Front Porch Magazine

Page 1


Discovering Connections in Diverse Alabama Communities

Spring 2011 Special Edition Produced by Auburn University Community Journalism Students


CONTENTS Cahawba Uninhabited Town Still Alive The Many Faces of Cahawba Place Photo Story Cahawba Builds For the Future Life Experiences in a Ghost Town

Selma On the Outside Looking In Inside the Life of the Tin Man Places of Pride Selma’s Process for Economic Reform The World of Selma

Selma By: Allison McFerrin, Contributing Writer Selma Librarian Shares Her View of the World Getting on the Same Page

Bayou La Batre A Small Shrimping Village With A Big Spirit Beer and Seafood For the Soul Artists Create Best Piece of Work Yet, Knowledge Spill Sends Town Down Slippery Slope From Skyscrapers to the Dock’s Edge

Collinsville Collinsville: “Gem of the Valley” Community Journalism 4970 When the Opportunity Arises Collinsville’s Energizer Bunny Diversity Even In A Small Town

Elba Welcoming People to Elba Just Folk Coffeehouse & Arts Center Maddox Makes Hometown Impact Elba Works to Better Housing Options


CONTENTS Hobson City First Look at a Forgotten City What I Learned From the Citizens of a ‘Doomed Town” “Corner” and Store Become Gathering Place for Residents Wife of Former Mayor Hopes for Change in Hobson City Town Tries to Go From Doomed to Developed

Linden Hohen-Screamers-Linden Papa’s Foods Fuels Community The Sage, The Brother and The Couple Linden’s Local Business Limbo Horses and Goats and Cows, Oh Linden!

Marion Welcome to Marion, Alabama Taking Care of Everything A Place to Eat and Have Fun Living and Fighting for Healthcare My Personal Thoughts

Oak Grove Welcome to Oak Grove: Local Attractions Draw Visitors Generosity of Mayor Keeps Small Town Thriving Community Garden Unites Town A Lesson in Community

Valley Welcome to Valley Valley’s Future Looks Bright to Jones Reinvention of Valley Begins with Langdale Mill Complex FRONT PORCH Magazine

Discovering Connections in Diverse Alabama Communities

Spring 2011 Special Edition Produced by Auburn University Community Journalism Students

Cover Photos By: Rachel Shirey Mary Gillman Kelly Nicastro

Artistic Director: Mary Gillman Managing Editor: Rachel Shirey

FRONT PORCH Magazine Staff

Colton Campbell A journalism major at Auburn University who plans to pursue a career in newspaper reporting. He is from Carrollton, Ga., and plans on living in the South all his life.

David Crayton A journalism major at Auburn University who plans to pursue a career in reporting. He was born in Rockledge, Fla.

Ariana Diaz A journalism major and English minor at Auburn University who plans to pursue a career in print journalism. She was born in Bremerhaven, Germany, and raised in the small town of Fort Mitchell, Ala.

Mary Rose Gillman A senior journalism major and holds a psychology minor from Auburn University. She was born in Laguna Hills, Calif., and plans to continue her education after graduation. She hopes to one day use her skills in journalism, psychology and food to start a successful and positive career.

Darcie Dyer Not Pictured

A journalism major at Auburn University from Elkin, N.C. She plans to pursue a career writing for a magazine.

FRONT PORCH Sarah Hansen A journalism major at Auburn University who is also pursuing an English minor with a concentration in Eighteenth Century British literature. She plans to pursue a career in communication and marketing upon graduation. She has lived in North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Sloane Hudson A journalism major at Auburn University who plans to pursue a career in sports broadcasting. She was born in Memphis, Tenn., and hopes to have the opportunity to travel the world.

Kelly Nicastro A journalism major at Auburn University who hopes to attend graduate school at Northwestern University. She was born in Lake Forest, Ill., and plans to pursue a career in New York City.

Kristen Oliver A junior from Atlanta majoring in journalism and double-minoring in English and Italian language studies at Auburn University. She plans to study abroad in Italy before graduation and to pursue a career in travel journalism.

Rachel Shirey A senior journalism major at Auburn University and has also earned minors in English and psychology. Shirey will complete her internship at the Gwinnett Daily Post and looks forward to starting her writing career. After publication because she enjoys telling stories.

Special thanks to Dr. Mark Wilson, AU College of Liberal Arts, Community and Civic Engagement, for his assistance with this Department of Communication and Journalism project.

Spring 2011

Front Porch Magazine Note from the Professor

Auburn University Community Journalism students were pushed out of the classroom and onto the “blue highways” of Alabama on a journey of discovery in spring 2011. The journalism majors faced the challenge of long-distance travel with the mission of capturing a snapshot of nine distinctly different communities scattered across the state. Along the way they discovered hometown heroes fighting to better their towns, friendly mayors, tough issues and hugs from welcoming community members. They also discovered something about themselves as journalists: the value of taking time to sit on a front porch and have real conversations; the challenge of finding just the right sources; the beauty of spending an afternoon with folks like Selma folk artist Charlie Lucas. They also found ghost stories, fried chicken and more than a few friendly faces in towns from Bayou La Batre to Collinsville. Of course, none of the above would be possible in the confines of a classroom. The community itself proved to be the best grounds for educating these aspiring journalists. The questions we explored are ones that journalists practicing their craft in communities across Alabama and beyond confront every day: What does our community value? What does it take to make a community work? How are hometown heroes dealing with tough issues that challenge the community? Those same questions will guide the next AU students destined to take a seat on the front porches of the nine communities featured in this publication. In the summer of 2012, fortunate Auburn University students participating in the Living Democracy project will go even deeper into these communities to learn and grow. I hope this project will give them and others a glimpse into the rich life of some of Alabama’s most diverse communities. I would like to thank the citizens who gave up their time and knowledge to help the community journalism students explore their hometown. I know the experience left a lasting impression on my students, and I hope their stories honor the special people and places they visited. Nan Fairley, Associate Professor Department of Communication and Journalism AU College of Liberal Arts Engaged Scholar

It’s not just a population, statistic or city council that defines a community. It’s people like those living in Bayou La Batre who continue to seek progress and never abandon their community no matter how many times it gets destroyed. --Kelly Nicastro

Communities like Oak Grove ― where the mayor takes the time to meet with a journalism student, where someone teaches a stranger how they grow crops for their town ― these communities are rather unique. --Kristen Oliver

What I learned from this project is that there is so much more out there to focus on other than shopping, partying and football. Many communities are struggling to find a voice and when they do find it, they have almost no way of being heard. These communities are all around us, and it does not take much to extend a helping hand and find a way to support their work. --Mary Gillman

Spring 2011

Old Cahawba


Uninhabited town still alive

Two of the remaining Crocheron Columns at Old Cahawba, March 11. By: Mary Rose Gillman


eserted. Uninhabited. Ghost town. These words surround the town of Cahawba like a lingering and pestering ghost that just won’t go away. While Cahawba may no longer be inhabited, it used to be a booming town full of life, beauty and potential. According to, Cahawba’s history started with the Native Americans, who lived in the area for around 4,000 years. The final groups of Native Americans were proficient in building mounds, which would take part in the history of the town long after they were gone. Gov. William Wyatt Bibb wanted to place the statehouse on top of the ceremonial mound, built by the Indians,

but his plan never happened. From that point on, Bibb used the mound as the center of the town plan, and built everything around it. Around 1818, plans for the city of Cahawba began with the construction of streets and a statehouse. In 1819 it housed the first fixed state capital of Alabama and became known as the place where Alabama government started. In 1825, the Legislature had to decide whether to keep Cahawba as the permanent state capital or relocate it. Many sources state that the citizens complained about the town’s tendency to flood and moving the capital away from Cahawba was their idea, but politics and ulterior interests led the Legislature to move the state capital to Tuscaloosa in 1826. The state capital moved to its final place in Montgomery in 1846.

This departure of state government led many citizens to leave, and although the town did start to decline, it did not do so without first recovering. Cahawba boomed as one of the wealthiest cities in the country, and a large and prominent center for cotton and shipping. According to The Cahaba Foundation, during the Civil War, the “w” was dropped from Cahawba and the town resumed with various schools, churches and businesses. Castle Morgan was the prison in town, used to hold captured Union soldiers, who were there in thousands. When the war ended, Union soldiers from the prison were being returned to their homes on the Steamboat Sultana. The boilers in the steamboat exploded, and the Union soldiers were killed in one of the worst maritime disasters in the country.

Spring 2011


Old Cahawba

The town declined once again after the Civil War, and by the late 1800s, less than 500 citizens remained. Freed slaves inhabited and took over the town, and the buildings were broken down and the materials were shipped to Mobile. Today, only two full structures remain standing in Cahawba; a slave quarters and a cottage. The town is no longer inhabited, and a small, but dedicated, group of people are trying to bring the town back to life. Cahawba is a state historic site, and now a huge archaeological site for those who want to uncover its past. According to, a historic site is “any building, landscape, site or structure that is of local, regional, or national significance; accessible to the public; providing a service to the community; maintaining a high level of integrity.” In an archaeological site, any evidence of past life or activity is preserved as much as possible. In this site, the evidence or artifacts from the past can also be investigated using archaeological skills. The drive from Selma to Cahawba is around 13 miles. From Broad Street take a left at the fourth red light from Edmund Pettus Bridge onto Dallas Avenue. After, take a left onto Co. Rd. 9 and then a left onto Co. Rd. 2. Once on Co. Rd. 2, the visitor center is on the right about 1.5 miles away. The tour of Cahawba today begins at

the visitor’s center, and is full of maps and brochures, as well as a knowledgeable staff of tour guides. Also near the visitor center is the new home to the newly renovated St. Luke’s Church. The center is open from noon until 5 p.m. The park is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and anyone can tour it for free, or leave a donation at the visitor center. Signs are scattered throughout the park, detailing what specific buildings may have looked like and the history surrounding them. For example, a sign sits at the site of the Crocheron Columns. On the left side of the sign is a rendering of what the house looked like, and on the right side is a brief history of the house. The sign is surrounded with a border, almost resembling butterflies, and it is encased in a wooden frame. Another sign sits at the original site of the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The sign details the travel of the church to Martin Station in 1876. In 2006 the Auburn University College of Architecture’s Rural Studio helped restore the church, and move it to its new resting place near the entrance to the park. At first sight the park looks barren, as if in the beginning stages of development. Imagine a town like Auburn today growing with life, people and businesses. Now imagine the complete opposite, where businesses stopped growing and people stopped living there. All that is left is nature and remnants.

Once inside the park to explore, it is obvious nature is the permanent resident of this historic site. The few remaining structures and pieces stand as reminders of the town, but the abundance of plant life gives the site a jungle feel. The Spanish moss lies on the trees lazily, like the veil on the head of a bride. The flowers are spread out in no specific way, but as if each type preferred to bunch up in one area together like a family throughout the park. Insects followed with the plant life and established Old Cahawba as their home. An array of butterflies glide around from flower to flower, like one could almost imagine them laughing happily in their freedom. Other insects float around in groups, glad to be free to do whatever they want with no interruptions, except for the occasional visitor swatting at them. At the site, there are self-guided walking tours of Cahawba’s “Negro Burial Ground” and New Cemetery. The cemeteries have markers left in them and are beautiful from afar, but chilling the closer one gets to them. Each place in the site throws visitors back almost in a time warp, as if they were standing on the porch of a building back when the town was alive. Whether visitors are new to the town, or know little to nothing about Old Cahawba, after one visit, they will have no question what it is about and that they should come back again to visit.

Old Cahawba Events Bring Your Own Bike Tour

March 26, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Park Day Event

April 2, 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Civil War Preservation Trust Park Day

April 10, 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Civil War Walking Tour of Old Cahawba

May 8, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Alabama Archaeological Society Summer Meeting

June 11, 9:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Bring Your Own Bike Tour

September 24, 10 - 1 p.m.

“Hear the Dead Speak” Daylight Walking Tour

October 22

Haunted History Tours

October 21 (Cahawba) and 22 (Selma)

Spring 2011

Old Cahawba


The many faces of Cahawba

Linda Derry

Park Director of Old Cahawba

Ralph Hobbs

Vice President of the Cahaba Foundation

Mary Rose Gillman


layer of paint peeling off, like dry skin in desperate need of moisture. Two narrow and towering doors lead into the office where the hardwood floors creak with history. It seems everything Derry touches has a rich history behind it, worth preserving. Derry is part of a diverse group of committed individuals who want to bring life back into this ghost town. She is humble when she speaks of all the people she is surrounded by, and said they are all equally important in bringing the light back to Cahawba. “Here’s a group of people who are giving their own time and money, so to have people who are that passionate, you just can’t beat that.”


just not at the pace they expected. Until the land is bought, there is no guarantee of protection for the site. Hobbs got involved with Cahawba when Daniel Meador, the president of the Cahaba Foundation, contacted him one day. “I was the student bar association president for my class when I was in law school,” Hobbs said. “He had kept up with me and you just don’t turn down your former dean.” Hobbs said after that call, it was easy to get involved with Cahawba, especially because he is involved in various civic and community organizations in Selma. Now he works just as hard as everyone else, to shed light on the town. “The more you learn about it, the more inexcusable it is that we have not put the priority on it.”


campaign will aid the Alabama Historical Commission in securing this land that remains private for now. Once the Foundation can get the land secured, exploration and restorations at the site will become possible. The park will also establish new information signs, exhibits, tour elements such as benches and a trolley, as well as education programs and more visitorcentered features.

f devotion could be summed up in two words, those two words would be Linda Derry. Derry shows the same commitment to Cahawba that a doctor would to a patient, or a parent to a child. Cahawba is Derry’s passion. She eats, sleeps and breathes Cahaba. Derry is senior archaeologist and park director of Old Cahawba. “It’s 1,000 acres of a town that used to be. It’s full of ruins, and relics, and it’s all dripping in Spanish moss with all these ghost stories attached to it.” Derry works in an office building in Selma while she is not at the Cahawba site. The building is in the John Tyler Morgan house on Tremont Street. The house is white, with layer upon alph Hobbs is a busy man. He is the vice president of the Cahaba Foundation and also an attorney in Selma. Hobbs is excited to partner with Derry and Old Cahawba, but feels there is something wrong about the limited accessibility of the land. “That’s my focus, because it’s a first step to me. You can’t even secure the site.” To Hobbs, this is the biggest problem Cahawba and those involved are facing. He is upset that the land has not yet been secured, because it keeps people like Derry from exploring the entire site. “The important thing from the foundation’s stand point is to get the money and to get this land bought and controlled.” Hobbs said progress is being made, alph Hobbs, vice president, said the main focus of the Foundation is to secure the land at Old Cahawba. He said the Foundation has heightened awareness of the need to acquire the land, and his hope is their dream will soon become a reality. The Foundation members are about to unveil a $2 million campaign to raise the money to acquire the land. This

Spring 2011

Old Cahawba


The many faces of Cahawba

Menzo Driscoll

Cahaba Advisory Committee, Descendant

B.J. Smothers

Executive Assistant to the Mayor of Selma

Photos courtesey of Linda Derry and Facebook.


not like for things to be borrowed, especially from someone who had passed away. He eventually did take the desk down and clean it up and it was full of documents like report cards from the old town. Driscoll remembers when the cemetery in Cahawba was torn up by someone, and the sheriff asked if he knew any information about the alleged culprit who did it. He said an accomplice later came to him and told him who tore up the cemetery, and he found out who had done it. He said the man was not a mean person, but he just wanted to be a mean character. He said he realizes funding may not be on every person’s mind for Cahawba, but that all the work that has been done has yielded a miraculous job. “I just want to be supportive and help when and where I can,” Driscoll said.


more interest from outside our immediate community. I’m always puzzled about that,” Smothers said. She believes the interest in Old Cahawba is there, but like any other local attraction, the community may just feel like they can visit the site at any time. Smothers said she always tells visitors about Cahawba. She lived in New York and remembers taking for granted being surrounded by water because of its omnipresence. “We moved to Atlanta where we were inland and never saw water and then coming here, the Alabama and Cahaba rivers,” Smothers said. “Just the presence of those two rivers there is just another thing that makes you want to go there.” Smothers said she would like to see younger people get involved with Cahawba and that publicity is what will help the site the most. “We’ve had some wonderful stories in the past year and so many different kinds of magazines have come up and put the word out there,” Smothers said. “It is a wonderful place to take people.”

enzo Driscoll is a descendant of Cahawba and was recently appointed to the Cahaba Advisory Committee. He works at Craig Field Airport in Selma, Ala. “As long as I can remember I’ve had a special interest in and love for history, especially Southern history,” Driscoll said. “Sometimes on a Saturday after breakfast or something, I’ll just ride down there and just ride the streets a little bit. I just like being down there.” Driscoll said when he was a kid he envied people who were connected to Cahawba. He had no idea he would one day find out he had a connection to the town. One out of the many contributions Driscoll has made to Cahawba is a desk from one of his family members who lived in Cahawba. His father did

renda Smothers is the Executive Assistant to the Mayor in Selma, Ala., and the treasurer of the Black Belt African America Genealogical and Historical Society, Inc. According to bbaaghs. org, the organization is “dedicated to the study and exchange of information and ideas among people interested in African American genealogy, family history and historic preservation in the twelve counties of Alabama’s Black Belt Region.” Smothers said Cahawba lures people in because of its mystique, since nothing is left but small pieces of a town that once was. “It spurs the imagination to remember what it was like in the past and it encourages you to do the research to find out what was there, why it was there and the meaning of it all,” Smothers said. She said although the number of people who know about Cahawba is growing, she can’t quite understand why more locals are not involved. “Sometimes we seem to get a lot

Spring 2011

Old Cahawba


Spring 2011

Old Cahawba


Spring 2011


Old Cahawba

Cahawba builds for the future

The two-story Barker slave quarters from the site at Old Cahawba, March 11. By: Mary Rose Gillman


t is true that Cahawba is an uninhabited and deserted ghost town. What Cahaba is not, is worthless and forgettable. History as the state capital


ahawba formed in 1819 with the designation and construction of the first state capital. Gov. William Wyatt Bibb found the placement of a mound from old Indian inhabitants to be significant enough to put into his town plan. He set out to make the mound the centerpiece of the town and to build everything around it. “The federal government gave the newly formed state of Alabama about one square mile of land in which to build its state capital,” Linda Derry said. “The significance of that is Bibb

designed this thing, auctioned off the lots and that’s how they financed the state government.” Many accounts suggest the capital was moved because of constant flooding in the town, but this was not the case. According to, a constitutional provision was passed to designate Cahawba the state capital of Alabama until 1825. After this year, the capital would be moved to the place the Alabama Territorial Assembly deemed fit. By the time a decision needed to be made in 1825, the assembly declared the capital would be moved. Bibb tried to persuade members to keep Cahawba the permanent seat of government. Bibb’s efforts fell short as he passed away in 1820 from injuries received after falling from his horse. According to, the capital moved from Cahawba to Tuscaloosa because of one individual vote. Al-

though the loss of the state capital had a large effect on the town, Cahawba was still the seat of government for Dallas County. After the capital moved


lot of people think Cahawba “ died when the capital left,” Derry said. “When the capital moved to Tuscaloosa in 1826, that’s when Cahawba actually started to grow and become a big deal.” The landscape played a big part in the town’s renewal after the state capital moved. A native cane used to grow in Cahawba, but citizens plowed it to grow cotton in any place they could. “It used to be these vast stretches of cane and it was so thick that bear and panthers lived in it, and that’s where runaway slaves would hide,” Derry said. Once the prairie formed into cotton fields, the town found a new industry

Spring 2011


Old Cahawba

there looked like and what its purpose was. No matter which direction taken, nature is an overwhelming presence all around. It is not invasive or threatening. It encases the remnants of the town, almost with the loving and welcoming arms of a mother hugging her child. The way the Spanish moss seems to float gently on the trees and the flowers pop up in all different shapes, sizes and colors, almost like they were sprayed around sporadically. While the town may be uninhabited, nature is now the force keeping Cahawba alive. Flowers found scattered throughout Old Cahawba, March 11.

to build off of. Workers would store the cotton for periods of time when the steamboats could not come up, because of the low water in the river. When the steamboats could carry the cotton, it was taken to the mills in North. In 1860, Dallas County had the fourth highest per capita wealth in the entire U.S. Many of the buildings in Cahaba were made of brick, because there were three brickyards in town. “It was the land office, so if anyone came to patent land, they came to Cahawba to do it,” Derry said. “The federal government got all of this land from a treaty with the Indians and then sold it to individual settlers coming West.” Cahawba’s boom in land and sales had a great influence on the Black Belt’s change from prairie to cotton land. According to Derry, after the Civil War and a flood in 1866, the town started to come to an end.

town remain, the site is now overgrown with nature and wildlife. Guests first arrive at the visitor’s center, where they can find an array of maps and brochures, as well as candy canes to enjoy while touring. After the visitor’s center and a short walk to the left, visitors can explore the restored St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Building. The grass is not fully grown around the structure yet, but there are signs of regrowth around the building. That is a theme found throughout the site. Visitors can walk, bike or drive around the entire site, which still has marked roads. At almost every stop, one can find a decorated sign encased in a wood frame, detailing what the building or structure that once stood

How to help


n order to continue to remember, reclaim and restore Old Cahawba, contributions are valued and needed. These donations do not necessarily need to be monetary, although that would benefit the work the most. Those involved in rebuilding the past of Old Cahawba, as well as the future of it, would also appreciate any information people may have about the town. Visitors to the site can leave donations in the visitor’s center at the entrance of Cahawba. For those who cannot visit, donations can also be given and processed online at, or a tax-deductible contribution can be sent to: Cahawba Advisory Committee P.O. Box 2318 Selma, Alabama 36702

Cahawba now


ahawba may have a rich past, but it continues to have a rich present and there is hope for the same in the future. Where Old Cahawba once stood now stands the Old Cahawba Archaeological Site. According to the Selma Chamber of Commerce, more than $1 million is added to the local economy each year, because of the visitors who come to Cahawba. While some parts of the booming

One of the descriptive signs found at Old Cahawba, March 11.

Spring 2011


Old Cahawba

Life experiences in a ghost town

The front of the historic John Tyler Morgan house on Tremont Street in Selma, Ala., March 11. By: Mary Rose Gillman


y experience with this class has had more ups and downs than a weightlifter. One day I’m on top of everything, and the next day I feel like I have nothing done and am almost embarrassed by everything. I walked into this class with intense intimidation and an almost complete lack of understanding about the theme or focus. Once everything was explained and my town assigned, I felt optimistic and energetic to get started. Oh how quickly excitement turned into panic. When I first researched my town, Cahawba, I couldn’t believe I got assigned a ghost town with so much incredible history and prominence. I didn’t have a full grasp of what Cahawba is really about, but I learned even more when I visited Linda Derry and her wonderful

companions in Selma. Linda’s compassion, love and almost mother-like attitude toward Cahawba inspired me the minute I first sat down and spoke with her. She doesn’t have to be there, none of them do, but they are and it is amazing to watch. After a day with Linda and her group, I began to understand what Cahawba is really about and my passion started to form. I wish we had more time. I will travel to Cahawba only once more, but only for pictures since I have my interviews, and I am almost sad I won’t be back again. Cahawba needs special care and attention. It can’t be written about in a few pieces, over a few weeks with a few drives back and forth. It’s like nurturing a plant or pet back to health, while trying to get all of your skeptical friends to care about what you are doing. I hope I can get the internship with

Linda for Cahawba. I feel like 10 weeks over the summer with no distraction from four other classes, proximity to Cahawba or internship and job searching, I can put the time and energy in that is deserved. Working with Linda and her group will give me a better idea of what I want to do after college. I may be in journalism, but I have no interest in working for a newspaper. I know without a doubt though that I would love to work for a group, promoting a great cause and trying to get their name out into the world. The people I have met are selfless and sincere in their involvement with Cahawba, and everyone could learn a lesson from them. Few groups show the dedication I have seen with the Cahawba people, and I hope I can help them in some way whether it is with this class or with an internship, or even both.

Spring 2011



On the outside looking in

By: Rachel Shirey


istory lives in Selma, Ala., but the Alabama Black Belt town refuses to live in its past. Despite Selma’s strong history from the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, Selma is making an effort to progress and move forward. The people value their history, but they don’t want to be defined by it. With a strong sense of community, residents are renovating their historic city and creating a place they are proud to call home. “In the case of, has the history held us back, I think although you could say yes it has, I think it’s a part of the ongoing courage and resilience of the people, black and white, to continue

moving. To keep going forward,” said Becky Nichols, director of the SelmaDallas County Public Library. “That goal of building a community that people can come and visit and be changed by what they think and see here.” The world came to know Selma on March 7, 1965. An ABC television crew recorded the scene as state and city police clubbed, whipped and ran their horses over peaceful marchers protesting a system that placed deadly barriers in front of black citizens looking to vote, said an article from The Toronto Star. This later resulted in the famous march over the Edmund Pettis Bridge and on to Montgomery, which was led by Martin Luther King Jr. Selma still remembers and celebrates the march and several other Civil Rights events to

give the power back to the community. Today, Selma has dozens of museums and attractions to preserve the area’s history. The city is most celebrated for their National Voting Rights Museum and the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The city also has the Vaughn-Smitherman Museum and the Old Depot Museum to preserve the city’s role in during the Civil War and their general history. These museums are central to the cities growth because they encourage tourism and education. However, the people also want to be viewed as something more, according to civic leaders. Sheryl Smedley, Chamber of Commerce executive director, said it is important to look past the stereotype that Selma is still socially segregated so the community can move forward.

Spring 2011

“A community has to be able to move forward positively by promoting and showcasing all the positive resources they have,” Smedley said. Every year, the town hosts a series of events to acknowledge the history that Selma took part in. They host the Bridge Crossing Jubilee “commemorate ‘Bloody Sunday,’ the March from Selma to Montgomery, and the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” according to They also host The Historic Selma Pilgrimage to “to recognize and share the city’s variety of architectural styles and rich history” and the city reenacts the battle of Selma from the Civil War. These events are popular for tourists and members of the community. During these events, Selma transforms into a city of motion and tourism becoming a host. “When it’s all said and done I would hope Selma would be remembered as being a place of great courage and a place of great grace,” Nichols said. “And sometimes maybe it’s grace under fire, certainly we’ve had issues.” Today, more residents say the richest part of Selma is the members of the community and the efforts of the people to get involved. “To be a community, a good community, a successful one, you have to be a community. Not separate factions,” said Jean Martin, curator of the Old Depot Museum and weekly writer for the Selma Times Journal. “You need to



work together.” The involvement and the connection of the people is something Selma is developing. Overall, people no longer act as separate factions. Nichols said she believes most people don’t see black and white anymore. They just see people. “It’s just all been kind of been like this big gigantic cake batter,” said Nichols. “You just keep mixing it all in and pretty soon it’s just a delicious recipe of diversity and cognition. But it all boils down to community. That is a part of why we have survived.” Selma is still standing strong despite the economic hardships they have endured and the negative stereotypes. The city has dealt with the loss of crucial businesses, such as the Craig Air Force base in 1977, and the loss of their

younger generation that have really hindered the cities progress. The resilience of the city is even apparent in the appearance of the buildings. The old-fashioned structures stand edge to edge and weather worn. Yet, they still tower over the city streets and provide the community with business and life. City life still seems to circulate around these grand structures. Some people, like Nichols, claim they willingly sacrificed their heart and souls to the city to better the community. Nichols said that even though opportunities to leave Selma have presented themselves, she couldn’t imagine leaving her community behind. “In order for a community to thrive, it takes cooperation,” Smedley said. “A positive image proves that its citizens are invested in their community. [They are] willing to make a difference and move the community forward even during economic challenged times.” For example, residence are coming together to support the art culture and local artists in Selma to enhance the city’s image. This support has encouraged the nation to see the city as a place of culture and not just a place of history. This corporation and involvement also has the potential to lead to industry recruitment that would be essential to Selma’s economy. “The power of the small town is the power of the people,” Nichols said.

Getting to Know Selma: population:

18,000 in 2009

median resident age:


estimated income in 2009:


registered sex offenders:

90 in 2010

Unemployment in 2010:

16.9 percent


west of Montgomery on the banks of the Alabama River

Spring 2011



Folk Artist Charlie Lucas stands in front of several paintings he has displayed in his workshop off Broad Street.

Inside the life of the Tin Man

By: Rachel Shirey


olk artist Charlie Lucas stands in his newly-acquired showroom in Selma, Ala., wearing a navy shirt that has been perfectly broken in and jeans that have long since seen their heyday. He also wears a tool belt around his waist. He looks across his creations like a father looks at his children. Love and passion immediately paint his face. This is where he belongs. This is the “Tin Man,” who sees the world in colors through expert childlike eyes. Lucas once said that, when he sits on his porch and looks out of the world, he sees dinosaurs and all kinds of interesting things, said fellow artist and close friend Vicky Stoudenmire. Lucas, also known as the “Tin Man,” has been creating his art since he was

a child. He would create toys for his 13 brothers and sisters, and he con-

One of Lucas’ many art pieces.

tinues to make toys for the world. Except now, the dolls and whirligigs have evolved into elaborate metal structures and paintings.

One of the Lucas’ metal structures is a tall dinosaur that towers over his head. The structure appears simple and wiry, but is intricately welded and cut. The structure is complete with a scaly tail and face. Lucas is also proud to broadcast that the dinosaur comes apart in multiple pieces and can fit in the passenger side of a car, despite its large size. Lucas said, if you can fit in the car, so can the dinosaur. His paintings are also unusual and loved. One of the paintings Lucas has hanging on the wall was inspired by paintbrushes. Lucas illustrated three simple yellow and red flowers on a black background, which hangs on the wall across from the main door. Lucas likes to sell his pieces of art so he can leave his mark on the world and give people enjoyment.

Spring 2011

Lucas stares out at his workshop and is proud of the work he’s done.

“This is me,” Lucas said. “This is what I got to put into society. I’ll live forever in the art world. My body will pass on, but the mind, people will always have to search through what I’m doing to try to figure out, ‘what was he really thinking? What was going on in his head for him to have all of this?’ And it’s a gift.” Several years ago, Lucas was invited to speak to students at Yale University by an African-American studies scholar. But his fame doesn’t stop there. According to Thicket Magazine, Georgine Clarke, Visual Arts Program Manager for the Alabama State Council on the Arts, said: “Charlie has represented the state on cultural tours to France and Italy, where he created masterful sculpture in a borrowed blacksmith shop using discarded material from the city scrap yard. He’s also known by thousands of children who have welcomed him into their classrooms for lessons on art.” Lucas also started organizing a studio and workshop across from the Church’s Chicken next to the railroad tracks on Broad Street. His art is set up around a showroom to inspire education and wonder. Lucas’ workshop is behind the show room filled with what appears to be junk from wall to wall. However, this junk is the foundation for Lucas’ “primitive” art.



“He turns junk into something beautiful, and I think he enlightens people, and it doesn’t have to be something fine or expensive for it to be beautiful. It’s what you do with it,” Vicky Stoudenmire said. The elaborately crafted metal structures and paintings are considered Lucas’ workers. They go into the world to get his name out there and promote education. The pieces share the magic Lucas gets to experience everyday with the world. “He just has a good time,” said Cindy Stoudenmire, another fellow artist and friend. “He’s fun. He’s almost still

a child. That’s why his art is like it is. He thinks that you have to look at the world like a child and play like a child in order to get through it. But mostly he just laughs and he has fun.” However, Lucas’ art also requires a certain amount of discipline and work. Lucas has encountered a journey of self discovery and beauty, which has helped him discover his own sense of spirituality. “You have to be creative but you got to wait to let the brain be free. You make yourself be free,” Lucas said. “To me this isn’t about the money, this isn’t even about the fame of it. It’s about how do I stay focused in something I see as like a flower, and how do I treat my flowers? I water them. I want them to be beautiful. So I keep looking at that and not worrying about, ‘oh you famous, you get this and you had done all that.’ That’s fine, that comes with the package deal, but who do you really want to be inside? Do you know who you truly want to be? I know that now. It took me a long time, but I know who I really want to be inside. It’s beautiful to me.” Lucas discovered he is the “Tin Man” inside his heart. He doesn’t want to be judged from his outer appearance because that’s not who he is. He’s as rich as he ever wants to be in his own heart and that’s all he can ask for. Lucas’ path to self discovery began years ago after he had an accident that

Art supplies Lucas has stored in his workshop.

Spring 2011

broke his back. He was immobile for months and had to go on welfare to support his family. Lucas started to lose sight of what was important in life when he had a dream that changed his life. “I knew what’s gonna’ happen in my career before it happened,” Lucas said. “And I told everybody what was gonna’ happen and people was gonna’ write books and they said, ‘ain’t no way in the world for you to know this.’ And I say, ‘you don’t believe in yourself and you don’t believe in God!’ See you got to think about it and please you first. All those pieces I’ve created in there, they pleased me first.” Lucas started his career in art with only $10 in his pocket, and even now the money doesn’t matter. He said he wants to bring enjoyment to the world and leave his mark in society. He has even been known to give his art away for free when the time calls for it. “I don’t know, it just seems that everything about his life has made him into the kind of person he is, and it’s a wonder that he’s as pleasant and fun


loving as he is,” Cindy Stoudenmire said. And yet, Lucas managed to come out on top and truly mark his place in society. However, Lucas hasn’t let the fame go to his head. He said he believes being humble is the way to go. “The fame is a good thing,” Lucas said. “It’s a good thing if you don’t become a fame-aholic. Most people out there have to have the bright lights to survive. And I think it’s ok to look at it,


but I think you should know who you was when you started off, and that way you don’t lose the vision of it.” Lucas continues to be a fundamental treasure hidden in the depths of Selma. He continues to be the “Tin Man.” “There’s so many people who look at the world negatively,” Cindy Stoudenmire said. “They’re always looking for something wrong with it. Charlie looks at it and he sees stories, he sees history, he sees fun.”

Spring 2011



Places of pride By: Rachel Shirey


idden in the depths of downtown Selma is a historical district with homes built as early as the 1800’s. Some of the houses appear run-down and deserted with peeling paint and shattered windows. Other homes have been artfully restored and inhabited. These homes are places of pride for the city. They highlight who the city was in the past and who they have become. Several of the restored homes are open to the public during the Historic Selma Pilgrimage, where visitors are more than welcome to invade residents’ lifestyles to learn a little of what these old-fashioned homes are like. Two of the treasured and valued The stair case in the Ullman-Kornegay-Wait house, with hand-crafted wood homes in Selma are the Ullman-Ko- workings and hard wood floors. The Waits have been working hard to rnegay-Wait home and the Brownstone maintain the historic appearance. Manor. Both, have captured the hearts of the city. She was introduced to the house next work was covered in drywall that was The Ullman-Kornegay-Wait Home door by a realtor when she was struck wrapped in vinyl with a mirror paintby the grandeur of the “uninhabitable” ing of cheetahs. (The front right) room house. had asbestos tiles all over the ceiling The house is painted gold with a that were stained and collapsed on black trim and has multiple levels. this side where the waterfall was hapWait said she thought the house pening. And (the dining) room was a looked like a picture out of a comic stained beige color and the walls had book and it was love at first sight. She water stains, all of the woodwork was purchased the house soon after and dark industrial brown, it was just kind moved in. of like a big swampy room. So, really However, the house was not fit for what’s happened is light fixtures have living. The roof was caved in, and there gotten hung in the hall. I didn’t do anywas trash and debris everywhere. thing; it was a matter of taking out a lot The home’s front porch. When Wait moved into the house, of trash.” she said there was only one dry room, Now, although unfinished, the house he Ullman-Kornegay-Wait home which she turned into her bedroom. is magnificently altered and restored. is currently occupied by the Waits and From there, the house was a work in The three-story home has a grand stairtheir two children on Dallas Avenue. progress and she created a home. case with original woodworking and a Julian Wait migrated to Selma in 2005 That bedroom later became the din- modern twist. after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, ing room, and it is the second room on Wait, a painter, has added her personand Selma was where she found dry the right after you walk into the large al touch to several rooms of the home. land. home. She has skillfully added a splash of Julian Wait, who had visited Selma “I lived here as soon as I bought it, color and life to the walls of the once before, decided she wanted to buy the within the hour which was great. So lifeless home. house in the historical district on a (the dining room was) the only room “Even with everything collapsing whim and later met her husband, who that wasn’t raining inside,” Julian Wait around me, I just remember it was like has helped restore the old house since. said. “In this room, all of the wood- being asleep in the Metropolitan Mu-


Spring 2011 seum of Art,” Julian Wait said. “Every time I went to bed in this room I was like, this is really nice.” Daniel Wait thinks the biggest attraction to the house is the architecture and the history. It’s old enough to show how craftsmanship has evolved. People don’t get to see decorative wood-working and moldings in modern homes because the labor is no longer there. “It is history.” Daniel Wait said. “It is cool to go ‘oh, wow look. They used to do things this way.’ And a lot of the times if you look at the way they’ve done things in the past, in terms of the quality and the craftsmanship, it’s so much better than now. And I don’t know if that’s because we live in a different time period; we live in a modern era, where things are mass produced very quickly and they are made out of materials that are, to be honest with you, second rate.” The Waits are continuing to restore their cherished home for both Selma and their family. Daniel said he believes it’s important to save the old-fashioned homes because they give the city character and no two homes are designed alike. The Ullman-Kornegay-Wait home was given love and has since returned that love back to the city. “It’s like an old pair of jeans you like to wear. You may not want to wear them out in public, but you put them on and it’s like it fits,” Daniel Wait said. The Brownstone Manor


he Brownstone Manor is rumored to be an inspiration behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels and is haunted by a former owner. The manor has also become an attraction for the city. Whenever people come to visit, it’s almost common knowledge that a drive-by is required. However to the Golson family, the manor is a home. Before the Golsons purchased the house, they knew the manor was meant for them. “When you go to a house, you can tell it feels like a home and the first time we walked in the doors, it just felt like home,” said Sam Golson. “It felt like we belonged, like we’d always been here.”



The Brownstone Manor located on Lapsley Street.

The stone manor towers above the city streets and has magnificent columns that frame the front entrance of the home. The white Corinthian columns also surround the porch on the left side of the house creating the illusion of privacy. The inside of the house has also been intricately decorated to reflect the time period of the mansion. Golson has oldfashioned furniture placed neatly around the home to give the residence its original 1900’s flare. It was built between 1898 and 1904 and has 16 and 18 foot ceilings, from which hang glimmering chandeliers. However, the homes appearance isn’t necessarily its greatest attraction. The house is also rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a former resident named Mrs. Hooper, and it was visited by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Fitzgeralds and the Hoopers were also considered close friends. Fitzgerald’s “wife Zelda dated the second owner of the house’s son, Mrs. Hooper’s son. And then (Lloyd Hooper) introduced Zelda to Scott and

she looked at Scott and she looked at Lloyd. Scott was new money and Lloyd was old money. Old money you don’t see coming in, new money you do see coming in so she went with Scott and they attended all of Mrs. Hooper’s social events and everything, and she still had affairs with Lloyd Hooper,” Golson said. Fitzgerald fell in love with the mansion’s partylike style and used some of its characteristics in his writing. The manor even has a small alcove in a back corner for a band to entertain visitors. Golson also said that Fitzgerald based his novels off of parties that Mrs. Hooper hosted at the Brownstone Manor. He even wrote in the Manor’s library while his wife Zelda was partying. “He always mentions this house in his novels,” Golson said. “He calls it ‘The Family home,’ ‘The Party House,’ or ‘The Hooper House.’ And the Great Gatsby was actually based off of a party in this house and not in New Port, Rhode Island, but he was so close with the Hooper Family that they based it up north instead of a southern party. And all those are in his journals in the Scott

“We are shaped

and fashioned by what we love.”

Spring 2011 and Zelda Fitzgerald museum in Montgomery.” Even though the Fitzgerald’s eventually left the area, Mrs. Hooper didn’t. Mrs. Hooper’s ghost has been felt roaming the rooms and heard walking around in her high heels by the Golson family and paranormal research teams. “She claimed this house, but for what the stories go she claimed that house before she even bought the house,” said Maggie Davies, paranormal researcher. “The man that built it, I believe, went bankrupt and she said she was never going to leave the house.” And she never did. “You could feel the temperature changing in the rooms and things when we would leave here and go back to the house to go to bed at night, you go back and something would be moved,” Sam said. “After we moved in, you could hear walking up and down the

Selma stairs and my wife would wake me up and say, ‘Sam get up, there is somebody coming up the stairs.’ Well you get up and go to the stairs, and there’s nobody’s there. Or she’d nudge me and say, ‘Somebody just got on the foot of the bed, someone’s in the house.’ You know, you’d wake up and there is nobody at the foot of the bed, but you could feel her sit on the bed.” Mrs. Hooper also has a habit of ringing the door bell, opening and closing the front door and locking people in the bathrooms. Despite all of the odd occurrences around the house, Golson said it isn’t strange or scary living with ghosts. “I honestly believe that Sam is a ghost magnet,” Davies said, “He’s had a lot of run-ins and he’s not afraid, and his wife is a very quiet woman and she just takes it all in stride. But Sam just attracts them. He has a very flamboy-

23 ant personality. I talked to him about that and he just thought it was funny. He says it just makes it real hard on the wife when the ghosts are very obsessed with him.” Davies said Brownstone and Selma are known for their haunting, but the ghosts are playful and not mean spirited at. “We’ve got the largest historical district in the state of Alabama,” Golson said. Both the Brownstone Manor and the Ullman-Kornegay-Wait home are unusual and grand homes that make Selma attractive. These two homes in the historical district are just two of many homes that depict Selma’s past, present and future. Julian Wait said it’s like what Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”

The study, which is located on the left side of the house, is the study where F. Scott Ftizgerald is rumored to have written chapters of “The Great Gatsby.” The room is also suspected to have a ghost of its own, but its details are still unknown. However, batteries are known to drain and the lights flicker.

Spring 2011



Downtown Selma doesn’t appear to be struggling economically, but the people know challenges remain.

Selma’s process for economic reform By: Rachel Shirey


s one crosses the Edmund Pettis Bridge into the town of Selma, Ala., one doesn’t expect to encounter economic recession. The town appears graceful and enchanted, but it is feeling effects of the recession like most parts of the nation. Like the rest of the nation, Selma has been struggling with economic reform. Selma’s biggest challenge has been recruiting business to stimulate employment. Of the roughly 18,000 people who live there, 17 percent are currently unemployed. Jean Martin, curator of the Old Depot Museum, said few industries have been recruited to Selma recently, but some industries have been standing

strong for years and are helping keep people employed. Selma is fortunate enough to have Bush Hog, Henry Brick and several other large industries and efforts to attract new industries are ongoing. “It’s going to take businesses, industry, retail businesses, and more industry, and we are working toward trying to get more industry here in Selma and once we do that I know that the unemployment rate would drop,” said Mayor George Evans. “Currently, we’re trying to maintain the businesses that we have here through working with them, talking to them, encouragement, things like that, but it will take two or three nice employment businesses here in Selma in order to change those numbers tremendously.” According to a recent article writ-

ten by the mayor, existing companies in Dallas County and Selma expanded their businesses with $18.2 million in capital investment, with a total of 260 new jobs in 2010. “The economy is such right now that all businesses are struggling with picking up and going someplace else not knowing what’s going to happen with the economy of America,” Evans said. “The ones that have been here love Selma; it’s just a risk factor right now, I guess. “They’re trying to make sure they can get certain governmental support in terms of financial support and things like that, so that’s been much of the problem.” Until these new industries are recruited and new jobs are created, Becky Nichols, director of the Dallas County Library, said some are commuting to

Spring 2011



A local resident sits on a corner in downtown Selma, singing and playing his guitar with hopes of earning tips.

jobs in Montgomery and elsewhere. “[Jobs are] a powerful, powerful, powerful resource that can either make or break a town,” Nichols said. Evans said he believes the crime rate goes up during an economic recession because some people want to find a way to beat the system and find an easy way out. In other situations, they are trying to steal to meet their needs. Evans said the crime rate and the unemployment rate have a lot to do with education as well. It really comes down to people’s life values and commitment. “I think as far as I’m concerned, there are job opportunities in Selma if you want to work, and there’s a junior college here that has an on-the-job work force program over there where you can go and get trained properly,” Evans said. “You have Concordia College…

and we have Selma University here in Selma if they want to go into ministry and other areas, so there are opportunities here if you are really conscientious, and want to really do better and better themselves. There are a lot of them that won’t do that because maybe they are waiting on that miracle, I don’t know.” Sheryl Smedley, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said Selma isn’t necessarily having trouble promoting the city because Selma has an abundance of resources, both natural and man-made. Selma has the Alabama River, timber and land, but it also has the Craig Field Airport and Industrial Park, historic churches, the Edmund Pettus Bridge and historic cemeteries. Evans and his team are doing everything they can to promote Selma and draw new industries in. “We have an EDA (Economic Devel-

opment Authority) and center of commerce working toward getting more business here in Selma,” Evans said. “I assembled a team called ‘Team Selma’ which makes up the EDA Department, the public judge, our senator Sanders, who is a senator for this district, and our college president from Wallace Community College, the airport authority chairperson, and these teams are where we go out and try to solicit businesses to come to Selma, send out information about Selma, and what’s available to them.” For example, the probate judge Evans and one other councilmember traveled to Seattle, Wash., to meet with five mayors from different cities in China to discuss doing business in Selma as part of a sponsored program by The National League of Cities. “We are always reaching out to attract industry,” Evans said. “We have a great EDA board that constantly looks

Spring 2011 at sending out information throughout the state of Alabama and trying to get businesses to come to Selma and visit and learn all about Selma and what’s available in Selma, and see if we can close a deal.” However, until these businesses come to Selma, the city is happy that tourism is giving the local economy a boost. New museums and downtown renovations are attracting more and more visitors. Martin said tourism is crucial to the economy and it is one small step toward saving the city because the tax revenues turn around to help the city. “Every tourism dollar that comes into a community turns over seven times,” Martin said. “That’s a financial fact, restaurants, service stations, hotels, souvenirs — now that makes a difference.” Tourism revenue, despite how small the figure, offers Selma the opportunity to increase its budget. The city then has the ability to spend a fraction more on promotion and city maintenance, both of which would lead to more job opportunities. The ability to travel and promote Selma to large industries is critical to the success of the economy, and of course it doesn’t hurt to have an attractive city. The promotion would be a bonus for industries and show the people involved that the quality of life isn’t bad, and relocating could be beneficial for them. However, it’s never as simple as that, and city officials are working hard to do everything they can to pull the economy around and bring employment opportunities to Selma’s residents. “Through commerce, local and state government, Selma continues to move forward by inviting and recruiting business and industry, both national and international,” Smedley said. Evans said he hopes to see the economy turn around sooner rather than later, and he would like to see the unemployment rate fall to around 5 percent. “We have all the ingredients for a great city, and a great opportunity for a business to locate with their families,” Evans said.



Top: Small local businesses, like Carter’s Drugs, help stimulate the economy. Mayor George Evans said he believes these businesses are crucial to the economy. Bottom: museums like the Old Depot Museum attract tourists and promote the city’s history.

Spring 2011



Top Left: Two girls adjust their hoop skirts as they prepare to meet visitors during the Historic Pilgrimage. Top right: One of the museums Selma opened up to the public during the pilgrimage called The Foundry. This building displays old machinery used during the Industrial Revolution and is in the process of being restored.

The world of Selma By: Rachel Shirey


s soon as I drove across the Edmund Pettis Bridge into the city of Selma, Al., I was taken from a barren land of nothing to a place of thriving life. I was immediately greeted by the buildings that provide the city with so much pride, and it took me a few days to understand why. At first, the buildings appeared old and stale. Some of the buildings were abandoned and several had peeling paint and busted windows. These buildings were falling apart and half of them looked condemned, and yet people were still setting up shop there and calling it “Historical Downtown Selma.” What was it about these buildings and this place that looked torn down and weather worn? What was it that captured the heart of so many people? I just couldn’t see it. Until the next day. I was promptly thrown into the hustle and bustle of these people’s lives and was shown, in great detail, why Selma will not be soon forgotten. I was lucky enough to have come to

visit during the annual “Selma Historic Pilgrimage” where people didn’t hesitate to invite you into their lives. In fact, they insisted upon it. I was given a light-hearted tour of the downtown area and was frequently stopped by people. They wanted to know me, a stranger who was of little concern to their lifestyle. After a while, I began to love it and without realizing it, I became the person who would just stop people to talk. People I knew I would never see again and they didn’t seem to mind. They smiled back at me as if waiting for me to discover that magic of Selma like they did. I was also acutely aware of the teenage girls who were dressed like traditional southern belles. At first I only saw one, and I thought I had imagined it. Then a giggling group of them passed me and didn’t think twice about my presence. I was baffled. These girls wore bright colored green and pink hoop skirts and were walking in and out of these old fashioned buildings like it was normal. Like Selma consistently lived in the past and wasn’t aware of the time progress. I wanted to scream at these girls,

“Hello?! This is the 21st Century!” Then I realized this was the one time of the year when Selma was allowed to live in History and be proud of it. Selma opened old fashioned and beautifully renovated homes, museums and of course, their downtown. Selma grew in my eyes as a place of character, not a place of ruin. Run down buildings and homes became a place of history and symbolism. They represented the town’s strength and pride. They were beautiful, and they were different. People walked from impressive structure to structure enjoying the sun and the 80 degree weekend while taking in the history of the place they call home. Then they would look at me and a polite smile would spread across their face. This was obviously an outsider. I didn’t belong. I was no object of interest. The town would keep circulating around these buildings and this lifestyle whether or not I appreciated it. I was simply a guest here to observe the splendor. I would eventually leave this fascinating city and continue on with my life, and so would they.

Spring 2011


Selma librarian shares her view of the world Becky Nichols discusses her role as a librarian and how it has affected her life. By: Alison McFerrin Contributing Writer


ecky Nichols is limited only by her imagination. “Most people would say money, but I don’t,” Nichols said. “I have found that my imagination takes off and runs and I come in later with what it will cost. I am one of the few people that build a budget based on what I want to do and not on what I can afford to do.” Nichols is the director of the SelmaDallas County Public Library in Selma, Ala., and imagination drives nearly everything she does.

“I think if you allow yourself to be limited by earthly space, money, people, then you’re governed constantly by that, those parameters,” Nichols said. Nichols became the children’s librarian in 1976 after teaching elementary school for six years. She said it was her love for children and books that drove her to take the job—even at half the pay. “It was a chance to really do something that I wanted to do,” Nichols said. “It was irresistible.” Nichols’ blue eyes match her shirt that bears the library logo—a picture of the building and the slogan ‘You make a living by what you get, you make a

28 life by what you give.’ This is a mantra she seems to live by. “She’s good at just making you feel like she’s known you for a while,” said Pat Montz, library cataloguer. “She just makes you feel like she’s a friend, right from the very beginning.” Nichols freely extends friendship to everyone who visits the library. In one instance, she helped a woman who was trying to apply for a low-income phone and didn’t know how to type her name into the required Internet form. This illiteracy is something Nichols is fighting. “Libraries are all about literacy, but you can choose just to be the ‘sit-behind-the-desk, check-out-the-book’ person,” Nichols said, “or you can engage those parts of the community that you know are just not going to seek you out.” Nichols knows little about being the ‘sit-behind-the-desk person.’ “She’s hardly ever in her desk,” said Helen Stewart, coordinator of library services/business office. “She does children’s programs. She does the puppet shows on Tuesday. “She’s just always on top of everything.” Nichols said the balance between being the director and being hands-on makes this job perfect for her. “It keeps me out in that world,” Nichols said, gesturing to the library outside her office, “but I also have the control to come back in here and do something about that world and not have to come in here to plead my case to some business-suited woman or man sitting behind the desk that doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. “I like this combination that I can sit here and talk to the lady behind the desk, and I don’t have a struggle with her. I think that God kind of guided that thing along.” Nichols attended Converse College from 1966 to 1968 and the University of Alabama from 1968 to 1970 before becoming an elementary school teacher. Though Nichols described herself as “an educator, through and through,” she said she doesn’t miss teaching.

Spring 2011



“I can summon a class whenever I want one,” Nichols said. “No grades, no principal, no nothing.” Aside from “educator,” Nichols said she has a hard time describing herself. “I’m just a plain old person who happens to be doing what she loves,” Nichols said. Nichols’ love for her job stems, at least in part, from her love for books. “I love stories that touch us,” Nichols said. “Stories give us a chance to step out of where we are and just kind of enter another world and pull for a hero or heroine.” One of Nichols’ recent favorites was “Walking Across Egypt” by Clyde Edgerton, she said. “It was one the funniest books I ever read, but it was one of my first stories about people growing old,” Nichols said. She said this book hit home for her because she read it at a time when her parents were starting to grow old. “I think books walk with us in our lives,” Nichols said. “They walk with us like friends.”

Nichols is involved in every aspect of the library, said Stewart, from ordering books, to creating employee schedules, right down to what decorations to hang in the children’s department. “Down to the color of the balloons they want to use for that month,” Stewart said. “She’s very hands-on, very organized.” One children’s department decoration is currently hanging in Nichols’ office. A giant, colorful butterfly hangs from the ceiling, fluttering over a packed bookshelf. “I couldn’t figure a way to keep him without getting wrinkles,” said Nichols, of the cheerful decoration that will be used in the upcoming summer program. He fits well in Nichols’ office, which is full of books, files and pictures of smiling people. “I love walking in my office in the morning…fresh day, wondering what’s going to happen,” Nichols said. “In my younger years, I was, you know, agenda-oriented…When you let your day

“When I stop imagining is when I will retire.”

go, to me, it’s just amazing the things that can happen.” Aside from work, Nichols said she enjoys swimming and working out in the yard. “I don’t do anything exciting, like, you know, jump from buildings or parachute,” Nichols joked, but she said she does consider herself an explorer. “I love to explore ideas and thoughts.” Nichols said she does some of her best thinking during the two miles between her house and the library—a distance she walks to and from work, every day. Being limited only by her imagination, Nichols said that will be the deciding factor for when she leaves the library. “I think you stay with an organization until you are no longer useful to its goals,” Nichols said. “I don’t expect to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to retire when I’m 70.’ That’s pointless.” “When I stop imagining is when I will retire.” But until then, Nichols will keep going. “I plan to be useful to the world,” Nichols said. “I don’t think there’s any point in being alive if you’re not useful to the world.”

Photo Courtesy of the Selma and Dallas County Public Library

The slogan that hangs on the wall of the children’s section of the library that Nichols bases her life on.

Spring 2011



Getting on the same page

By: Alison McFerrin Contributing Writer


he more you read, the more you know. The more you know, the more you grow. This saying is painted on the wall of the children’s section in the SelmaDallas County Public Library, and it’s a phrase Becky Nichols strongly believes in. “I think if we are literate and can read and can think and can make good decisions, we’re more likely to be able to get a job and be fairly successful,” said Nichols, library director. “If we are illiterate, we can’t even fight the smallest battle.” However, literacy is a limited commodity in Selma, Ala., and the sur-

rounding area. According to a 2003 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 24 percent of adults in Dallas County lacked “basic prose literacy skills,” or the ability to read and understand information in simple documents. This number was 10 percent above the national score ( Nichols said library staff became aware of the literacy problem in the 1970’s through an assessment that was done after the Craig Air Force Base closed. “That figure was so low, that we knew at that point we had to get into the literacy story,” Nichols said. “So in 1978 we first launched our literacy arm into the community.” Today, one-fourth of the library is dedicated solely to literacy initiatives,

but literacy is not limited to that area. One exception is the room in the children’s section of the library where children from local Head Start programs

Spring 2011 come to encounter the wide world of reading. “Good morning, good morning, good morning to you!” This is the song you might hear as you ascend the stairs. About 25 children sit on the carpet or dance around and sing as Jan Parker introduces the 4 and 5-year-olds to stories, songs and crafts. Parker said without the collaboration with Head Start, many of the children would never visit the library. “They would not be able to. Their parents wouldn’t bring them, so they wouldn’t get to experience our library,” Parker said. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, “Head Start is a national program that promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children” ( Their services are directed toward “economically disadvantaged children and families, with a special focus on helping preschoolers develop the early reading and math skills they need to be successful in school.” Stephanie Menifee, center manager for the Dallas-Selma Community Action and Community Development Corporation Head Start, said, “So many of our children—they’re not afforded the opportunity to come to the library for various reasons. “But that’s why Head Start collaborates with the Selma Public Library, so the children are able to come to do different activities, such as “Just for Fun”, read books, check out books, even obtain their library cards.” Different Head Starts throughout Dallas County bring children every Friday to hear a story and then do a craft that goes along with it. “For a lot of these kids, this is like Disney World,” Nichols said. “They come from that part of town where there is very little, and this is just an amazing thing for them.” Dale Dailey, a teacher at the Craig Head Start, said the library visit is a high point for the children. “People that (are) presenting the program, they just pull them right on in with the music and the activities,” Dailey said. “They can’t wait until they get out so they can tell their parents what


Selma they have done that day.” Involving the parents is something that is a huge focus, and not only at Head Start. “A lot of parents…don’t see the importance of it,” said Gwen Carrington, reading coordinator for Dallas County. But this lack of interest on the part of the parents won’t stop those who are passionate for the cause. “We can’t use that as an excuse,” Carrington said. “Just because our parents are not providing our students with maybe as much as we would like for them to have, what we have to do is find ways and means of engaging the students themselves for the time that we have them each day to ensure that they are getting the best instruction.” Both city and county public schools in Selma are making the effort to put reading and literacy at the forefront. Mary Lain Peel, reading coach at Clark Elementary School, said they use the Harcourt Reading Series as well as the Read Well program. “Part of our literacy problem is that nobody’s read to these kids,” Peel said. “Some of them have never held books before, even though the public library

is two miles away and a very easy walk. “Because education is not valued very much in some of these homes, just walking the two blocks over to the library to take your child is not something they’re going to do, or was ever done to them.” But Peel said that through an intervention program where teachers have time allotted to focus on children who need extra help, as well as through her work teaching teachers more reading techniques, they are definitely seeing improvement, as shown by test scores. “They get excited about it when they actually start realizing that they’re actually doing it and they’re learning these words,” Peel said. Children are a big focus in the question of literacy, but they’re not the only ones. “If you’re not in the business to serve kids, you can just get out of the literacy business, because when you have the children, you have their parents and you have their grandparents, you have their brothers and sisters,” Nichols said. By focusing on children, the parents also become more reachable. “In our system we have parent fa-

Photo courtesy of the Selma and Dallas County Library

The slogan is used to inspire children to read, but it also inspires Nichols to be an educator. She promotes literacy in the area.

Spring 2011


Allison McFerrin

Jan Parker leads the head start activities, including songs, dancing, stories and crafts.

cilitators, and our parent facilitators provide our parents with workshops, computer sessions, all different types of gatherings where they involve both the students and the parents to keep them—not just to get them, but to keep them—involved in what’s happening in the schools,” said Carrington. The library offers education pro-

grams to those of high school age as well as adults. “Kids actually come to school in the morning—they have dropped out of high school, and they actually complete their GED here,” Nichols said. “Our arm is still to try to raise that high school dropout, and get those kids out, and get them, hopefully, into college.” Adult education programs were born out of a partnership with local Wallace Community College. “We’ve pushed the product, and over the years we’ve had anywhere from 10 to 15 to 20 students at one given time in this classroom,” Nichols said. One program that is a focus in the county schools is the Alabama Reading Initiative, Carrington said. The ARI is for kindergarten through 12th grade, and it is a program that has 100 percent literacy as its goal. But Carrington said that even with 100 percent as the ultimate goal, they try to stay realistic. “Since we know that there will, in most cases, always be a small percentage of students that are going to struggle, we want that number to be very small,” Carrington said. “So we look at the number of 80-15-5.” The hope is for 80 percent of students to be reading at or above grade level and 15 percent to be “emerging,”

Photo courtesy of the Selma and Dallas County Library

A class of first graders receive their library cards after spending the day at the library. The library library card.

32 or making improvements. The last number represents the 5 percent of students who may have special needs or be chronic absences. Although Carrington is vocal about the importance of good programs, she said the real results come from the teachers. “The teachers are the most important programs,” Carrington said. “We use programs and we have programs, but programs don’t teach. Teachers teach.” Carrington said they are making great progress in reading ability throughout the schools. “We know that we are not where we want to be, but we know that we are increasing in the number of students that are fluent readers,” Carrington said. When it comes down to it, it all comes back to reading. “In my classroom…I was taught to use books as my best friend,” Dailey said. She said she visits the library often to find resources to use in teaching. “Little children, it’s an old cliché, but they say they’re like sponges,” Dailey said. “They soak up many things. And a lot of our children, they’re visual learners. And we need things to show them. For me to just sit there and tell them about the letter A, they may not comprehend that. But if I got a book, and I got an apple and an A on this book, and I’m showing them a picture, it’s like—it sinks in, and they can absorb it, because it’s something they can visually see.” Menifee agreed that the library is a precious resource for the community. “It really helps the community as well as the children that are in school,” Menifee said. “The library is a need, and we are thankful that we have the library to help us with our literacy programs in our community.” Carrington said reading is a skill, not a subject. “It’s the foundation of everything that a child has to go through,” Carrington said. “If the child does not learn to read, or the child does not receive the necessary instruction in the very early years, we know that that child will face problems as he or she continues throughout their school years.” “No ifs, ands or buts about it—it is a necessity.”

Spring 2011

Bayou La Batre

Bayou La Batre exit sign off of the highway.

A shrimping village with a big spirit Bayou La Batre, a small fishing town, has persevered through many natural and man-made disasters, managing to preserve its rich history and traditions. By: Kelly Nicastro


ehind the national news headlines for its decades of natural disasters, lies a tiny town that deserves much more recognition for its perseverance and traditions than the big headlines reflect. Known as the “seafood capital of Alabama,” Bayou La Batre (pronounced By’l-La-Bat-tree by the locals) is nestled along the shores of the Mississippi Sound and Gulf of Mexico in Mobile County. Fishing, shrimping and crabbing are an essential aspect to the town, with an estimated commercial seafood income of around $80 million annually. “Bayou La Batre is still a working seafood town and a multi-cultural community with deep historical roots,” said Frye Gaillard, writer, musician and author of “In the Path of the Storms” and many other books. “The people are as genuine as any I’ve

ever met.” According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Bayou La Batre has a population of 2,558, a total area of 4.2 square miles and a population density of 573.9 people per square mile. The racial makeup of the city is 52 percent white, 33 percent Asian, 10 percent African American, 2 percent Hispanic or Latino and the rest include Pacific Islanders. Bayou La Batre is unique in Alabama because of its large Asian population, which stems from the influx of the Asians during the Vietnam War. The shrimping business is what brought them to Bayou La Batre during that time and continues to be a source of income for a large portion of the Asian population today. Many commercial fishing vessels are built in Bayou La Batre and south Mobile County and are sold not only locally but also in numerous foreign countries. Some of the family-run ship industries include Steiner Ship Yard, Rodriguez Boat Builders and Master Boat Builders.

33 10 “There are a lot of workers that come to the Bayou to work in the shipyards,” said Faye White, director of the Senior Citizens Department. “Yesterday I was taking a woman to go get her prescriptions filled and the traffic was so backed up because of all the workers from the shipyard leaving the Bayou.” Bayou La Batre stands on a rich historical foundation. Joseph Bosarge, a Frenchman, founded Bayou La Batre in 1786 and named the settlement after the French battery of artillery. The Bosarge family provided a great establishment for the town, and the village grew prosperous, according to The Bayou La Batre Historical Homepage. (http://www.hattiesgems. com/BayouLaBatre.html.) Frye Gaillard , author of “In the Path of the Storms,” painted a clear picture of the area in the early 1800’s. In the book, nearby Coden was described as a resort town and flourished with posh hotels and frequent tourists that came in on the Bay Shore Railroad. But the good times came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 1906. The once lush and quaint village of Bayou La Batre faced a storm that would forever take away its prosperity. It took only three days for the storm to completely rip the little town apart

Spring 2011 and take the lives of more than 135 people. More storms followed in 1916 and 1925, making it difficult for it to regain the success it once had. After all the devastation, Bayou La Batre locals remained determined to stay and face the challenge of rebuilding the community. Hurricane Katrina was the worst and largest storm that the area has ever seen. It was a Category 3 hurricane with winds of about 120 miles per hour. National attention was focused on the town after Katrina. For example, the city of Santa Monica, Calif., loaned vehicles, cranes, dump trucks and street sweepers to help get the city back together again. Signs of Katrina’s damage remains as visible scars in Bayou La Batre today. “Homes are beginning to be bulldozed because of all the mold that has taken over the houses due to the water damage and flooding,” said Faye White, director of the Senior Citizens Department. “The repairs needed have driven people out of their homes and have left them with nowhere to go.” Just as the town was coming to grips

Bayou La Batre

with Katrina, another monster arrived. Bayou La Batre was hit by an environmental disaster in April of 2010. The oil spill set back shrimpers and fisherman an entire season, making it extremely difficult for the people who rely on the seafood business to make a living. After the recent natural disasters and oil spill, many of the citizens have had a difficult time getting back on their feet. According to Nationalrelocation. com, the median household income for Bayou La Batre is $24,539, and about 29 percent of the population is below the poverty line. For those 25 years and over in Bayou La Batre, 55 percent have a high school degree or higher, 7 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, 3 percent have a graduate or professional degree and 11 percent are unemployed. The Bayou La Batre Area Chamber of Commerce’s website, (http:// index.html) reads: “Together we can make it.” The Chamber’s goal is to encourage business growth and development in the South Bay area.

34 10 The committee of 60 people is made up of business owners, entrepreneurs and private citizens. Through all the meetings and networking, the team exchanges information and economic insights towards achieving goals and improvements in the community. The Chamber of Commerce communicates with legislators and officials who support the committee and improve the area. “Bayou La Batre is a progressive community,” said Ada Williamson, librarian who has worked for the Bayou La Batre Public Library for eight years. “The people here are always looking for new and innovative ways to help.” The Chamber of Commerce hosts “Taste of the Bayou,” a nationally recognized event that promotes locals who make a living off of the seafood caught off the coast of Bayou La Batre. The most recent “Taste of the Bayou” was held on Oct 23, 2010. “People are just trying to think of new ways to move forward, and address some of the problems that the community faces,” said A. J. Jongewaard, Bayou La Batre public information officer.

The Blessing of the Fleet Every

year at the beginning of shrimp season, thousands of people gather at the shore of Bayou La Batre to pray for the safety of seamen and for a successful season of seafood harvest. St. Margaret’s Church hosts the Blessing of the Fleet and conducts a prayer service over a variety of shrimping and recreational boats. The prayer service demonstrates how important the seafood industry is to the town and is a way for the community to get together for support. The Blessing of the Fleet will take place on May 1 in 2011. At the beginning of each Blessing of the Fleet ceremony, a prayer is read to

ensure the safety of the fisherman and their fishing season. “May God in Heaven fulfill abundantly the prayers which are pronounced over you and your boats and equipment on the occasion of the Blessing of the Fleet. God bless your going out and coming in; The Lord be with you at home and on the water. May he accompany you when you start on your many journeys: May he fill your nets abundantly as a reward for your labor; And may he bring you all safely in, when you turn your boats homeward to shore…Amen.” © 2011 - St. Margaret Catholic Church Blessing of the Fleet - Bayou La Batre, Alabama.

Sheila Hagler, Contributing photographer

Spring 2011

Bayou La Batre

10 35

Beer and seafood for the soul

Shrimping boats clutter the dock at Rodnoker’s Tavern. By: Kelly Nicastro


ifteen colorful Vietnamese and Texas style fishing boats cluttered the dock’s edge. The smell of fresh seafood permeated through the air. This scene is a familiar one for Rodney Lyons, a fifth-generation Bayou La Batre resident and owner of Samuel’s Seafood processing and Rodnoker’s Tavern. The businesses are both family run and were passed down to Lyons by his father. Lyons’ son, Samuel Lyons, works alongside him at the two businesses. “Roll Tide” and Alabama signs hang from the walls of the tavern and scattered dollar bills stapled to the ceiling. For now, the tavern only serves beer, but Lyons hopes to put in a kitchen and serve food sometime soon. Samuel’s Seafood is located underneath the tavern in a small bottom floor office space. Lyons said that Samuel’s Seafood

primarily processes shrimp. “We sell them to local individuals, local retail markets, restaurants and processors from Texas and Florida. It’s not uncommon to get 10 to 15,000 pounds of shrimp and when we get heavy we get about 60 to 70,000 pounds a day.” Greg Spies, local archaeologist and surveyor, said that one of the things that makes Lyons’s business so different is that it’s the only bar in the bayou that is also a seafood processing company. The majority of the customers who come to the tavern are locals and the truck drivers passing through Bayou La Batre. Lyons said that some days the tavern is filled with people he’s never seen before and other

days it’s all locals. “I’ve been going up there for a number of years,” Spies said. “It’s one of those ‘I got friends in low places’ kind of places. It has a really down to earth atmosphere.” Located at 9145 Little River Road in Bayou La Batre, a road leads to the tavern and seafood company which are right on the dock’s edge. The seafood business and small old tavern are still under repair from Hurricane Katrina. Lyons said that even though he works all day everyday, it’s still hard to catch up so he tries to prioritize the things that need to be fixed. “The roof was leaking because of the strong 150 m.p.h. winds, and the water made the untreated lumber on the deck rot,” Lyons said. “This is my project this year. I’m going to finish fixing the roof, deck and walls.” Since the businesses are right on the water, Hurricane Katrina took a toll on Lyon’s tavern. Lyons said that he is still paying for the damage Katrina had on the tavern from five and a half years ago because the salt water started to deteriorate everything it touched.

Spring 2011 In addition to Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 BP Oil Spill also set Lyons back a season of shrimping. He said that the tavern still kept busy, and that he is just looking forward to the new season ahead. “It’s hard to see these hardworking businesses, like Rodnoker’s Tavern, have to go through these difficult times,” said A.J Jongewaard, public information officer for Bayou La Batre. “But no matter what they’ll always open the door to you and let you in. They’re really proud folks.” In addition to the adjustments that Lyons has had to make because of Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill, he has also had to adapt to changes within his community. The demographics of Bayou La Batre have drastically changed over the years following Hurricane Katrina and with that come different customers.

Bayou La Batre

“We used to have all local people from generations and generations,” Lyons said. “The younger ones have started moving out of the city limits, and the Asian population continues to grow. Now you have a big group of new people.” Lyons even started learning Vietnamese so he would be able to speak with fellow shrimpers and customers. “ The funniest thing was when I was first getting to know Rodney, he had a cassette tape for learning Vietnamese that he would listen to in his truck,” said Peggy Denniston, writer and artist in residence at the Alma Bryant High School. “Then Rodney comes to find out that he was learning Northern Vietnamese instead of Southern Vietnamese.” Lyons said that the majority of the Asian population in Bayou La Batre

36 10 is from Southern Vietnam and when he learned Northern Vietnamese instead of Southern Vietnamese, it set him back two years of learning the language. Lyons has high hopes for expanding his business. In addition to putting a kitchen into the tavern and serving food, he also is looking to open up a bait shop within the next couple of months. For now, Lyons said he is focusing on fixing parts of the Tavern and trying to understand what lies ahead. “Rodney’s tavern is a place where regulars can just come and just enjoy the companionship of the other locals and customers,” said Diana Cooper, employee of Samuel’s Seafood for seven years. “They can come here and always know that they have their spot to sit in. It reminds me a lot of Cheers.”

Spring 2011

10 37

Bayou La Batre

Artists create their best piece of work yet, knowledge

Photographs taken by students at Alma Bryant High School. By: Kelly Nicastro


heila Hagler and Peggy Denniston are changing the way Bayou La Batre students look at life. With just a quick shutter speed adjustment and aperture setting, the students are capable of producing and understanding a different perspective of their surroundings, through a lens. Denniston, writer and artist in residence at Alma Bryant High School, and Sheila Hagler, photographer and artist in residence at Alba Middle School, have been primarily grant funded by the Alabama State Council on the Arts for 13 years. “We have no idea if we will have a job next month or next year,” Hagler said. “We look at the need of the community and as a artists try and step up to the plate to please them.” The photography classes at Alma Bryant High School are held in a tiny wood-frame portable in the school parking lot. Inside, the “dark room,” where the students develop their black and white photos, is separated from the classroom by a black piece of tarp.

The students’ photographs, most in black and white, hang from the walls. Denniston and Hagler come from dissimilar backgrounds, but grew up less than a mile away from each other in west Mobile when they were 10 years old, but never knew each other. Although they tend to approach prospective projects differently, they hold many of the same values and desires for their profession. “We’re such polar extremes so we come at a project with such perspective,” Hagler said. “We’re a good balance. She helps me to stay focused.” Megganemily Bosarge, a past student of Hagler and Denniston, said that the blend of Sheila’s idealism and Peggy’s realism is the perfect friendship and

business partnership. “I was lucky enough to take their photography class my senior year of high school,” Bosarge said. “I think Peggy taught me the mechanics of photography, and Sheila showed me the passion.” Bosarge said that Hagler also inspired her to write and even bought her a notebook. “Sheila taught me, without realizing it I think, that being creative wasn’t off-kilter,” Bosarge said. “ And that it was okay to have thought patterns that didn’t follow directly what my peers were thinking.” In addition to the rewards students have gained from Hagler, she is the recipient of many awards for her work as an artist and photographer. Most recently she received the Alabama State Council on the Arts, Individual Fellowship Award 20072008; Recognized by Southern Growth Policies Board as Alabama’s 2008 Innovator Award for her work with the Merging Cultures program and Eyes of the Storm exhibit; and was featured in a PBS documentary, “Living Courageously: The Spirit of Women” for her post-Katrina work on

Alma Bryant photography classroom.

Spring 2011 the Alabama coast in 2007. The latest in the large line of collaborative projects for Hagler and Denniston and their students is a project titled, “Art and Majesty: The Battleship USS ALABAMA.” The gray vessel suffered in Katrina and consequently the visitation dropped and the memorial saw a drop in funds. The situation inspired Hagler to help revive the spirit of the ship. “The USS ALABAMA is the only one of its kind in the state and maybe in the country,” Hagler said. “It’s important for the students to realize that it’s not a battleship for little boys to go ‘ooo look at the guns,’ and that it’s a memorial in honor of the veterans and all the people who served.” Hagler and Denniston were both in elementary school when the USS ALABAMA came to Mobile Bay in 1964 and remember bringing money to donate for the battleship. “If you donated a nickel you got a card that said you could go to the battleship for free for the rest of your life,” Denniston said. Hagler came up with the idea for applying principals of design to the battleship that coincide with the State Content Standards of Art, which are curriculum standards for teaching art. “I’ve been an artist for 30 years, and I look at everything around me as an art form,” Hagler said. “When I got to the battleship, I saw the power of the line and shape form and the message to be able to teach that.” Denniston and Hagler took their students on several field trips to the deck and below. Some had never been to downtown Mobile. The artists said the students went above and beyond their expectations capturing line forms, negative space and balance with their cameras. “We ended up with a really big body of work, so we printed them in both black and white and color to exhibit in the show,” Denniston said. The exhibit of the students’ work opened Feb. 16 and was displayed in the aircraft pavilion at Battleship Park and will also travel to other venues throughout the year. All of the

38 10

Bayou La Batre

Photographs taken by students at Alma Bryant High School hang to dry.

admission sales will be put toward the maintenance and repairs of the USS ALABAMA. The desire to revive the USS ALABAMA wasn’t important to just Denniston, Hagler and their students, but talented local artists also got involved. Bruce Larsen of Fairhope and Pieter Favier of Mobile created memorial pieces in honor of the battleship. “ B r u c e Larsen created a replica of the battleship using scrap metal,” Denniston said. “Favier had an abstract piece that included trinkets and symbols to represent the USS Alabama.” The students also had the opportunity to go to Larsen’s and Favier’s studios to see the process of producing art and the thought that goes into it. In addition to the USS ALABAMA project, Alba Middle School students previously helped produce a project

titled: “Eyes of the Storm” which captured the devastation that Hurricane Katrina had on Bayou La Batre. “We were handing out cameras where they were distributing water, food and diapers,” Denniston said. “Every time we saw a kid, we’d hand out these little plastic cameras to them.” In fact, a student named Frenda was able to capture a picture of Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, while she was in Bayou La Batre for a news conference concerning relief efforts. The photographs were exhibited in Alabama, Chicago, Nashville and Oklahoma City venues. Some of them were also published in a book titled “Eyes of the Storm: A Community Survives after Katrina.” Some of the students’ photographs were taken of the destruction that occurred in their own homes. Denniston co-edited the

“I’ve been an artist for 30 years, and I look at everything around me as an art form.”

Spring 2011 book, which features the photography and poetry by students from Bayou La Batre, the Alabama coast and Elm Place Middle School in Illinois. Hagler and Denniston also worked with Frye Gaillard to produce a book titled “In the Path of the Storms: Bayou La Batre, Coden, and the Alabama Coast.” The book details what life was like living on the coast after Hurricane Katrina, and also illustrates the rich history of the small fishing village. Jay Lamar, director of Auburn University

Bayou La Batre

Center for the Arts and Humanities, worked with Denniston and Hagler on the book and said that they are two of the most amazing, talented, and dedicated people that she knows. “They have a fundamental understanding about the role art can play in bringing people to a better understanding of themselves and others,” Lamar said. “They are an inspiration to me and I think about their work as we undertake our projects, hoping to instill in it a little of the heart and soul they have in their

The entrance way of Alma Bryant High School in Bayou La Batre.

10 39 work.” The duo plans to continue their battleship project and take their new classes to the ship next year to take more photos and video footage. Improving their students’ knowledge of art and photography is one of their greatest passions and gratifications as teachers, they said. “Self promotion isn’t our game,” Denniston said. “We want our students to feel like they’re really doing something because we want them to go on and achieve more than they thought they could have.”

Spring 2011

Bayou La Batre

A sign created by Lori Bosarge, Bayou La Batre resident.

Oil spill sends the town down a slippery slope

Bayou La Batre’s fishing and ship building industry needs help after the BP oil spill. By: Kelly Nicastro


hile the oil permeates the Gulf of Mexico waters, Bayou La Batre citizens are sinking deeper into depression-both economic and mental- as they try desperately to break through the aftermath of the BP Oil spill. Destruction is a familiar word to the people of Bayou La Batre. The community has endured several natural disasters including the worst and most recent, Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Fishing boats were thrown out of the water and onto the shore, and water damage left citizens homeless. “It used to be that people would just clean up after the hurricane and would

sit around waiting for the power to turn on,” said Peggy Denniston, writer and artist in residence at Alma Bryant High School. “But after Katrina, the

“You don’t control anything anymore.” county came in with new codes, and the power couldn’t be turned on until you met certain guidelines. So many people lost their homes, and many areas were bulldozed.” The coastal communities, including

10 40 Bayou La Batre, were also affected greatly by the poor economy after the storm. “Bayou La Batre was just a battered, little community trying to survive rising gasoline prices and the great expense to take shrimp boats out,” said Frye Gaillard, writer and author of “In the Path of the Storms,’ ‘After the Storms: Tradition and Change in Bayou La Batre’” and many other books. ( projects/katrina/Gaillard.html) As the cleanup began around the community, citizens tried to look at the bright side of all the chaos. Even though destruction blanketed the city, the people of Bayou La Batre saw it as a chance for them to figure out what they wanted out of the community. “In some ways it was like a blessing,” said Rodney Lyons, fifth-generation shrimper and owner of Samuel’s Seafood and Rodnoker’s Tavern. Before the hurricane, there was a lot of talk about contractors drawing up plans to put in high-rise buildings in Bayou La Batre to try to develop the area. With Bayou La Batre’s median income falling below the poverty line, many of the citizens were nervous about these new expensive changes. “I’ve heard about the contractors wanting to come to the Bayou to build condos, and I just didn’t understand it,” said Rachel Barbour, administrative assistant at the Bayou La Batre Chamber of Commerce. “I was born and raised here, and it’s still hard to understand why people would want to come to the Bayou after the destruction.” After the hurricane ripped through the city, the condo development rush slowed down, and the people of Bayou La Batre had time to rebuild their community themselves. On April 20, 2010, five years following the hurricane and in the midst of rebuilding the community, one of the BP sea-floor oil rigs exploded. It released 4.9 million barrels of crude oil during a three-month period. (

Spring 2011 Bayou La Batre citizens were still recuperating from the damages of Katrina, and if times weren’t hard enough, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry hit the town . Bayou La Batre’s economy and citizens are dependent on 85 percent of its gross income from the seafood industry, according to Fisherman and shrimpers lost an entire season because of the oil spill, making it nearly impossible for them to have a steady income, or income at all. (http://gulfinfo. com) “ E v e n assuming that everything is safe after a season off, the people catching the seafood have to convince the rest of the world that that’s the case,” Gaillard said. A f t e r Hurricane Katrina hit Bayou La Batre, the citizens were able to get out and clean up and repair the damages. Yet, with the oil spill, the town doesn’t have the capability to really improve the damages in the gulf and many were left feeling hopeless. Barbour said she believes that a lot of the citizens are just depending on other people and not trying to do things for themselves. “I’m not in that position. My husband and I didn’t lose our jobs so maybe if I were in their position I would feel differently,” Barbour said. “But it still seems like a lot of people are taking advantage of the situation and what they can get out of it.” The community seemed divided on how they should move forward after the oil spill, but the devastating impact

Bayou La Batre

was unanimous. Cherish Lombard, Fox 10 News Reporter, said that the stories regarding the oil spill that she was sent out on can only be described as heartbreaking. “It was sad seeing local businesses that were established in the Gulf Coast area before I was born with closed signs,” Lombard said. “ With messages like, ‘thank you for 30

wonderful years’ because tourism dropped off so rapidly, in an already tough economy.” David Pham, program administrator of Boat People SOS, is working to help the people of Bayou La Batre and Coden get back on their feet. The organization primarily works with the Southeast Vietnamese community in Bayou La Batre, but now helps all citizens because of the high demand. BPSOS goes around the Asian communities talking to the people about how they’re doing and the help that they need. ( “It’s hard because with the Asian community, people want to hold in what they’re feeling,” Pham said. “ It’s in our culture that you shouldn’t speak

41 10 out and just internalize everything. So we help them get over that barrier and let them know that it’s ok to feel this way, and they’re not the only ones.” Pham said that the one thing that they’ve seen not just in the Asian community, but the entire community is the loss of control after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “You don’t control anything anymore,” Pham said. “Now your life and your family’s life comes down to somebody in an office in Ohio deciding how much they think your services should be compensated.” Pham said that a lot of people think about the immediate impact of the oil spill, but people rarely think about the social aspect of the spill too. “Families here aren’t used to being around each other all the time,” Pham said. “ They’re used to dad being on the boat and mom working from six in the morning to six at night at the plants. Now you’re all at home together, and the tensions rise.” Pham said he knew fishermen who would go out to their boats during the oil spill to just hang out on the boat all day because that’s all they were ever used to. In addition to the family dynamics changing at home, some felt as if they were literally being poisoned by the oil spill in their own homes. Lori Bosarge, Bayou La Batre resident, said she believes that the chemical Corexit that was sprayed on the gulf’s waters as a dispersant got into her lungs and made her sick.

Spring 2011 In an interview produced by Sheila Hagler, photographer and artists in residence at Alba Middle School, Bosarge spoke about her sickness, fears and distrust in the government. ( Bosarge and her husband live about a quarter of a mile from the water, and she says that she could hear the airboats running back and fourth through the woods. Shortly after, a strong odor would creep into the cracks of her home. “It would be such a stench of a chemical like a strong candle burning,” Bosarge said. “Now we never leave our windows or doors open.” Bosarge said that she started feeling sick in the beginning of May 2010. “From June through September we had no mosquitoes at our house, we had no yellow flies, and we had no gnats,” Bosarge said. “I knew the spray was killing the mosquitoes and flies, and some people joke that it’s not a bad thing that the mosquitoes are dying. What they don’t understand is that those are apart of our environment and when one thing is killed off other things are killed off.” Bosarge has signs displayed on her yard, that reflect her fears about the chemicals sprayed on the water. She said that the reason why she made her signs was because of the anger she felt and her disbelief that the organizations from the U.S. were spraying deadly chemicals on their own people. “The coastal communities are not enemies of the United States,” Bosarge said. “We’re not killers, we’re not bad people and they just poisoned us.” Pham said most of the people of Bayou La Batre are living day to day, feeling as if there’s no hope. He said the future of Bayou La Batre looked like “ a big question mark.” “The changing global economics of higher gas prices and cheap imported seafood have squeezed them,” Gaillard said. “Who knows what’s still out there.”

Bayou La Batre

A local enjoys his view at Rodnoker’s Tavern.

10 42

Spring 2011

Bayou La Batre

43 10

From skyscrapers to the dock’s edge

Sheila Hagler, contributing photographer.

Rodney Lyons and I at Rodnoker’s Tavern By: Kelly Nicastro


hen I heard the words, “And Kelly Nicastro has Bayou La Batre” announced in class, my stomach dropped and my heartbeat began to quicken. I thought that venturing out of my comfort zone by choosing to move from Chicago to Alabama and attend Auburn University was enough. Here I am, born and raised a city girl and my community project is to go to Bayou La Batre, four and a half hours away, to produce a well-polished assignment. Throughout my drive from Auburn to Bayou La Batre, fears and scenarios were running through my head because I hadn’t ever been to a town in Alabama smaller than Auburn. My hands were white because of the hard grip I had on the steering wheel and perspiration kept reappearing on my forehead no matter how many times I wiped it dry. When I arrived in Bayou la Batre and began my interviews, I felt just as

comfortable speaking with my friends from home as I did with the people that I had met only an hour ago. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much during the day because of all the stories and jokes Peggy Denniston, Sheila Hagler, Heang Chhun and Rodney Lyons filled me with. Throughout the day I was overwhelmed with kindness and “Welcome! Come on in!” seemed to be the common warm greeting I would get. They were more than willing to walk about their problems in the community with politics, economics and the feeling of being ignored. Although many of the people who live in Bayou La Batre have strong opinions and fears about matters in their town, they continue to feel pushed aside and powerless to really be able to change the community. The people of Bayou La Batre have had to constantly pick themselves up over and over again after all of the natural disasters and recent oil spill. It made me think, could my town do

that? Could the citizens of my town have enough resilience and love for their community and history as these people do? I have never been benefited more as a student in journalism than I have because of the experience I’ve been given in my community journalism class. I had so many fears about the assignment because it was so far out of my comfort zone, but now I’ve found confidence in my reporting skills because of the work I was able to produce. I no longer have a fear of diving into unfamiliar experiences, and I am much more confident in my interviewing skills. The citizens in Bayou La Batre recognized that I was a beginning reporter and embraced me. Sheila Hagler and Peggy Denniston especially helped me not only by showing me around Bayou La Batre, but also taught me about how to be a great journalist. Peggy is both an artist and writer and she really helped me dive deeper into community issues instead of just reporting on what was in front of me. Sheila was always amazing me by her keen eye to art and lively attitude that made her more approachable and trustworthy when she was interviewing people or taking their picture. Although Bayou La Batre has been unmercifully devastated by hurricanes and the recent oil spill, the people of the town aren’t fleeing but are trying even harder to save their home and generations of history. It’s not just a population statistic or city council that defines a community, it’s people like those living in Bayou La Batre who continue to seek progress and never abandon their home, no matter how many times it gets destroyed. I will forever remember my experience and Bayou La Batre, and hope to keep in touch with the wonderful people I met.

Spring 2011


Collinsville: ‘Gem of the Valley’


By: Ariana Diaz


f you are traveling through northeast Alabama and past Gadsden and reach Fort Payne, then you just missed Collinsville, a community that has endured and overcome many struggles. The small town of Collinsville survived extreme weather and economic downfalls. More recently, Hispanic integration has changed the community. Situated in Little Wills Valley within Cherokee and Dekalb counties, according to “The Gem of the Valley: Historical Cookbook” from the Collinsville Historical Association, Collinsville has a total area of 3.5 square miles and is surrounded by the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Settled to the west of Collinsville is Sand Mountain and to the east is Lookout Mountain. According to collinsvillealabama. net, the official website of the town, Collinsville was originally the land of the Cherokee Indians. Their chief was Chief Big Will, a red-headed Indian and son of a British agent. In 1835, the land was surrendered to the federal government and a year later Dekalb, Cherokee and Marshall counties were

Sign welcomes travelers entering Collinsville along U.S. Highway 11.

formed. In 1838, the Cherokees were forced to relocate to reservations west of Mississippi in what is known as the Trail of Tears. Around 1814, the town was named Lynchburg, after three brothers who settled in the area, Simon, Boyd and

Every Saturday hundreds of people from all around attend Trade Day.

Elijah Lynch. Ultimately, the town became known as Collinsville in the 1840s, after Alfred Collins, who owned 680 acres of land, according to “The Gem of the Valley: Historical Cookbook.” Collins was born June 13, 1816, in Rhea County, Tenn. According to, he came to Dekalb in 1839 to teach school and bought his first property three years later, a trading post and stage coach stop. After his first purchase, he and his father continued investing in the land. Collins died August 18, 1879, of paralysis, according to collinsvillealabama. net. On May 5, 1887, the town was incorporated after a group of Collinsville citizens petitioned the DeKalb County Commissioners Court to incorporate their town, said Myles Smith, a resident of Collinsville. Yet, the town name and incorporation are not the only state of affairs this town has had to take on. Collinsville has encountered fires, floods and ice storms, according to “The Gem of the Valley: Historical Cookbook.” In 1884 and again in 1900, several stores in the downtown area burned down.

Spring 2011



The Cricket Theatre still sits on Main Street waiting to one day reopen its doors to Collinsville and the public.

By 1908, the town was rebuilt. Collinsville has experienced floods due to Little Wills Creek inability to hold the water. In 1903, the creek channel was straightened, widened, deepened and included two concrete bridges to go across. Still, it wasn’t enough. According to, after several more floods, Blythe Brothers Construction Co. of Charlotte, N.C., began construction on the creek bridge completed in 1939. The Collinsville Historical Association, a group dedicated to preserving Collinsville landmarks and history, is hoping to restore two historic landmarks, the Cricket Theatre and the Seth Thomas clock, said Rebecca Clayton, member of the Historical Association. The Seth Thomas clock, built in 1924, was once a tower clock on the Dekalb County courthouse. According to “The Gem of the Valley: Historical Cookbook,” in 1951, when a new courthouse was being constructed, the Dekalb County Commission voted

to give the clock to Collinsville. The clock was placed on top of the Cricket Theatre. The Cricket Theatre opened its doors in 1946 ready to seat 800, according to “The Gem of the Valley: Historical Cookbook.” It was modern for its time, having the newest theatre chairs, restrooms and air conditioning. “Song of the South was playing, first movie I ever saw,” Smith said. However, according to, Alabama Historical Commission website, it could not compete with television, leading to its closing in 1964. Recently, the theatre was placed on the 2010’s Alabama Places in Peril list as an endangered historic site. With a current population of 2,589 as of 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Collinsville racial makeup is 64.3 percent Caucasian, 11.7 percent African Americans, 6.4 percent Native American and 40.3 percent Hispanic. Hispanics account for almost half of the population.

On display in the museum is a replica of the Seth Thomas clock.

Spring 2011



Donny Jones, Collinsville School principal, was found on his day off performing construction at the school.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are sold and bought at Trade Day in Collinsville.

“Collinsville has become a significant destination in Alabama for Hispanic immigrants over the past decade or so,” Mark Wilson, community and civic engagement coordinator, said. Between the ‘80s and ‘90s Hispanics began settling in Collinsville, causing confusion, but welcomed by residents. They brought the downtown back to life, said Margaret Goldthreat, librarian. They bought homes, opened businesses and enrolled their children in school. Collinsville School is divided into two parts, Collinsville elementary, kindergarten to sixth grade and Collinsville high, seventh to twelfth grade. According to, the school mission statement is to “continually develop and maintain an atmosphere of respect for all individuals regardless of race, social class, sex, age, religion, or physical/psychological condition” and to produce graduates ready for a career and equipped with life skills necessary for success. Collinsville is also home to the Turkey Trot, Trade Day and more recently

Spring 2011 the Quilt Walk. According to “The Gem of the Valley: Historical Cookbook,” Turkey Trot was launched in 1912, the day before Thanksgiving, as promotion for the Oliver Hall Co. store. It was created by Irby Hall, eldest son of Oliver Hall. The event consisted of shopping, dancing, food, sports and fun. Toward the end of the day turkeys, guineas, and chickens were released from a 25 feet scaffold on top of the Hall’s store, into a crowd of about 10,000 people each hoping to take home a bird for a Thanksgiving Day feast, said Martha Barksdale, president of the Collinsville Historical Association. “Some say the name was connected to a then popular Irvin Berlin song, Everybody’s Doing The Turkey Trot,”


Collinsville Barksdale said. “His scheme was very successful and brought thousands of people into Collinsville” Today, Turkey Trot takes places the second Saturday in November on Main Street in downtown. Regardless of the weather conditions, Trade Day, is held every Saturday and is one of the oldest and largest flea markets in the South, according to Items on sale at Trade Day include: antiques, furniture, clothes, shoes, jewelry, fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, livestock and so much more. In September 2002, The Sew ‘N Sews, a local sewing group, began the Quilt Walk as a promotion for quilters, an introduction to Collinsville historic structures and a fund-raiser for the

renovation of the Collinsville Public Library, according to This event includes a walking tour of historic Collinsville and of houses that have quilts on display. “It is a quilt show and tour of homes,” Jennifer Wilkins, librarian, said. “Collinsville is a small town, but it has a lot of activities going on. Of course now it’s very diverse, but there doesn’t seem to be animosity among the races and the downtown has approved, for a while things were looking very dreary downtown, but now people seem to be trying to fix up and make the downtown better and preserve everything.” Clayton said. “And well its home, most people have special feeling for home.”

Smith), theatre (Vanessa Chambers), museum, at church (Carlos Perez) or at work (Marina Padilla). One image I will never forget is Donny Jones, the school’s principal, riding a John Deere tractor doing construction on the school and on a Saturday too. During my visit, we all went to lunch at Nessa’s, owned and operated by Vanesssa Chambers. As I was discussing my plans and things I want to accomplish with everyone, I was interrupted by Chambers. She had overheard that I had no access to the Cricket Theatre or the Historical Association Museum and she had the keys to both. With her restaurant next door she walked me over. Walking inside the theatre I realized a lot of remodeling was definitely needed. The roof was obviously caving in. As Chambers described the magnitude of the damages and what the Historical Association was hoping to accomplish, I began to feel sympathetic. It’s going to take a lot of funding and hard work to get it done, but I hope they will. The museum was definitely differ-

ent than any other museum I’ve been to it. It wasn’t in a large building, it’s not open at least five days a week and it doesn’t include a walking tour. However, it does have hundreds of tagged items each with a description and is relevant or important somehow, whether to the community or simply to one of Collinsville’s resident. I didn’t quite understand why residents donated their family heirlooms and why was it showcased in the Collinsville museum, but then I realized it’s about community orientation, and displaying the history of residents of Collinsville is just as important as the history of the town itself. As my trip was coming to an end, it was time to say goodbye to the last person, Wilkins, my source and aid throughout this whole project. I began to tear up. I was in Collinsville for only 10 hours, but I couldn’t have felt more welcomed, more at home, more connected and more loved by the residents of Collinsville. My trip gave me the motivation I need to write and tell the story of the small town of Collinsville, a diverse population with residents striving to unite their community.

Community Journalism 4970

By: Ariana Diaz


s I tried desperately to research Collinsville, via the web, I realized it was going to be difficult finding anything about this town; even Wikipedia didn’t have much to say. I later came across, www., the homepage described Collinsville in a few words and most importantly “a wonderful old southern culture.” I must say I have to agree. From the moment I stepped foot in Collinsville, I was welcomed with smiles and hugs. I was not treated as a journalist there on business, but rather a guest. Before my visit I called those individuals I was hoping to meet and they all responded with no hesitation that they would be available. I was surprised at how willing they were to help out a stranger. I became even more surprised when I spoke with each one in person. I realized how dedicated and involved they all are to helping out this community, their community. It seemed every person I met is involved somehow whether, helping out the library (Myles

Spring 2011


When the opportunity arises

The Collinsville Library reopened in the old G.W. Roberts building in 2009. By: Ariana Diaz


hey are educators outside of the school, they are leaders in the community and when something needs to be done they are front and center, but it is their establishments, the Collinsville Historical Association Museum and Collinsville Public Library, that have the heart of the town. Collinsville Public Library The Collinsville Public Library sits on Main Street, just before the railroad tracks meet and was created in 1933, by the Collinsville Study Club, an Alabama federated women’s non-profit organization. At a book tea the Study Club was holding, members began donating books, which eventually grew into a library, said Jennifer Wilkins, librarian. The group is still active today, with meetings held monthly and continuous donations to the library. Today, the library is housed in the

historic and original G.W. Roberts Building. The G.W. Roberts Building, in the downtown area for more than 100 years, has survived fires, and was once a general merchandise store, the Cricket Theatre, post office and several other businesses, said Martha Barksdale, president of the Collinsville Historical Association. The project to renovate the building began after the City Council agreed unanimously in November 2001. Before, the library was located in a small converted garage, at the intersection of two congested highways, U.S. Highway 11 and 68 and had no parking lot, said Wilkins. “No matter what we did to the building it wasn’t going to be usable. There was no room to expand the building itself and there was no land for a parking lot either,” Wilkins said. The main focus for the library staff and supporters is raising funds to renovate the second floor, which will be used for public meeting space, create a larger children’s section and more shelf space for books, said Wilkins. The


group in charge of it all is the Library Board, a small group of five. “The backbone of the building here, of the services, is our board and the decisions they make,” Wilkins said. “They are blood, sweat and tears. They’re not just sitting somewhere at a desk making decisions.” The board plans, prepares, sponsors and are actively involved in fundraisers needed to aid the library. They provide the manpower for fundraisers, said Wilkins. Fundraisers include the quilt walk, plant sale and a home school geography fair. However, the library isn’t just about fundraiser and renovations for the building. The library is a place where anyone can go to learn, read, write, research, study, use the Internet and computers, and it’s free for everyone. “We have always tried to strive through English as a second language, adult basic education, reading classes for non-adult readers, summer reading programs for children and then materials throughout the year for reading, for entertainment, for information, for research, for all ages,” Wilkins said.

Librarians Jennifer Wilkins and Margaret Goldthreat.

Spring 2011



Ultimately, the library’s goal is to serve as a literacy center for the community, said Wilkins. The Collinsville Historical Association & Museum A couple from Birmingham, Ron and Brenda Turbyfill, came to Collinsville, purchased one of the historic homes and began noticing there were other historic structures in town needing work. Turbyfill posted flyers and invited anyone interested in historic preservation to her home, including officials from Landmarks of Dekalb County, the county historical association. With the help of the Dekalb County Historical Association, the group learned how to organize a historical association and shortly became incorporated on June 1, 2003. “The goal of the organization is historic preservation, including awareness, knowledge, education and acquisition of property and/or items of historic importance pertaining to the town of Collinsville,” Barksdale said. The museum was established in 2006, to display any historic items relevant to Collinsville and its people. Today, thanks to 60 donors, more than 400 items can be found at the museum. Since its opening, more than a 100

The Collinsville Historical Association is always open for appointments.

have visited the museum, said Barksdale. In 2008, CHA began a fourth grade history program at the Collinsville school, where students tour the museum and watch a PowerPoint presentation of Collinsville history. The CHA also publishes a quarterly newsletter and blog, called “Gem of the Valley”, sponsors the Turkey Trot every year and is renovating the Cricket Theatre, which was purchased last year. “The biggest thing that’s been done is

For over a 100 years the Ward-Elrod home has been in Collinsville.

the historic district,” Rebecca Clayton, member of the Collinsville Historical Association, said. In 2005, the CHA completed requirements necessary for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The area known as the historic district, Main Street, Valley Avenue College Avenue and Grand Avenue, has 125 buildings that qualified as a group and will be listed on the register, said Barksdale. An Alabama Historic Association marker will be unveiled at the CHA meeting April 17, 2011. In order to qualify on the National Register structures must be at least 50 years old or older. Two Collinsville structures listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage is the Collinsville Presbyterian Church, established in 1908 and the Ward-Elrod home, built in 1918. The church still has the original bell and stain glass windows, said Barksdale. No other church in Collinsville has stain glass windows. Today, the CHA has around 100 members. “Personally, it (CHA) means quite a bit to me because I’m a firm believer in its goals and preservation,” Barksdale said. “I feel like this is one of things that can give Collinsville identity and uniqueness.”

Spring 2011


Collinsville’s energizer bunny


By: Ariana Diaz


yles Smith waits anxiously at the Collinsville Public Library for Carlos Perez arrival. He has some news he wants to share with Perez. Smith is a member of the Collinsville Church of Christ and Perez is the pastor at the Hispanic Church of Christ, an extension to the Church of Christ. For the past five years Perez’s home is in a parsonage, a home provided by the church for the pastor. However, Smith plans to change that by building him his own house. “I feel really, really excited, because not everyone can offer something like that,” Perez said. “He’s trying to build me a house for nothing.” This is just one example of the many efforts Smith makes for the Collinsville community. Smith returned to Collinsville in 1999, after retiring from the police department in Atlanta and selling all the houses he built there. Originally from Sand Valley, five miles from Collinsville, Smith said he returned to be with the people he grew up with. He also wanted to be near his three boys. “Its half way between two of my sons, the other is in this vicinity,” Smith said. Once Smith came back, he began to take on projects. He is currently the president of the Collinsville library board and member of the Collinsville Historical Association. Smith is also owner of the Van Buren Inn and owner, builder and gardener of the Grapevine subdivision. In 2003, the Van Buren Inn was built. It is a motel with eight rooms and two RV campers, said Smith. The Grapevine subdivision where Smith is currently the only resident, has 23 lots with 1500 square feet each. In fact, Smith is in involved with so much that he has a hard time remembering them all. I believe that is all the things I’m involved in, he said. “Myles has always been an active

Carlos Perez, Ariana Diaz and Myles Smith in the library on March 12, 2011.

participant, offering ideas and thoughts and deepening his connection with others in town,” Mark Wilson, community and civic engagement coordinator, said. Recently, he and the members of the Collinsville Historical Association purchased the Cricket Theatre on Main Street from the original owner’s son, Jackie Weaver. They plan to use the old projectors to show movies and the stage for plays, including productions from the school. Ultimately, we want to have a place where people can get together for any type of activity, said Smith. Still, the structure needs renovating before these visions can occur. The group is now seeking funds for the project. The goal is to have everything completed in less than five years. “We got big dreams, high hopes,” Smith said. As member of the Collinsville library board, Smith also has an ongoing project with the Collinsville Public Library. In July 2009, the library reopened in its new location, the G.W. Robert Building, purchased by the Collinsville library board. The library before was in an old converted garage near downtown. Even in the July heat Smith

helped with the process of moving everything, said Jennifer Wilkins, librarian. “Myles is usually the first person I call when I need some manpower, he is always willing to work, even if it means breaking a sweat,” Wilkins said. “Others have as much free time, but don’t make the choices he has made to give himself in service to others.” Phase 2, the second floor of the library is the next step in the repairs, said Smith. State grants will be used to renovate the floor, which will create more space for books. “We had a lot of fun building this building back from scratch,” Smith said. “I’m very proud of our library here.” After countless projects and continuous involvement in the community, the title Smith said he finds most important is Christian. He said his faith inspires his community involvement. “I’m a Christian, and we will help anybody with anything,” he said. To everyone else Smith is a man on a mission, and he never stops at just one, he keeps going and going. “I feel like he’s my protector,” Perez said. “He is doing more than he should.”

Spring 2011


Diversity even in a small town

The Hispanic Church of Christ, an extension to the Collinsville Church of Christ, is fluent in Spanish worship. By: Ariana Diaz


choing in the news are Hispanic numbers rising, with a population increase of more than 15 million between 2000 and 2010. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Alabama is the second state with the largest growth rate, but for the small southern town of Collinsville, population 2,589, this is no surprise. Hispanics currently make up 40.3 percent of the total population in Collinsville. Collinsville was once a booming town and trade center, said Myles Smith, a Collinsville resident. People would come to show off their cars, buy, sell or trade items, or simply watch a movie. “Collinsville was the biggest town around,” he said. “People came to buy their farm supplies.”

Then in the ‘80s everything collapsed. Collinsville began losing population, businesses were gone and agriculture declined. People were moving out because there were not a lot of job opportunities in town, said Smith. Collinsville’s decline came at a time when turmoil across the border in Mexico and Central American pushed Hispanics to the U.S. “It was about its lowest when the Hispanics started coming in and started opening businesses, Hispanic businesses,” Smith said. Around the mid-1990s Hispanics began to settle in Collinsville, buying houses, opening business and enrolling their children in school. Residents soon realized Hispanics were there to stay. The Entrepreneur While driving from Houston to


New York, Marina Padilla and family stopped in Collinsville to spend the night. “When we came here we thought, how nice the place was to raise our children,” she said. In 1998 they came back to live. At the time there were not many Hispanic businesses, she said, and plenty of empty buildings in the area. That is when her family opened not one, but three businesses, bringing new opportunities to the downtown. They currently own and run El Quetzal, a travel agency, a food product distribution and a shipping and packaging company that ships to three countries in Central America, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The businesses are all family- owned and operated, with seven family members employed. By no means has she experienced any problems, Padilla admits. The mayor at the time when she arrived was Ernest Willingham, who she says was very nice and open to the Hispanic community. She also adds that one of the owners of the buildings her family was trying to rent didn’t refuse the sale because they are Hispanics. “I have no inconvenience in what we’ve done so far,” Padilla said. “The kids have excellent grades without any problem of bad habits or bad company and that is one of the biggest success we have achieved from being here.” The Role Models

In 2003, the University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio did a video, “Coming to a Crossroads,” to tell the story of Hispanic integration in Collinsville and the success stories of a few Hispanics immigrants, including Juana Hernandez and Walter Ventura. Juana Hernandez was a student who struggled, but continued to strive for academic achievement. At the age of 13, Hernandez enrolled at Collinsville School, where she was forced to repeat the sixth grade because she could not speak English. However,

Spring 2011

English well. His seventh grade he tried out for football and like Hernandez, improved each year. His senior year he had the most sacks, was the leading tackler in Dekalb County and named most valuable player among defensive players and lineman, all-area, all-region and all-state. The Pastor

The Hispanic Church of Christ sign.

each year she improved. Two years later, she no longer needed tutoring in English. She began receiving awards and became a member of prestigious clubs such as AB honor roll, Beta Club and Junior Civitan. Her senior year she was awarded an academic scholarship to attend Northeast Alabama Community College in Rainsville, Ala, but she had one problem. She was an illegal immigrant. Sheila Johnson, a writer at the Ft. Payne Times-Journal, aware of Hernandez situation, called David Campbell, president at Northeast Alabama Community College and explained the situation. Without hesitation he secured approval for Hernandez admission from the state board of education, as well as new scholarship funds from private sources, giving Hernandez the opportunity to become successful in school. Walter Ventura came to Collinsville at age 8, after living his first year in the U.S. in nearby Centre, Ala. His first year at Collinsville school he was quiet and shy at first, scared to be made fun of for not being able to speak



Like most Hispanic immigrants, Carlos Perez’s biggest challenge was also language, speaking English. “When I was coming from Mexico I was hungry in Houston. I was ashamed how to ask for a hamburger and I didn’t. Because I don’t know how,” he said. Perez was asked to come as pastor for the Collinsville Hispanic Church of Christ, an extension to the Collinsville Church of Christ. At the time there was only one other Latino church, Baptist and now there are about five or six Spanish congregations, said Perez. Although he admits language is the biggest challenge, there was still the problem of becoming a U.S. citizen and adjusting to the customs of Col-

linsville. There are about 120,000 illegal immigrants in the U.S. and only about 4,000 to 5,000 are eligible to apply for citizenship each year, according to the Pew Research Center and Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama. The questions they ask people who want to be a citizen are even harder than what most Americans know; it’s ridiculous, said Perez. Today, however, he and his family are legal citizens. They will have no problems with being deported. As for adjusting to the customs it is very different, he admits. In Mexico the people are more friendly and conservation starters. Collinsville requires a little more effort. Still, he has no plans of leaving. “I like this place,” he said. “I wouldn’t change this place for another one.” Most residents of Collinsville have been welcoming to the Hispanic community. Of course, like everywhere there are some who are not as open, said Perez. “But, if they are here. If Hispanics are still here, that means they have been welcomed,” he said.

Hispanics completed level one of English as a second language class.

Spring 2011



Welcoming people to Elba

By: Darcie Dyer


ust 90 miles south of Alabama’s state capital, 90 miles north of the sandy white beaches of Florida and central to Interstates 85, 65 and 10, lies the quiet town of Elba, Ala. Located in Coffee County in the southeastern corner of Alabama, Elba, for many, is simply an exit passed along the journey to the beach. However, those who have taken the time to pull off the exit to Elba know that it is much more. And to the 4,185 citizens of Elba, it is their cherished small town home. Decorated with Spanish moss and blossoming Wisteria in spring, the drive into Elba city limits is an enchanting sight. The town’s cherished square is on the forefront upon entering Elba. This is the heart and soul of Elba. The square encompasses its rich history and is home to much of Elba’s daily liveliness. “Elba’s downtown is an important part of this community. It still has that small town feel and charm. It’s where things need to be happening,” said Justin Maddox, a local to Elba and advocate for the downtown area. According to the town’s homepage, Elba became an official town when in 1851 the community of Bridgeville decided to change its name to something signifying a more flourishing community. Citizens submitted name suggestions and Elba was drawn out of a hat and it has been the town’s name ever since, according to the town’s historic records. In 1852, Elba was selected as the county seat of Coffee County, and the town’s square took form when construction began on the courthouse. The white-framed two-story brick building still stands and operates in the downtown square of Elba. The square around the courthouse is made up of various small, family-owned businesses and restaurants such as Just Folk Coffeehouse and Arts Center. The Elba police station, fire station,

public library and City Hall are also downtown. Once nearby was the Elba City School system, which was located directly behind the city hall. The system changed locations after a flood in 1990 to a higher elevation, out of the downtown area. With the town’s location on the Pea River basin, at the juncture of Whitewater Creek and Pea River, flooding has plagued Elba since its establishment in 1852. Nearly every generation of Elbians has experienced a flood but the city feels the levies are now suitable for protecting the city from future flooding. “About 10 years ago they did a very thorough levy project and while anything could happen we feel fairly secure now with the levy. They not only rebeefed up the levy significantly but they built a bunch of holding ponds in town as well as pumps that have a way of pumping water out of town at an unbelievable volume,” said Mart Gray Most of the severe damage of previous floods was done to the downtown area, which is why the school system and many homeowners chose to relocate to higher ground. The new school system relocated in 1992 on a raised elevation on the outskirts of town, and citizens have

taken pride in its new state-of-the-art facilities and its accomplishments as a school system. The Elba City Schools consists of an elementary school (K-6) and a high school (7-12) with a 15:1 student/teacher ratio for elementary school and an 18:1 student/teacher ratio for high school, according to the town’s homepage. The school system is accredited by both the Alabama State Department of Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Elba City Schools offer vocational, traditional, and extracurricular opportunities for Elba’s youth. “It serves us very well,” said Gray. “They’re building a wonderful outdoor class room. Our superintendent is a very creative guy and they’re going a lot of great stuff right now.” Elba is also home of Elba General Hospital. Elba General Hospital is in town and has 25 beds and a 91-bed nursing home attached. The quality measure score for Elba’s hospital is above state average in all categories. Serving Elba for over 40 years, having an in-town hospital is not only convenient for Elba citizens who are in need of healthcare, but is also the single

Spring 2011 largest employer in Elba. Elba has made the community more beautiful as well as child-friendly with efforts to maintain and create community recreation facilities. A brand new playground is on the site of the old Elba High School. The front façade of the school remains intact and serves as the entrance to the new playground, “Tiger Town.” Hawkin-Williams Park has an Olympic-sized pool, three ball fields and four tennis courts is also an attraction to Elba as well as Legion Park and Taylor Mill Park, which each have picnic tables, barbeque grills and basketball courts. Outside the central vicinity of Elba’s square are more rural locations. Being a rural community is a great advantage to Elba and citizens. The advantages of being a rural community include more affordable land and in turn lower rent


Elba rates, property costs lower operating costs for businesses and living. This information is clearly outlined in the town’s economic development information packet, which can be found on Elba’s homepage. Another rural advantage that Elba is trying to utilize the extra room for expansion. Elba’s Industrial Park consists of 315 acres, with 225 of those acres currently under operation. The park has excellent access to highways and nearby Interstates, which is an important factor in Industries that are considering location for sites. A primary business that operates in Elba’s Industrial Park is Inzi Controls, an automobile parts manufacture. “Our largest manufacturer right now is Inzi Controls but other manufacturing goes on outside the industrial park,” said Gray. “We’ve got three businesses that

would be considered manufacturing: Dorsey Trailers which has been here since the 20’s, Inzi, which came here about three years ago as Toledo Molding and Die and was then bought out by a Korean company. Then there’s Kelley Foods of Alabama, which is a full-service foods business and they manufacture their own sausage out there. It’s made right here, still family owned,” Gray said. As the county seat of Coffee County and home to one of the best school systems in the state as well as a place of opportunity for industry, Elba has a great deal to offer. The citizens of Elba recognize the town as a place that offers not only these things but also small-town charm and hospitality. “It’s pretty slow pace, but it’s a comfortable place. It’s a special place,” said Maddox.

Just Folk Coffeehouse & Arts Center By: Darcie Dyer


once-abandoned building that had not been graced with a single footstep or cheer of laughter for more than 20 years is now a thriving congregation and ministry spot for Elba’s citizens. Elba’s Covenant Community Church turned a discarded building into a hot spot, literally, a little over three years ago when the church decided to open Just Folk Coffeehouse and Arts Center. The building on the downtown square of Elba had been empty for nearly 20 years before the church acquired it. “It was originally built as a theater and it was later a radio and television repair business and then a local jewelry store operated a gift shop in part of the building. It was never refurbished after the 1990 flood so when we got it, it was in need of some TLC,” Mart Gray said. Gray, pastor of Covenant Community Church of Elba, said the church had been hoping to start a coffee house in Elba when the perfect opportunity

Just Folk Coffeehouse and Arts Center stands in downtown Elba, Ala.

arose. The church was fortunate that news spreads quickly in a small town and the plan was made possible through the generosity of a fellow Elba citizen, Mary Cash, who donated the current Just Folk building to the church.

“The building was an anniversary gift from Pete Cash to his wife Mary, and she owned it technically but she had not done anything with it,” Gray said. “When we stared talking about doing the coffeehouse she decided to donate it

Spring 2011 to the church for that purpose.” Just Folk Coffeehouse and Arts Center now operates as community outreach and ministry, with the perk of hot coffee, food, and occasional live music. Just Folk welcomes all Elba citizens with no regard to whether or not patrons are affiliated with Covenant Community Church. “It’s a public business like any other,” Gray said. Gray’s office is also at the coffeehouse in order to be more accessible to the community. “People are downtown. Obviously the church is in a good place for visibility and we have a lot of room there but people have to make an effort to get out there,” Gray said. “We like the downtown presence and being part of people’s lives.” The church felt like it, as well as the community, needed a place where people could casually congregate and visit over coffee. This idea was the foundation leading to the naming of the coffeehouse and the environment which the church would foster with it. “You know, we’re just folk. We’re just common folk. And Just Folk being the kind of music we do here. Not exclusively, but mostly folk. And Just Folk trying to be a way of life you know, we are just people,” Gray said. What originated as strictly a coffeehouse has blossomed into a lunch spot as well. Just Folk is now the place

Elba to be on the square of Elba on any given day Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. “We didn’t know it would develop into a lunch venue until a few years ago when the deli down the street closed and people kept stopping in asking ‘wont you make me a sandwich or something’,” Gray said. Pat Johnson volunteers her time to serve the church and community by managing the coffeehouse’s daily necessities. Johnson said her job is everything from doing the cooking to purchasing the food and paying the bills. Johnson works in the kitchen to guarantee that the coffeehouse caters to the southern appetite with a daily menu of Pimento cheese sandwiches, chicken salad sandwiches or hotdogs. Every day a special is offered, such as potato soup or taco salad, ensuring that people will stop in to try something new. Just Folk also fosters a sense of community by hosting live music and showcasing local artwork. Justin Maddox, youth minister at Elba’s Church of Christ, has served on the advisory board for the coffeehouse and said he thinks that providing a venue for artist a special aspect of the coffeehouse. “I think the coffeehouse is a really nice

55 place, Maddox said. “It has provided a lot of opportunity for folk artists and local people who come in and provides the area with entertainment that they might not have ever had.” Just Folk was rewarded for its efforts with a $1,500 grant from the Alabama Council of the Arts for the Spring Concert Series of 2010. The series provided exposure to performing folk and bluegrass artists. Through the series, Just Folk served the general community as well as enhancing the education of students of the Elba City Schools. “We got a grant a couple years ago to bring high school students and teachers to our events and so we invited students. Their entrance was paid and their teacher sponsors entrance as well,” Gray said. “We carried them out to dinner with the artists to meet the artist and that was covered as well.” Just Folk continues to serve and enhance the community through a hot cup of coffee, a home-cooked meal or a chance to hear live music. Gray said he hopes that Just Folk will better the community but not lose touch with history. “This is a place where people can come in and visit and to some degree experience the past. It’s a historic building. To some, it reminds them of them of 50 years ago.” Gray said. “It’s

Maddox makes hometown impact

By: Darcie Dyer


lba, Ala. is the place Justin Maddox calls home since he was a year old, and he cannot imagine a place he would rather call home. For the 30-year-old, Elba is an unfailing source of comfort. It is the place where he was raised, the place where he finds family, and most importantly for Maddox, a place where he has meaningful ties to the people and the community’s future.

Maddox in his office at National Security Group, Inc.

Maddox now works in Elba as a software developer at National Security Group, Inc. His second job is serving as youth minister at Church of Christ in Elba. “Being the youth minister at the Church of Christ here was one of the things I knew I wanted to do. I wanted to focus on spending time with the kids there,” Maddox said. “I’ve known him all his life,” said Pam Crinttendon, secretary at the Church of Christ. “He’s a real asset to

Spring 2011 our church and just such a pleasant person. He has worked with the youth now for several years and another thing he does is he is really good with comput-

Elba that his parents and grandparents recall. “I was in 3rd grade when it flooded the first time in 1990 so I don’t really remember exactly what it was like

The theater Maddox hopes to restore stands in downtown Elba.

ers, so with him we don’t ever have to call outside the church.” The hope of making an impact on his beloved hometown is what brought Maddox back to Elba in 2004 after four years at Harden University, a Christian college in Searcy, Ark. “I had always thought that I could make a difference if I moved back here,” Maddox said. “I’m connected to people, and I felt like I could get help. I like to build relationships with smaller groups of people, I guess. I’m kind of an introvert but I feel like I really have built good relationships here.” Crittendon said Maddox’s involvement in the community is present in many ways, even down to the location of his home. “He lives right in downtown Elba and he’s really pro-downtown. He does everything he can to promote the downtown,” said Crittendon. Maddox, whose family has lived in Elba for four generations, said he hopes to one day see Elba revived to the town

when it was more hustle and bustle downtown but my parents do, my grandmother does, and I’d like to see the same thing,” Maddox said. With time and patience Maddox said he believes he can play a part in the revival of Elba’s downtown. The current project that Maddox is working on is buying the old theater in downtown Elba and renovating it to operating conditions. “My mother was younger when it ceased operating as a theater but it has a nice old-timey, old-town theater look to it, so I think it’d be neat to have it operating again,” said Maddox. Maddox said he thinks that restoring a piece of Elba’s history will help the town remain unique. “I think projects like this will help Elba have that downtown charm and the appeal of small towns,” Maddox said, “the thing that makes them different from other places in the United States.” Maddox has the support of his friend

56 and colleague, Philip Box, who is the minister at the Church of Christ. The two plan on working together to see that the theater is revived to an active and appreciated part of the community. “They’re totally opposite and I guess that’s why they’re good friends,” said Crittendon. “Justin is quiet and quietly goes about doing things and our minister is much more outgoing and aggressive in getting things done.” With the theater in mind, Maddox was granted a line of credit last year to purchase the building that is currently being used as storage space by Clements Furniture and Appliance. However, the owner of the building died last December, a day before Maddox expected to purchase the building. This unanticipated circumstance pushed back the plans, but Maddox said he feels confident that the purchasing and renovation of the theater will happen in the next few years. Maddox also plays an instrumental part in a different project in downtown Elba. As part of the Just Folk Coffeehouse and Arts Center advisory board, Maddox played a big role in helping Covenant Community Church develop a new venue for Elba. “Justin has been a help with this, and he’s really interested in seeing the best for this community,” said Mart Gray, pastor of Covenant Community Church. “I think the coffeehouse is a really nice place,” Maddox said. “It has provided a lot of opportunity for folk artists and local people who come in and provides the area with entertainment that they might not have ever had.” Maddox said his primary hope is to be able to make a positive impact on the community that means so much to him. “I want to see this place prospering and feeling like something is actually happening and thriving,” Maddox said.

Spring 2011



Elba works to better housing options By: Darcie Dyer


ith the realization that the number of young people choosing to settle in Elba, Ala., is significantly less than ideal, citizens in Elba are asking questions about the issues that are contributing to this problem as they work for ways to combat them. One possible cause getting a look concerns the lack of housing as well as the perception and reality of public housing in Elba. For the citizens of the community, it is a broad issue. It is not only an issue that relates to attracting people to Elba, but it is also a concern for many people living in Elba who are unsatisfied with housing options. “For a young family coming in here trying to find something to rent because they aren’t sure where they want to live or if they want to buy, we don’t have a lot of good rental housing,” said Mart Gray. “We don’t have a lot of good apartment stock in Elba. We don’t have new communities being developed, and we haven’t developed a new subdivision in a while.” Gray is among five citizens on Elba’s Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and works closely with Pam Bedsole, the director of Elba’s Housing Authority. Bedsole has worked for the Housing Authority for more than 20 years and is familiar with the issues of housing in Elba as well as the forms of public housing that the city has to offer. The current housing options for people who are not in the position to buy are greatly under the control of the Housing Authority rather than private landlords. The Housing Authority administers programs for low-income families who cannot afford to buy a home. The two programs are Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly referred to as the Section 8 Program.

Elba’s Housing Authority administers much of the town’s rental housing.

Public Housing in Elba is made up of 125 units that began being built in 1951 with the most recent units built in 1974. The units under public housing are predominantly multi-family units but some are houses. The Housing Choice Voucher Program consists of 119 units. “This program is a program where you have to be a very low-income family, and they can rent from a private landlord as long as the landlord is willing to rent to them,” said Bedsole. “The Housing Authority then agrees to subsidize their rent. In other words, based on the family’s income, they pay a percentage and then we cover the rest.” The two programs make up 244 units provided by the Housing Authority for low-income individuals and families in Elba. “Today we have a total of 280 people in public housing and 260 in Section 8, so that’s 540 people. That’s somewhere around 14 percent of Elba’s population,” said Bedsole. The number of people who are in need of housing assistance in Elba is on the rise. “We stay full most of the time in both programs. We have a waiting

list on both programs,” said Bedsole. “It changes every day, but the public housing waiting list is probably 15 families and Section 8 runs between somewhere between 30 and 40.” For families who cannot live in a space provided by the Housing Authority, and for other families who are not ready to purchase a home, the options are grim. Justin Maddox, youth minister at Elba’s Church of Christ said his church has seen results of the lack of housing for low-income families. “We had a family come in that was without work and without a home, it’s definitely an issue,” Maddox said. “There’s very little rental property in Elba outside of our Section 8 program. In fact, I’m trying to think if there is any,” Bedsole said. “If you have an apartment complex here, some of the units may be subsidized and some may not be. There’s not a lot of good rental property outside of our housing voucher property.” Although the lack of rental property is a big issue for Elba, there are also issues concerning what property already exists. Bedsole said the Housing Authority works very hard to provide adequate housing, but said she recognizes that

Spring 2011


Multi-unit public housing provided by Elba’s Housing Authority.

many people have a bad perception of public housing and agrees that much of the property that is available is not appealing to many people. Gray concurred about both of these concerns and said many people in the community have a bad perception of public housing. “The public attitude toward public housing is an interesting conundrum,” Gray said. “What happened after the ‘90 flood is mostly older folks moved away, and those downtown houses ended up being sold for cheap. They were snatched up by a handful of landlords who are now renting them out.” He added, “They made the best of a business opportunity from their perspective, but from the perspective of others they bought up all this housing and now we have a bunch of public housing.” “The housing authority has struggled with our image since the great big flood of 1990 because downtown changed forever after that,” Bedsole said. “They automatically say if the Housing Authority didn’t have that housing then downtown Elba would still look the same and it would still be like it was years ago, but that’s not true. She added, “The flood is what changed downtown Elba, and if they would stop and think about it, the property we do have under lease downtown is the best

looking property down there because we’ve told the landlord that he or she will have to get the property up to a certain standard.” This public opinion is damaging to people living in public housing as well as people who are considering renting property. And, for many people, the housing options are preventing them from moving to the area. “A lot of the times when you’re relocating you’re not in a position to buy a house and so its very difficult to find something you can rent so I think it definitely has an impact on people who want to move here,” Bedsole said. “And if you work here, you might even end up living in Enterprise because their choices are so much greater as far as rental property and that kind of thing. You might end up commuting and living in another town.” The Housing Authority and other concerned citizens of Elba are looking at options to expand housing in Elba for people who are not prepared to buy but want nicer rental property. The idea of creating a separate nonprofit enterprise, aside from the Housing Authority, for building more housing, is something that has been explored for the past several years in Elba but has not yet been pursued. “One reason we haven’t pursed it is

58 that up until just the past few years we have not had a waiting list for Public Housing or Section 8, so there wasn’t really a great demand for public housing or rental property,” Bedsole said. “But now we’re seeing a trend where our waiting list is getting larger for both programs, which tells us if there was new property built in the city it could be utilized.” “We are a non profit but in the future we are looking at developing property not owned by the Housing Authority but owned by the new non-profit,” Bedsole said. “That way the separate non-profit could build apartment complexes with the right funding sources. So that nonprofit would own the apartments and that would be completely separate entity from the Elba Housing Programs.” She added, “We’d have separate non-profit owning the property and the Housing Authority would administer the Section 8 like we always have. It would just expand the housing market in Elba and give our voucher holders a bigger and better option of rental property.” The ideas are still primitive but the alternative problems that could stem from undertaking such a project are being closely considered. “The problem is if you’re doing multi-family housing like apartments or condominiums or townhomes, or single family dwellings, you have a certain infrastructure cost and if you only get a few renters that first year, then you’re still having to paying all that infrastructure cost, so you may have to spend a quarter million dollars to house two or three people the first couple years,” Gray said. “Pretty quickly you’re not making anything even if you capitalize it with money and not with finance.” The recognition of concerns about housing and the formation of plans for future development and growth are promising. Gray said he hopes that Elba will continue to find ways to attract people to the community, and addressing housing is a step in this direction.

Spring 2011

Hobson City


First look at a forgotten city

Welcome sign in Hobson City, Ala., tells of town’s incorporation in 1899. By: Colton Campbell


s Maudine Holloway says, Hobson City is the kind of place where “everybody will give you a piece of bread.” Hobson City is a town located in Calhoun County in northeast Alabama, approximately a 10-minute drive from Anniston, Ala. Its population in 2009 was reported to be 871. The quality that separates Hobson City from other small Southern towns is its racial makeup — 89 percent black, 10 percent white. It was founded in 1899 as Alabama’s first all-black city. Now, it is the oldest black municipality in Alabama and the second oldest in the country. As of the 2010 census, 30 percent of Hobson City residents were below the poverty line. The median income for a family is $20,368. Hobson City was placed on the Alabama Historical Commission’s annual list of “Places in Peril” in 2009, an Associated Press article says.

Soon after, CNN did a video story on the town that starts by saying, “Images of a town time has truly forgotten.” If you talk to some of the older people in the town — the men and women who worked at the now-defunct Calhoun County Training School and those who used to own a business in Hobson City — you’ll find that things have changed drastically in the 112 years since its incorporation in August 1899. “I can’t hardly describe the changes that have happened,” Willie Atkinson said. At 92, Atkinson is the oldest living permanent resident of Hobson City. “It is an altogether different generation that lives here now. Most of the people who used to live here, who used to make Hobson City the town it was, have either died or moved away.” This population turnover has proven to be a major problem for Hobson City. Atkinson said integration played a major role in the downturn of the town. “After integration, people moved out because they could,” Atkinson said. “The second people could move out of Hobson City, they did.” Despite all its changes, many

residents still have pride in their town. Katie Pyles, 71, has lived in Hobson City her entire life. She said she is proud to say she is from her town. “I was meant to be here,” Pyles said. “God put me here for a reason.” Holloway, director of a community outreach program, said that there is a lot of pride in the community. “There are so many people who wouldn’t think of moving anywhere else,” she said. Many people see Hobson City returning to the way it used to be one day. “Not tomorrow obviously, but down the road,” Isaiah Evans said. Evans moved to Hobson City in 1958 and taught history at Calhoun County Training School. He also coached football and basketball, which gave him the permanent nickname “Coach.” “There used to be a bowling alley, a rec center, a baseball field, a football stadium,” he said. “The current state is low – there’s nothing like that to invite youngsters here.” Lee Young used to own a business in Hobson City. He’s lived in Oxford for more than 20 years, and he doesn’t see anything changing in Hobson City anytime soon. “I hope it changes,” he said. “I really do. I just don’t see it happening soon.” When asked what Hobson City’s greatest strength is, most people take a second, roll their eyes in thought and then say one word. “Churches.” There are five churches in the 1.1 square mile area of Hobson City. There is an even balance between Baptist and Methodist. “Churches are where people congregate,” Evans said. One thing that most people say would help Hobson City is a police force. Holloway said that something as simple as a policeman or two just patrolling the streets is needed. “We don’t really have violent crimes

Spring 2011 – it’s more people stealing things from houses, things like copper,” she said. “People would just feel more successful because they right now they feel like they have no protection.” Pyles said it’s tough to raise a family without police protection. “We need some law and order in the town,” she said. To turn the town around, Atkinson preached the benefits of businesses moving to Hobson City. “We need to start out small – something simple, like a laundromat,” she said. “We need an eating place near the Corner, but not like a McDonald’s – a family-owned place that serves good food. Starting small is the key.” There is a sign that reads “Welcome to Hobson City” on one side you can’t miss when you drive into the town on Martin Luther King Drive. The other side of that sign reads “Hurry Back to the City of Opportunity” that you see when you leave. A few key figures in the town — people like Maudine Holloway, Robert and Katie Pyles and Isaiah Evans — want to make sure those opportunities


Hobson City

The opposite side of the welcome sign says goodbye to everyone who leaves Hobson City, Ala., and crosses the railroad tracks into Oxford, Ala.

are for the betterment of the city. “I hope I’m still around when the Hobson City I remember comes back,”

Evans said.

What I learned from my Hobson City assignment W

hen you’re leaving Hobson City, Ala., a sign practically slaps you across the face saying “Hurry Back to the City of CAMPBELL Opportunity.” D r i v i n g down Martin Luther King Drive, going through the town’s single red light at the corner of MLK Drive and Church Street, you probably won’t see the city as a hotbed of opportunity and progress. Houses with boarded-up entryways line the streets, their roofs either completely sunken in or sagging past the point of repair.

Some men congregate at “The Corner,” near Ross Handy Mart and talk. They lean on their cars and watch everyone who comes into town. When I was assigned Hobson City for this class project and told what made it different from every other town in America — its heritage and history as an all-black town founded in 1899 — I couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit of uneasiness about the whole thing. This is not to say I’ve never been around people with skin colors and ethnicities different from my own. This obviously couldn’t be true in the beautifully diverse country that we call home. I’ve found in my short years on earth that the things we dread the most sometimes end up being the easiest things we could’ve imagined. Hobson City hung over me like

a cloud; I knew I had to go and do the work I was assigned, but I kept finding excuses and reasons to push it back another week. But then it came to the absolutely last day I could put it off to, and I had to go and conduct most of my interviews. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and was in the middle of Hobson City at 8 a.m. Of course Hobson City wasn’t all that bad. It’s just a town that is in dire straits. It needs help from its own government and the governments around and above it. It needs its residents to care about their town and where it’s headed. I do think Hobson City is a city of opportunity, like the opposite side of its welcome sign reads. It has potential. The people I met all had a clear idea of what could bring Hobson City back to what it used to

Spring 2011 be. They don’t see the town through rose-colored glasses — they know it can only get better. It just needs help from people like

Hobson City that. They need to put their ideas in action — which is not to say they haven’t already — and bring the people of the community together.

61 To put it in three words that sum up all I’ve learned about Hobson City the past three months, it needs help.

‘Corner’ and store become gathering places for residents

Ross Handy Mart in Hobson City, Ala., is the town’s only business. By: Colton Campbell


here’s not much left in Hobson City, Ala. All that remains is four churches, a senior center, a gas station and many houses with front porches. The hub of activity is known locally as “The Corner” — the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Church Street. This is where the town’s only traffic light sits, predominately staying green for drivers on Martin Luther King Drive and changing only when a car pulls down Church Street and comes to a stop. During the day, people congregate near Ross Handy Mart, approximately 75 yards away from the traffic light. Darryl Boyd stands just off the convenience store’s parking lot in

a dirt lot. He leans on the trunk of a dark green sedan with a younger man in the driver’s seat. Two other older gentlemen stand around him. “There’s not much to say about this place,” says Boyd, a man in an old pair of blue jeans and a blue Calvin Klein baseball cap. He’s in his 60s and wears bifocals on his worn, leathery face. He’s got a 40-ounce beer in his hand, wrapped up in a small brown paper bag that he says he got from Ross Handy Mart. “We pretty much just sit out here all day and drink beer, wine, whatever we can get our hands on,” Boyd says. Boyd points over to a grassy plot of land with a few shade trees in the back. There are a few cement blocks sitting under the trees and a trash can not far off.

“When it gets to the heat of the day around 2 p.m., we sit under that tree and drink and talk,” he says. Boyd says there used to be a lot in Hobson City. He points across the street to an abandoned building with boarded-up windows and doors. A sign on the front says it used to be an audio-visual store called “4 Sho.” “That used to be a cafeteria,” Boyd says. “Then it was something else I think, then it was that sound and video place, and now it’s nothing.” Boyd says that’s a pattern in Hobson City. Places and businesses — just things to do — have come and gone. “Everyone’s left, and nobody does anything together anymore,” he says. “I haven’t lived here my whole life, but I lived here when it was better than this.” Boyd says the Corner is a more popular spot in the awfternoon. “Most of the people who hang around here aren’t awake and moving yet,” he says. Boyd is out here this early because he’s waiting for someone to need him to work. He picks up construction work whenever he can — which is often — and whenever he’s needed — which isn’t as often. A man walks out of Ross Handy Mart with nothing in his hands. He is dressed in a thin, brown sweater and has on a pair of turtle-colored glasses. His name is Don. Don gets up in everyone’s face when he talks to him. He asks them if they have any money so he can get cigarettes, beer, wine, whatever. Rejected, he just stands around and talks about nothing that important. A man walks toward Boyd and Don and the rest of the group with a chihuahua puppy following closely

Spring 2011 behind. He complains about his girlfriend at home and how she’s making him take care of their new puppy. He asks everyone for a cigarette and

Hobson City when they all say they either don’t have one or they aren’t willing to give one up, he asks everyone for some money to go buy some Black & Milds. This gets a laugh from most

62 everybody there, even Don, who had been asking for money five minutes before. “You got to be kidding me,” Darryl says.

Wife of former mayor hopes for change in Hobson City

A house on one of the several street corners in Hobson City, Ala. By: Colton Campbell


atie Pyles sits in her kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee. Her husband, Robert, sits at the head of the table as they eat breakfast together while watching “The Price is Right.” “My mother was born and raised here,” Katie, 71, says. “My grandmother lived here. I am meant to be here. God had a reason to put me here. No matter what kind of life I could have had, I think it would have to have been lived here in Hobson City.” Katie raised four children here – three sons and one daughter. “None of them are my biological children, but they are all my kids,” she says. Katie’s husband Robert used to

be mayor of Hobson City. Before that he fought in Vietnam. Since his retirement, the Pyles have spent their lives improving Hobson City. Katie says she’s proud to be from Hobson City. She remembers times in the ‘40s and ‘50s when busloads of people would come from Birmingham and Chattanooga. They came to Hobson City for the swimming pool and everything else the all-black town had to offer. “Oh, we had a swimming pool, a skating rink. There were mostly homeowners who lived here back then. But everything’s changed.” Sitting in her floral-pattern duster, her hair pinned in ringlets to her head, she lists the things wrong with Hobson City and what can be done to fix them. “We need businesses to come to

Hobson City,” she says. “Dollar General, eating places, something recreational. That’s what’ll attract more people to come and live here.” Katie went to Calhoun County Training School from first grade until graduation as a high school. Katie worked at Hillsbrook Manufacturing Facility in Hobson City. She was a machine operator and made ladies’ underwear. Katie says a police force is needed, along with businesses. “People can’t raise families here without protection,” she says. “We’ve got to have some law and order.” But the biggest challenge Katie sees is in the attitude of residents. “The attitude of this place has to change,” Katie says. “Nobody’s gonna want to help you if you can’t help yourself first. We have to keep this a livable place, and I think we have to get enough interested people here to do that.” To show how Hobson City can be a nice place to live, Katie goes back to the way things used to be. “People here used to be citizens, not just residents,” she says. “They took the town to heart.” Katie says she feels sorry for the youth in Hobson City today. “We have good memories from when we grew up here,” she says. “The kids today don’t know anything about Hobson City. They can’t say they graduated from Hobson City. They have to say they graduated from Oxford or Anniston.” Katie says a main problem with Hobson City is people moving away. “We can’t keep anyone here,” she says. “A few have left and come back

Spring 2011 around here, but not to Hobson City.” In recent years, there has been talk of annexation from Oxford. “Why annex when they didn’t want you in the first place, more than 100 years ago?” Katie asks. Katie hates to put all the problems of the town on the shoulders of a few people, but she says elected officials

Hobson City have to help with the disillusionment problem of the town. “There needs to be some outreach,” she says. “You’ve got to reach the veins of Hobson City, the streets off the main road. You’ve got to go to those houses or you’ll never reach them. You’ll never reach them. And I think our mayor now is doing a good

63 job getting involved like that.” Finishing her toast and taking a sip of her coffee, Katie says all of Hobson City’s problems boil down to the perception and the idea of Hobson City. “We don’t have a zip code,” she says. “We don’t have anything like that. We need respect.”

Town tries to go from distressed to developed

A view of “The Corner,” the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Church Street, with the town’s only traffic light. By: Colton Campbell


f you ask people in Hobson City, Ala., to tell you what has changed about the city in the last 50 years, you will most likely get a one-word response. “Everything.” Katie Pyles, 71, has lived in Hobson City her entire life. Her mother lived there her entire life too. “People used to take this town to heart,” she said. The town used to be known as Mooree Quarters and was an area in the city of Oxford mostly occupied by black citizens. They had a major political

influence because of their overwhelming turnout at elections. The boundaries of Oxford were redrawn to prevent this influence, and Mooree Quarters was left isolated as an unincorporated community. The town was incorporated on Aug. 16, 1899, after citizens filed a petition to become a municipality. They named their town after a white Naval hero and Alabama state representative Richard Hobson. At that time, the town had 125 citizens. By 1940, 500 people lived in Hobson City. The population has fluctuated since. By 1980, 89 years after incorporation,

the population of Hobson City had multiplied tenfold to 1,268 people. The town had everything a typical small town would have — a bowling alley, a skating rink, a cafeteria, a grocery store, a baseball field, a recreation center and a barbershop. “The town was great,” said Lee Young, who used to own a business in Hobson City. “It had a lot going on. People were together and doing things.” Everyone remembers the busloads of people that would come in from Chattanooga and Birmingham on the weekends and in the summer to visit the swimming pool. It was the closest one they could visit before integration. Then everything changed. The 1980 census finding was the town’s peak. Since then, Hobson City has lost more than one-third of its population. It now stands at 878 — 93 percent black. The most commonly cited reason for this decline in population is integration. Atkinson said after integration, people could leave Hobson City and move to Oxford, Anniston, wherever they wanted. And so they did. “There’s nothing to keep them here,” Katie Pyles said. In the last 20 years, Hobson City has lost almost all of the businesses and community places it used to have. Now, Ross Handy Mart stands near the traffic light. It is the only business left in town. Willy Atkinson, the town’s oldest permanent resident, said the lack of industries is one of the town’s greatest challenges. “We don’t have any industries because

Spring 2011

Hobson City

What used to be 4Sho, an audio/visual business, sits near “the Corner.”

the town’s been corrupted with drugs,” she said. Another huge challenge the people of Hobson City face is the lack of a police force. In 2007, Hobson City lost its police force and is now under the jurisdiction of Calhoun County. The police department was dismantled and the lights were turned off at city hall because of insufficient finances. Atkinson said many people come into Hobson City just to sell drugs. “They know how often we get patrolled by any kind of law enforcement, and they come into town because they know it’s an easy place to get and sell drugs,” she said. Atkinson said a police force is necessary for any community to be viable. “You’ve got to have someone to enforce the law,” she said. “And citizens who care about the city, who don’t want all this drug business, are at a loss.” A police force would also invite more families to live here, Katie Pyles said. “You can’t raise a family without protection,” she said. “Someone to keep the law and order in the town.” Above all else, the people of Hobson City see a change in attitude as the most important change that needs to be made for the town to return to its glory days. “It’s an altogether different generation,” Atkinson said. “Everybody

used to know everybody and helped each other out. Most of those people have either died or moved away.” Katie Pyles said she feels sorry for the youth in Hobson City today. “We have good memories from when we grew up here,” she said. “The kids today don’t know anything about Hobson City. They can’t say they graduated from Hobson City. They have to say they graduated from Oxford or Anniston.” Despite all the negativity, there are still small rays of hope for the town. Everyone who has lived in Hobson City for a relatively long time still believes in it and its will to survive. Katie Pyles said she is meant to live in Hobson City, that God had a reason to put here there. “I’m proud to say I’m from Hobson City,” she said. “No matter what kind of life I could have had, I think it would have to have been lived here in Hobson City.” *** During the low point of 2007, a new organization was formed to turn the negative situation around — the Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation (HCCEDC). The group is a non-profit public charity corporation with the mission to improve the economic, educational and overall quality of life for residents of communities in Alabama, most specifically Hobson City.

64 The board members include Eric Stringer (president), Bernard Snow (vice president), Gloria Jean Newton (treasurer), Charity Richey-Bentley (secretary), Maudine Holloway, Isaiah Evans, Sam Stewart, Marvin Jones and Elbert Jenkins. The group is young but has already made great strides in connecting the residents of Hobson City like they used to be. HCCEDC has planned events that are growing in popularity. They hosted an appreciation reception in late February that was well-received by the members of Hobson City. “We had a great time and got to visit with so many others that we had not seen in a while,” said Brandi Mangum Parris in an email to Richey-Bentley. The group planned a town hall meeting to be held at a local church in which all the residents of Hobson City can come, listen and have their voices heard while the HCCEDC educates the community about what they do. They have also planned a community cookout for May. “I’m seeing a much better situation than I used to,” said Maudine Holloway, director of the community enabler and a board member of the HCCEDC. “I see it in the Pyles, in people who love this town. People are coming back together and working.” *** Holloway said parents are coming to see their children’s activities like they never have before, and it is a good sign. “I think we’ve got the greatest kids of all here in Hobson City,” Holloway said. “We need the parents and the grandparents and even the greatgrandparents to show sound leadership. They need to know you have to let them see you do things and then they’ll follow you. I see little things happening that are good for Hobson City all over the place.” Holloway said she genuinely believes in the kindness of the people of Hobson City. “I honestly believe if you need a piece of bread, there’s not a person in that town that wouldn’t give it to you,” she said.

Spring 2011



So many names for such a small place

Hohen-Screamers-Linden By: Sarah Hansen


inden, Ala., has a history for name changes over its lifetime. Since its founding in the early 19th Century, this rural western Alabama city has been known as the Town of Marengo, Hohenlinden, “Screamersville,” adopting its current name of Linden in 1823. Driving west from Montgomery, merging onto US-80/Selma Highway, passing through Selma, making a left onto AL-22 which turns into Jefferson Davis Highway, taking a sharp right onto AL-66, continuing onto AL-28 and finally turning left on Main Street takes you into the heart of Linden. While Linden’s main industries are agriculture and timber, family festivals reflect the spirit of its citizens. Linden’s ChiLLy Fest draws in folks from all of Marengo County as well as surrounding areas. ChiLLy Fest is held the second weekend in December, hence the play on words. It continues to grow, adding more events over the past five years. Now, it is a weekend filled with a chili cook-off, Miss ChiLLy Fest pageant, float contest, parade of lights and a 5K run, two-mile walk and kids’ fun run event called “Poot – n – scoot.” ChiLLy Fest was mentioned in Southern Living’s top events in the South in 2010. “ChiLLy Fest sparked other community events,” Mitzi Gates, mayor of Linden, said. She said the most impressive aspect of the ChiLLy fest weekend is the parade of lights. The parade goes straight through downtown Linden to the delight of local businesses, not to mention the town’s children. “We saw it going bigger than just the nighttime parade,” said Gates. One of her goals as mayor is to create a closer, friendlier community atmosphere in the town of Linden. Events that bring

Looking eastward down Main Street in Linden, Ala., on March 12.

citizens together, like ChiLLy Fest help accomplish this goal. April 2011 is the second year of Easter at the Gazebo, the central place for most things that happen in the community. The town hopes to see the gazebo replaced with a clock tower in the next five years. This will be a replica of a clock tower that once stood as part of the courthouse which burned in the 1960s. But for now everything revolves around the gazebo. The most popular destination for Linden’s children is the “Linden Fun Factory,” owned and operated by George Jones, an 86-year old church pew builder. Jones came to town with a vision—a place where local families could enjoy themselves for years to come. An old factory, vacant and falling apart for about 20 years, was probably the least likely place that anyone would

imagine children playing. But Jones saw potential. Jones and a team of three other people set to work to repair the old building to prepare it for its future purpose—an all-purpose play place for the town’s children. “We tried to keep most of the building like it was,” said Jones. “It can really be a top-notch facility.” In December, the skating rink portion of the Fun Factory opened. It didn’t take long for the town to see the sign out front, “Open $7, 2-5 and 6-9. Skaten.” Jones isn’t finished yet. The building is still under complete renovation to make room for the batting ranges, bowling alley, putt-putt golf, laser tag and possibly even archery to complete his vision. Jones, who stands just 5 feet tall and smiles occasionally to show a missing right front tooth, is beloved by the town’s children and parents alike for

Spring 2011 what he is doing, Gates said. “Small towns have to do something like this to make them (the children) love it. If you don’t get them now, you won’t get them to come back,” Jones said.


Linden Calendar of Events: Fire Prevention Parade October 15th Easter at the Gazebo Pumpkin Patch Party April 23rd October 29th Summer Carnival ChiLLy Fest June 2nd, 3rd, and 4th December 9th and 10th

Papa’s Foods, located on Main Street, is Linden’s only grocery store.

Papa’s Foods fuels community By: Sarah Hansen


ince 1948, the entity of Papa’s Foods has been a main staple in the Linden community. Originally opening as a locker plant, Papa’s Foods has provided groceries for the area for 63 years. The store has gone through several different phases each with a new name and group of owners. Current co-owner of Papa’s Foods, Suzanne Echols, said that the store was started by her parents, Nell and Paul Owensby in 1948. The store has previously been known as the locker plant and the Linden IGA, Echols said. “In 1979 we purchased the block where we are presently located and moved into our new building,” Echols said. “The business was renamed Papa’s Foods at this time in honor of my

Dad by his grandchildren.” Papa’s Foods is located at 306 S Main St. right down the road from Screamer’s Ice Cream and Diner. “Papa’s is where almost every Linden resident shops and it serves as a great place for the people of Linden to run into each other and socialize,” Stacie Davis, Auburn University student whose parents live in Linden, said. While Papa’s serves as one of the only places in town to buy groceries, keeping up with the demands of the public is difficult. The population is declining yearly, Echols said. Mayor Mitzi Gates says she shops at Papa’s almost every day to grab ingredients for what she will cook for dinner that night. “Just as the kitchen is the heart of the home, Papa’s is the heart of our town. It is not only the store that literally provides nourishment for our families but

also a place that nourishes relationships within the community,” Gates said. The City of Linden’s website,, has the slogan, “Life is good in Linden,” on its homepage. “It is very true that life in Linden is good, and that is mainly because Linden is full of good people,” Gates said. “Papa’s is where almost every Linden resident shops and it serves as a great place for the people of Linden to run into each other and socialize.” Gates said that the biggest contribution Papa’s makes is quite literally tax revenue. “If it weren’t for merchants, there would be no Linden – they ARE Linden, and Papa’s is a BIG part of that,” Gates said. “They also employ more than 20 people.” While Papa’s is the main, local place to shop, a 20-minute ride to Demopolis, a larger city 16 miles north of

Spring 2011 Linden, will bring the convenience of Wal-Mart. However, shopping local is a must for this community to survive. “Everyone who understands what it means to support our town by supporting our merchants shops Papa’s,” Gates said. “I’d like to say that ‘everybody’ shops Papa’s, but I know that is not an accurate statement because a lot of people do their “big” shopping at Wal-Mart in Demopolis (16 miles up the road).” As Papa’s serves the community of


Linden Linden as the biggest store in town, it can boast that while some continue to shop at Wal-Mart. Davis said Papa’s has the best meat market for miles. Papa’s location also makes the business lucrative, besides the customer service and good meat selection, Davis said. “People are always traveling in and out of Papa’s. Little Drug Company and Gift Shop is located in the same area, so people are always running er-

rands in that area. It is probably the busiest part of Linden,” Davis said. Another aspect of success is the devotion to quality customer service, Echols said. “The service at Papa’s is like NO OTHER store in three counties,” Gates said. “They are the last hold out when it comes to offering “bag and tote” service. “The only thing they don’t do is unload them out of the car once you get home.”

The sage, the brother, and the couple

By: Sarah Hansen

The Sage: George Jones


riginally hailing from Paige, Miss., George Jones has ended up in Linden, Ala. At the age of 86, he started and owns the city’s roller skating rink – The Linden Fun Factory. The building housing this operation is quite unassuming. It is easily passed on one’s way into town on Coates Avenue heading toward Main Street. The old, red brick warehouse, like Jones, looks like it’s had a full life, with plenty of wear and tear. Jones stands at about 5 feet tall, but his personality far exceeds that measure. His celery green eyes twinkle with mischief like a little boy’s would – only this little boy’s heart is held within an 86-year-old body. After growing up in the Mississippi Delta region, he spent time in Magnolia, Miss., he attended college for two years before being drafted for World War II; he worked in New Orleans and eventually made his way to Alabama the Beautiful. Jones has big plans for the Fun Factory. Although renovations on the old dress-making warehouse began only

George Jones stands in front of the skating rink at Linden Fun Factory.

months ago, the skating rink portion is complete. “I saw junk like you couldn’t believe and an inch of water,” Jones said. As he waded through the decrepit, abandoned building the wheels in his brain began to turn. “The more I walked, the more potential I saw,” Jones said.

Jones had several tricks up his sleeve – he may be 86, but his mind is as sharp as a tack. He has plans to continue to renovate the building. Jones said he wants to add batting ranges, indoor putt-putt, and laser tag and eventually, maybe even an archery facility outside. For some children, this is the first

Spring 2011



Left: The sign in front of Linden Fun Factory. Right: Children enjoy skating in the newly finished skating rink.

time they have ever skated, Mitzi Gates, mayor of Linden, said. “I don’t know if I’ll live that long (to see the whole project completed),” Jones said. His love for community is the pulse that keeps the Fun Factory alive. “Small towns (usually) don’t do something like this to make them (the residents and children) love it,” Jones said. “It produces a love for the community … If you don’t get them now… you won’t get them at all.” The Brother: Dr. Bobby Hopper


rother Bobby, as the citizens of Linden call him, is the director of missions for the Bethel Baptist Association. As director, Bobby Hopper is responsible for 31 churches in all of Marengo County and a portion of Wilcox County. “I’m the pastor to the pastors,” Hopper said. His deep blue jeans, black suspenders and crimson shirt fit his Alabamian accent to a T. Hopper is originally from Sand Mountain, which is located in the

Northeastern region of the state. “I went to the University of Montevallo and majored in history,” Hopper said. “I also have degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Beeson Divinity School at Samford.” Hopper’s job description is more than just looking over 31 churches. He works with all volunteers to do a variety of tasks. He serves as the local missionary for the area, and is constantly looking for possible mission opportunities. Hopper is a member of the Race Relations Committee with the Alabama Missions Board. He is also the disaster relief coordinator for Marengo County as well as the chaplain with the Linden Police Department. The Couple: Jim and Gelean Wicks


hen the Dairy Queen closed several years ago, Linden was left with a problem that needed fixing. There was no longer a place in town where you could get ice cream. Jim and Gelean Wicks saw to it that the needs of the town should be met. Screamer’s Ice Cream and Diner

opened last November on Main Street. The name derives from Linden’s old nickname, “Screamersville,” because of its rowdy reputation in the 19th Century. “In a small town, you’ve got to do what works,” Jim said. “We have a little bit of everything – we’re here to serve.” Before Jim and Gelean were in the restaurant business, they had been involved in the timber business, as well as also owning motels. Jim, originally from Greenville, S.C., is the maintenance and repairman for the operation. He is also responsible for all of the remodeling of the building space. The space was built as two separate store fronts in 1959, Gelean said. The building originally housed Ace Hardware and the Five and Dime. Gelean, originally from Walker, La., does everything from running the cash register, managing employees and anything else that needs to be done around the diner. “We’re doing what we wanna do,” Gelean said. “(To be successful) You do as many things as you can possibly stand to do.”

“Life is Good in Linden”

Spring 2011



Linden’s local business limbo By: Sarah Hansen


lthough life is good in Linden, as its website declares, there are numerous store fronts in the downtown block of Main Street that are empty. In addition to empty store fronts, there are few reasons for a college graduate to move back into town, Carol Collins, owner of Two of a Kind, said. Two of a Kind, a boutique shop selling everything from wedding gifts to gourmet foods, opened 12 years ago. Collins has remained the store’s only owner and is currently the store’s only employee. “There are lots of empty buildings in the one block area (of downtown Linden),” Collins said. “They’ve been vacant a long time.” Collins said that restaurants, record shops, music stores, clothing stores and other similar types of businesses have tried their hands at maintaining a storefront on Main Street. While there are storefronts that remain empty, a small contingency of local business serve as the backbone to the community of Linden. “Papa’s Foods, the Dollar General, Two of a Kind, Silver Shears, Little Drug and Melody’s Beauty Supply have all been in downtown for a while,” Collins said. An Auburn University’s urban studio class designed a new downtown plan for Linden that involved erecting a clock tower, which would be an exact replica of the one that used to stand as a part of the original courthouse that burned down in the early 1960s. The Urban Studio planned for the project to be completed over a five-year period, Mayor Mitzi Gates said. “The clock tower would serve as the main gathering place and park area,” Gates said. “The tower is planned to go where the gazebo is right now.” Everything revolves around the gazebo, so the clock tower would act as the new community gathering place, Bruce

The Gazebo in Linden is widely known as the community gathering place.

Ward, community planner and utilities clerk, said. The economy in Linden depends on local business, which has struggled even more so since the recession in 2008. “Things haven’t been as good – we’ve had slower business at times,” Collins said. Collins also said that she used to advertise her business in the local paper, but that it has become too expensive. In the age of new and social media, Linden has been proactive in adjusting to the change in communication. The City of Linden has its own Facebook page where community events, pictures and local advertisements can be posted. The official city website is another place to go for information about upcoming events, store openings, utility bill information and other helpful links. ( ( h t t p : / / w w w. f a c e b o o k . c o m / home.php#!/pages/City-of-LindenAL/134227897073) “I had a lot of Mexican pottery and wrought iron pieces out in the front lot to be sold,” Collins said. “I put an ad on Facebook, and I sold almost everything in three days.” While store owners like Collins figure

out that social media is one way to be successful, the community is still dependent on word of mouth. “Getting people to see what we have in Linden is a struggle and a goal,” Ward said. “We have seen that the best way to get the community members involved is through church and civic groups.” The City of Linden currently does not have any sort of Chamber of Commerce that could help promote local business. “We (local store owners) have talked about a downtown merchants association in the past, but nothing came of it,” Collins said. With no association in place, Linden’s City Council is trying to kick-start a campaign that supports local businesses called The 3/50 Project. The 3/50 project’s main goal is to spread awareness of the impact that purchasing goods locally does for a community. ( html) “With one Wal-Mart located 16 miles north of Linden and another located 20 miles south of here, local businesses struggle,” Gates said. “Getting people to understand how important it is to support local businesses is one of our biggest challenges.”

Spring 2011



Left: This sign accompanies the gazebo on Main Street. Right: City Limit sign on Alabama Highway 28.

Horses and Goats and cows, Oh Linden! By: Sarah Hansen


hen I found out that I was going to be reporting in Linden, Ala., I was relieved. This might sound strange, but this is because I had at least heard of Linden. I drove to Linden for the first time with my boyfriend, Brent on a Saturday in mid-March. Neither one of us had been to the western part of the state of Alabama. So many cows, goats and horses. After getting turned around trying to find Jefferson Davis Highway, not realizing that we were already on Jefferson Davis Highway, caused a bit of a panic. With no cell service or another person in sight, I relied on the map feature of my smartphone to get us back on track. Once we figured out that we were already on the road we were looking for, the next step was to find Alabama-66. After three trips back up and down Jefferson Davis Hwy, we found a tiny sign that read “JCT 66.” I had never been so happy to see a road sign in my entire

life! I didn’t really know what to expect in Linden. I knew it was going to be a small town, but how small? Quite small. But, not lacking a quirky charm that delighted me and made me happy to be there. I was instructed by my main contact, Mitzi Gates, mayor of Linden and high school English teacher, that we were to meet at Screamer’s Ice Cream and Diner. As we drove past the Linden City Limits sign, I got a text message informing me that Screamer’s doesn’t have a sign. Wait a minute – the establishment that we’re meeting at doesn’t have a sign?! This place MUST be a lot smaller than I originally thought. Just like Mitzi said, Screamer’s was “next to Sweet Water Bank and across from Sunshine Cleaners.” We found the nearest parking lot and walked back to the brightly painted building that houses Screamer’s. Mitzi and Bruce Ward, the city events coordinator and utilities clerk were out front to meet us. A quick, big hug from Mitzi put me at ease. I could tell that this was going

to be a good interview day. Throughout the day, I took mental snapshots of the place. I had to keep reminding myself that this is how the people that live here in Linden and the rest of Marengo County really live. Growing up in the suburbs of three different metropolitan cities, I am used to a certain pace of life. Spending time in Linden felt like watching life in slow motion. As Bobby Hopper, the director of mission for the Bethel Baptist Association, said to me while interview him, “It’s like stepping into Mayberry.” For the economy, small town business, like any small business, is a struggle. But, there have been two new business openings in the past two months. All in all, my first trip to Linden was a success. I met some eccentric and hardworking people who love their community. Small town doesn’t have to mean small-minded. Linden is a place of new ideas and hope for a better future. Although there seem to be more cows than people in the county, the people are what make Linden shine.

Spring 2011



Welcome to Marion, Alabama

This sign, located outside of Marion, describes Marion’s environment and tells when the city was established.

By: David Crayton


arion, Ala., is a small town in Perry County, 39 minutes away from Selma, going northwest. As of the 2000 Census, the population is 3,511 people. It is made up of diverse races, mostly blacks and whites with some Native Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Hispanic and Latinos. The per capita income was $15,321. The population density is about 328.1 people per square mile. The 2000 Census states that there are 819 family households; 372 of those households have their own children under 18 years. There are also 459 married-couple families, and 179 of those families have children. The total households is 1,184. At first glance, Marion is small. All the stores in Marion are close together. As people enter the town from County

Road 45, the first thing they will see on the left is a small house followed by the Perry County Health Department building. Behind the department is the Sowing Seeds of Hope training building. A few miles down is a shopping plaza, which includes Dollar General, and there is a Hardees building across the street. Down the street is the Marion Military Institute, with a military airplane in front of it. Right in the middle of the town is Judson College. The rest of town is made up of old buildings, the Marion-Perry County library, and houses. There are 11 kinds of businesses in Marion. Some of those include wholesale trade, retail trade, information and educational services. People should go visit Marion because it’s the place where the air is clean and sweet, according to Alabama poet Helen Blackshear.

Before Marion became what it is today, it was known as Muckle Ridge, according to Marion’s Wikipedia webpage. It was renamed in honor of France Marion, a hero of the American Revolution. The Muckle Ridge name is still being used as the Muckle Ridge Festival, which celebrates everything there is to celebrate about Marion. According to Wikipedia, Marion’s history is tied with the Civil Rights movement. On February 18, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by Alabama State Trooper James Benard Fowler during a peaceful march through Marion. This became the catalyst for the Selma to Montgomery March, which occurred later that year. Marion was the home Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr. Today, Marion relies on sources like timber and catfish to keep the town going. At one point of time, Marion had a lot more to depend on.

Spring 2011 “It is an area that was real prosperous at one time,” said Paul Reitzer, vice president of the Perry County Historical and Preservation Society. “A lot of it has changed because of economics.” According to local librarian Tiffany Vaughn, the citizens have a way of getting along with each other despite their cultural differences. They try their best to keep everything together despite what may go on. “By nature, people want to get along,” Vaughn said. “Human beings are not loners by nature. God didn’t create us that way. We like to be surrounded by other people. Whether they are similar or different, we like company.” Vaughn said that the people in Marion want to improve themselves and the situations they are in. It’s this desire that keeps the people going every day. “We always want to do better,” Vaughn said. “I think it’s that same community aspect that we want to all do better for each other and ourselves.” According to the Seven Knowledge Keys for Understanding a Community, the Marionites share collective aspirations for their homes. The most important aspirations are better healthcare, more jobs for gainful employment, a crime-free environment, and jobs to keep their younger generation coming back to the town. Some younger people choose to leave Marion because they want to gain more money and success in a bigger place, while others have chosen to stay around because they like to live in a small town like Marion where everything is simple and easy. “I like the slow pace of pace of life here,” said Whitney Green, staff member of Sowing Seeds of Hope. “I don’t believe in going off to a place that already has everything. I want to make my hometown better because this is where my roots are, and this is where they’re deep.” Sowing Seeds of Hope is an organization dedicated to providing healthcare to those who can’t afford it. Besides the people, Marion is also marked by the presence of two colleges, the Marion Military Institute and Judson College. These schools help bring the town alive with the arrival of


Marion new people from outside the town. “It brings a few more people to town,” Reitzer said. “They have encouraged some outside groups to come in and try to do some improvements around here.” Anyone who has known about the small town can tell you that it has a

“By nature, people want to get along.” strong presence in history and is made richer by its educational institutions. This is the place where the idea of the Selma to Montgomery March was born, and this is the place where an African American school, the Lincoln Normal School, was born. According to Lincoln’s Wikipedia page, Lincoln was founded by newly freed slaves who were taught by a Union soldier who remained in Marion

after the Civil War. The school was incorporated in 1867. Lincoln graduated some famous people, including Coretta Scott King, Jean Childs, wife of civil rights activist AndrewYoung, and Odith Thelma Patton, mother of Bishop T.D. Jakes. The school closed in 1970, and it was consolidated with Marion High School. According to Marion Military Institute’s website, www.marionmilitary. edu, MMI was founded in1842. Before it became a school, the school’s chapel and Lovelace Hall, a student dormitory, was used Breckinridge Military Hall, treating both sides of the Civil War while it was still going on. MMI operated as Howard College until 1887. Howard College was moved to Birmingham and renamed Samford University. The people who remained behind started the institute. Judson College is the nation’s fifth oldest women’s college. According to the school’s website, Judson was founded in 1838 by Baptists in Marion to educate young women in a Christian environment. Judson was named after Ann Hasseltine Judson, who was America’s first female foreign missionary. Judson is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention.

Located in front of Judson College, this sign is the first thing people see when they visit the campus.

Spring 2011



Taking care of everything

By: David Crayton


f you live in Marion, Ala., near where Kalico Kitchen is located, you will see a blue van going back and forth between a home located behind trees and downtown Marion. The person driving that van is Frances Ford. Before Ford came to Marion in 2001, she worked at a hospital in Selma for 20 years and a Selma nursing home. Her work at the Selma hospital doing discharge had prepared her for her present job in Marion. Ford said she went to Judson College and Samford University. She graduated from both schools with a bachelor’s degree and a degree in nursing respectively. She is a Registered Nurse. Today, she works at the Perry County Health Department as the health coordinator, which is convenient since she grew up in Perry County. She was hired by Sowing Seeds of Hope in order to coordinate healthcare in the county. Sowing Seeds of Hope is an organization that provides healthcare and other services to those who can’t afford it. “It’s an opportunity to come back home and do something at home to help the people at home,” Ford said. Ford inherited her desire to help people from her mom who was a helper and a caregiver herself. It was between the ages of 12 and 13 when Ford started to her journey to helping people by taking care of her family. When Ford recalls her early years spent taking care of family, she always goes back to a painful memory about how her mother was being treated before she succumbed to cancer. “My mom had cancer, and she died in 81,” Ford said. “The one thing I would

remember most about it was she had a physician that came to see her, and he did not want to touch her.” Today, that memory influences how she responds to patients. “Whenever I made rounds and went into a patient’s room, I always touch them to let them know that I am here because I care. I’m not here because I am getting paid. I am not here because I am trained. I am here because I truly care.” Her job demands time and attention. On a typical day, she is at her office at the health department, working with others to come up with plans to provide healthcare. Marsha Ford, daughter and assistant basketball coach at Judson College, said “I think it’s an enjoyment for her because she enjoys helping people.” She enjoys helping people find new resources and things like that. She enjoys being a resource for the community.” The people who are around her appreciate everything about her. During her downtime, she is a friend to everybody around her. “She’s honest as the day is long,” said MacArthur Dobyne, brother and volunteer for Sowing Seeds. “We laugh and joke about everything.” Ford, who stands at about 5 feet and likes to wear and show off her University of Alabama colors, fits the personification of a helper. Not only does she coordinate healthcare throughout the county, she also spreads the word about Sowing Seeds of Hope. “I think I kind of serve, as a mouthpiece, being that person who helps tell the story, make people aware of Sowing Seeds of Hope,” Ford said. “That’s just one of the biggest things that I have done.” Ford is known throughout Marion. Some of those people work alongside her at Sowing Seeds, coming up with

new ways to volunteer and providing care to those who need it the most. Even though it may seem like too much work to do, one thing that keeps her going is the positive changes that occur around her to the people she takes care of. She said she feels that those changes are worth all the work that she and everybody else have put in. “When you can help them and make life better for them, when you give Christmas presents to children, those are the kind of things that’s worth it at the end of the day,”

“She’s honest as the day is long.”

Spring 2011



A place to eat and to have fun

Kalico Kitchen outside view welcomes visitors as they pull up for a visit to the Kitchen.

outside the Kitchen that has a red Restaurant owner and manager and white Coca-Cola logo, and right Robin Hale says she doesn’t serve If you visit or stay in Marion, Ala., above it is the name Kalico Kitchen. all day because she has other prioriyou should make time to visit KaKalico Kitchen is open Tuesday ties. lico Kitchen. Kalico Kitchen looks to Sunday, operating from 6 a.m. “We just do breakfast and lunch,” like a grocery store on the outside. to 2p.m. The Hale said. Inside, guests of the restaurant will menu for each “I think a lot of people “I’m not find a style that blends a high school day is posted too crazy cafeteria with a diner décor. on the diner’s that come here come here about workKalico Kitchen is a fixture in the F a c e b o o k ing nights. more or less for good city of Marion, attracting hungry page. On some I have small customers for 70 years. days, you will food, but I think a lot of children.” When you first go in, on the left see items like Before it them come here for the became Kaside is a painting depicting a 19th baked chicken century-styled town with the inclu- and rice on the lico Kitchconversations.” sion of Kalico Kitchen in it. All menu. en, it went over, you will see restaurant tables, A typical by another and you will see a cash register and menu would be something like this: name for its first 50 years. a spot setup for lunch lines. April 15th, 2011 MENU: Fried “Originally, it was called the On the outside, the building is Catfish, Baked Chicken, Mac & Statehouse,” Hale said. “It’s been painted white with a red roof. The Cheese, Turnip Greens, Corn on the in business under the Kalico name words “Kalico Kitchen” is also cob, Green Beans, Black Eyed Peas, for 20 years.” painted red. There is also a tall sign Boiled Okra, and Banana Pudding. As a result of its longevity as a

By: David Crayton

Spring 2011



Marion business, Kalico has become important to the small community. “It’s a meet and greet place,” Hale said. “I think a lot of people that come here come here more or less for good food, but I think a lot of them come here for the conversations.” Aside from the conversations, Hale and her staff keep the customers coming back with a familiar favorite dish. “Fried chicken is our favorite,” Hale said. “Everybody asks for the fried chicken. We’re open six days a week, and we usually have fried chicken four days of those weeks. Everybody loves the fried chicken.” According to Hale, the name Kalico Kitchen came from Billy and Betty Han Richard, the original owners of the restaurant 20 years ago. Today, regular customers like Elloise Holyfield come by every so often to taste what’s on the menu. “It’s near my house and I can run This sign is the first thing people notice before they pull up to the kitchen. out and choose what I want to eat,” Holyfield said. Holyfield said her favorite meal to order was the fried chicken. Holyfield passed down her love for Kalico to her niece Eloise Wise. Both women spend some of their time together at the Kitchen. “It’s just fun to come and eat with my aunt,” Wise said. Like most people, Wise can see how important Kalico Kitchen is to the community. “I think it’s good to have a good restaurant. You can get a good variety of things,” Wise said. “In a small town like this, sometimes that’s a challenge to have a good restaurant that has home-cooked meals.” When compared with other restaurants, Kalico is one of the few restaurants that doesn’t change the look, feel or style of the restaurant for their customers because the customers like Kalico the way it is. “I think it’s more of a traditiontype thing,” Hale said. “They hate The inside of the Kitchen includes a painting of historic Marion. to break the tradition.”

Spring 2011



Living and fighting for healthcare

This sign is located right outside of the Perry County Health Department in front of the entrance. By: David Crayton


he people of Marion, Ala., have many aspirations for themselves and for the town as a whole. Some dream of moving away to better opportunities, while others are working to bring those opportunities and better paying jobs to the town they love. For some of those who are staying around, their aspirations are aimed at improving the environment in Marion. More specifically, they want to bring better healthcare options to the county seat of Perry County. Marion has no hospital. The nearest hospital for any Marion citizen is the Hale County Hospital in Greensboro, Ala., which is 18 miles from Marion. More than that, according to the County Health Rankings website ( alabama/marion), 18 percent of adults in Marion age 18 to 64 are without insurance, which means they have to pay for their medical care out of their pocket. This is slightly above the statewide

average, which is 17 percent. The county health rankings list adult smoking, adult obesity, excessive drinking, motor vehicle crashes, sexually transmitted infections and the teen birth rate as the constant health behaviors that determine Marion’s standings. Within Marion, 29 percent of the city is obese, and 149 people are infected with sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health Website (http://, Marion’s 2008 health profile states that the five leading causes of death are heart disease (153 people) , cancer (75 people), stroke (27 people), accidents (30 people) and Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease or CLRD (27 people). According to the profile, 81 men and 72 women died from heart disease. The health profile also states that a total of 102 people in Marion died from cancer and strokes. Sowing Seeds of Hope was formed in order to help provide healthcare to those who can’t afford it and to come

up with preventative measures in order to lower the death rates. “Our main purpose is to enhance the quality of living for the citizens of Perry County and surrounding counties by using the holistic approach: spiritual, as well as educational, economically, as well as financially,” said Mary Moore, Circuit Clerk for Perry County. According to Moore, Sowing Seeds was started 10 years ago when the Alabama Corporate Baptist Fellowship and a group of concerned citizens from Perry County got together and decided to do something in order to enhance the living conditions in the county. They were inspired by studies done in Perry County and other surrounding Black Belt counties conducted by the University of Alabama and other schools. According to the organization’s Website ( sshope/index.cfm), they have different task forces for people to volunteer in such as arts and humanities, housing, economic development, spiritual and social, education, tourism, healthcare

Spring 2011

and transportation. Sowing Seeds of Hope’s board of directors include Edward Daniel, former mayor of Marion, Mayor Anthony Long, and Frances Ford, who serves as executive director of Sowing Seeds. Providing healthcare is a tough battle for the organization. “Healthcare has been our main focal point,” Moore said. “We do not have a hospital in Perry County. We’re limited in our number of doctors. We do not have specialists in Perry County. Sowing Seeds of Hope decided ‘well I think we can do something’ and as a result of that and making the other counties aware of our problem, Samford University jumped on board and said what can we do.” It is believed that the young and old of Marion and Perry County are the ones who are most affected by the lack of healthcare. “The people that’s most affected are your young people, your older people,” said Dorothy Hornbuckle, staff member of Sowing Seeds of Hope. “Right now, there’s not a doctor’s office; it’s not a hospital there. They have to travel at least 30 miles to the nearest hospital.” Hornbuckle said she believes that young people should be involved in Sowing Seeds’ activities. “I believe that they should because this is a life-long process,” Hornbuckle said. “You start at an earlier age as to getting involved in taking care of your health, helping out in the community,


or doing whatever. It’s something that you can look forward to, feel good about. Once you’ve done it, it makes you feel good to get out and help people that you know need help.” One of the things that is being done towards providing healthcare for the citizens of Marion are diabetic screenings. According to the rankings, 85 percent of Marion diabetics are screened in order to make sure that their diabetes is kept in check. According to a 2007 report by the Alabama Rural Health Association, the diabetes mortality rate in Alabama is more than 50 percent higher among Alabama’s African American population than among its white population. It also states that Alabama has the 5th highest diabetes mortality rate among all 50 states. All Alabamians aged 25 to 64 make up the second highest diabetes mortality rate among all 50 states. Twenty-nine Alabama counties with the highest diabetes mortality rates are rural counties like Marion’s Perry County Another type of care that is provided by Sowing Seeds of Hope is mammogram screenings. The rankings state that 64 percent of female Marion citizens receive mammograms in order to prevent breast cancer. The women who receive the screenings are on Medicare, and they receive the screenings once over a two-year period. Henry Ford, executive director of the Spirit of Luke Charitable Foundation of Birmingham, said he believes that

77 the whole healthcare situation can be solved if everybody was able to have easy access to free healthcare. “Things can get better if we had universal healthcare,” Ford said. “We have an opportunity to have healthcare.” Dr. J. Hammer, a doctor who practices medicine in Dallas County, compares the healthcare situation in Marion and Perry County with what she sees in her area. “What I currently see in the practice that I a practicing in, we have high incidence of diabetes and hypertension, heart disease and stroke,” Hammer said. According to the county health rankings, 40 percent of adults in nearby Dallas County are obese, while 27 percent suffer from poor or fair health. The ARHA reports 38.6 percent of Dallas County and other surrounding counties in the region suffer from diabetes. According to Henry Ford, nobody within Marion’s government has the power needed to straighten out the healthcare situation. “I just don’t know what they can do; they don’t have the money,” Ford said. “It’s not really a glamorous job to be a politician in a small town because you really can’t get nothing done because you don’t have the tax base if you wanted to do something.” Ford also said he thinks that the state government has little care in the affairs of small Alabama towns like Marion. “The state can basically care less about the small communities,” Ford said. “It’s all about the big communities because, guess what, that’s where the votes are, and politicians, that’s what they care about.” According to Dr. Hammer, people without access to healthcare should go out and find what they can get. “I believe each state has some type of mechanism in place to address individuals that are uninsured or underinsured,” Hammer said. “I am quite sure there is some assistance for individuals who are uninsured or underinsured and, basically, they have to get out there and beat the bushes and find that information.”

Spring 2011



My personal thoughts By: David Crayton


very since this community project has started, it has been kind of a whirlwind for me. I felt like I have traveled all around the world with all this traveling to Marion, Ala., and driving around the town looking for my sources. While my four trips took a lot of gas out of me, I have gained a new perspective for exploring everything new. One thing that was fun while I was working on this project is meeting new people like Frances Ford and Paul Reitzer. These people have helped gain some information on Marion and the people who live in the town. One person that I did meet that was interesting was Travis Vaughn. He is another source for another story that I am working in another class, and he also a reporter for the Perry County Herald. He shared with me his paranormal experience with the Marion Military Institute. Another fun thing about this project was that I got to see Marion in its glory. In my eyes, Marion is a cross between Tuskegee and a little bit of downtown Montgomery. Everything is so close together. You don’t really need to walk that far to get to where you need to go. All the stores are not that far away from each other. Judson College and Marion Military Institute are not that far away from each other.

Coming up with sources for my stories was made easy thanks to Frances Ford. She practically knows everyone in Marion. Some of those people are her patients while others are people that work for the health department, for the schools, and some who worked in the government at one point in time. On my last trip, I went to a health fair that was hosted by Frances Ford’s group Sowing Seeds of Hope and another charitable organization. The purpose of the fair was to provide free healthcare to those who couldn’t afford it. For me, it was fun to see people coming together and use what they have to help other people. It was also fun to get my hands on free food. As a result of this trip, I got to see what Marion looked liked. I honestly thought it would be a big city instead of a small town. It is built just like any other town except it was built around its history. There are signs all around that remind drivers that the road they are driving on is the same road that Martin Luther King Jr. and his friends marched on. In conclusion, doing this project has enabled me to get out of my comfort zone and go explore new places. I have met great people, and I have seen amazing places.

“One thing that was fun while I was working on this project is meeting new people like Frances Ford and Paul Reitzer.”

The Perry County Courthouse sits in the center of downtown Marion.

Spring 2011


Oak Grove

Welcome to Oak Grove:

Local attractions draw visitors By: Kristen Oliver


f you drive along U.S. Highway 280, which runs from Birmingham, Ala., to Columbus, Ga., you could easily miss the quiet, one-square-mile town of Oak Grove. But you would be missing a historic, generous, industrious town. The town of Oak Grove, which borders Sylacauga, Ala., has a population of approximately 500 people and sits along busy U.S. Highway 280. This location allows it to maintain the tax revenue of a town between 2,000 and 3,000 people. Because Oak Grove has no downtown or town square, it is an easy town to miss. Most of its businesses exist along Highway 280. Yet the defining locations of Oak Grove are worth looking for. One such location is “Gravity Hill,” located on Old Highway 280, now

Location of Hodges Meteor Site.

A view of roads and the city limit in Oak Grove along Hwy 511.

named Gravity Hill Road. At a certain point, cars appear to coast uphill, drawing spectators over the years. Also within Oak Grove’s town limits is the only site in history where a human being was struck by a meteorite. Ann Hodges was in her home in 1954 when something crashed through the roof and struck her on the hip. The incident gained national recognition and earned the town a historic marker along Highway 511. Down the road from Hodges Meteor site is another location within Oak Grove worth visiting. Comet Grove, Oak Grove’s community garden, was named for its proximity to this historic marker. The garden occupies 20 acres in the center of town. What used to be a Christmas tree farm, Comet Grove began in 2010 after former mayor Bloise Zeigler, 98, donated the land in the hopes of starting a community garden. Comet Grove was started with the intent of growing fresh crops for the needy of Oak Grove and

its nearby communities. Comet Grove has also opened up learning opportunities for Auburn University students. Last year Hunter Morgan, a senior majoring in public administration, lived in the barn on the grounds and worked to get the garden started as an intern with the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. Ballard Jones, another Auburn student, will take over for Morgan this summer. Since its start, Comet Grove produced more than 20 different crops donated to needy families in Oak Grove and surrounding areas. It offered learning opportunities for students in the area as well. “Anybody that came here needy, we’d try to help them,” said Oak Grove Mayor Charles Merkel of their efforts at Oak Grove. This desire to support its citizens is a defining attribute of Oak Grove. “The majority of Oak Grove is seniors,” said Carolyn Zeigler, volunteer coordinator for Comet Grove.

Spring 2011 Retention of the town’s original families is strong since its founding. “They moved here, built here, bought here, and they’ve stayed here,” Zeigler said. However, their children often moved away and raised their families elsewhere, a common trend in small rural communities. According to Merkel, the majority of Oak Grove’s population is elderly. The town runs a Senior Center for its elderly citizens. Some came from outlying areas as well, including nearby Sylacauga, Five Points, and Cedar Creek, adding to the population.


Oak Grove Last year, to draw people back to Oak Grove, they began an annual Heritage Homecoming Festival. For the second year in a row, the people of the community will work together to attract attention to the town, bringing back families and drawing in others from surrounding areas. The second festival will take place May 14, 2011. This year the Alabama Department of Tourism chose the theme “The Year of Alabama Music,” which the festival will celebrate with a day of music, food and activities. Oak Grove is a small, rural com-

munity defined by events such as the Heritage Homecoming Festival and locations such as Comet Grove. It is a welcoming community of people who are proud of their town and hope to see it thrive. The next time you are driving along U.S. Highway 280, take a detour to see Hodges Meteor site, or to observe cars coasting on Gravity Hill. You may see 98-year old Zeigler driving his golf cart on his way to Comet Grove. You can be sure to see any of these aspects which make the town of Oak Grove, as Merkel said, “rather unique.”

Generosity of former mayor keeps small town thriving By: Kristen Oliver


“ ak Grove has done a lot with a small group of people,” said Alan Hughes, uncle of Oak Grove’s current mayor Charles Merkel and volunteer at Comet Grove. One of those people is Bloise Zeigler. A local celebrity of Oak Grove, 98-year-old Zeigler was mayor of the town from 1980 to 2000. Oak Grove would not have survived without him. “He’s our long-term legendary mayor,” said current Oak Grove mayor Charles Merkel of the former mayor. “I was born within 50 miles of here,” Zeigler said. “I’ve been living on this acreage since August 1952.” Zeigler helped build the community of Oak Grove since he became a resident. “Bloise pulled it together, got it organized and moving forward.” Carolyn Zeigler said of his efforts to support the community. As mayor, he brought political connections, including forging a relation-

Bloise and Caroyln Zeigler outside the Comet Grove Barn.

ship with the East Alabama Planning Commission. He worked to bring the town grants through the years that helped build the infrastructure.

“He helped start the senior citizen program and the rural transportation program,” Carolyn Zeigler said. The senior center, which began in

Spring 2011 May 1985, is a major aspect of Oak Grove. Being a primarily elderly community, the busy senior center attracts citizens from neighboring towns. His achievements are numerous despite his lack of education. “It’s always been a dream of mine for my children to go to college,” Zeigler said. This desire motivated him and his wife to save up for their children’s formal education. “I have no education myself,” Zeigler said. “I am a fanatic on education, though.” Zeigler is best known as the mayor who used to own the popular chooseand-cut Christmas tree farm in Oak Grove, which grew the official Alabama state Christmas tree. One of Zeigler’s trees was displayed at the Alabama Governor’s mansion in 2004. People would come from neighboring areas to get their Christmas trees from Zeigler’s farm. Growing Christmas trees was not an easy process. They had to be planted in winter, staked once they’d grown into small trees to keep them straight, sheared twice each year to maintain their shape, and protected from bugs and the elements. “A lot of work goes into it,” Zeigler said. On average, Zeigler’s farm made approximately $40,000 a year. Today, all four of his children are college graduates, and three of them hold doctorates. Despite the success of the farm, Zeigler donated the land in 2009 to be put to another use. After being declared legally blind, he knew he needed to do something else with the Christmas tree farm. It was run by a local church for a while and a Christmas tree farmer a while after that. He donated the use of nearly 20 acres of land to create Oak Grove’s community garden, Comet Grove, which grows fresh produce given free to needy families. The excess is sold at low prices. His nephew’s wife, Carolyn Zeigler, is now the volunteer coordinator for Comet Grove. “He saw the need in the community,”


Oak Grove she said of his choice to donate land. Zeigler said his Christian values influenced his decision to donate the land he had lived on for nearly 60 years. “When somebody really needs something and you waste it, it’s just a sin,” Zeigler said. To honor their local celebrity, Oak Grove named May 14, 2011, the day of their second annual Heritage Homecoming Festival “Bloise Zeigler Day.”

The festival will consist of food, music and activities, and will be an opportunity for the town to honor Zeigler’s generosity and shed light on the community garden he helped create. “I wanted to do something for somebody,” Zeigler said. “So I came up with the idea that if the town wanted it, I would give it to them.”

Top left, parsley; top right, assorted crops; bottom, the garage and barn.

Spring 2011


Oak Grove

Community garden unifies town By: Kristen Oliver


community is more than a group of people in proximity to each other. It is a group of people united by a common ground. The people of Oak Grove Ala. are united by their community garden, Comet Grove. In 2009, former Oak Grove mayor Bloise Zeigler donated the use of the land from his 20-acre Christmas tree farm in the hopes of starting a community garden. Within a year, Comet Grove was growing crops and ready for business. Since May 2010, five of the 20 acres at Comet Grove produced a wide assortment of crops. Corn, potatoes, collards, herbs, cabbage, cantaloupes, watermelon, okra, tomatoes, peas, squash, zucchini, and seven kinds of peppers are some of the crops grown at Comet Grove. The purpose of the community garden is to offer fresh grown vegetables to the needy of their community at low

Field of crops at Comet Grove.

Cabbage produced at Comet Grove Garden in Oak Grove, Ala.

prices. “We have a long-standing history of doing things that benefit not only people inside of Oak Grove, but people in the outlying area,” said Charles Merkel, mayor of Oak Grove. This networking ability results from the town’s location along U.S. Highway 280. This “corridor,” as Merkel called the road leading from Birmingham, Ala., to Columbus, Ga., allows Oak Grove to generate the tax revenue of a town five times its size. Zeigler’s Christmas tree farm benefitted from this location, and Comet Grove has too. Carolyn Zeigler, whose husband is the nephew of now 98-year-old Bloise Zeigler, is the Parks and Recreation director and volunteer coordinator for Comet Grove. More than a dozen people donated their time and money last year to work on the garden. The local “Feed and Seed” offered a deal on the seed planted at Comet Grove. Third grade classes from a nearby el-

ementary school planted cabbages and several churches sent youth groups. Care House, an organization that helps needy people out of Sylacauga, Ala., has a voucher program that helped the garden get started. “I don’t think we could have been happier,” Merkel said of participation from the surrounding areas last year at Comet Grove. The garden provides food for the seniors at the nearby senior center. Many people paid for several baskets but only took one for themselves. “Our goal this year is to try to build on the amount of production that comes out of the garden. We want to have more Oak Grove residents themselves involved in it this year,” Merkel said. One way they encouraged resident involvement last year was through an advertising campaign done by Auburn University student Hunter Morgan. Morgan lived in the barn on the property and spent his summer working at the garden as an intern with the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. He did a campaign to draw attention

Spring 2011

Oak Grove


to the garden in which he gave residents a squash from the garden and told them about their mission. Auburn University student Ballard Jones will intern at the garden this summer. The first year of the project, involvement of volunteer gardeners was outstanding. Merkel is hopeful about increasing involvement from local citizens. “We want to have more Oak Grove residents involved in it this year. We think that’s the key to it continuing on the way it is right now,” Merkel said.

The barn at Oak Grove where interns live and work during the summer.

A le s s o n i n c o m m u nity By: Kristen Oliver


grew up on Sherburne Drive, a short drive from Atlanta. This meant attending Braves games with my dad, visiting the CNN center on school trips, reading the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sundays and eating at the Varsity downtown. When my parents moved to Cumming, Ga., to send me and my sister to a new high school, I thought we had moved to the boondocks. Now the closest mall was 15 minutes away. We were a full hour from downtown, from the places I recognized and loved. Our neighbors had horses, an entirely unfamiliar animal to me. Our subdivision had a pool, which was a nice perk, considering our street in town before had no amenities to boast of except closer proximity to skyscrapers. We had moved to the suburbs. Living in Cumming was, to me, living in the country. I considered it a laid-back, southern community. Reporting on Oak Grove changed all that. The town of Oak Grove has a popula-

tion of just over 500 people, making it half the size of the school my parents moved to send me to. “I won’t have anything in common with these people,” I thought. I was wrong. Oak Grove taught me what real community is. After arranging an appointment with Carolyn Zeigler, the volunteer coordinator for Comet Grove, the town’s community garden, I found myself in a meeting with not just Carolyn, but the town Mayor, Charles Merkel, and other volunteers at the garden. I don’t even know the mayor of Cumming’s name. Zeigler and Merkel shared not only facts about the town and the garden, but personal stories and information about themselves as well. “Now I’m going to tell you a story about what Carolyn’s husband said to me the other day,” Merkel said, as he proceeded to tell me a tale meant to embarrass Zeigler. Carolyn walked me through Comet Grove, showing me different crops and teaching me to recognize the smell of mint, the color of collard leaves.

We talked about my Italian heritage and the crops the garden had that could be used in cooking. We talked about spaghetti squash, my favorite vegetable, and their plans to plant some this season. Before I left, Merkel shook my hand and thanked me for coming. I hadn’t expected to ever have an audience with a mayor, let alone be thanked for mine. “Oak Grove is rather unique,” Merkel said. I agree with Merkel, but I’d take it one step farther. Communities like Oak Grove ― where the mayor takes the time to meet with a journalism student, where someone teaches a stranger how they grow crops for their town ― these communities are rather unique. The upbringing my own parents gave me is one I would never take for granted. I still consider myself a “city girl” and probably always will. But life in a town such as Oak Grove is a type of close-knit community lifestyle that every person should have the opportunity to observe and the sense to appreciate as I now do.

Spring 2011



Welcome to Valley

By: Sloane Hudson


ocated along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in East Central Alabama, Valley is a small, southern town with a big heart. The short trip to Valley consists of an estimated 20-minute drive north on Interstate 85 from Auburn University. The moment a visitor makes the turn off Exit 77 into Valley, it is difficult not to notice the array of small local businesses, such as the old-fashioned antique store, 559 Market Place Antiques. A 5-minute drive deeper into the city will lead the way to pass a couple of local restaurants like David’s Bar-B-Que or Sue’s Chick, which promise authentic, ‘down-home’ cooking. On a sunny spring day, a tour of Valley guarantees a glimpse of quaint, humble neighborhoods paired with smiling faces and welcoming waves. Valley’s City Hall rests atop a welllandscaped hill and its welcome sign proudly boasts, “Valley, An Alabama Community of Excellence,” one of only eight communities to earn this

Iron Man art in front of Sears Memorial Hall.

The sign that welcomes visitors to Valley.

title in Alabama. The vintage exteriors of the city’s rugged buildings, such as the centrally located Langdale Mill, provide hints of the importance of Valley’s textile history to the community. One might have to search throughout the 9,200 population of Valley to find a complaint about the southern, homey feel the city offers. Regardless of where a sightseer might visit, one will surely find that the citizens of the community are optimistic about the future of their city. “We are focused on the future, on guiding our development as a commercial and residential area to optimize quality of life for generations to come,” says the city’s mayor, Arnold Leak. Valley’s rich history of being a textile mill town dates back to the late 1860’s. For nearly 100 years, the four towns of Langdale, Shawmut, Riverdale and Fairfax were reliant upon the textile industry. These four towns, which make up Valley, thrived and prospered during the time when cotton was ‘king.’ City Council member Jim Jones acknowledges the shortcomings of Val-

ley. Jones stated, “Our downfall was we were totally dependent on one industry. While they [textile mills] took care of everybody, they kept others [industries] out.” The decline of textile manufacturing presents the community with the necessity of reinventing itself. Valley’s leaders welcome the challenge with open arms. The renovation plans of the Langdale Mill have become the primary focus for the city to expand both in tourism and in job opportunities. “Valley might have the best shot at making something amazing out of the mill,” says resident David Hansen. Ringing clear throughout the community are the echoes of optimism in the voices of Valley’s leaders and citizens. “The mill is our answer,” says City Clerk Martha Cato. While the residents will forever remain proud of the city’s textile heritage, they are inspired to take the progressive steps toward brightening the future of Valley.

Spring 2011


Historic Landmarks

alley’s roots run deep with its rich southern history. The textile industry played a prominent role in the city’s past, which is reflected in many noteworthy historic landmarks. After officially being named a city in 1980, Valley lost a few of its historic buildings. The leaders of the city vowed to not let this mistake happen twice. In 1992, the City Council adopted an ordinance that established the Valley Historic Preservation Commission, composed of 10 Council-appointed members. Together, the members of the VHPC work to enhance the city’s ability to preserve its historic past. Fifteen properties were initially designated as historic landmarks, and are now protected from being desecrated The 15 Historical Landmarks are: the Langdale Theater, Lafayette Lanier School, Fairfax First Christian Church, Shawmut Kindergarten, Shawmut Post


Valley Office, Fairfax Kindergarten, Fairfax Post Office, Riverview First Christian Church, Johnson-Howell Building, Langdale Kindergarten/Cotton Duck, Sears Memorial Hall, Langdale Boy Scout House, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Riverview Elementary School and the Fairfax Ball Park. Most of the historical landmarks are buildings that are still being utilized in Valley. For example, the Langdale Theater, a structure overlooking the Langdale Mill, is used for school functions, plays, concerts, religious events, and many more. The landmarks will continue to be restored and preserved for years to come. Additionally, Valley hosts more than 1,200 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is in the preservation of these landmarks that Valley will maintain a lasting historical legacy. City leaders know in order to build a future, you must know where you’re going and where you have been.

Calendar of Events May: Valley Haven’s Hike Bike Run 8:00-12:30 Run, Walk, Ride your Hike. There will be many different events going on at different times of the morning. Visit for a schedule of events. Arts & Crafts & Food Vendors May:

7th Annual Children’s Fishing Rodeo 7:00-11:30 a.m. Located at Chambers County Lake. Lunch will be served and prizes to follow at noon.Call 334- 864-8145 for more information. June: A Round to Remember Golf Tournament 2:00-5:00pm The Alzheimer’s Association is having A Round to Remember Golf Tournament at Riverside Country Club on June 17th. Tee off is 2:00 p.m. EDT. August: Valley Tennis Junior Fall Classic Located at Valley Community Center Tennis Courts and at Tennis Courts of Riverside Country Club Call 334-303-6306 for more information.

Top: Valley City Hall; Bottom Left: 559 Antiques Marketplace. Bottom Right: Chuck’s Bar-B-Q sign.

1st Friday in December: Christmas Mill Village Merry-Go-Round Valley’s oldest tradition of the Christmas Merry-Go-Round will be relocated to the Langdale Mill Complex for the first year since its origin in 1956. The two-week long event will host decorations, booths and entertainment, to be announced at a later date.

Spring 2011



Valley’s future looks bright to Jones mental Health. Jones manages the Carpet Bags Project After graduating, from an office located in the Langdale Jones worked for West- Mill Complex, which is currently being Point Stevens Inc., a lo- renovated. cal textile company, for The Complex is centrally located 32 years. in the city, and Valley’s leaders have Shortly after leav- hopes that it may soon be considered ing WestPoint Stevens the downtown area for Valley. Inc., Jones became the Jones anticipates that the operation District 2 City Council of the Carpet Bag business from the member in 2000, a role Langdale Mill Complex will inspire which he is currently others to invest in the property and start serving. their own businesses. Jones has not yet de“We are extremely optimistic in cided if he will run for the direction we’re sending [the comre-election in 2012. plex],” says Jones, “Valley is full of He also is the execu- people who are no longer worried tive director of the Val- about the past, but looking toward the ley Community Devel- future.” opment Corporation. This message rings loud and clear In 1986, Jones vol- throughout Valley. City Council Member Jim Jones talks purses with Easter Seals Representative, Leslie Jackson. unteered and became a Jones said that the residents of the member of the Planning city are on board with the expansion Commission, which of the Langdale Mill Complex and By: Sloane Hudson evaluates and adminis- have high hopes for the city’s growth ters Rezoning, Variance and Subdivi- through this project. alley’s worst kept secret might sion Reviews. A typical day for Jones begins with a be that its leaders truly care for the Jones’ current focus has been on review of work plans for the day with community. managing the If you reside in the city of Valley, Carpet Bag Ala., there is a good chance that you Project of Valhave heard the name Jim Jones. ley. This may be because Jones plays a The initiaprominent role in Valley. tive began by As an individual who has spent his trying to create life in Valley, Jones has a firm grasp on m e r c h a n d i s e the social and political happenings of from carpet the city. that was no This also means that he is aware of longer in use. the struggles that Valley faces, and has Shoulder some insight to how these challenges bags, handmay be met. bags and totes Jones graduated from Auburn Uni- became the so- Jones explains plans for renovation of Langdale Mill versity in 1983 with a B.S. in Environ- lution. Complex.


Spring 2011 the Carpet Bag Project staff. Some days, the review will consist of answering E-mails or questions from the staff before resuming normal business operation. Jones says he is constantly trying to locate retail and wholesale sources to sell the carpet bags. Other days are devoted to meetings in an effort to secure grants from various state and federal agencies for the Langdale Mill. Jones explains, “It is not unusual for me to have three to five meetings a week [concerning] the mill project.” Jim Jones’ role in the city of Valley far exceeds the management of the Carpet Bag Project. Aside from his occupational obligations, Jones is a small-town family man who truly cares about the residents of Valley, Alabama. He has recognized that Valley has a primarily aging population and ensures that events and facilities can cater to their wants and needs. Jones has also contributed many ideas to local businesses, as well as the Langdale Mill Complex, in efforts to ‘go green.’ He is currently working with the city’s budget to make an effort to have


Valley the Complex constructed with solar panels on the exterior. Jones has also become concerned with the challenges that accompany getting the youth of the city involved in extracurricular activities. He said that he believes it is important for a city to function as a whole, and not forget that the youth within the city may eventually become the leaders of the city. His resolution to this problem is to create events and traditions that involve the residents of the community as well as their children, regardless of how young. It is in these ways that Jim Jones’ influential voice echoes throughout Valley. Mayor Arnold Leak described Jones as extremely dedicated and focused on making what has become his dream a reality. Leak continues, “He has given his

time and money without compensation to the mill and related projects. I cannot think of anyone who has sacrificed more for the projects he has adopted as his quest.” Because of Valley’s close proximity to Atlanta and Montg o m e r y, Jones says he believes Valley has the potential to grow in population and in business by being an attraction between the two cities. In 2008, Jones was awarded a National Notable Achievement award from the Environmental Protection Agency for Land Revitalization, “Planting the Seeds for Revitalization Team Award­– Visioning to Green: Revitalization in Valley, Ala.” Valley has been awarded the title, ‘A City of Excellence,’ because of residents like Jim Jones who will be sure to go out of their way to benefit their community.

“Jones is extremely dedicated and focused on making what has become his dream a reality.”

Left: The Sears Memorial Hall. Middle: West Point Sign located in front of the Langdale Mill Complex. Right: The Cotton Duck House.

Spring 2011



Reinvention of Valley begins with Langdale Mill Complex By: Sloane Hudson


estled in the heart of Valley, Ala. lies the Langdale Mill Complex, one of the community’s oldest textile factories. Built in 1866, the Langdale Mill was one of Valley’s textile plants that served as the heart of the community. The mill is is at 6000 20th Avenue, approximately two miles off Interstate 85’s Exit 77. At first glance, a visitor may simply see an aged and deserted building on the banks of the Chattahoochee River. The nearly ancient letters that read ‘Langdale Mill’ are falling from the side, and the large, gravel parking lot is expectedly empty on any given weekday. But to the residents of Valley, the mill represents the city’s potential for expansion and growth. In 1999, the Chattahoochee River and the Langdale Mill were identified as a combined location on which the city should capitalize, if presented the opportunity. Cheryl Morgan, the Gresham Professor of Architecture at Auburn University, visited Valley and recognized these underutilized resources. By 2004, the city of Valley purchased the Langdale Mill Complex. Shortly after, the city received a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to create a master plan for the revitalization of the mill. Peter Hand, an architect in Atlanta, Ga., visited Valley and produced a detailed plan for the mill’s restoration, known as the “View to the Future.”

This plan illustrates the complex as becoming a mixed-use development. The renovated warehouses will ideally be used for restaurants, retail, commercial space, offices and galleries. Larger spaces within the complex will be available for restoration and can be converted to on-site museums, banquet halls, farmers markets, and potentially, loft apartments. The surrounding land at the front of the complex offers a sizeable amount of green space, onto which a stage will eventually be built. This will create a venue for community events, entertainment and activities to take place. The garden area behind the complex will be cleaned up and serve as a park, which will attract visitors and residents alike to the Chattahoochee River. “We see the mill as being this catalyst for revitalization and a way to re-identify ourselves,” says Jim Jones, District 2 City Council member. Currently, there is not a ‘downtown’ area in Valley, but Jones said he believes the renovated mill will fill the gap and function as the city’s main point of interest.

The mill has new life these days and the Carpet Bag Project is operating in its restored office space. Jones anticipates that the success of the carpetbag business will serve as an incentive for others to invest in the mill. Because of the lack of property tax in the city of Valley, the cost of investing in the complex is at its lowest. Although the mill will be leasing to

business owners at such a low cost, the benefits of expansion over time far exceed the loss in initial revenue. Valley’s proximity to Atlanta, Ga. and Montgomery, Ala. places the mill in a prime location for tourism between these two growing cities. The greatest challenge facing the Langdale Mill Complex is finding a starting point. Business owners are currently hesitant to invest in the risk of a new venue. However, Jones has an idea to spark interest within the community. He believes a jumping off point for the Langdale Mill Complex could be-

Spring 2011 gin with the opening of a small café and art cooperative in the restored warehouses.

The Carpet Bag Project would then be relocated to the vicinity of these shops and function as an example of the mixed-use development for which they are aiming. Beginning in 1956, the Christmas Merry-Go-Round is one of Valley’s oldest traditions held during the winter holidays each year. For the first time, Valley’s annual Christmas Merry-Go-Round will be at the Langdale tennis courts, which are front of the mill. A Christmas Mill Village, complete with decorations, booths and entertainment, will join the Merry-Go-Round. It is in this way that Valley hopes to promote the Langdale Mill Complex while incorporating one of its most revered traditions. Valley’s leaders are also exploring ideas of how to capitalize on the natural resource of the Chattahoochee River. In the summer of 2009, approximately 40 individuals from the cities of West Point, Ga., Lanett, Ala. and Valley gathered to discuss this concept. The three-day workshop produced the idea to create a 22-mile blue way from West Point, Ga. to Lake Harding. This river trail would generate a canoeing and kayaking venue with put-in and take-out points at all three locations.



Because Valley is in the middle of the and transportation. trail, Jones predicts that this attraction The trail will serve as a pathway to will become a huge draw for tourism. the mill, which will provide a wide vaThe only hindrance riety of retail markets, effectively cutto pulling the trigger on ting back on travel time. the river trail is Valley’s The Complex aims to ‘go green’ in limitation of resources. various other ways. Luckily, departments Solar panels are being considered to at Auburn University place on the roofs of the mill, which and the Trust for Pub- will benefit investors as much as the enlic Land have expressed vironment by lowering costs of power. interest in helping with Planners would also like to utilize the project. cisterns readily available at the mill to Valley would ideally control water run off. like to include the white Another environmental project near water rafting project of the mill today is a remodeled mill Phenix City, Ala. to fur- home. ther expand the project The city of Valley partnered with the to a 60-mile river trail. local Chambers County Career TechniIncreasing tourism by way of the cal Center to remodel the city-owned Chattahoochee River would mean house into a LEED-certified house. countless benefits for both the LangLEED (Leadership in Energy and dale Mill Complex and for the city of Environmental Design) is a group that Valley. certifies buildings as green, or environAnother attraction spanning from the mentally friendly. Langdale Mill Complex is the 7.5-mile The house will serve as an educawalking/biking trail, which is part of tional tool for what can be done to the the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. warehouses to make them more energy The Conservancy’s mission is to cre- efficient. ate a nationwide network of trails from Another purpose of the house will be former rail lines with connecting cor- to function as guest quarters for anyone ridors. visiting to do work on the mill. This particular trail winds through Upon first glance, a passerby may not local shops, town centers, historical see the potential that the community in bridges and the four mill villages that Valley sees in the Langdale Mill Commake up the city of Valley. plex. If possible, the mill would like to But a closer look reveals big ideas incorporate the trail into its ‘one-stop- and great potential. shop’ plan. The idea behind combining the trail with the Langdale Mill Complex is to begin utilizing “smart growth,” an initiative embraced by the Environmental Protection Agency. Smart growth is an environmentally friendly proposal that encourages communities to offer amenities in a single location, cutting down on land use Employees sewing carpet bags in the complex.