Jane Swanson

Anne, married first to Archibald Porter, was a young widow with two small daughters, Isabella and Susanna, when she married Boley Conner. Over thirty members of this large Attala County family are buried in Conner Cemetery located near Kosciusko, Mississippi.