Thursday, December 13, 2012


Frances could remember the days when she wasn't free. Some seven decades after she received her freedom, she sat down in her home on Bridge Street in Athens with Sadie B. Hornsby to relate her memories of the days when she lived in one room log cabin with a stick and mud chimney. Frances never forgot the day she was free to go were ever she wanted to, when she wanted to. This is her story, in her own words, a woman's story of slavery as she saw it. They are her words, written long ago in interpretation of her own simple dialect.

"I was born way off down in Twiggs County 'bout a mile from the town of Jeffersonville. My Pa and Ma was Otto and Sarah Rutherford," Frances recalled. There were nine children and parents living in a meager hut they called their home. "Our bedsteads was made out of rough planks and poles and some of 'em was nailed to de sides of de cabins," Frances remembered. The mattresses were stuffed with wheat straw while it was in season. "When dat was used up us got grass from de fields. Most any kind of hay was counted good 'nough to put in a slave's mattress," Mrs. Willingham said. "Dey let us mix some cotton wid de hay our pillows," she added.

In her four years of slavery, Frances was somewhat exempt from toiling in the fields. "Us chillun never done much but play 'round de house and yards wid de white chillun. I warn't but four years old when dey made us free," she reminisced.

Frances could still remember her grandmothers and aunts. "I remember once Grandma Suck, she wes my Ma's mammy, come to our house and stayed one or two days wid us. Daddy's Ma was named Puss." Both of her grandmothers were field hands, but her mother worked in the house carding and spinning threads. Her aunt Phoebe weaved the threads onto cloth and her Polly sewed the cloth into threads.

As a child, Frances never had any money. "Nobody never give slave chillun no money in dem times. I never had none 'til atter us had done been give our freedom." But, she did see the money that her master Elisha Jones had. " I used to see Old Marster countin' of it, but de slaves never did git none of dat money. "

Frances spoke somewhat highly of her master. " Our Old Marster was a pow'ful rich man, and he sho' b'lieved in givin' us plenty to eat. It warn't nothin' fine, but it was good plain eatin' what filled you up and kept you well. Dere was cornbread and meat, greens of all sorts, 'taters, roas'en-ears and more other kinds of veg'tables dan I could call up all day. Marster had one big old gyarden whar he kept most evything a-growin' 'cept cabbages and 'matoes. He said dem things warn't fittin' for nobody to eat."

Jones trusted Otto enough to let him go hunting on his won. One delicacy in Frances' family was possum. Her family had to cook everything in an open fireplace. I've seen Ma clean many a 'possum in hot ashes. Den she scalded him and tuk out his innards. She par-boiled and den baked him and when she fetched him to de table wide a heap of sweet 'taters 'round him on de dish, dat was sho' somepin good to eat," Mrs. Willingham fondly recalled.

As a child slave, her clothes were at least decent. In summer, the girl slaves wore homespun dresses, with full skirts sewed tight to fit their waists and fastened down on their backs with buttons made out of cows and rams horns. "Our white petticoat slips and pantalettes was made on bodices. In winter us wore balmorals what had three stripes 'round de bottom, and over dem us had on long sleeved ap'ons what was long as de balmorals. Slave gals' pantalettes warn't ruffled and tucked and trimmed up wid lace and 'broidery lak Miss Polly's chilluns' was," Frances concluded.

The adult slaves on the Jones' plantation wore rough brogan. Frances and the other children wore the hand me down shoes that the Jones children had outgrown. "Dey called 'em Jackson shoes, 'cause dey was made wid a extra wide piece of leather sewed on de outside so as when you knocked your ankles 'gainst one another, it wouldn't wear no holes in your shoes. Our Sunday shoes warn't no different from what us wore evvyday," Frances said.

Elisha and Mary Jones were wealthy by most standards. In the year before the Civil War began, Jones owned $20,000 worth of real estate and $36,500.00 of personal property including slightly more than fifty slaves.

"Marse Lish Jones and his wife--she was Miss Polly--was our Marster and Mist'ess. Dey sho' did love to be good to us. Dey had five chillun of deir own, two gals and three boys. Dey was: Mary, Anna Della, Steve, John, and Bob. 'Bout deir house! Oh, Missus, dat was somepin to see for sho'.

Frances remembered the Jones's plantation house near the Town of Marion, then the capital of Twiggs County. "It was a big old fine two-story frame house wid a porch 'cross de front and 'round both sides. Dere was five rooms on de fust floor and three upstairs. It sho' did look grand a-settin' back dar in dat big old oak grove," the old slave woman looked back.

Mrs. Willingham vividly recalled her old master, "Old Master had a overseer but he never had no carriage driver 'cause he loved to drive for himself so good." Willingham said that she never saw her master do anything except drive his carriage, walk a little and eat all that he wanted to because he was rich man and didn't have to do anything. She recalled that the plantation was very large and although she couldn't remember just how many slaves lived and worked there, she did remark, "Dat old plantation was plumb full of 'em."

Field work was hard. ""Our overseer got all de slaves up 'fore break of day and dey had to be done et deir breakfast and in de field when de sun rise up," Willingham remembered. The slaves would work all day past twilight before they came back to their quarters to eat supper and rest.

Whippings on the Jones place were somewhat rare, at least Frances never saw one. She did remember the dime when she climbed on top of the porch of the big house and flapped her arms and crowed like a rooster. " Dey told me to come on down, but I wouldn't mind nobody and kept on a-crowin' and a-flappin', so dey whupped me down," Willingham remarked.

Frances and the other slaves, although a few miles from the nearest battle at Griswoldville, saw the war coming to an end. Although she was barely four years old, she told her interviewers, "Mercy me! I'se seed plenty of dem yankees a-gwine and comin'. Dey come to our Marster's house and stole his good mules. Dey tuk what dey wanted of his meat, chickens, lard and syrup and den poured de rest of de syrup out on de ground.," Mrs. Willingham remembered.

Free from all the helpless despair of seemingly eternal bondage, Frances Willingham was no better off than she was before she was granted her freedom. She had little that she could truly call her own. Slaves had their freedom, but had little choice of where to go and how to scratch out a living. Many of the things the former slaves had provided for them were now gone or beyond the reach of their somewhat less than meager incomes would allow. Although legally free, many of the slaves remained on the plantations and continued to see their former masters as still their masters.

Education was almost nonexistent in those days for black children. "I ain't never been to school a day in my life, 'cause when I was little, black children weren't allowed to read and write," she remembered.

Going to church was different too. Before the war, slaves and their masters worshiped in the same church. After the war, congregations were ironically segregated. "Colored folks had their own church in a settlement called John the Baptist," Willingham remembered in recalling that she and the other children loved going to baptisms. "Day took dem converts to a hole in de crick what day had got ready for dat purpose. De preacher went fust, and den he called for de converts to come on in and have deir sins washed away," she said.

Funerals were primitive as well. Willingham explained that Elijah Jones had set apart a burying ground for his slaves adjoining his own family's cemetery. "Us didn't know nothin' 'bout no fun'rals. When one of de slaves died, dey was put in unpainted home-made coffins and tuk to de graveyard whar de grave had done been dug. Dey put 'em in dar and kivvered 'em up and dat was all dey done 'bout it," Willingham recalled.

Frances reminisced about a single wedding on her master's plantation. She never forgot the day when Miss Polly gave her one of little Miss Mary's dresses to wear to the wedding. "Only dey never had no real weddin'. Dey was jus' married in de yard by de colored preacher and dat was all dere was to it," she recollected.

Frances Willingham fondly recalled Christmas times in her youth. She remembered going to bed early because she and the other children were afraid that Santa Claus wouldn't come to see them. "Us carried our stockin's up to de big house to hang 'em up. Next mornin' us found 'em full of all sorts of good things, 'cept oranges. I never seed nary a orange 'til I was a big gal," she reminisced.

Food was plentiful in holiday times. "Miss Polly had fresh meat, cake, syrup puddin' and plenty of good sweet butter what she 'lowanced out to her slaves at Christmas. Old Marster, he made syrup by de barrel. Plenty of apples and nuts and groundpeas was raised right dar on de plantation. In de Christmas, de only work slaves done was jus' piddlin' 'round de house and yards, cuttin' wood, rakin' leaves, lookin' atter de stock, waitin' on de white folks and little chores lak dat," she remembered. Hard work resumed on the day after New Year's Day.

Medical care, although primitive at best, was available, if only on a limited basis. Of those days, Willingham recalled, "White folks was mighty good and kind when deir slaves got sick. Old Marster sont for Dr. 'Pree (DuPree) and when he couldn't git him, he got Dr. Brown. He made us swallow bitter tastin' powders what he had done mixed up in water. Miss Polly made us drink tea made out of Jerusalem oak weeds. She biled dem weeds and sweetened de tea wid syrup. Dat was good for stomach trouble, and us wore elder roots strung 'round our necks to keep off ailments," Mrs. Frances remarked.

The women of Frances Willingham's day had little rest, even after leaving the fields. She recalled that when the slaves came in from the field, the women cleaned the houses after they eat and washed clothes early in the morning so that they would be dry for the next day. She remembered that the grown men would eat, sit around and talk to other men and then go to bed.

Saturday nights were a time to frolic. Quitting time came around three or four o'clock in the afternoon. "Sadday nights de young folks got together to have deir fun. Dey danced, frolicked, drunk likker, and de lak of dat. Old Marster warn't too hard on 'em no time, but he jus' let 'em have dat night to frolic. On Sunday he give dem what wanted 'em passes to go to church and visit 'round," she reminisced.

Jones allowed his workers little rest from the time crops were planted until they were harvested. "My master did allow us slaves to have cornshuckin's, cornshellin's, cotton pickin's, and quiltin's," said Mrs. Willingham. Jones's groves of pecan, chestnut, walnuts and other trees were lucrative . When all the nuts were gathered, Jones sold them to the rich people in the cities. Afterwards, he gave his slaves a big feast with plenty to drink. After a long celebration, Jones allowed the slaves a few days to recover before resuming their grueling duties.

In her final years, Frances Willingham reflected on her freedom, "Me, I's so' glad Mr. Lincoln sot us free." She believed that if she was still a slave, that she work just the same, sick or not. "Now I don't have to ax nobody what I kin do. Dat's why I's glad I's free," Willingham concluded.

After leaving the Jones plantation, Frances moved to Putnam County, Georgia, where she married Green Willingham, of neighboring Jasper County. "I didn't have no weddin'. Ma jus' cooked a chicken for us, and I was married in a white dress. De waist had ruffles 'round de neck and sleeves," she said as she looked back to her wedding day.

Frances Willingham lived a long life. She worked hard to provide for her seven boys and ten girls. Then as she got older she did all she could to look after her 19 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.

In this month of March when we celebrate Women's History Month, let us look back and reflect on all the Frances Willinghams of the world, who toiled and worked with little rest to provide for their families as best as they could.


The Most Worthy Women (and Men) of


For more than eleven decades, the female and male members of the Dublin Chapter 1975, Georgia chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star have served their community faithfully, reverently, and without hesitation or hope of recognition or reward. They serve because of their abiding belief in charity, truth and loving kindness toward others. They raise money, volunteer and support the young and the old with projects ranging from juvenile diabetes to Alzheimer's.

The Order of the Eastern Star was first envisioned and organized by Rob Morris in 1850. From its beginning until the present the world's largest fraternal organization has been tied to the Free and Accepted Masons. Membership, although primarily female, is open to certain males, who are qualifying Mason. Female members are required to be related to male Masonic members. Membership peaked in Georgia in 1979 with more than 41,000 members.

The first chapter of the Order in the State of Georgia was the Tithonia Chapter, which was organized in 1891. Locally, the Lorraine Chapter in Tensile, was the 10th chapter organized (1899) in the state. It was organized by Rev. W.S. Ramsay of Dublin.

The ladies of the Tennille Chapter hosted the very first annual session of the Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star in May 1902. Nearly ten years later, and one century ago, representatives of 77 chapters representing more than 4400 members of Georgia's grand chapter converged on the popular convention center in Dublin, Georgia on April 16-17, 1912.

The meeting was held in the Masonic Lodge, located on the third floor of the C.W. Brantley/Lovett & Tharpe building. One hundred and fifty delegates from around the state were housed in private homes. A banquet was held in the grand dining room of the New Dublin Hotel with 200 seated guests in attendance.

The Dublin Chapter, for three years known as Chapter 75, was instituted on April 13. 1910 and chartered on May 18, 1910 at the state session in Cordele. The initial 42 members elected as their first officers: Worthy Matron - Mrs. W.B. Rogers, Worthy Patron - W.B. Rogers, Secretary - J.C. Spencer, Treasurer Linnie Reihardt, Conductress - Omie Beacham, Associate Conductress - Mrs. W.L. Williams, Adah - Essie Rogers, Esther - Jennie Dial, Ruth - Mrs. Dewitt Freeman, Martha - Hattie Gilbert, Electa - Mrs. J.Y Keen, Warden - Mrs. Emma Manning, and Calvin Tyre - Sentinel.

The Dublin Chapter was aided in organization by Senie M. Hubbard, a resident of Macon and a native of Laurens County, served as a Worthy Grand Matron of Georgia from 1906-1910, the only woman in the state chapter's history to serve five years in the top position.

Although the Dublin Chapter was 88th chartered chapter in Georgia, the still active chapter is now tied with Thomasville as the states 10th oldest chapter. The first ten Worthy Matrons were; Mrs. W.B. Rogers, Mrs. Lota Orr, Mrs. Linnie Bright, Mrs. Viola Daniel, Mrs. Annie Ward, Mrs. Mamie Jordan, Mrs. J.S. Almond, Miss Alma Carrere and Mrs. J. Williams and Mrs Anna Shea. The first ten Worthy Patrons were; W.B. Rogers, J.J. Flanders, W.B. Adkins, C.C. Jordan, Andrew Grier, W.W. Ward, S.P. New, T.M. Hicks, C.C. Crockett and T.C. Keen.

Over the last century many Dublin women and one man have served as officers in Grand Chapter of Georgia. Mrs. Lota Orr, wife of Dublin mayor E.R. Orr and the Chapter's 2nd Worthy Matron, was elected in the Dublin session as Grand Esther in Ap;ril 1912 and in the Macon session as Associate Grand Conductress in 1913. Mrs. Annie Graham Ward served in seven capacities as Grand Chaplain, Grand Warden, Associate Grand Conductress, Grand Conductress, Associate Grand Matron, Grand Lecturer and in 1932, Mrs. Ward was selected by her fellow members as the Worthy Grand Matron of the State Chapter.

M.Z. Claxton, the only male Dublin officer, was elected as Grand Sentinel in 1940. Mrs. Ollie Mackey served as Poet Laureate in 1946. In 1957, Virginia Harville was chosen as Grand Warden. The position of Grand Electra was held by Vera Shiver in 1973 and again in 1998 by Sara West. Most recently, through 2001, Brenda Holloway served as Grand Organist.

Mamie S. Lander (3rd from left) at her
portrait dedication.

By far, the most well known Laurens County member of the Order of the Eastern Star was Mamie Stubbs Lander. Although not a native of the county, Ms. Stubbs taught school in Dexter in 1910. Living as one of two school teachers boarding with the family of Evie Currell in her home on Elm Street, Mrs. Stubbs married Thomas Lander in 1911 and moved first to Louisiana and then to Florida, where she became active in that state's chapters on both local and state levels.

Mamie Lander was elected by the delegates to the Triennial Assembly as the Most Worthy Grand Matron of the General Grand Chapter. As the leader of all of the members of the World Order of the Eastern Star, Mrs. Lander presided over the 1946 Triennal Assembly in Tampa, Florida. At the expiration of her term, Mrs. Lander's service to the Order of the Eastern Star was not over, not by any means. From 1946 to her retirement in 1973, Mamie Stubbs Lander, the Washington County native, former Adrian school student, and Dexter school teacher, served as Right Worthy Grand Secretary of the General Chapter. From 1973 to her death, Mrs. Lander continued to be somewhat active as the organization's Right Worthy Grand Secretary Emeritus.

The second chapter organized in Laurens County was the Magnolia Chapter in Dexter. Instituted on March 29, 1912, the chapter was officially chartered at the 1912 Dublin session. The chapter surrendered its charter in 1917. The Magnolia Chapter's initial officers were; Viola Daniel, Worthy Matron, Dr. L.W. Wiggins, Worthy Patron, Mary Ussery, Associate Matron, Dr. Floyd Rackley, Secretary, Jennie W. Wiggins, Treasurer, Myrtle Tutt, Associate Conductress.

A third Laurens County chapter, Harmony Grove Chapter No. 3, was first organized six weeks after the Dublin session and chartered on May 31, 1913. The Minter/Lollie chapter survived only ten years until 1923.

A second Dexter Chapter (No. 280) was instituted in April 1937 and chartered two months later. It survived until May 1972. The last Laurens County chapter to be chartered was the Rock Springs Chapter (No. 467), chartered in May 1956. Its members served our community for forty-three years until the charter was surrendered in June 1999.

Although far from a secret society, the most worthy ladies and gentlemen of the Order of the Eastern Star are still around, quietly serving without fanfare as they have for the last 102 years with Kind Hearts, Kind Thoughts, Kind Words and Kind Deeds praying to seek God's door and maintaining their constant faith to open that door.


Show Me the Money!

Willie Bomar was dying. She got the cancer. She wanted her $65.78, and she wanted it, "now!"

Willie Melmoth Bomar was born in 1894 to Dr. Elisha Pinckney "Pink" Bomar and his wife, Ella Tallulah Lane. Dr. Pinckney removed himself and his family to Tattnall County before the turn of the 20th Century. Dr. Pinckney was active in his community, serving a term on the school board and once placing himself as a candidate for the Georgia Senate.

Willie and her older sister Ethel grew up in a somewhat happy home. All of that ended in 1918, when their father found himself embroiled in a difficulty in Lyons with A.S. Mosely and his sons, G.G. Mosely and Howell Mosley.

The elder Mosely fired his shotgun twice and his pistol three times at the 52-year-old physician, who turned and walked away from his aggressors. Just as the doctor was walking away, dozens of bystanders witnessed the Mosely boys firing shots directly into a lung of Dr. Bomar, resulting in his swift death. The murder case against the Moselys was transferred to Jefferson County Superior Court in Louisville, Georgia, where it resulted in a hung jury.

Life for the Bomar women had to go on. Ethel taught music and Willie, a graduate of Georgia Normal and Industrial School, taught domestic service in the local school in Lyons.

Eventually, Willie wanted to do more with her life. So she moved to New York, where she obtained her doctorate in Philosophy from the prestigious Columbia University.

In 1931, Dr. Bomar published her first book, An Introduction to Homemaking and It's Relation on the Community. A second book, The Education of Homemakers for the Community was also published in 1931. In all, Willie Bomar authored four books, including a 1937 book, which she entitled I Went to Church in New York.

It was just near the end of World War II when Willie Bomar began to notice something different about her body. Then came the devastating news. It was cancer and it was in her throat and her chest. Two surgeries followed and so did regular visits to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

It was in the autumn of 1948 when Dr. Bomar was asked by Wheeler County to teach on an emergency basis

The issue first arose at the end of the first term in 1949. The retirement board allowed Bomar to keep her contributions to the retirement fund. Then after a secret meeting, one which Bomar was not allowed to appear, the board reversed its position and took her $65.38 away.

Dr. Bomar kept her 10:30, Memorial Day appointment with J.L. Yaden, director of the retirement system of Georgia. Yaden maintained that since the $65.78 had already been deducted from her check, any refund was out of the question unless she resigned her position with the Wheeler County school system. That would mean that she would lose the excessively pitiful, but normal monthly salary of $198.00, which included a $33.00 supplement for teaching home economics. Remember, this was a teacher who held two masters degrees (in science and arts) as well as a doctorate degree in philosophy.

"I'll take mine now," Dr. Bomar, her voice weakened from the paralyzing effects of her throat cancer, told Yaden. She reiterated that the state deducted her portion of her retirement benefits out of her "puny" salary without consulting her. And, to make things worse she would have to wait to die to collect it.

"It's a preposterous thing they are trying to do to me. They want me to wait until I'm dead with old age to collect it. Well, I've got cancer. I need the money for treatment. And, cancer won't wait," cried Willie.

It was Bomar's position that since she had been hired by the Wheeler County school board as an emergency teacher, she was exempt from paying any retirement contributions.

Yaden called Superintendent T.C. Fulford, who reluctantly agreed to terminate the contract of the esteemed professor. That's when Willie Bomar had to make snap decisions.

"I am resigning under protest, but that is all I can do," she lamented.

Delayed and denied at every turn, Dr. Bomar decided that only a drastic tactic would work. The vibrant home economics teacher vowed to stay in Yaden's fourth-floor office until she achieved her modest demand or die right there in the office from the cancer which she knew was rapidly killing her.

Yaden walked out, leaving the dark-haired, matronly school teacher, dressed in her best blue dress sitting there in anger and disbelief, as she shouted, "I protest! I protest!"

A comfortable sofa in the ladies lounge would be her home until Yaden and his board surrendered or she died on the spot, whichever came first.

Not all people defended Willie Bomar's stance. The editor of the Dallas Morning News called her demand for benefits "shameful under the guise of liberalism and social progress."

Others, were more than sympathetic. Custodian C.C. Lord, himself laboring at the lower end of the pay scale, brought Ms. Bomar hot cups of coffee and sandwiches during the night. Encouraging newspaper reporters furnished Coca Cola and Hershey bars to aid the embattled teacher in her fight for right.

After 53 hours of waiting and most likely a call to or from Governor Herman Talmadge, a native of adjoining Telfair County and a politician who championed the cause of the common man, Yaden approached Dr. Bomar and informed her that the board had agreed to her demand.

A swarm of newspaper reporters and photographers barged their way into Yaden's office. With cameras flashing, Bomar triumphantly smiled as Yaden signed her highly coveted check.

"I won! I got my money! It was worth it," Bomar exclaimed.

"I won," said Yaden, who felt that negative feedback from unfavorable nation wide coverage of the impasse was not worth maintaining the state's rigid and unpopular stance.

Straining to get her words out, Willie Bomar was still thinking about teaching again, probably outside of the state somewhere. Writing or editing was also a possibility. Willie bought a train ticket and headed for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota

"I want to pay instead of saying I am too poor. I've been teaching school in Georgia," Dr. Bomar proclaimed.

Upon her arrival at the Mayo, Willie offered herself as an experimental patient at the University of Illinois for betatron cancer treatment. She told the press, "the situation appears to be out of control."

In the end, Willie Bomar was right. She died in 1950. Willie never wanted to accept charity and wanted to pay her own debts. Her perseverance paid off when the mighty State of Georgia backed down and showed the money to this little ol' school teacher from Glenwood, Georgia.