Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at

Friday, August 28, 2015


Success through FFA

For nearly four decades, the novel and its movie version of Paul Chapman’s “The Green Hand,” proved that any child, no matter how disadvantaged or troubled could succeed in life if he learned and followed the creed of the Future Farmers of America.  This story, which was told over and over again, has its roots right here in Laurens County, Georgia.

“Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve:” That is the motto of the young men and women of the Future Farmers of America.  Originally founded as the Future Farmers of Virginia some ninety years ago, the Future Farmers of America were officially organized in 1928.

Still today when many youngsters have left the farm or never live on a farm at all, the F.F.A. is one of the nation’s largest youth organizations with a membership of  more than a half a million.

It was in the year 1932 in the midst of the country’s deepest economic depression, when University of Georgia professor of  agriculture Paul W. Chapman wrote a novel which he called, “The Green Hand.”  The book was intended to show that the Future Farmers of America could and would improve the lives of the youngsters who participated in the new program.

The plot line features a fictional and hopelessly delinquent student, Fred Dale.  The inspiration for the bad boy turned good came on a night before Christmas in 1927.  Set in the fictional community of Cedar Falls,  the story actually took place in Cedar Grove, Georgia, situated in the southern tip of western Laurens County.

Cedar Grove School was one of the first in the county to develop a vocational agricultural program following the adoption of the Hughes-Smith Vocational Act of 1917, which was adopted by the Congress after the sponsorship of Hoke Smith, a United States Senator from Georgia, and Congressman Dudley M. Hughes of Danville in neighboring Twiggs County.

The story goes that in attendance at the banquet were two professors from the University of Georgia. The occasion was a father and son banquet held at the school.   In the midst of a traditional, yet unexciting speech, a gang of rowdy youngsters interrupted the Christmas merriment and fellowship.  The culprits were apprehended and punished for their malfeasance.

The professors returned to the campus and told the story.  One thing led to another and Paul Chapman decided to write a book based on the event.  In 1932, Chapman, who was named Director of Vocational Education of the College of Agriculture of the University of Georgia in 1934, completed his work, which began to  be read by many a future farmer. Chapman accepted an offer to turn his novel into a movie.

Senior officials of Sears-Roebuck & Co. saw the potential revenue in producing the movie, which was primarily shot in and around Athens, Georgia.  Most of the cast was composed of students and regular citizens of Clarke County and around the state.  The lead male character Dale goes on to success in government and business in the 29-minute film, which was completed in 1939.

The movie reaffirms the book’s plot that F.F.A. can change the life of a bad kid.  Dale is at first expelled from school, but is given the chance to by a vocational school teacher to return to school and make amends for his delinquent behavior in a classic story of bad becomes good.  The story features romance, fights, a trial, and saving the family farm from foreclosure in the traditional Hollywood style.

It was only natural that the film premiere in the home of the University of Georgia in Athens With 4000 F.F.A. students in Georgia, as many as 5000 people were expected to visit the Classic City to see the new film, which many of them could relate to.  All of Athens promoted the film, which premiered on January 12, 1940.  Georgia Governor E.D. Rivers and the founder of the National F.F.A. were in  attendance at the premier activities,  which were broadcast over WGAU radio.  The next day, a Saturday when traditionally farmers came into town, was declared “Future Farmers of America Day in Athens

During that winter and the following spring, the film was shown in theaters, high school auditoriums and gymnasiums around the state and around the country.  A big theater screening of the “The Green Hand” became a feature event of the 1940 National Convention of the Future Farmers held at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. .

Future Farmers Programs in Laurens County began in 1936 at the high schools of Dudley, Dexter and Rentz.  Rentz organized its chapter in October 16, 1936. Professor Luther H. Cook (left)  and businessman Ralph Chambless led the effort to build an educational building in 1939.

Dudley High boys organized a chapter  in October 1937 under the leadership of president Addison Hogan.  Oliver Heath was named Vice President. Secretary Clinton Perry, Treasurer Lawton Johnson and Recorder R.W. Parker served under the leadership of Doyle Bedingfield.   Clyde Greenway, Vocational Teacher at Cadwell High, led the formation of the Cadwell chapter. Cedar Grove established its own chapter later under the leadership of H.D. Jordan.

The Laurens County Future Farmers of America joined forces at a fish fry held at Session’s Lake on the evening of March 26, 1938.  Addison Hogan, of the Dudley Chapter, was selected as President of the consolidated chapter, with the leadership rotating on an annual basis.  Danville High School  from Twiggs County was allowed to join the Laurens County Future Farmers Clubs in March 26, 1938 as that county had no program at the time.

On May 15, 1940, the local premier of “The Green Hand,” sponsored by the Lions, Exhcnage and Rotary clubs, was presented at Dublin’s Ritz Theater on West Jackson to a full house.  The next day on “4-H/FFA Day” in Dublin, some one  thousand county school students were released from their classes to attend the grand festivities in downtown Dublin.  A two-block long parade and a concert on the courthouse grounds  by the Laurens County Marching Band  thrilled the large crowds during the noon hour.  Dublin optometrist and long time advocate of vocational education in the county, Dr. Charles Kittrell, helped to organize the spectacular event with the unwavering  support of County Demonstration Agent Nelle Robinson.

For the last seventy five years plus, the boys and girls of the Laurens County chapters of the Future Farmers of America have proved Paul Chapman’s theorem, that good, decent farm kids and even some of the bad ones who were set on the path of the straight and arrow can make a difference in their community, their state and their nation.

Bottom Row - L - R - Eugene Parrish, Ernest Mullis, Herndon Simons,
Burnell ----, J.L. Harvill, Hugh Burch,  Middle Row - Tom Lamb, Lamar Lowery,
J.B. Burch, Mr. Jordan, Top Row - ------ Lowery, --------, Jack Moye, Lewis Burch. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015



As Dublin entered the last decade of the 19th Century, she had to battle one devastating fire after another.  By the end of the year, the dedicated, heroic people of the Emerald City had won the battles against the many conflagrations which threatened to keep the burgeoning metropolis  imprisoned in oblivion under a thick bed of ashes.

As the new year of 1890 dawned, the embers of the apocalyptic fire in May of 1889, had barely cooled.  The work of rebuilding one of the city’s main four blocks had begun. Nearly every structure on the southern side of the first block of West Jackson Street.   Only Dr. R.H. Hightower’s first brick building in the city survived the raging inferno.    George Maddox built a large, commodious two-story store. Major W. L. Jones rebuilt after the fire and to show his confidence in his hometown, he built a beautiful $4,000.00 home.

Nearly every lot in the core of downtown had a new, brick and hopefully fire proof, lot under construction.  The use of alleys and fire proof walls were being used for the first time.

The river boat business, headed by Captain R. C. Henry was enjoying its prime. Henry and others  carried cargo up and down the river over a sixty-mile range.  The long awaited and much needed wagon and passenger bridge was headed toward a reality.  Dr. R.H. Hightower couldn’t wait, so he erected a wooden one, one which failed to survived a devastating flood.

Rumors of the coming of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad were spreading rapidly across the county.  The county’s second, and perhaps more important, had floundered for three years as the Macon and Dublin and the Savannah, Dublin and Western Shortline.  The overwhelming excitement of the city’s location on a main railroad permeated the thoughts of all forward thinking during the year of 1890. By the end of the year, construction of the railroad was moving into Twiggs County.  The first load of freight commissioned by Harry S. Edwards and William A. Davis was shipped into Macon in November.  Completion of the railroad into Dublin would become a reality by July 1891.

Dublin’s third railroad, the Empire and Dublin, which would eventually make into the city in 1891, fell into the hands of a court appointed receiver following  severe economic uncertainties in the fall of 1890.

The Baptists of Dublin were elated that Rev. W.S. Ramsay, the iconic and revered minister of that church.  Ramsay was a highly respected boy colonel during the late war and the principal founder of the county’s modern day school system.
During 1890, fires continued to plague the downtown area of Dublin.  In May, just as the graduation assembly was vacating the aufitorium of the Academy, a fire alarm was sounded.  A widespread panic was averted.  The fire originated in J.M. Reinhart’s store, operated by J.S. Brady, and engulfed the entire building as well as the stores of his neighbor, H.E. Kreutz for at total of $4000.00 in damages.

On September 21, a small, but calamitous fire struck the McCrary Building, causing $ 4,200.00 in damage to the Dublin Gazette, the harness shop, the Dublin Bottling Company, and several other stores. In mid-November, Mrs. Mattie Williams saw her dreams of her new steam laundry go up in flames. Her building, owned by future congressman, Dudley M. Hughes, adjoining that of Dr. Charles Hicks, was a complete loss including his valuable instruments and priceless books and  medical records.  The fire of unknown origin caused several thousand dollars in damages.

Equally critical to the meteoric development of Dublin was the completion of the river bridge over the Oconee River at the eastern margin of the town.  Although the funds had finally been appropriated after seven years of trying and failing, an argument arose among the landowners on the eastern banks of the river exactly where the bridge was to cross and how much money would they be paid in compensation for the condemnation of their “highly valuable” property.

Third on the long list of needed infra structural improvements was a pure and reliable water system.  Dublin, located above a main and plentiful aquifer, was far ahead of other cities of her size in the state.  Water filled with lime from shallow wells in the area was considered unhealthy and a major contributor to the large number of cases of malaria. Artesian water is what was needed and it would be artesian water which would help quench the thirst of the multitude of new residents coming into the city and provide the necessary ingredients for the city’s newest industrial and agricultural ventures.  Town’s people began  to chip in their dollars and cents into a well fund.  The first artesian well was dug by Napoleon Bonaparte Baum on the northeastern edge of the Courthouse square across the street from his elegant home.

The year of 1890 saw the loss of Col. Thomas B. Felder, Jr., one of the city’s and the  state’s most promising attorneys.  Felder, a former mayor,  removed to Atlanta, where he won fame and infamy in political and legal circles.  Following the untimely death of David Ware, Jr, Dublin’s popular young mayor and editor, Capt. Lucien Quincy Stubbs, son of Col. John M. Stubbs,  the commander of the Dublin Light Infantry, and a popular five-term mayor, was elected mayor for the first time by a near unanimous acclamation.

The year 1890 saw major changes in Dublin’s three newspapers.  A.H.  McLaws, an Augusta educator and former field grade Confederate officer under the command of his brother, Lafayette McLaws, opened a new paper, the Dublin People.  Messers Peacock and Stantley took over the operation of the Dublin Post.  Hal M. Stanley, the founder of the Dublin Courier Herald, a member of the Georgia Newspaper Hall of Fame and Georgia’s first Labor Commissioner, took over the editorship of the Dublin Gazette.

Dr. J.T. Chappell, the leader of the local Farm Alliance, dominated his opponent in the Democratic party primary and was easily elected to the House of Representatives when the  Republican had trouble agreeing on a candidate.

The population of Dublin in 1890 was enumerated at 862 persons.  The coming of the railroads, bridges and other internal improvements saw the population rise more than 300% to 2,987 in 1900 and a nearly doubling jump by 1910 to 5,795., the third highest increase in the state during the first decade of the 20th Century.

Laurens County went from 52nd in population in 1890 (13,747)  to 14th (25,908) in 1900 making her the third fastest growing county in the state. It was during that pivotal year, that Laurens County stood at No. 6 among Georgia counties in population, behind Fulton, Chatham, Richmond, Bibb and Muscogee.  The county slipped to 7th in the state in 1910.

So on the 125th anniversary of the pivotal, fate changing year of 1890, let us look back to the time when Dublin and Laurens rose like the ancient phoenix from the ashes of death to become one of the states most important business, farming and political cities. 

Friday, August 14, 2015



Whether it was in a church or while piloting his ferry boat across the Oconee River, Rawls Watson loved to sing. This giant of a man was a fixture in singing conventions and church services throughout the county.  In the history of Laurens County, no man ever kept the ferry longer. No one ever came close.  No one ever knew more about the river, its currents, eddies, twist and turns.  To his many friends and acquaintances he was simply known as “Uncle Rawls.”  For more than three decades Rawls Watson, just kept on rolling across the river singing the praises of God with the safety of his passengers in his hands.

Roswell Adolphus Watson was born on March 20, 1875.  A son of Seaborn Riley Watson and Mary Catherine Raffield,  Rawls topped the scales at eleven pounds at birth. His grandmother Cynthia Watson commented, “He is the longest baby I have ever seen.”  She predicted that if lives to adulthood, he will become a giant in the land.  Grandma Watson was right.

At the age of 17, Rawls stood 6'2" tall and tipped the scales at 212 pounds.   By the time Rawls Watson reached his 26th birthday, he stood 6' 4" tall and weighed 345 pounds.  In his day when an average man was less than 5'9 inches tall and weighed around 150 pounds, Rawls Watson was indeed a giant of man.

Rawls grew up in the Buckeye and Burgamy districts of Laurens County.  He attended Marvin Methodist Church, which was located on the Buckeye Road.

As a young boy, Rawls became interested in singing.  His uncle Joseph Watson taught singing at Marvin Church.  Two of Rawls’ older brothers, Thomas and Robert, joined the class. Their father dutifully paid the one dollar fee to attend.  Rawls asked his father to let him go. His request was denied.  Rawls again pleaded with his father to let him go. His father refused stating “He did not have money to throw away on you for a ten-day frolic.”  Rawls, as boys will do, ran to his mother.  There was nothing to keep him from going. His chores were done.  Mrs. Watson took up the cause. She asked Mr. Watson why Thomas and Robert could go and not Rawls.  The old man reiterated his staunch position believing that Rawls wasn’t going to sing but to have fun.  Mrs. Watson, undaunted by her husband’s stubborn decision, vowed to sell chickens to raise the money.  Then in an effort to keep peace in the family, Joseph Watson offered to let Rawls attend the class for free.  Later in life Rawls wrote, “I attended the school and made good.”

Rawls didn’t end his musical education there. He studied music until he mastered vocal music. At the age of twenty-one, Rawls moved to Bulloch County to study music to further his career.    It was in Bulloch County where Rawls quickly met the his wife, Miss Mollie “Lanie”  Lane Turner. They married in 1897 and had eight children together.

Rawls Watson learned to teach music to others.  Over his lifetime, Rawls himself conducted more than 116 singing schools.  He estimated than he had taught or tried to teach at least three to four  thousand pupils to sing.  Rawls took solace in the fact that before his father’s death, he rejoiced over his son’s success in his musical career.

Rawls and Mollie Watson established a farm on her father’s land in Bulloch County. Life on the farm was good until the family succumbed to the financial panic following World War I, the devastation of the boll weevil, and Mollie’s illness.   After Mollie’s death, Rawls sold the farm, paid his debts, and removed himself and the family back to Laurens County.  Rawls, with eight children of his own, married the widow of Charles Underwood, who bore him his youngest child.

In those days, people living in the northern section of the county used the ferry at Blackshear’s Ferry to cross the river.  The right to keep and operate the ferry was put up to the highest bidder.  Beginning in the early 1880s, members of the Watson family were often the low bidders.  David Watson kept the ferry during most of the 1880s until 1892, when Joseph T. Watson took over the operation until 1895. He resumed his position as ferry keeper in 1901 for a year and again in 1904 for at least five more years.

So it was only natural that Rawls Watson would have a desire to become the ferry keeper at Blackshear’s.  In 1911, Rawls Watson, who had previous ferry experience,  was appointed ferry keeper by the county commissioners.   It was also natural that he would sing as his ferry boat plied across the waters of the Oconee. His booming voice could be heard long before passengers made it to the banks of the river singing the songs of the Gospel.

He was right proud of his self-composed, “The Boatman’s Song.”  Among its lyrics are: “ Lo my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, Oh, ‘tis written in the book of free grace, I shall dwell forever there, free from sorrow, pain and care, with my Savior in that happy bright place.  Oh, the glory I shall wear, Oh the rapture I shall share, when those fields of fadeless beauty I shall tread. There the river of all grace will reveal His smiling face, with all Heaven’s radiant glories ‘round me spread.”

Watson remembered the great flood of 1925 as the greatest flood of his lifetime with the 1936 flood coming in a close second.  There were a few times when floes of ice would slam into his ferry boat.  He told Eugene Anderson of the Macon Telegraph that his large size and strength came in handy in fighting the magnitude of swift water and chunks of ice striking his boat.

Rawls knew and appreciated the rich history of the land around the ferry. He often talked of the legend that the Indians told of the days when a white tribe came through the area and crossed the  shoals on their westward journey. For centuries, men have speculated that this tribe may have been the survivors of the lost colony of Roanoke.   Watson told of  the place known as Carr’s Shoals a few hundred yards down river where DeSoto’s soldiers crossed more than four centuries before.  Rawls Watson knew of his predecessors, the Trambles and the Bateys, the first keepers of the ferry.   He knew where they lived.  Rawls often related the stories of Temperance Batey Hall and of Chief Kitchee, whose village stood on the high bluff above the shoals.  He knew of the place of the graves of three Indian braves who were allowed to remain to guard the burial grounds of their people. Unfortunately the details of these stories are gone forever.

There is an old story, sworn to be true, that Uncle Rawls would wager that he could stand on the steps of the courthouse and read the inscription on the base of the Confederate monument, some three blocks to the southwest away.  Of course, Rawls, pretending to strain his eyes, read verbatim the words he had already committed to his rich memory.

With the coming of the automobile and better and new bridges across the Oconee River, the need for passage at Blackshear’s Ferry was limited to those residents of northern Laurens County. Beginning in the early 1930s and beyond the end of World War II, the ferry was closed several times due to lack of funding by the county or severe damage to the ferry boat.

Uncle Rawls was a public servant beyond his duties as the ferry keeper for nearly 35 years.  Watson served as the Laurens County Coroner in 1944. Previously, he had served as a peace officer, deputy sheriff, marshal and chief of police.

At the ripe old age of 81 on September 28, 1956,  Rawls Watson for the last time crossed the river and laid down to rest in the shade of the trees next to his precious Mollie in the Lower Lotts Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, south of Statesboro, off present day Highway 301. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


A great big thank you to all of you who have read my blog over the last six years and eight months.  Just a minute ago on August 11, 2015 that number reached 250,000 on my Pieces of Our Past blog while the total number for all of my blogs exceeds 600,000.  

You don't know how much it means to me for you to take the time to read my stories of who we were, what we did, why we did it and where and we did what we did.

I try to write about stories of the triumph of the human spirit.

I write to teach you and me about our past, our present and our future.

I write to make you cry, to make you laugh and make you wonder why?

I write to make you say wow!   To make you saw that's wonderful or how cool  is that?

I write to make you think and wonder why not?

I write to remind all of us what was once and is still good about our community and America.

Realizing that I am prejudiced about the people of Laurens County, Georgia and the good folks of the counties which surround us, I will nevertheless put our people above all others in our state in the number, range and scope of the accomplishments, acts of heroism, and triumphs which our people in our area.  

Charles Kuralt, my journalistic hero sums up best the way I feel about writing and the people I write about and the new friends I meet. 

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.”

“To read the papers and to listen to the news... one would think the country is in terrible trouble. You do not get that impression when you travel the back roads and the small towns do care about their country and wish it well.”

“The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.”

“It does no harm just once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn't in flames, that there are people in the country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals.”

"There are a lot people who are doing wonderful things, quietly, with no motive of greed, or hostility toward other people, or delusions of superiority."

"I think all those people I did stories on measured their own success by the joy their work was giving them."

"I would love to write something that people would still read 50 or 100 years from now.  That comes with growing older, I think."

"I could tell you which writer's rhythms I am imitating. It's not exactly plagiarism, it's falling in love with good language and trying to imitate it."

"I believe that writing is derivative, I think good writing comes from good reading." 

"The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege." 

Friday, August 07, 2015


On the Wings of a Hero

For sixty eight minutes, an American Airlines twin-engine Convair circled in the skies above Chicago.  With his plane's  fuel nearly exhausted, jet airliner pilot Clafton Barron had to make an emergency landing and make one soon.  Barron and his crew struggled mightily to release the right main landing gear, which has been stuck in the upright position.

Earlier in the day of November 9, 1954, passengers boarded the doomed plane in Fort Worth, Texas for the relatively short flight to Chicago.  Along the way, the plane stopped in Springfield, Missouri to pick up more flyers, including Mrs. Shirley Stratton, wife of Illinois governor William G. Stratton.  It was about five minutes until four o'clock in the afternoon, when the pilot Barron, based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but a native of Dublin, Georgia, radioed air traffic controllers in Chicago that one of his landing gears was stuck and wouldn't drop down into its landing position.  Barron got Capt. Fred Bailey on the radio and went through a series of routine measures to lower the right wheels.

After twenty minutes of futile efforts, Bailey directed Barron and his co-pilot H.L. Henderson to fly north of the city to Glenview Naval Air Station, where there would be a crash and fire crew standing by. Gov. Stratton stayed in contact with airport officials from his Chicago offices on LaSalle Street. By 4:30, Barron reported that he had about 65 gallons of fuel left - maybe enough to keep flying for about 30 minutes.  "I decided that the best way to keep everyone calm was to tell them what was wrong and how I intended to overcome the trouble," Barron recalled.

Barron lowered  the Convair's flaps and began his descent.  Approaching low from the south, Barron attempted to tilt the right wing higher to keep it off the ground upon contact with the runway. As the plane lost speed, the right wing dropped dangerously and deadly toward the ground below.

The crew and passengers braced for a crash.  Barron pulled the flaps all  the way  and gently edged the left and nose wheels to the ground.  For four thousand excruciating feet, the crippled plane slid down the runway until it spun around at a right angle to a full stop. Stewardess Anita Roberson had calmly and brilliantly prepared the passengers on the proper evacuation procedures. All were safe, breathing, but barely.  Within a minute, Navy crash crews had ripped open every door and hatch from the plane and retrieved everyone from the wreckage.

Mrs. Statton and the other passengers praised Capt. Barron for his calm demeanor during  the descent and especially for saving their lives.  Thirty seven men, including an Illinois state senator and three women, made it to safety, though they were visibly shaken as they boarded emergency vehicles.

Capt. Hugh Clafton Barron followed the manual and performed a successful emergency landing in his first try, well almost. 'Bo Peep" Knight was riding his truck on a Dublin road a little more than twenty years earlier on March 31, 1934.  With Wansley Hughes and Bob Gentry aboard, Clafton Barron was taking off in his prop plane.  Arthur Rowe and R.T. Smith saw Barron's plane wasn't going to clear their truck.   They jumped out to save their lives.   One of the plane's wings struck the truck and tipped it over  killing "Bo Peep" on the spot.   The plane spun and came to a stop when it struck a wire fence about thirty yards away.  Barron and his passengers limped away from the crash. Poor "Bo Peep" was laid to rest days later.

Barron's crash on the outskirts of Dublin in 1934 didn't stop him from flying.  He loved to fly and kept on flying.  His kinsman W.H. "Bud" Barron went on to become one of Dublin's and Georgia's most celebrated flyers.  Bud Barron was known to have flown the second most miles of any Army Air Corps pilot in World War II.    Clafton Barron took a job as  a commercial airline pilot with American Airlines in 1942.

On August 4, 1955, just eight months after his first crash landing in Chicago,  Barron piloted his American Airline plane off the runway  at Springfield, Missouri, where his former plane had developed landing gear problems back in November.  Twenty-seven passengers and two other  crew members were aboard.  They had taken off from Tulsa, Oklahoma bound for New York City.  Aboard were eight women, two children and a Catholic priest and missionary, the Rev. George Crock. Daveron and Robert Galloway were traveling with their mother Betty to join their father Robert Galloway in his new job in Jordan as a community development adviser.

Just a few minutes after takeoff, the forty-five-year old Capt. Barron radioed a "mayday" signal to the St. Louis Airport that he had one engine on fire.  For thirty minutes Barron and his first officer William G. Gates valiantly fought to glide his damaged  plane to a nearby military airstrip.  Unlike his successful crash landing in Chicago, this situation was different, completely different.    His plane was on fire and falling fast.  Stewardess Thelma Ballard did all she could to comfort the terrified passengers.
Witnesses at Fort Leonard Wood saw the plane as its glided toward the runway some two hundred to five hundred feet above the ground.  It appeared at first that the plane would make it to safety, but all of sudden there were muffled explosions.  Parts and eventually  the wings dropped off the plane as it tumbled for a quarter of a mile before it  disappeared into a woody ravine only a half a mile from the edge of the landing strip and possible safety.  It was the third time in less than eight months that an American Convair out of Springfield crashed.  Previously in March, thirteen were killed and twenty-two were injured in the only crash Barron was not involved in.

Rescue workers, thwarted by a dense underbrush of vines, scrubby trees and brambles  and the intense flames emanating  from the plane, desperately tried to rescue the passengers and crew.  All of thirty people aboard perished inside the inferno.

Captain Hugh Clafton Barron was buried in Northview Cemetery.   He was born to William J. and Ella May Hughes Barron of Dublin on Christmas Eve 1909.  He married his wife Margaret in 1928 and for a time lived with their daughter Maggie in a house at 318 Rowe Street in Dublin.  After he graduated from high school, Clafton worked as a delivery clerk for the post office.

Clafton Barron may have died in a plane crash, but he died as a hero, sixty years ago today.  During the last thirty minutes of his life and with his very last breath, Barron fought to keep his plane flying, trying to save the other  twenty nine souls aboard. And, those forty two other persons who survived the Chicago crash landing owe their lives and the lives of their descendants to the brave and the dauntless, Captain Hugh Clafton Barron. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2015


A Memorial Day Remembrance

Memorial Day is, and should be, a day on which we commemorate and honor the memory of those Americans who gave their lives in the service of country.  For the last one hundred and forty-two years, Americans have paid homage to those who gave the last full measure of devotion.  While many of those who have sacrificed their lives did so in battles on the land, on the sea and in the air, some have died slow and tortuous deaths, under mysterious and horrendous circumstances.  This is the story of Private Robert L. Horton of Laurens County, Georgia.

Robert Lee Horton, a younger son of Wash and Maggie Horton, was born in Laurens County on August 24, 1924.  Robert grew up on his father's farm and attended the local school when he wasn't busy doing his chores around the house and in the fields.

Horton enlisted in the United States Army sometime shortly after his eighteenth birthday.  He was assigned to the 422nd Infantry Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  After training in Tennessee and Indiana, the 422nd left from  Boston and arrived in England just in time for Thanksgiving.   Horton's regiment arrived in France on December 6, 1944.

For the previous six months, the Allied forces had made steady progress in their march toward the German capital in Berlin.   Ten days after the Division arrived in France, all Hell broke loose.  The division was positioned at the Schnee Eifel salient near Schonberg, Belgium.  All was relative quiet in Ardnennes Forest.  Early, and unexpectedly, on the morning of December 16, 1944, a massive German force broke through the American line.  Jim Cram, of Co. E of the 422nd, remembered "They got us surrounded on top of a hill.  They had tanks of on top of the hill firing down on us and 90,000 Germans coming at us."

By the end of the next day, the 422nd and 423rd regiments were surrounded. Colonels Descheneaux and Cavender realized that further resistance was futile and could result in total annihilation of their men.  After two days of negotiations with German commanders, the Americans surrendered in the largest mass surrender of US troops in the Eastern Theater of Operations.  The captured were taken to POW camps at Stalag XIIA and Stalag IXB.

Three hundred and fifty of approximately two thousand prisoners were assigned to  a prison camp at Berga, a mining center in Germany.   The prisoners arrived in Berga on a train from Bad Orb just before Valentine's Day, but their new quarters would be  worse than they already experienced. The men were brought in to help the thousand or so political prisoners already in the town digging tunnels for some unknown military reason.

Prisoner Gerald Daub noted, "The air was just totally filled with stone dust.  Everything coated with it, including your lungs filled with it. And we had no bathing facilities, so you can picture that, after a day or two, we just looked like cement statues walking around."

Some historians believe that the POWs at Berga were selected because they were Jewish or simply looked as if they may be Jewish.  In reality, eighty, or less than a quarter of the prisoners, were Jewish.  There were some 120-130 captives who were branded as "trouble makers" for failing to follow orders  or violators of camp rules.  The rest of the compliment of prisoners needed for the operation of the mines were randomly selected from other camps.

Atrocities were common.  In comparison to POW camps in the South Pacific, German camps were generally considered less barbaric.  Such was not the case with the Nazi camp at Berga.  To prevent escapes at night, prisoners were stripped of their clothes, which were stored in an adjoining building, and placed two to a bunk bed stacked three high, with little or no heat on the coldest of nights. Threats were constant and often brutal.  The prisoners were frequently forced to stand in the bitter elements with little clothing for long hours.

In an average week, each prisoner received about a hundred grams of bread a week. This hard crusty black ration was not your normal piece of sandwich bread, but  was often made with a saw dust filler. Tea, boiled with weeds and shrubs, was highly coveted.  If the prisoners were lucky, their soup was made with rotten potatoes and turnips.  The usual soup de jour. was made with cats and even rats, according to Anthony Acevedeo, a medic with the 275th Infantry regiment.

To pass the time, the prisoners often dreamed and talked of their favorite foods and what each would eat for their first meal when they got back to their homes.  In his book, Given Up For Dead, Flint Whitlock wrote, "Some recall that, from different parts of the barracks, intermingled with the moans and hacking coughs and nightmare shrieks, came the soft sounds of crying."

Private Robert Lee Horton died on April 2, 1945 in Stalag 9C at Bad Sulza Sax We  Mer, succumbing to the diseases, bed bug bites, cold temperatures and malnutrition which typified the daily life at Berga.   He was only a twenty-year-old kid.   In the latter part of the day, the prisoners at Berga could hear the sound of artillery and small arms fire in the vicinity.  It was clear that some offensive action was underway to free them from their torment.    The guards came in, rounded up
everyone who could walk, and forced the men to march away from the camp toward the mountains.

Along the trek, some seventy-seven prisoners died.  Those who survived, remembered the horror of the rotting corpses of political prisoners, including women and children, who had been slaughtered by the desperate Germans.  On April 23, 1945, the surviving POWs were liberated.  In comparison with the Malmedy Massacre, the deaths at Berga and along the march were the most atrocious acts of barbarism perpetrated upon American prisoners in Europe.

Robert Lee Horton nearly lived to breathe the air of freedom.   So when you pass by the grave yard of Mt. Zion Baptist Church next to Southwest Laurens Elementary School, remember that lying there is a man who died for all of us and for the generations to come.  It is only fitting that on this Memorial Day, we celebrate his dedication and the dedication of hundreds of thousands of Americans who given
the last full measure of devotion to our nation.  May God bless their souls.


Soaring to New Heights

Grover C. Nash could fly a plane with the best of any pilot of his day.  In 1938,  he made history during National Air Mail Week.  This is the story of a poor farm boy from Twiggs County, Georgia who piloted his plane into history as he became the first African American pilot to fly and deliver the U.S. mail.

Grover C.  Nash was born in Dry Branch, Georgia way back on April 4, 1911.   He was seventh child and third son of Joe and Annie Nash.  No one alive seems to remember what his life was like as a child, but history tells us that it had to be tough.

Nash marveled in wonder when he saw planes flying overhead.  Like most boys of his day, Grover dreamed of flying like a bird.  But being black and being in the South, his chances of getting to fly in an airplane were just about as slim as his sprouting wings and flying on his own power.

Grover Nash went North in hopes of attending flight training classes.  The color of his skin prevented him from being accepted. But in 1931, Grover was  accepted into flight school. A graduate of Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical University in Chicago and Moore's Flying School in Dayton, Ohio, Nash had earned a Master Mechanic's certificate within two years.  Flying his own plane, a midwing monoplane he dubbed Little Annie, Grover Nash honed his flying skills under the tutelage of Roscoe Turner in St. Louis.  Turner, a World War I pilot, was a champion racing pilot in the 1930s.  He also studied under John C. Robinson, who was one of the founders of the Challenger Aero Club, one of the first black pilots organizations.

Tuskeegee Institute was supposed to be the destination of Nash's first long distance flight. Flying with him would be Col. Robinson and Cornelious Coffee, two of the nations' most famous pilots. The trio were engaging in a southern tour to Birmingham, Chattanooga, Murfreesboro, as well as stops in St. Louis, Terre Haute and other cities in Illinois.  While they were approaching Decatur, Alabama, Robinson and Coffee had to crash land their two-man plane.  Being the junior members of the group, Coffee and Nash remained in Decatur, while their leader went on to address students at Tuskeegee. Nash's disappointment vanished when he returned the following year to visit the renowned black educational institution.

Nash made headlines in January 1935 when he gave a dazzling exhibition at an air show celebrating the seventy-second anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  As a lieutenant of the Military Order of the Guards and a member of the Challenger Aero Club, Grover's reputation in Chicago continued to grow.  To help pay the bills, Nash managed the service department for a chain of automobile parking lots in the Chicago area and operated his own flight school for six years.

A well-experienced private pilot, Grover C. Nash was somewhat of an automobilist.  In 1937, Nash set out from his Chicago home to visit a sick relative in Los Angeles.  Driving with little or no pauses, Grover made the 2,448 mile trip in 48 hours for an average of 50.8 miles per hour, a record for any automobile at the time.  It wouldn't be the only time that year that Grover Nash would take a long trip to see a relative.  When Grover left home in 1929, he promised his daddy that one day he would return home  in a plane.  There was much joy that day in Dry Branch when Grover's monoplane came over the tree tops and landed on the red clay soil of home.

The United States Postal Service established National Air Mail Week in 1938.  As a part of the celebration, an experiment was conducted to determine the feasibility of picking up and delivering air mail throughout small cities and large towns throughout the country.

It was early in the afternoon of May 19, 1938.  Excitement was escalating in Mattoon,  Illinois.  It was the first time the city's mail would be flown to its recipients around the state and the country.  As Nash landed his Davis monoplane in Mattoon, he was greeted by the post master, the police chief, city officials and somewhere near one hundred curious onlookers.   Grover was given a hero's welcome, a tour of the city, and dinner at a local caf‚.  Nash stashed about seven hundred more letters inside his plane and headed off to Charleston, only ten minutes away.

Charleston had never had airmail service either.  But, Grover Nash couldn't have dreamed that his reception there would dwarf the welcome he received on his first stop.  An estimated eight thousand people crammed the runway of the city's first airport.  A band played.  The crowd cheered. Nash waved to his adoring admirers.     After waiting out a severe thunderstorm, Nash took off at 5:45 for Rantoul with another two thousand letters.

An astonished Nash later told a reporter for the Chicago Defender that no one seemed to notice his color along the way - especially the  hundreds who pressed him to autograph their letters.  It was, however, the first time that an African American had carried U.S. mail through the air. And, on that day, Nash made the longest flight and carried more letters than any of the 146 pilots, before returning to Chicago, five minutes ahead of his scheduled arrival.

Five months later on Halloween Day, Grover Nash joined hands in marriage with his sweetheart, Miss Lillie Borras.

A group of black pilots in the Chicago area organized as the National Airmen Association of America in an effort to stimulate interest in aviation and understanding of aeronautics.  On August 16, 1939, a petition was filed to incorporate the organization in the state of Illinois.  Naturally, Grover C. Nash was among the founding directors.  The Airmen staged the first national all black air show in United States history earlier that summer.

During World War II, Grover Nash served his country as mechanical instructor at the US Army Air Force Aircraft Mechanical School.  He spent sixteen months as an instructor for the Army Air Force Training Command. In his first ten years of flight, Grover Nash  logged more than 3,000 flight hours in thirty different types of aircraft.     In 1943, Nash was the only black instructor at Keesler Field in Mississippi and Lincoln Air Base in Nebraska.   After the war, Nash was a member of the faculty of Dunbar Vocational High School in Chicago, where he taught before his retirement to Los Angeles.

While visiting his relatives back home in Twiggs County, Grover Nash died on August 10, 1970.  He was buried in the church cemetery of White Springs Baptist Church.  Ten years after his death, Grover Nash was honored by in the exhibit "Black Wings" in the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.


 Stump Speaking in Dublin 

No one in late Nineteenth Century Georgia was more popular. During the War Between the States, General John Brown Gordon was one of General Robert E. Lee's most trusted lieutenants. After the war, Gordon staunchly fought reconstruction. Elected to the United States Senate in 1873, Senator Gordon, the first ex-Confederate to preside over a senate session, convinced his old enemy, President U.S. Grant, to rid Georgia and the rest of the South of corrupt northern officials who had been placed in power by Grant's successor, Andrew Johnson. He would return to Capital Hill in 1891, but in 1886, Gordon found himself embattled once again, not on the battlefields of Virginia, but in the most vicious of all war like combat, state politics. 

  With all of his popularity throughout the state, Senator Brown couldn't garner the support of Laurens Countians during his first gubernatorial campaign. The day - June 22, 1886. The occasion - a political speech by Senator Gordon. The location - the yard of the First Baptist Church in Dublin. 

The politicos of Dublin and Laurens County should have seen it coming. That morning it looked as if was going to rain. Supporters of Gordon's opponent, Senator Augustus O. Bacon, wanted to stage a rally of their own that day. Major Hanson of Macon had arrived the day before in hopes of espousing the platform of Senator Bacon. Bacon's men acknowledged that the day would belong to Senator Gordon, but requested that once the senator had finished his oratory, that their man be allowed to address the crowd. At first, the Gordon committee refused, though they were offered full reimbursement for the cost of the stand and seats. So the Bacon men retorted that they would stage a rally of their own in the courthouse at 11:00 a.m. In an act of political respect, a consideration still in affect in those days, Major Hanson vetoed the suggestion stating that all the crowd gathering to hear Senator Gordon would have gone home before the main speech was scheduled to start. 

It was 9:00 o'clock in the morning and Senator Gordon was not at the Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad depot on the east side of the river. It was later reported that the train had an accident up the line and that the honored guest and widely heralded general was relegated to riding a mule into town. Gordon finally arrived around 1:00 o'clock, a mere hour before his speech was scheduled to begin. Upon his arrival, Gordon was adamant that no one, including Major Hanson, would be allowed to speak for Bacon on his stand. Reportedly, Gordon promised that if Hanson was allowed to speak, "I will contact my committee in Atlanta to send a man after Major Bacon at his every appointment and make it hot for him." Several hundred men gathered around the grounds of the church to hear the Senator speak. 

Most of them actually came to hear Major Hanson. County Court Judge Mercer Haynes, a former mayor and postmaster of Dublin, and Confederate veteran, rose to introduce the illustrious guest. Gordon rose to speak. His reception chilled the hot air of the first day of summer. People in the crowd asked questions. Gordon responded petulantly. To make matters worse, two of Gordon's supporters, inebriated with several swallows of liquor, interrupted the General frequently and in an ugly and idiotic manner, which only further instigated the crowd to become even more indignant. 

After about twenty minutes, Gordon's eloquent speech turned into rambling gibberish. Temperatures and tempers were rising. All of the shady spots were covered with people. Gordon's voice faltered. He called for a water glass with sugar and honey added to help him get the words out of his raspy throat. During the next two hours, Senator Gordon attempted to rebut the charges of which he had be condemned for during the campaign. Gordon challenged his hecklers by asking that if he was guilty that he "be buried beneath an avalanche of votes and that he be driven from the society of decent and honorable men." 

Just when he nothing more to say, or couldn't say anything more, Gordon turned to James B. Sanders, a young attorney who had just moved to Dublin to practice law, pulled on his coat sleeve and then jerked it. "Now make your remarks; go on; now is the time," Gordon ordered as he remained on the standing, talking until Sanders began to speak. Bacon backers protested loudly, yelling," Hanson! Hanson! Hanson!" Gordon and the nervous Sanders refused to yield the stand. The overwhelmingly Bacon crowd urged Hanson to take the stand, some even volunteering to "clear the way." Owing to his love of peace, Hanson declined the violent alternative and waited for the commotion to subside. Dr. R. H. Hightower yelled out, "Then we'll go to the courthouse!" Captain Rollin A. Stanley, the local president of the Bacon club, spoke out that in the interest of good order that Major would be better served by leaving and making his remarks elsewhere. 

Hanson agreed. Those who wanted to hear about their man raced to the courthouse. Within five minutes, there were only about forty or fifty people left before the grandstand. One Bacon supporter, Attorney T.L. Griner, remained to chastize Senator Gordon. Amid cries of "You're killing time" and "That's your way," Griner protested, "The committee promised us the stand!" Gordon and Griner went back and forth "They did! - They didn't." 

An announcement was made that a reception was going to be held in front of the stand. When no one approached, aides and supporters nudged those still remaining to step forward. Gordon greeted the lingerers in his own personal and amiable way by placing his left hand on their shoulders and saying something gracious to them. Those who remained slowly began to ease away. Gordon, in an effort to keep the reception going, re-shook the hands of those still on the stands. Within thirty minutes, virtually no one was left. Seeing that his continuing presence was futile, Gordon joined his escorts and retreated back to Wrightsville. 

Major Hanson spoke for ninety minutes to an agreeable and cheering crowd. He attacked Gordon for being a privy counselor to Victor Newcomb, a railroad speculator and a convict lessee. 

A mass meeting was held at the courthouse on July 6, 1886. Bacon tallied 360 Democratic votes and Gordon managed to garner only 248. John T. Chappell, Louis C. Perry, and Thomas B. Felder, Jr. were elected as delegates committed to Bacon. Statewide, Gordon won the Democratic nomination by a count of 252 to 74. With no Republican candidate of any consequence, Gordon was assured of winning the election in November.

In the end, Gordon triumphed, despite the vicious opposition he faced under the shade trees of the First Baptist Church and which must have seemingly been as fierce as that he received from the Army of the Potomac some twenty years before. Within 18 years, Gordon would die. All was forgiven as thousands of Dubliners and Laurens Countians gathered inside and outside the sanctuary of the First Methodist Church for a memorial service to honor one of Georgia's greatest heroes of the 19th Century.