ALBANY, NY: Save the Pine Bush had a superb panel to mark the 90th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Those who attended the January 16 dinner will not forget the great presentation made by Anne Pope, Rev. Clarence Samuel Johnson, and Stephanie Woodward about life in Shubuta, Mississippi and Albany.
Ms. Pope began jokingly saying, “My name is Annie Mae Pope but don’t you tell anyone.” She said she grew up in Shubuta, Mississippi, population 600.
Often on Saturdays, she said, black residents would get dressed up and go downtown. She said Shubuta had the best artesian well in the world but blacks could not get caught drinking on the front side of it which was for whites only. Nor could blacks play or walk on the tennis court.
“I grew up in a shotgun house,” she said. “It had no running water, no electricity, and no central heating.” If you stepped on a particular plank on the porch, the front door would open.
She said she attended segregated schools, could not attend the white school, was bused twelve miles each way to a nearby town for junior and senior high school. She said her school never had new books but got the hand-me-downs from the white schools who got the new books. “We had great teachers,” she said, “and learned how to make things happen…Our teachers had high expectations for us.”
She is one of thirteen children. She said “If you did not do well, your parents found out and you felt it.” “We did not try to act up,” she said. “That was not a part of us. Our parents made sure we behaved and did well.” She said if anyone ever did act up, their mom would give them “the eye” and “we got the message.”
Her mom did domestic work for a white family. “She cooked, cleaned, took care of the kids, and was the psychologist and sociologist for the white family.” Paid one dollar a day, she could not enter through the front door, and had to drink from her own glass. She could not use the inside bathroom and used an outdoor toilet. Anne’s mom had Sundays off and thus earned six dollars a week. If she took a day off, she lost a dollar of pay.
“We grew up in a close-knit community, most of whom were members of “our church.” At the movie theater, they purchased tickets at the colored window, sat in the balcony, and threw popcorn on the whites down below. Blacks had to enter stores from the back door and wait for all the whites to be served first.
After an elderly black woman did not move fast enough out of the way of a white woman, the white man accompanying the white woman slapped the black woman shocking her into urinating on herself.
Regarding lynchings, two black boys were hanged and castrated at the “hanging bridge” after a 15-year-old white girl said they had whistled at her under a bridge. The boys had to be buried out of town. She thinks two pregnant black women were also lynched in Shubuta.
“We were mistreated,” she said, but “we held out. We are here today because we are strong, our parents were strong.” Ms. Pope said we must support and protect our children today “like my grandfather did.” Finishing up she said, “I have no love for Shubuta. I am not angry.” She occasionally returns for visits.
Rev. Clarence Samuel Johnson spoke next. He is an ordained minister and 78 years old. His dad, Jack Johnson, was born in Shubuta and came to Rapp Road in Albany in 1931.
His dad’s dad owned 150 acres and lived to 95. Several family members lived to be 100.
Samuel said Jack Johnson was known as the “modern day Harriet Tubman.” Jack was a “churchman, family man, and knew how to work.” His dad owned 18 houses in Albany. Jack did domestic work, construction, painted houses, and bought houses. He bought, repaired, and rented houses to people he brought up from Mississippi in his cars. One one trip he took nine including all their luggage. Speaking of his dad, Samuel Johnson said, “he wanted his people to have a place to live.”
Jack Johnson began his trips to Mississippi on Election Day. Jack would arrive in Shubuta at midnight, honk the horn and wait three minutes. Anyone wanting to move north knew when he would arrive. “You had to be ready.” Samuel said his dad brought more than 100 families to Albany.
On one trip, Sam got himself into trouble before he knew it; he walked into a Hagerstown, MD store through the front door and sat at the counter, as he would in the North. His dad may have saved his life when he firmly told him to leave immediately and re-enter thought the back door, which he did.
Samuel said his dad had perseverance. His dad always had twenty-dollar-bills because his tenants paid rent in cash. Samuel said his dad had a third grade education and “his mom was the reader” in the family.
Samuel said he took an FBI employment examination, scored 100, but would not be hired. He worked for NYS government, then for Greyhound, and later returned to state government in the transportation department where he investigated vehicle collisions. He was the first black Greyhound terminal manager in Albany in the 1960’s.
Once in the 1980’s while employed at Greyhound, his wife refused to move from a seat near the front of a Greyhound bus in Tennessee. She persuaded Greyhound officials to call Albany and remained in her seat.
When he and his dad were/are asked, “Did anything good come out of Mississippi?” they said/say, “Look at me.”
Stephanie Woodward, a trustee with the Rapp Road Historical Association (RRHA), was the third speaker. She described herself as a third-generation migrant from Shubuta.
Many, she said, who migrated from Shubuta, did not return. They want respect. Many moved into Albany’s South End, then a mostly Italian-American neighborhood.
She said Louis Parsons bought many acres in the Pine Bush and sold them to families Jack Johnson had brought to Albany. Contrary to myth, Albany Mayor Erastus Corning did not give land to blacks on Rapp Road.
“It is important to keep Rapp Road as it is,” she said, “to preserve it.” She said Beverly Bardequez’s Aunt Emma, began working with Save the Pine Bush. Emma used to say, “If a family of Karner Blue Butterflies can live in the Pine Bush, so can black families from Mississippi.”
Stephanie said RRHA tries to prevent Rapp Road houses from being sold to those who would demolish them. She said, “If you had the skill, you helped other people build a house in Albany or Shubuta.
When visiting Shubuta, Stephanie said, there were no street lights; so children we could play outdoors until dark and “eat whatever we wanted because everyone had farms.” Black Shubuta families did not have connections to the water main until Albany family members helped install them.
Finishing up, she said there is so much history and so much to preserve “of the most precious land in the city of Albany.”
During the questions and comments, Samuel said people had to leave Mississippi or they might be killed, and Jack had to often change his pick-up times in Shubuta because “Mister Charley” was angry that black farm workers they needed had suddenly disappeared, and they wanted to stop Jack Johnson from taking them away. Samuel said the newly-opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama contains information about the Shubuta lynchings.
After Anne and Stephanie said there is not much in Shubuta anymore, a man who had lived in Mississippi said, “I got tired of Mississippi and moved back to the United States. People don’t realize that when you go to Mississippi, there is a time change. You go back fifty years.” Stephanie said some Shubuta residents did not realize they could vote even after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was enacted.
Published in February-March 2019
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