Union – People/Persons

Ford, Benjamin F.

B.F. Ford was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in 1893 and came to New Albany in 1921 to serve as principal of the African American Union County Training School. At the time, the five-teacher school provided education only through the eighth grade. Ford was respected for his campaign against illiteracy, as well as for his discipline. Under Ford’s leadership, the school soon extended its education through the tenth grade; later he convinced the Union County school board to transform the school into a four-year high school. He acquired a gymnasium for his students long before other African American schools had gymnasiums, and he helped establish the first African American boy scout troop in northeast Mississippi.

After the Union County Training School burned in 1942, Ford oversaw the construction of a new facility. When Ford died in 1950, the school board aptly renamed the school the B.F. Ford High School. The school remained the principal African American high school through the 1950s and much of the 1960s. Today the B.F. Ford High School is a Head Start facility.

Sources:

History of the New Albany Schools

THE UNION COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Smith, J. Bryant

Superintendent of the New Albany School District from 1964-70. He was responsible for the integration of the city schools.

Hill, Siddell

Members of the Siddell, Hill, and Barry families were the first to integrate Union County schools.

Jones, J.W.

Jones was the owner and publisher of The Community Citizen, which circulated in New Albany, during the Civil Rights Movement.

Watson, Rev. Samuel

Watson was pastor of Watson Grove M.B. Church beginning in 1932.

Dr. D.M. Forster

D.M. Forster was one of the first African American doctors to practice medicine in Union County. He came to the county from Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1956.

Folsom, Jimmy Crawford

J.C. FolsomJimmy Crawford Folsom, Sr., was one of the first black men to vote in Union County in the 1930s. He was born in 1871 to parents who both had been slaves who purchased their freedom and later bought a farm in Union County. Folsom, like his father, George, was a farmer. He reportedly lent his land to not only sharecroppers, but also Native Americans who passed through Union County on their trek westward. In 1955, Folsom died at the age of 84.

According to J.C. Folsom’s great-great grandson, Benjamin Elmer Folsom, J.C.’s mother was named Mary Rivers Folsom, and she and George had another son, Elmer W. Folsom, whose son, John W. Folsom, is Benjamin E. Folsom’s father.

Sources:

THE UNION COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Benjamin Elmer Folsom email

Howell, Jesse Lee

Jesse Lee Howell lived from 1892 to 1972. He worked as both a railroad hand and a farmer. It is reported that he paid poll taxes even when he could not vote and was known to have said “and that’s the way it is.”

Sources:

THE UNION COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Wade, Geneva

Geneva Wade was born to a family of tenant farmers in the Myrtle community, just northwest of New Albany in Union County. She recalled walking down the railroad tracks to the one-room Pine Bluff School that served African American students in Myrtle. She wondered why she could not ride in the covered wagon, or later school the bus, like white students. She wrote of an incident that occurred one morning during her walk to school:

“One morning as we were traveling to school on the highway in bunches (as we usually did) a white boy got off the bus to whip a black girl because she talked back to him. The big black boys were a short distance behind. Before they could get there to defend her, she had bloodied his face and torn off most of his clothes. That did not stop the verbal slurs but no one got off the bus to strike anyone again.”

In spite of their tormentors, Wade wrote that she and her peers maintained their spirits: “Even though we were sometimes run off the road into ditches of briars and bushes, we felt little anger; for we were proud to go to school.”

Wade was, however, keenly aware of the disparity that existed:

“The white schools had desks and rooms for different grades. All the eight grades were taught in one room at the black school. Discipline problems were few and of a minor nature. The smart older students taught the younger ones alternately, so they wouldn’t miss too much of their lessons. Books were scarce for they had to be bought and few parents could afford them.”

When she was fourteen, Wade continued her high school education at Union County Training School, the only African American high school in Union County. She recalled her excitement at seeing the many-roomed schoolhouse with its desks and books. She soon learned, however, that the books and desks in her new school were hand-me-downs from white schools in the community. Of her education, Wade wrote:

“Our history books lauded great things the white man did. This was drilled into the mind of the black student; with a few, isolated, diluted facts of what a few blacks every accomplished. I learned history like a speech, but little did I learn back then about black history because the books minimized it; and we, too, lauded the white heroes.”

Sources:

Geneva Wade, Opportunities for Black Students to Obtain an Education Under a Segregated System and its Effects on Their Lives, in CITY OF NEW ALBANY, SESQUICENTENNIAL COMMEMORATIVE BOOKLET, NEW ALBANY, MISSISSIPPI 1840-1990 20, 20 (1990).