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“Only God could have planned such an incredible journey!” Thomas Vanleer

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From Promise Land To The

Promised Land

A Personal Journey and Encounter with Jehovah Jireh.

Thomas Vanleer

Verona Publishing â–Ş Edina, Minnesota

From Promise Land to the Promised Land Copyright © 2009 by Thomas Vanleer. All rights reserved. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2009930258 ISBN – 13: 978-0-9769031-3-0 ISBN – 10: 0-9769031-3-X If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.” Trademark, the Verona Publishing logo is a trademark of Verona Publishing, Inc., and may not be used without written permission. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Verona Publishing, Inc., is not associated with any product or vender mentioned in this book. DISCLAIMER: WHILE THE PUBLISHER AND AUTHOR HAVE USED THEIR BEST EFFORTS IN PREPARING THIS BOOK, THEY MAKE NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES WITH RESPECT TO THE ACCURACY OR COMPLETENESS OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK. NO WARRANTY MAY BE CREATED OR EXTENDED BY SALES REPRESENTATIVES OR WRITTEN SALES MATERIALS. THE ADVICE AND STRATEGIES CONTAINED HEREIN MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR YOUR SITUATION. YOU SHOULD CONSULT WITH A PROFESSIONAL WHERE APPROPRIATE. NEITHER THE PUBLISHER NOR AUTHOR SHALL BE LIABLE FOR ANY LOSS OF PROFIT OR ANY OTHER COMMERCIAL DAMAGES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, OR OTHER DAMAGES. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including but not limited to photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher.

Published by Verona Publishing, Inc. P.O. Box 24071 Minneapolis, MN 55424 First Verona Edition, 2010 Cover Illustration: Carolyn Sachs Kleinberger For information regarding this specific title or others please contact us via email at Or you may contact us by phone at: 612-991-5467 Printed in the United States of America

About the cover artist: Carolyn Sachs Kleinberger After graduating from law school in 1979, Carolyn Sachs Kleinberger spent 21 years working as a public defender in juvenile and Family Court in Ramsey and Washington Counties. In 2001, when budget cuts eliminated her positions, she decided, with her family’s encouragement, to pursue her love of drawing and painting. Her first public exhibitions (St. Paul, Minnesota; April, 2007) – compromised a series illuminating the “Plagues of Pesach”. The series originated as part of her annual effort to use art to “convert” her home into a desert tent. Another year featured large, temporary murals of Moses, Pharaoh, the Burning Bush, and the Angel of Death. More recently, she painted a permanent mural that combines sayings from the sages, quotations from the Torah, and pictures of a Torah scroll, a tallit, and other Judaica. In 2001, Kleinberger did a series on the Ten Plagues for her home at Pesach. Several of the pictures in the “Ten Plagues” series were done then. Most, however, are recent works. Kleinberger’s earliest serious work (in charcoal) dates to 1992, and she is mostly self- taught. She has done murals, both secular and religious, but most of her work is on canvas. She continues to work occasionally in charcoal but recently her focus is on oil. Her art work can be seen in the newly open the Karen Art Gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


I wish to thank my wife Sharon H. Vanleer and Gwen Reed for trying to

make sense of my earlier writings and for typing a fragmented draft of the very first copy of this impromptu book. It was messy. Their patience was endearing. To Edwin N Rogers, a law graduate of William Mitchell College of Law. Thanks for all the help that I received from Brooks Cavin, a school teacher in the Twin Cities Montessori School consortium. I thank all of you for continually offering words of encouragement and support. I wish to thank Joseph Milam, my Independent Insurance salesman, who believed in the success of the book that he made a substantial investment to the printing of the book. I am indebted to Nicole Hurt, who with great patience and coaching, helped me to make some sense of the manuscript. Her skills as an editor was unparallel. Many thanks to Tillie Devane who introduced Nicole to me. Thanks to Kevin Ollie of the Minnesota Timberwolves Basketball team. He has been in the NBA for thirteen seasons. I thank him for his encouragement and prayers.



To Tim Yearneau, a wizard in computer technology and an Adjunct Professor at Cardinal Stritch University. He teaches introduction to Business Communication. He continuously kept encouraging me to keep writing. To Jo達o M. da Fonseca a first year law student at William Mitchell College of Law, who helped with the final touches of putting all the data on the appropriate tools for my publisher. Lastly to my publisher, Jerry Wilson of Verona Publishing. He waited with great patience for me to finish the project. He called me occasionally to inquire when the book would be completed.


This is a book about my personal journey from birth to the present, and

my encounter with Jehovah Jireh, “The Lord will provide.” It is impossible to tell it all. I have chosen the stories, places, circumstances and some of the people that had an impact on my life. Many of the individuals mention in this book are people that I have met on my journey. Some names were changed to respect their identity. Others were not. All the stories are factual and it’s my desire that the reader will see how Yahweh provided for me through His Divine interventions and preventions, and by His Grace and Mercy. I hope you the reader will laugh with me, cry with me, and see the hand of God ordering my steps, even when I was unaware of His Guidance. I confess that some of the pain was very much like the parable of the prodigal son. I brought it on myself. Jesus spoke of it in the Gospel of Luke. Thanks be to God! His mercy was working on my behalf. The writer of Proverbs 3:11 -12 say: “My child, doesn’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when He corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” It was after I experienced the unique love of God that I cried out, “Help me, O God of my salvation, for your glory, deliver me, and forgive my sins.”



Before you read my life’s story, permit me to share this brief prayer with you:“O God, I pray that all of the readers of “ From the Promise Land to the Promised Land” will find the stories amusing, the history factual, the pain difficult. Show the reader that it was you O God, who helped me to overcome insurmountable obstacles to withstand those devastating circumstances, and occurrences in my journey. O Lord, use this book to inspire, encourage, and strengthen the readers as they too travel on the road of life.” Keep me steadfast in my faith, and preserve me unto your heavenly kingdom.”Amen! Who could have planned such an incredible journey? Only the providence of God could have risen up a black child, who was born out of wedlock to a teen mother in an obscure, remote place called Promise Land, Tennessee. A child that He took him on a path beyond his greatest imagination. I was that boy, who never knew his father, and found his grandfather fulfilling that role. Promise Land is where I grew up as a child. It is located in the northwestern part of Tennessee, forty eight-miles from the State of Kentucky. In the rolling hills, I ran up and down dusty roads. God forbid that it should rain. The dust would turn into squishy red mud. When the sun reached its zenith, the red clay-like substance became as hard as concrete. To reach Promise Land from Clarksville, Tennessee, you take Highway 48 toward Cumberland Furnace until reaching the Hopper Road. The Promise Land road forms a semi-circle and snakes its’ way through the small village and finally reconnects with Highway 48, East to Charlotte, Tennessee. Promise Land is a farming community with two stores, two churches, and a one room school house. There are several homes scattered along the main road. In a farming community, all able bodies are expected to work. Only small children are exempt. My immediate family owned their farms. The rest of the families were share croppers or carpenters. As a small child, it became apparent that farming was not my cup of tea. I did not like the pungent sweaty odor of men after being in the field all day long. Those huge grey mules frighten me to death. The fresh cut hay made me itch something terrible. No! Farming was out for this little boy. My life began surrounded by the love of a community of freed slaves. Their love laid the foundation for my faith in God. Although my surroundings should have limited my potential and my dreams, it was not going to be the that way for me.



Jehovah Jireh “the God that provides” is capable of bringing life to anyone regardless of one’s past or present circumstances. I know there are hundreds of stories, perhaps more poignant than mine. As you journey with me, you will see where I come from and my simple and humble beginnings. It is my hope that you the reader will discover that we all have been born into the world for a purpose. Since I am not a professional writer, I ask your indulgence in my rambling, and sometime disjointed writing. At times, I question who the real writer was! I also pray that you will discover your purpose and God’s plan for your life. Mine came in 1960 on a visit with my family in Evansville while attending our home church, New Hope Baptist Church. After returning home with my parents, I informed my Step-father that I had a vision. I saw myself in the pulpit preaching. My Stepfather was a very quiet and soft spoken person. He said, “If God sent you a vision, wait on Him! I have now been in the ministry for forty-seven years plus. Praise the Lord!

Chapter 1

The Beginning O God of my ancestors, and Lord of mercy, who made all things by your word, and by your wisdom have formed humankind‌.


he, founding fathers of Promise Land, Nathan Bowen, Washington Vanlier, and two brothers, John and Arch Nesbitt were fulfilling the dream of their ancestors when they built fifty houses, two churches and a one room school house. Dreams embedded in the minds and hearts of their kinsman who were captured and tossed in the bowels of ships; transporting them across the Atlantic Ocean to a New World to be enslaved for economic reasons. These proud Fulani Tribal people clung to their faith that sustained them through the atrocious era of slavery and brutality. They had the audacity to believe that no matter what they had to endure, Allah, the God of creation would be with them. These former slaves, now freed men, carried out the desires of their ancestors who hoped for a Leydi adandedu (Fulani) Vue Chara Diiee (Madi) Inge Baraka (Swahili) and Irde El WA (Arabic) each speaking in their native tongue. I hear them whispering to each other, “Allah will be with us! Peace upon His name. Their language became one; we will find a Promise Land!



These words sustained them on their tumultuous journey, snatched from their Motherland, crossing a vast ocean, violently forced into unpaid labor as slaves to grow the Southern economy. These courageous ancestors of mine, people of the soil, survived the horrific conditions, lacking wholesome food, shackled in chains, crammed together like sardines in a can, forced to sit in their own excrement, hidden from the warmth of the sun, shivering with fear and anxiety, frightened beyond their wits. Many chose death, but my ancestors had the resolve to face the unknown and dared hope for a better tomorrow, a Promise Land! This was the place of my beginning, born to Beatrice Sylvia Nesbitt, a teenager. Grand daughter of John Nesbitt, one of the founding fathers of Promise Land. Leonard Vanlier is listed on my birth certificate as my father, but I have no memory of who this person was, and do not recall inquiring about him. I was told he died shortly after I was born, but I don’t remember asking anyone about my father; this man felt like a mystery to me. People would often say that I looked like this person or that person, but I never knew any of these people. Can you imagine growing up with people playing a guessing game of your identity? In time I overcame all of this, because I grew up in my grandfather’s home. As far as I was concerned my grandfather, Elize Nesbitt, was father enough for me. In fact, I was quite comfortable with him as my father. My great-grandfather, John Nesbitt, was born into slavery in 1844 on the Nesbitt farm located in Yellow Creek of Dickson County, Tennessee. He enlisted in October 25, 1863, and served in the Union Army in Paducah, Kentucky. He was a Private and attached to Company H, Regiment 4, and U.S. Colored Troop. His duties were to maintain the heavy artillery which included cleaning and preparing the cannons for firing. As a result of this hazardous duty, he was severely burned which caused some respiratory injuries that qualified him for a disability pension. He was mustered out of the Army with an honorable discharge at Little Rock, Arkansas. In her short synopsis on the history of Promise Land, Serina Gilbert wrote under the theme for the 2006 Promise Land Reunion, “From the fiery Furnace to Promise Land,” that Anthony Wayne Vanleer (a white male) purchased the Cumberland Furnace from Montgomery Bell between 1820 and 1825. At the time of the purchase, the records shows that Montgomery Bell was the largest Slaveholder in Dickson County, with 83 slaves.



In those days a persons wealth was measured by the number of slaves owned and Anthony Vanleer was ranked fourth with 43 slaves. By 1840 Van leer’s wealth as an Iron Industrialist had grown and he became the largest slaveholder in County, with 114 slaves. From the beginning, African slaves played a key role in the Iron Industry in the region of Cumberland. As slaves, they were the pre-dominant workforce at least for the first 100 years of the Furnace’s operation, thus expanding the institution of slavery in Dickson County Slave labor made the Tennessee operations very different from the Pennsylvania Iron plantations. Naturally there were no labor laws to govern slavery. Slaves were made to work around the clock. The plants operated twenty-four hours a day, which led to over-production and increased inventory. This gave the Tennessee Companies the power to undercut the price charged by the Pennsylvania Companies. Because of this, the Tennessee Iron Industrialist was the most ardent secessionist (the withdrawal from the Union of the 11 Southern States in 1860-1861 that led to the formation of the Confederacy and the beginning of the Civil War). In order to maintain this competitive edge, Iron Masters like Vanleer were constantly advertising for and acquiring new slaves. Attrition of slaves was high for many reasons. Labor conditions in the Furnaces was harsh, cruel and inhumane. It was life threatening and many slaves were burned severely and many perished from the intense heat of the furnaces. No record exists on the number of slaves who lost their lives. The majority of the slaves was unattached males under the age of 35. Due to the harshness of the labor conditions and the absence of family, runaway slaves and the threat of insurrection were common place. There were two reported incidents of rebellion. One occurred in 1815 and amounted to little consequence beyond rumors. This, however, was enough to prompt the Tennessee General Assembly to pass an Act the following year making it an offense to encourage or lead an act of rebellion against one’s slave owner. The Cumberland Furnace was one of the few furnaces that was not destroyed by the Civil War, but by no means was it as profitable as it was prior to the war. Following the war, Van leer’s granddaughter, Florence Kirkman inherited the Furnace and became the owner. She married Union Army Captain James Drouilard in 1864, and with his help, she was able to put the furnace back into a profitable operation.



After the war, the slaves who worked in the Cumberland Furnace continued to live in the vicinity, including a new settlement located about five miles from the furnace called Promise Land. With this new freedom, these former slaves were anxious to build a family and live in this new found community. To the former slaves, Promise Land represented the biblical text of the Exodus of the children of Israel. Religious teaching and Christianity among African Slaves centered on FREEDOM! In secret night-meetings in secluded areas, the sermons focused on the struggles of Moses and Joshua, the trials and tribulations of the Israelites and their entry into Canaan. They were given hope for redemption and a radically different future. The Jordan River came to symbolize the boundary between slavery and freedom. It’s no wonder that Promise Land became the largest settlement of newly freed slaves in Dickson County. Under the Reconstruction Act, land was set aside so former slaves could establish their lives as free people. (Hallelujah!) Approximately 1000 acres in District 6 of Dickson County was set aside for such purpose. According to Anthony Wayne Vanleer ( Anthony.htm) and the African American Land Theology (, deed records show that the majority of the earliest settlers in Promise Land were land owners. The Nesbitts, my grandfather’s family were among the largest land owners. This area became known as ”Promise Land.” It fulfilled the dreams of their ancestors who envisioned, from the time they crossed the mighty Atlantic Ocean a land of Promise! In the 1886 election for Governor of Tennessee, John and Arch Nesbitt and several others were able to vote. In that same year, John Nesbitt met and married Ellen Clemmons of Dover, Tennessee, a young white/black female, a mulatto as they were referred to then. Ellen was one of thirteen children in a very poor family. Poor whites were consider white trash by the white elite. Mixed children was quite common because of white men impregnating one of their slaves. John and Arch were excellent carpenters, building houses and barns for almost everyone in the Tri-Counties. Ellen and John became acquainted at one of the building sites near their home. Her father and brothers worked with John. I imagine Mr. Clemmons was more than happy to reduce his household by one. A romance developed



between Ellen and John, and as they say,”the rest is history.” From this union, twelve children were born - Ernest, Jetty, John Henry, Manuel, James, Susan, Eursley, my grandfather (Elize K) born 1886, Kittie, Joseph, Charley and Babe (Yep, that’s what they named their last child, perhaps they ran out of names!) John Nesbitt died in 1920, and Grand Ma Ellen was left to raise some of the younger children. I can remember how intrigued I was about this very pale woman with one long silver grey extended plait hanging down her back, sitting in a rocking chair. I never saw her walking or standing; perhaps that is why her children were so attentive. I also liked visiting the Big House as It was affectingly called. It had hardwood floors, a formal dining room and rooms to house twelve kids. The kitchen was larger than two of the rooms in our log cabin house. It had to be, since that was where most of the eating took place. Grandma Ellen had a keen sense of hearing. She forbade us to go upstairs, but of course this increased our curiosity even more, so we would try to sneak up the stairs, but she could hear the stairs squeaking as we tried to keep our weight off the steps and she would holler, “What are you children doing? Come in here where I can see you!” We loved to play hide and seek in the Big House because there were so many places to hide. The house would have been a great place to make one of those eerie movies or serve as a haunted house. Most of her sons were farmers working long hours, raising tobacco as the main source of income. Of course they raised other saleable items as well, such as wheat, corn and eggs. Theodore, one of her many grandchildren, took care of Grand Ma Ellen. I don’t know who taught him how to cook, but he was very good at it. Grand Ma Ellen died in 1940, just before World War II. Theodore and his Uncle continued to live in the home, until Theodore was drafted in to the Armed Forces. The rest of the children left their birth place for city life. By the time I showed up, in 1931 my grandfather had a family of his own and my mother was seventeen years old. As soon as I was walking, my mother moved to Nashville to live with her mother Nessie (Edmonson) Goodall and her sister, Wile (Bill) Nesbitt. I rarely saw my mother after she moved away from Promise Land, even though Nashville was only couple hours away. When they did visit, it felt strange. I couldn’t figure out why, but around the age of eleven I began to figure things out for myself.



My grandfather (Papa) E.K. Nesbitt was no saint. He fathered four children that I knew of, two, by Nessie Edmonson, my grandmother, and two by Sylvonia Edmonson, Nessie’s Sister. Slyvonia had twins, Thomas Henry and Norma Jean. They were six years older than me. I have a photo of my Grandfather sporting a large handle bar mustache, all decked out in a dark suit, bow tie, and a bowler hat cocked to one side. He had the appearance of a player and had extremely fair complexion, his skin color was no doubt from his mother’s side of her family. It was rumored that Aunt Vonnie (Sylvonia) somehow came between Nessie and Papa and he ended up marrying her. I have no idea how this occurred, but it created deep wounds that never healed. As a child I was not aware of the tension, but something didn’t feel right either, Papa and Aunt Vonnie took on the role of my parents and I was happy living with them. As a small child, I mimicked everything that Papa did. He had a twitch in the corner of his mouth and I even tried to emulate that too! He was my hero and I felt deeply about our relationship. Sometimes after a hard day in the field, he came home, and I would crawl up on him and both of us would fall asleep. Promise Land was a great place to grow up; the freed sons of slaves established a homeland and a thriving community. Education was important to my great-great grand parent, as they were emerging from slavery. They recognized the importance of literacy, built a school on land donated by them, and for years it was called the Nesbitt School with grades 1-8. The school operated independently until 1899, after which they deeded the land to Dickson County to educate the Black children of the Promise Land Community. I mentioned earlier that Promise Land had two churches, but the two churches served three denominations; (CMC) Christian Methodist Church, (A.M.E.C)African Methodist Episcopal Church and a Baptist Church. The AME’s and the Baptist members shared the same building. As a small child I was shuttled between all three. My Papa was not very churchy; in fact, very few of the Nesbitt men supported the local churches, but all of their spouses were ardent church goers. Even at an early age, I was puzzled by the choices of churches the Promise Land folks chose to attend. Most of the people were related, but when it came to religion, each of them had their own preferences. The light-skin people were members of the CMC and the darker folks were



either Baptist or AMEs. Even though we were evolving from slavery, somehow we too believed the myth that “white is right.” I am still amazed at the ingenuity and skills these freed men of former slaves were able to accomplish. Armed with hammers, saws, squares, levelsand a plum line, these men were the finest carpenters one could find anywhere. They designed and built the entire village of Promise Land. This small village was like an incubator and provided an invisible wall of security for all the residents of Promise Land. They had their own grocery store, churches and school. This was necessary because of the Jim Crow Law, separate but equal, which was the norm for most of the United States. Blacks (called Colored people or Negroes) were sequestered in certain sections of cities, towns or self made villages like Promise Land. Promise Land had its fair share of eccentric characters. To this day, I can still remember many of them. Uncle Noah (not actually my uncle, everyone called him by that name) wore starched, pressed bib overalls and high top Stacy Adams shoes. He always wore a straw hat in the summer and a felt hat in the fall and winter. It seemed that he always had a huge smile, but this could partly be because he had a few gold teeth. He had very dark skin, which made his gold teeth stand out even more as he flashed his brilliant smile. The other unusual thing about Uncle Noah, which was very fascinating, was, with all the dust and sometime muddy paths, Uncle Noah managed to keep his shoes clean. This was a mystery to everyone. It was fun to watch him walk on the dusty or muddy roads and paths, stepping with care to avoid puddles of water and soft mud, keeping his shoes clean. There were times he seemed to float over those places like a butterfly lightening on a flower petal. We children tried to mimic his walking style as a way of poking fun, but little did I know the impact of Uncle Noah’s effort to keep his shoes spotless and shiny would have an effect on me. I too developed a passion for shoes, and at one time, I had over a hundred pair of shoes. Of course they all had to be kept spotless and shiny! Another unforgettable character was Mr. Elijah Suggs. His hair, mixed with silver grey, hung down to his shoulders. He would have been in style in today’s culture, at the time his hair style set him apart from the rest of the men. I learned that Mr. Suggs was born in Jamaica. It was rumored that Mr. Suggs had serve in the Military as an Army officer. He shared a home with Ms. Stella Prim, and her three sons. I don’t believe they were married.



He slept in his own room and Ms. Stella and the boys slept in the back part of the log cabin home where they lived. A dirt floor separated his room from the rest of the house. I can remember them sweeping the dirt floor with a broom, the kitchen was adjacent to the dirt floor room, and the other rooms were in rear of the kitchen. Perhaps Mr. Suggs could never quite get the army out of his blood. On Sunday mornings when everyone went to church, he, Ms. Stella and her sons would come up the road in a single file. Mr. Suggs would lead the way, then at a distance, Ms Stella would follow and the three boys, would follow behind her in a single file. It had the appearance of a small drill team of soldiers marching with their Commander Chief at the front of his troops. Mr. Suggs was a very timely person; in fact, one could set their clock on his punctuality, so people hurried to dress their children, so they could go to the side of the road and watch for the Suggs. As they came up the road to the church, people stood on the banks of the road as if they were watching a parade. It was indeed a site to behold. Someone would shout, “The Suggs are coming,” and even some of the grown-ups would rush to watch this weekly ritual. With not much else to do, this was one way people entertained themselves. On another occasion, Mr. Suggs decided to have his funeral while he was still living. He asked Reverend Boss Reddento officiate his funeral. I don’t really know if folks were placating him, or if they were simply amused about the whole affair, but people showed up, dressed in their best Sunday clothes and brought food as if they were attending a real funeral. He built his own casket and on the day of his live funeral he sat next to the pine box as Reverend Boss Redden preached his eulogy. When he first mentioned that he was going to do this, people did not take him seriously and poked fun at his idea but he became the hot topic of Promise land and the surrounding communities. My guess is that folks showed up mostly out of curiosity. Perhaps the other reason they packed the church was that there was little else to do and it did offer some excitement. Reverend Boss Redden was another unforgettable character. Besides being a gifted carpenter; he was also a circuit rider preacher. My grandfather had a disdain for preachers (chicken eating frock tail preachers he called them). They all wore black, long coats that had the similarity of a Zoot suits popular in the fifties. Reverend Redden was responsible for several small churches located between Promise Land and



Cumberland Furnace, known as the Holler. On Sunday morning, Reverend Boss Redden would travel to preach at the small churches by horseback. Boss Redden and his sister shared a home near the main highway with a young man that everyone called Snooks. It was obvious that Snooks had some mental problems and I was afraid of him; mainly because the older folks called anyone with mental problems crazy. My uncle Thomas (Son) knew this and he often said to me,� I am going to sic Snooks on you!� This would scare the piss out of me and the more I cried, the more he teased me. I started to feel like Son did not like me and he rarely showed any affection toward me. I can remember people saying things about Snooks such as he did not have good sense or he was crazy and this is why they locked him up when Boss and his sister were away from their home. There were plenty of rumors flying around the community regarding who had fathered Snooks. Neither Boss Redden, nor his sister, was married, but the rumor mill said Boss Redden was Snooks father. His sister disappeared for awhile and when she returned home, she had a small child. As usual, on Sunday morning when Reverend Boss Redden and his sister were away, they would leave Snooks locked up in the house with food and water. But Snooks was not as crazy as some believed, and on this particular Sunday, he got out and made his way to the church. One of the prominent features of Promise Land was the Bell Tower. It was used to alert people nearby that something important was happening or about to happen. The bell could be heard for miles, so upon hearing it, people would come running to site of the Bell Tower. In time, the old Bell tower needed to be replaced, so the men came together to erect a new tower and replace the bell and rope that was fastened to ring the bell. Like everything else, the erecting of a new Bell Tower became a major event; it took weeks to erect the new tower. They had to dig new footings for the four huge beams to support the Bell, and then figure out how to raise the Bell to the top of the beams. We children were mesmerized as we watched how these skilled, but untrained carpenters worked together to complete the task. Everyday we watched and Boss brought Snooks along to watch as well. One can imagine how I felt with Snooks around. My fears was unfounded, but at the time I had been programed to fear people who were labeled crazy.



Finally, the new Bell Tower was finished. A larger bell and a huge ship like rope attached to the bell for ringing were put in the Bell Tower. It was decided to dedicate the new Bell Tower on the very next Sunday after it was completed, so the word went out to all the communities that they would hear the bell ring as part of the dedication. The CM Church took pride in starting Sunday services on time, exactly at eleven o’clock. When Aunt Ruby, who couldn’t read any music, but could make the church piano sound like Kirk Franklin’s Stomp of our day, started playing, the people were really getting their praise on, hand clapping, shouting and foot stomping. Suddenly, the bell started ringing and the first thing that came to the minds of the folks sitting in church that morning was, “O my God, It’s a fire!” With that thought in mind, everyone bolted to the front door of the church, only to discover that Snooks was the Bell ringer. Somehow he had escaped from being locked up and there he was ringing the Bell like there was no tomorrow. I rarely saw Snooks with such a happy face. He had a wide grin on his face and it seemed to grow wider and wider with each tug on the rope. At first the people laughed at this lean, sinewy kid ringing the Bell as if it was the last thing he was going to do on the face of the earth. Then the people begin to coax Snooks to stop, but he kept grinning and ringing the Bell. After a half –hour had passed and no one was able to cajole him to stop; the sound of the Bell became unbearable and obnoxious. Something had to be done and done quickly. More people were showing up at the scene. When the men were building the Bell Tower to keep the children from playing with the rope, it was about six feet off the ground, so that a person had to jump up to catch the rope. A person under six feet, would have to rise on their tippy toes to grab hold of the rope. Snooks hanging onto the end of the rope with the huge knot at the end, was a sight to behold. Still grinning, Snooks, seemed to be having the time of his life. The men began to confer with each other; something needed to be done as quickly as possible. No one was able to pry Snooks’ hands off the rope. Every time they got a finger loose, it seemed that he had elastic in his fingers and perhaps a little crazy glue (although it was not around at that time). Snooks was not about to let go; grinning, he kept ringing that bell. Suddenly, someone suggested that they pour warm grease on Snooks hands and on the rope so they could pull his hands off.



Within seconds after applying the warm melted lard, they realized it was not going to work. The next idea put forth was something that no one really wanted to do, cut the rope above his hand! Doing that meant the brand new rope would have to been replaced. The half hour became an hour. Then it seemed to be eternal. The dull clanging of the Bell became madding and unbearable. The melodious sound of the Bell had become a menace and its true purpose was lost, the clanging of the bell now sounded like one continuous sound. They now knew that to end the sound, the rope had to be cut, but this idea also presented another problem - how to do it? A ladder and several sharp knives were needed. They went back to Aunt Lizzie and Theodore Edmonson house located across the road from the church to fetch the ladder and the butcher knives. However, how to position the ladder and use the knife was very difficult. The four posts were set at a ninety degree angle wide at the base and narrow at the top where the bell was hung. They placed the ladder against one of the post. Then one by one, a man would climb above Snooks hands to try and cut the bobbing rope as it went up and down with Snooks holding on for dear life. This is where the fun begins all over again. Snooks seemed to realize that he was in absolute control and the moving rope did not give those who were attempting to cut the rope a stationary target. The men who were attempting to cut the rope needed the skills of a brain surgeon, as they tried to cut in the same identical spot while the rope moved up and down. As each man mounted the ladder, trying to cut in the same spot was not getting the job done, but they refuse to give up, because they wanted that damn Bell silenced! Meanwhile, some people went to fetch Boss Redding, who was down in the Holler, preaching at some small church, since he was the only one who could control Snooks. I think Snooks got his inspiration from watching with the rest of us kids as the men built the new Bell Tower. We all wanted to hear the Bell ring and I am sure he wanted to ring it just once. He may not have been all that bright, but he planned his community debut well. He drew one of the largest crowds ever. After many attempts to cut the rope and finally cutting the rope down to the last strand, Boss Redden appeared, and said, “Snooks, take your hands off that rope!� Snooks immediately took his hands off the rope.



Some of my fondest memories of Promise Land were hog killing time at the Big house (Grand Ma Ellen’s). This ritual took place on every New Year’s Day. The men would begin preparing weeks before the actual day by hauling water and fire wood. This was a huge operation and required everyone to help, men and the women. The men would start the fires before day break. They heated the water to its boiling point, which was hot enough to scold the hair off the hogs. Then with rifles loaded, they would shoot the hogs between the eyes, hang them by their hind feet, slit them open, remove the inward parts, the liver, the small and large intestines, and allow the blood to drain. Next, the head was cut off; nothing was wasted. Each man had a specific role. Papa was a great shot with a rifle, so he shot them while others would load them onto a wagon and haul them to be scalded and butchered. It was well organized, like an assembly line. One of the reason we children loved hog killing time was because it was an opportunity to see and play with a lot of kids we didn’t see very often. The women had special chores also. Those who were not in the kitchen cooking over the huge wood burning stoves, cooked three meals for a couple dozen men. By the time they finished one meal, it was time to prepare for the other meals. The huge tables were laden with all kind of meats, vegetables, cakes and pies. This was as close to a banquet as one could get; of course country folk’s tables always resembled a banquet. There were certain cuts of the hog, such as the back leg, that were prepared for the smoke house to be cured as ham and bacon. The ladies ground up certain meats for sausage and placed it in bags that were hand made by them for this very purpose. One of my favorite activities while attending Promise Land School was acting in the school plays. In one play, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” I was cast as the baby bear. Everyone was involved in the various plays. Those who were not in the play helped make the props for the stage. Parents would help too by making costumes for the children. The excitement and anticipation of actually presenting the plays to family and friends was one of the school’s joyous occasions along with graduation. My mother made my costume for my role as Baby Bear in Goldilocks. To have the appearance of a bear she made my costume out of gunny sack cloth. Gunny sacks were brown in color and made from the residue of cotton flax. For weeks, she measured and cut the pieces. Most women were excellent seamstress; they tailored most of the clothes for their children



and themselves. My outfit was tailored to perfection. I tried to tell her the gunny sack material was making me itch, but she kept saying that I would be too hot if she made an inner lining. On the eve of our presentation of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I was well prepared. I had memorized my lines to perfection and at each rehearsal I kept improving. I could see that Mr. Dixon, our new teacher, was very pleased. Mr. Dixon was also a great musician. As I look back, I realize how intelligent this man was and his devotion and dedication to educating us was unparalleled. The night of the play, I begged my mother to let me wear something underneath the gunny sack uniform. She refused by telling me that I would be too hot. The minute I put my costume on, the itching became almost unbearable. I got through it, but the itching impaired my performance. It was so bad, I almost cried, and that very night I lost my desire for acting. It took me a long time to forgive my mother for making me wear that dumb costume. I was probably not the only one to lose interest in acting that night. One of the students was given a very simple four line poem. The teacher knew the student had difficulty learning. He must had stage fright because when he stood to recite his lines, he could not say them. He looked petrified standing on that stage. Suddenly his mother ran upon the stage, grabbed him, took him out back of the school and whipped him. Everyone could hear him pleading with his mother to stop, but she kept right on. I remember how sad I was for him. Years later this young man spent time in prison and soon after his release, he was incarcerated again for murder.



From Promise Land to the Promised Land  
From Promise Land to the Promised Land  

The autobiography of Thomas Vanleer