What is: Tobacco Farm Barns near Simsbury, CT

What was: In June 1944, trains carrying 185 students from Morehouse College in Atlanta arrived in a northern Connecticut town of Simsbury.  The students had arrived to work in the tobacco fields and harvest shade tobacco, then one of Connecticut’s biggest cash crops. These fields and barns are where Martin Luther King spent time working as a 15-year-old.  He would spend 2 summers working in the fields around Simsbury.

More than just a job, this was his first exposure to the Northeast and to a society that was not formally segregated.  He attended Simsbury churches, sang with the choir, enjoyed drugstore milkshakes and attended movies at Eno Hall. He made weekend visits to the “big city” of Hartford. In a letter to his mother in June 1944 he remarked that he had eaten in “one of the finest restaurants in Hartford” and that he had “never thought” that people of different races “could eat anywhere” together.

He wrote a week earlier of going to the same church in Simsbury as white people. His new calling as a religious leader was emerging, too.  “I have to speak on some text every Sunday to 107 boys. We really have good meetings,” he wrote.  MLK later credited that time with helping him decide to enter the clergy, which, in turn, led him to join the civil rights movement. Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/nyregion/martin-luther-king-in-connecticut-closer-to-a-promised-land.html

https://www.mlkinct.com/ and  Dr King in Simsbury

 

 

What is: The closed Strider Academy, a PK-12 school in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, which operated from 1971 until 2018.

What was: The school was established in 1971 as a segregation academy to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to racially integrated public schools.  Strider Academy was named for the sheriff who investigated and obstructed justice in the murder of Emmett Till.  He went on to become a state senator. Shortly before his death in 1970, Clarence Strider donated the land for Strider Academy.

The school campus suffered two fires in two weeks in August 1977. The main building and the field house were both destroyed. The FBI was involved in the investigation.  In 1989, Greenwood public schools trustee Jeff Milman resigned after the NAACP protested his decision to enroll his children in Strider Academy instead of racially integrated public schools. Milman stated that his children wanted to attend Strider and that it was closer to his residence.

Strider Academy said it admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and that it does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, tuition assistance programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.

However, as of 2016, the school’s students were 96% white. Filings for the 2015–16 school year indicates that all seventy-two students at the school were white. Tallahatchie County is 54% black.

What is: Tallahatchie Sheriff’s Office and Jail, Charleston, Mississippi

What was: An imposing man weighing 270 pounds, Strider was the sheriff of Tallahatchie County and a wealthy plantation owner in the heart of the cotton-growing Delta. His property could be identified from miles away by the letters S-T-R-I-D-E-R, which he insisted be painted on the roofs of sharecroppers’ shacks.  Strider was the first official to learn that a body had been discovered by a young man fishing in the Tallahatchie River.  He would also become the first person to question whether the body they found that day was a black man or even Emmett Till.

Originally Roy Bryant and half-brother JW Milan were arrested and held in Leflore County jail for kidnapping.  After an 18-member grand jury hearing held in Sumner issued indictments for kidnapping and murder on September 6, in Tallahatchie County, Milam and Bryant were moved to this jail in the Tallahatchie County seat at Charleston.

Carolyn Bryant’s “memoir” notes that one evening, she and her sister-in-law, Juanita Milam, were “smuggled” into the jail for a lovely dinner and evening with their husbands.  She also recounts an evening before the trial when Milam and Bryant showed up for a lovely extended family gathering at Leslie Milam’s plantation house (the same place where Emmett Till was tortured and murdered out in the shed).

There is another reason this jail has a strange place in the Emmett Till story.  At least two of JW Milan’s black employees were forced to be involved in Till’s kidnapping and murder. The employees were Levi “Too Tight” Collins and Henry Lee Loggins. Because Loggins and Collins were eyewitnesses to the murder they held the potential, if they could be found and convinced to testify, to fundamentally alter the legal proceedings.

Loggins and Collins, however, could not be found. According to one of the Black reporters covering the story, Jimmy Hicks, the men had been booked in this jail, in Charleston, 28 miles away from the trial, to preclude the possibility that they might be found and might testify. https://tillapp.emmett-till.org/items/show/7

What is: Emmett Till Memorial Highway, US 49E intersects with Mississippi Highway No. 32, Henry Clarence Strider Memorial Highway, near Webb, Mississippi

What was: An imposing man weighing 270 pounds, Strider was the sheriff of Tallahatchie County and a wealthy plantation owner in the heart of the cotton-growing Delta. His property could be identified from miles away by the letters S-T-R-I-D-E-R, which he insisted be painted on the roofs of sharecroppers’ shacks.

Strider was the first official to learn that a body had been discovered by a young man fishing in the Tallahatchie River. He hoped to bury the body right away, and even ordered Emmett Till’s Mississippi relatives to get his body in the ground by nightfall. Strider made the unusual move of testifying for the defense. He shed doubt on the identification of Emmett’s body, saying the corpse had been submerged too long to tell whether it was that of a white or a black person, suggesting the body might have been planted there by the NAACP.  He is also suspected of helping hide several witnesses so they could not be found to testify.His testimony bolstered the main defense argument: Emmett Till was still alive and well, living in Detroit with his grandfather. After the verdict was announced, Strider publicly congratulated the defendants. Source: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/emmett-biography-sheriff-clarence-strider/

In 1972, 2 years after Strider died of a heart attack, a portion of Mississippi Highway No. 32 running between Webb and Charleston in Tallahatchie County was named the Henry Clarence Strider Memorial Highway.  In 2005, 50 years after Emmett Till was lynched in one of the most infamous crimes of the civil rights era, a stretch of Mississippi highway was dedicated to him. It is a section of the highway his body traveled to be sent back to Chicago.

The Strider and Till highways intersect near Webb, Mississippi.

What is: The old steel mill wheel at the front of Tredegar iron works which is today the main visitor center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park and the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar.

What was: the iron works plant in Richmond opened in 1837 by a group of businessmen and industrialists who sought to capitalize on the Transportation Revolution. Tredegar operated on hydro power by harnessing the James River and the canal. The plant employed skilled domestic and foreign workers as well as slaves and free blacks. By 1860 it was the largest facility of its kind in the South – a contributing factor to the choice of Richmond as the capital of the confederacy.

It produced the steel for the first Confederate ironclad ship, as well as about half of the artillery production. It also manufactured steam locomotives, rail spikes and clamps. The iron works is one of the few Civil War era buildings that survived the burning of Richmond.

Tredegar began producing again by the end of 1865. By 1873 it employed 1,200 workers and was profitable business. The financial panic of 1873 hit the company hard and it did not make the transition to steel. The Tredegar company remained in business throughout the first half of the 20th century, and supplied requirements of the armed forces of the United States during World War I and World War II.

The company name Tredegar derives from the Welsh industrial town that supplied much of the company’s early workforce.

What is: Original Route 66, ghostly and abandoned Route 66 near Hext, OK.

What Was: Route 66 has been the path of migrants, dreamers, desperados, and an entire generation of vacationers discovering the way west. America’s Mother Road originally meandered more than 2,400 miles between Chicago and Los Angeles, including nearly 400 miles across Oklahoma. Route 66 through Oklahoma was also known as the Will Rodgers Highway, a tribute to stage, film and vaudeville actor, cowboy, humorist and social commentator of Cherokee descent.

Originally Hext grew as the railroad passed through on the way to Texas. A ranch and farm community, it only had a post office for a year in the early 1900s. As Route 66 came through it had a smattering of buildings and a gas station. Hext also featured a fairly large brick school that was built by the Work Progress Administration in the 1930’s.

Route 66 was never just one road. It was continually realigned through communities and upgraded from 2 to 4 lanes and from cement to asphalt. Route 66 came through Hext in 1929 after being upgraded in a realignment. This section of Route 66 was paved with asphalt over the original 1929 concrete base. In 1973, Route 66 through Hext became the last section of Route 66 to lose its designation to I-40.

What is: Closed Lunenburg High School.

What was: On this site The Lunenburg Training School was founded in 1920 with support from the Jeanes Fund. In 1924, Rosenwald Funds aided in the construction of a larger school and later a shop building. More than 370 “Rosenwalds,” as they are commonly known, were built in Virginia between 1917 and 1932. They supported educational opportunities for black youth living in segregated communities throughout the South. In 1949 Lunenburg County built a new brick building that became Lunenburg High School. After the county desegregated its schools in 1969, it became a junior high school. Source: https://www.kenbridgevictoriadispatch.com/2018/04/11/book-preserves-countys-educational-history/

 

Hate runs deep and affects how things are memorialized… to the point of tearing down buildings. This story has lots in it…burning crosses, sequestered juries, second generation families carrying on…
What is: Vacant lot in Sumner, Mississippi across the street from the courthouse. It was the site of the Delta Inn.
What was: Built in 1920, the Delta Inn was a mansion that was the center of midcentury Sumner society and, during the Emmett Till trial, the site at which the jury was sequestered. The Emmett Till Memorial Commission crafted noncontroversial prose about the history of the hotel and its role in the trial. The prose was used for the lavender sign that once stood at this spot. The Commission inserted a final line that claimed a cross was burned in front of the Delta Inn midway through the trial—an event which was widely reported at the time.
Just before the Commission was formed in late 2005, John Whitten III, whose father was the Defense lawyer, purchased the site of the then-crumbling Delta Inn. Mr Whitten’s closing argument in the Emmett Till trial admonished the jury, “Every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men.” Much like his father, Whitten III’s record on race relations is poor. In 2009, the NAACP accused him of a hate crime for organizing a vigilante mob to pursue an untried, unarmed African American man whom he believed was guilty of burglary. He chased the man in a World War II-era armored tank.
Shortly after purchasing the site of the Delta Inn, Whitten hired a Greenwood firm to take it down brick by brick. A newspaper reporter with a keen eye noted, “Once the structure is demolished and the property cleared, Whitten will be left with a spacious vacant corner lot facing the town’s Courthouse Square.”
Predictably, Whitten was not excited about the prospect of a sign on his property commemorating the murder of Emmett Till. Although the sign did not mention his father’s role in the injustice, one can imagine that Whitten is not looking for ways to commemorate his father’s legacy. Interviewed by NPR, he said, “We didn’t do it. It didn’t happen here. This was something that was dragged in and left to rot in our courthouse. . . . [It was] a long time ago, part of history. I don’t think it should be denied. I don’t think it should be honored.” Apparently, he also did not think it should be marked with a sign. Shortly after the signs were erected, Whitten was heard late at night on the square claiming that the Delta Inn roadside marker would end up on the bottom of the Tallahatchie River. Shortly thereafter, the sign went missing. Source: Emmett Till Memory Project. https://tillapp.emmett-till.org/items/show/16
Historic Image: This is one of the few extant pictures of the long-gone Delta Inn. The Inn was built in 1914, housed the sequestered jury in 1955, and was demolished in the early twenty first century by John Whitten III, son of John Whitten Jr., who defended Till’s murderers. | Source: Delta Dogs, Maude Schuyler Clay | Rights: All Rights Reserved; Maude Schuyler Clay

What is: The Fork Union Drive In Theatre,  Route 612, Fork Union, VA,

What was: Frayser Francis “F.F.” White II opened the Fork Union Drive-In in 1953.  It was closed in 2013. This single screen drive-in has a capacity for 180 cars, making it Virginia’s smallest. This Drive In has traditional pole speakers and it was a classic drive-in located in a grass field.  (Source: Driveinmovie.com)

There are currently about 330 drive-in theaters that remain in operation in the United States compared to a peak of about 4,000 in the late 1950’s. In the 1980s there were fewer than 200 Drive-Ins operating in Canada and the United States.

Drive-in theatres were especially popular with the post WWII and baby boomer generation, especially in rural areas. Drive in theatres were affordable and attractive to families (older adults could see a movie while taking their children in the car with them. Some drive-ins even offered diaper vending machines). Eventually many Drive-Ins added mini golf and play areas for the children to further expand the family friendly night of entertainment. Drive-Ins were also an affordable date night.  By the 1950s those affordable date nights, combined with the privacy of the car, gave Drive-ins a new reputation — as passion pits.

For the owners of the Drive-Ins, the cost of building and maintaining a drive-in theater was cheaper than that of an in-door theater. The decline for Drive-Ins is often viewed through the lens of the emergence of color TV, cable TV and the advent of VCRs. Other factors include the 1970s gas crisis, inflation and increased real estate values, making the land less affordable for this kind of business.

 

What is: Cohasset Depot, is an unincorporated community in Fluvanna County, Virginia

What was: Cohasset became a community because of the Virginia Air Line Railway, with the train station being known as the Fork Union Depot. The station served the community of Cohasset itself which grew up around the depot soon after it was built – a general store and post office, four houses, a very early gas station, all of which still stand. Mrs. Lettie Dickey, who with her husband sold the land for the station to the railroad, had named the community Cohasset for her hometown in Massachusetts.

The train traveled from Strathmore Yard on the James River to Cohasset, Carysbrook, Palmyra, Troy and to Gordonsville or Charlotttesville. The railroad was completed and began operating in October 1908. This branch route was built to handle cargo that would have otherwise been too tall or wide to fit through the tunnels that crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains between Charlottesville and Waynesboro.

Coal destined for Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia was sent down the James River Line to the southern junction of the route at Strathmore Yard, near Bremo Bluff. The shipments then proceeded up the Virginia Air Line to the northern junction at Lindsay, and continued on to Gordonsville. The Fork Union Depot served as a typical small railroad station of its day. Much of the local commercial business was associated with the nearby sawmill, canning factory, and two small oil storage companies. The passengers came from the surrounding farms, small towns, and the Fork Union Military Academy. The train was the main transportation for Cadets attending nearby Fork Union Military Academy for many years.

The railway also became an important line of communication that connected the small communities along the route with larger cities, such as Washington, D.C. C&O began to operate the company directly in July 1909, and acquired it outright in July 1912. In 1927, dedicated passenger rail service was reduced to one train per day in each direction, and replaced by mixed (passenger and freight) trains in June 1932. Mixed trains stopped running in 1954. The growing adoption of automobiles, trucks and airplanes had been taking business away from railroads since the 1930s.

On October 26, 1971, the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors unsuccessfully sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad to keep the railway in operation; it was abandoned in November 1975. Source: Wikipedia