Fall Updates and Tidbits:
McGehee, Delta, Cotton, Etc.
“Have you ever wondered where the nice people are?
Have they all moved to Arkansas?”
[i.e., “Have all the exiled Arkies (except Mari and me)
moved back to the Holy Land?”]
Jay Cronley, “Niceness rare, but always welcomed,”
Tulsa World, September 11, 2015
In my past post, which I published on July 14, 2015, I noted that due to my failing health, especially my failing eyesight, I would have to wait until fall to try to compose and publish a new post.
Since it has now been three months, and since my health and eyesight have both improved somewhat, I thought I would try to put together a few of the dozen or more updates and tidbits sent to me during that time period.
I will begin with some items related to my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, beginning with the obituary of Charles Allbright; the Arkansas Delta; cotton production; Delta plantations; and proceed to some related subjects such as a film about the Southeast Arkansas WWII Japanese-American incarceration camps, the Mississippi River, etc.
Note: To enlarge the photos, click on each one individually.
Special Tribute to Charles Allbright.
the Arkansas Traveler Columnist
“As a child in rural Selma, Arkansas, the only thing I ever wanted to be was an artist. However, since I could neither draw nor paint I eventually realized that I had to learn to make ‘word pictures.’ I had been writing for twenty-five years before I recognized that the theme of all of my writing is . . . LOSS!”
“Jimmy, you’ve got it. You just need a place to put it!”
—Personal 1981 letter from Charles Allbright to Jimmy Peacock
Just as I was finishing up this post I received an email on October 25 from Patsy McDermott Scavo, a fellow classmate from the 1956 McGehee High School graduating class and known to us as Patsy Mc. It consisted of a link to an obituary of Charles Allbright, the former Arkansas Traveler columnist for the Little Rock newspapers, who called McGehee his hometown.
As noted in my email response to Patsy Mc below, Charles was especially helpful to me by his friendship and his encouragement of my writing, particularly so after learning that his boyhood “crush,” whom he wrote about often and who had lived next door to him in McGehee, was my wife’s first cousin.
Mari and I will miss Charles and his delightful sense of “down home” humor:
Thanks for sharing this link to the tribute to Charles Allbright.
As you know, Charles was a great supporter of me and my writing. Over a period of twenty years he printed lots of my personal anecdotes in his Arkansas Traveler column in the Arkansas Gazette and then in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Back in about 1981 I first introduced myself to him by a typewritten letter opening with the bold statement: ‘I WANT YOUR JOB—or at least one similar to it’! Over that twenty-year length of our communication (and even one face-to-face visit with me and Mari), I made it clear that I hoped to inherit his job when he retired.
Of course, that never happened, for one thing because I had no newspaper experience, and second because I was no longer a resident of Arkansas.
I will always be grateful to Charles for providing me ‘a place to put it’ and for giving me recognition in my much-missed and much-beloved home state, and confidence in my ability to write about it—which became the basis of my blog which has now reached more than 91,000 visits!
To read that obituary and tribute to Charles Allbright, click here or on the actual URL in the Sources section at the end of this post.
Updates and Tidbits on McGehee and the Delta
“After six years on the [Arkansas] Parks and Tourism Commission I can happily report that 2016 will be ‘The Year of The Delta.’ Advertisements, ‘Meet the Locals,’ segment and more are Delta related.”
—Cindy Smith, “Parks & Tourism News,”
McGehee Times, September 30, 2015
In her regular column in the McGehee Times, Cindy Smith (who earlier owned and operated a gift and souvenir shop in McGehee called the Periwinkle Place), wrote about a Parks & Tourism video about the Arkansas Delta. In that report Cindy noted:
P. Allen Smith even did a 6-minute segment traveling the Delta that will receive national publicity.
From Miller’s Mud Mill to our museum [the WWII Japanese American Internment Camp Museum in McGehee] & history, to Lakeport Plantation, the [Japanese-American] memorial cemetery at Rohwer, the Delta Heritage Trail, Johnny Cash’s Boyhood Home, James Hayes’ glass, to the new Hampton Museum being built in Wilson, the Delta is embracing its history and culture and our advertising will show it.
To view this video about the Arkansas Delta, which opens with scenes of an East Arkansas cypress slough, a Mississippi River paddleboat, agricultural fields, Delta blues musicians, and other Delta subjects, click here or click on the actual URL in the Sources section at the end of this post.
That Delta video link was sent to me on September 18, 2015, by Patsy McDermott Scavo.
On September 19, 2015, Patsy Mc sent me these photos of an abandoned sharecropper shack and a mechanical cotton picker in operation at the Pickens Plantation in our home country of Desha County, Arkansas.
On September 22 Patsy Mc also sent me a link to a Blues music video titled “Just Can’t Cross that River (at Arkansas City, Ark)” written and sung by fellow McGehee native Marty Denton with several striking Delta scenes from days gone by. To view it, click on the title or access it at its actual URL in the Sources section at the end of this post.
On October 1, 2015, Judy Roberts one of Mari’s McGehee High School Clique friends (see my earlier post titled “My Annual Tributes to the Clique”) called Mari to tell her that Steve Bender, Southern Living’s “Grumpy Gardener,” had used a letter Judy had sent him about Mari’s brown cotton.
To read that letter and Bender’s October 1 column on the subject of brown cotton, click here or click on the actual URL in the Sources section of this post.
You may also read more about Mari’s brown cotton at the end of my earlier post titled “McGehee Estate and McGehee Alligator, Mari’s Brown Cotton and ‘Designing Women’” by clicking on the title or on the actual URL in the Sources section of this post.
More about Cotton
“It was down in Louisiana,
Just about a mile from Texarkana,
In them ole cotton fields back home. . .
“I was over in Arkansas when the sheriff said,
‘What did you come here for?’
In them ole cotton fields back home.”
—Song written and sung by Bluesman Ledbelly
(Note: Lyrics may vary from source to source)
In addition, on October 1, 2015, Patsy Mc sent me a link to a musical video with Bluesman Ledbelly singing his own composition titled “Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home” which focuses on the Ark-La-Tex region near Texarkana Arkansas/Texas and Shreveport, Louisiana.
To view that video, click on the title or access it through the actual URL in the Sources section at the end of this post.
In his “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” post on October 6, 2013, my longtime friend and Ouachita Baptist College buddy Joe Dempsey featured this photo of an Arkansas Delta cotton field taken from the levee (to view the entire post click on the title or on the actual URL in the Sources section at the end of this post):
More recently, on October 14, 2015, Barbara Barnes, a native of Southeast Arkansas, sent me a photo of a cotton field ready for harvest with this note, “Cotton looking good in SE Arkansas this year”:
Despite Barbara’s optimistic report of cotton production in Southeast Arkansas, a recent online article noted that this year’s cotton crop in Arkansas will be the lowest in its history. Dated June 26 and titled “Arkansas Cotton Acreage to Drop to Historic Low,” the article noted:
Depressed prices and rain have caused a more than 30 percent drop this year in the land area planted to cotton in Arkansas.
Experts at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension estimated that fewer than 200,000 acres of cotton were planted this market year—the lowest number of acres in Arkansas’ cotton growing history. The previous low was reached in 2013 when about 310,000 acres of the once plentiful Arkansas crop were planted. . . .
In the meantime, [economist Scott] Stiles said less cotton means fewer running gins and fewer warehouses dedicated to storing the crop. The state had 35 cotton gins in 2014, down from 86 in 2000, he said. . . .
In 1930, Arkansas’ peak production year, the state harvested about 3.49 million acres of cotton. By 2006, that number had dropped to 1.16 million acres. [Note: A recent article on cotton production that appeared in the McGehee Times estimated that in 2015 Arkansas would have only 125,000 acres devoted to cotton!]
Tommy Wilson, the community outreach coordinator for the Memphis Cotton Museum, who grew up in McCormick about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock, said he remembers a sea of cotton that ‘really did look like snow for as far as you could see.’ He said when he drives home now those fields are full of soybeans and corn.
‘In some ways it’s sad, but it’s a sign of the times,’ Wilson said.
To read the entire article on this subject, click here or on the actual URL in the Sources section at the end of this post. Additional, more technical information about cotton production and its influence worldwide will be featured in the next post on this blog.
Lakeport Programs on Plantations and Slavery in Arkansas
And the History of Chicot County
“The Rossmere Plantation, founded in the 1830s by George Read IV, was located on the east side of Lake Chicot, south of Stuart’s Island. In 1861, the plantation had over 1300 acres and 61 slaves. One of those slaves, Lucretia Alexander, was interviewed by the WPA in the 1930s.”
—Lakeport Plantation report on the Civil War
and slavery in Southeast Arkansas
“The book [Images of Chicot County] begins with an 1823 sketch of Point Chicot, the county’s first seat, and also includes several images of the plantation houses—now mostly gone.”
—Lakeport Plantation report on the history of Chicot County
On the subject of cotton production in Arkansas, especially in Southeast Arkansas, on July 22, 2015, Lakeport Plantation near Lake Village released this report of an upcoming presentation on the subject of the Civil War and its effect on Chicot County in which Lakeport is located:
Annie Read Reeves, a widow with four children, left New Castle, Delaware in October 1861 during the first year of the Civil War. They arrived at the Rossmere Plantation on Old River Lake in Chicot County on November 22.
Annie and her brother George Read IV (1812-1859) were the great-grandchildren of George Read I, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Her late brother founded Rossmere in the 1830s and her sister-in-law, Susan (Chapman) Read, still resided there in 1861.
Reeves’ diary (1861-1863) details her trip to Chicot County and experiences during the Civil War. [Lakeport assistant director Blake] Wintory will discuss the diary and what we know about the Read family and plantation from other sources: deeds, tax records, Susan Read’s letters, a memoir by Annie’s daughter, and a slave narrative.
In a personal email on October 21, Blake Wintory wrote: “I just got back from a research trip to Delaware and Washington, DC. George Read II’s house in New Castle is a historic site owned by the Delaware Historical Society.”
Earlier, on August 31, 2015, Lakeport announced a review of a book about the history of Chicot County (which happens to be the county in which both my wife and our older son were born):
Images of Chicot County tells the story of Chicot County through vintage photos. The book includes chapters on the county’s three principle towns (Dermott, Lake Village, and Eudora) as well as chapters on the county’s early years, Lake Chicot, and rural life.
The book begins with an 1823 sketch of Point Chicot, the county’s first seat, and also includes several images of the plantation houses—now mostly gone. Gracing the cover of the book is an image of the Lake Village Water Carnival, the signature event for the county in the 1920s. Proceeds benefit the Lakeport Plantation, an Arkansas State University Heritage Site. (italics mine)
The Images of Chicot County book is now officially published. The book retails for $21.99 +tax and is available at Lakeport or any online retailer.
“Relocation, Arkansas: Aftermath of Incarceration”
“‘Relocation, Arkansas’ is a uniquely Arkansas story.”
—AETN invitation to a preview showing of a documentary film on WWII
Japanese-American incarceration camps in Southeast Arkansas
“Leave it to Rosalie Gould, the plain-spoken mayor of McGehee, Ark.,
which is as Delta as a town comes, to shatter . . .” [any false impressions of the Delta].”
—Paul Greenberg, “Delta Cheated Again,”
Tulsa World, October 30, 1989
In another aspect of the Arkansas Delta, recently Patsy McDermott Scavo shared with me information about a October 8 preview screening of a new documentary film titled “Relocation, Arkansas” about the WWII Japanese-American incarceration camps in Southeast Arkansas.
According to the invitation to the preview showing of that film sent out by the AETN Foundation which sponsored the event . . .
The film [by author/filmmaker Vivienne Gould Schiffer] explores the effect of the incarceration experience on the generation that was born after camp, the search for community and identity, and the unlikely experiences of the Japanese-American families who remained behind in Arkansas after the war years.
It also tells the story of the courageous fight of a small town [McGehee] Arkansas mayor of Italian descent, Rosalie Santine Gould, who saw the Japanese Americans not as enemies but as friends who had been wronged.
The symbol of Mayor Gould’s commitment to historical preservation is her remarkable collection of incarceration camp art—now residing at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies as her gift to the people of Arkansas and those Japanese Americans who have involuntarily called Arkansas their home.
I have written about this subject of the WWII Japanese-American incarceration camps in several previous posts on this blog. One of those posts titled “Updates: Japanese-American Relocation Camp Museum; Camp Nine; Relocation Arkansas” was published on May 14, 2014. As indicated by its title, the post was an update on the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Internment Camp Museum in McGehee; Camp Nine, the novel about the camp at Rohwer, Arkansas, written by Vivienne Gould Schiffer (the daughter of Rosalie Santine Gould); and preview videos of the film “Relocation, Arkansas,” Vivienne’s documentary film which has now been released in its full length.
To access that post, click on the title above or on the URL in the Sources section at the end of this post.
Gayle Harper’s Update on Her Book
about Her Voyage on the Mississippi River
“Wow! [The steamboat American Queen is] pure elegance from bow to stern! The people were amazing, food was to die for and it was a perfect fit to share with these river-lovers the tales of Roadtrip with a Raindrop. It turned out that the water on the Mississippi was too high for this magnificent 6-story vessel to fit under the bridge at St. Louis, so she changed course and headed up the Ohio. It was great fun for me as it was all new territory—and truly beautiful! I was on board for 8 days and I loved every minute!”
—Gayle Harper’s Report on Her Recent Trip on the Mississippi River
Back on September 9, Gayle Harper published this update on her voyage on the Mississippi River and the success of her book about her voyage down the River.
There has been sooo much happening in Serendipity-Land!
Since the last Newsletter, when I shared the news that Roadtrip with a Raindrop: 90 Days Along the Mississippi River was honored with an award in the ‘Book of the Year’ competition sponsored by Foreword Reviews, the book has actually won two more awards!
First, Roadtrip . . . is the winner of the GOLD MEDAL in the Travel Category of READERS’ FAVORITE INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARD CONTEST! This prestigious international competition receives thousands of entries and is recognized throughout the book world. Copies of ‘Roadtrip . . .’ will soon be graced with a lovely gold embossed sticker.
There will be a formal Awards Ceremony in Miami in November, in conjunction with the Miami Book Fair International, which brings hundreds of thousands of readers, authors, publishers and booksellers. I am thrilled and hoping to attend. (Stay tuned for photos of the event!)
The winners will soon be announced throughout the book world, including through Publishers’ Weekly! For now, a Book Review has been posted by Reader’s Favorite Reviewer, Jack Magnus, who gave it 5 Stars and had some wonderful comments. Here’s an excerpt . . .
Roadtrip with a Raindrop: 90 Days Along the Mississippi River is an exceptionally good travel book that reads as smoothly as fiction and is filled with history, nature and the warmth and kindness of strangers soon to become friends. It’s a splendid read, and it’s most highly recommended.
AND, the book has also won The Clarion Award from the National Association for Women in Communications! I’ll be going to Kansas City in October for that Awards Ceremony in conjunction with the AWC National Convention! (Photos coming of that too!)
Our little raindrop is having one incredible year! I’m humbled, honored and amazed!
To learn more about Gayle Harper and her voyages and book, visit her Web site at: http://gayleharper.com/
“My dreams about two of my American Idols, Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor, are second only to my dreams about my wife Mari—for which I am extremely grateful—for the sake of my fifty-two-year marriage and what remains of my failing health!”
This post is unusually long because it makes up for the three posts I was not able to compose and publish since my last post on July 14!
Even so, I was able to use only about half of the items that have been shared with me by others during this period.
The omitted items (which include subjects such as more about cotton and its production and influence worldwide, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, paw paws, etc.) will have to wait for a possible future update and tidbit post (or posts).
The photo of Johnny Cash’s boyhood home was taken from:
The photo of the Dyess Colony, the boyhood home of Johnny Cash, was taken from:
The video of the Arkansas Delta presented by the Arkansas Parks & Tourism Department can be accessed at:
The video of Marty Denton singing “Just Can’t Get across that River (at Arkansas City, Ark)” was sent to me by Patsy McDermott Scavo and can be accessed at:
The article on brown cotton by Steve Bender was sent to us by Judy Roberts and taken from “The Grumpy Gardener” column in Southern Living on October 1, 2015. It can be accessed at:
The video of Ledbelly singing “Them Ole Cotton Fields Back Home” was sent to me by Patsy McDermott Scavo and taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=59&v=eojxgTqtQUE
The photo of the Arkansas Delta cotton field was taken from Joe Dempsey’s “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” blog post published on October 6, 2013, and can be accessed at:
The photo of the Southeast Arkansas cotton field was sent to me by Barbara Barnes in an email dated October 14, 2015.
The online report titled “Arkansas Cotton Acreage Likely to Drop to Historic Low” can be accessed at:
The Lakeport Plantation reports on the Civil War and slavery in Southeast Arkansas and the history of Chicot County, Arkansas, were sent by email from Lakeport assistant director Blake Wintory who can be reached at email@example.com.
The copy and the two photos of the “Arkansas, Relocation” film title and the buildings at the WWII Rohwer Japanese-American Internment Camp were taken from the AETN invitation to a preview showing of a documentary film on this subject by Vivienne Schiffer and were used with permission.
The blog post update on the subject of the WWII Japanese-American incarceration camps in Southeast Arkansas, the book titled Camp Nine, and the film titled “Relocation, Arkansas” by Vivienne Gould Schiffer can be accessed at:
The report on Gayle Harper’s book about her voyages on the Mississippi River can be accessed at her Web site at: http://gayleharper.com/
The photo of Elizabeth Taylor was sent to me by Patsy McDermott Scavo from an unknown source.