The Large Blue Tub – Part Two (A Tribute to the Civil Rights Movement)

As I historian, I am always researching.  Getting a tub full of old letters, documents, papers, and so forth from my grandmother’s cedar chest was a gold mine for me.  I have been shifting through the chaos for a while and jotting down notes about what I’ve found.  This particular post deals with my great-grandmother Martha Neely Gay.  For those who have read Book One, “The Forgotten Spell” of my series Legends of Green Isle, you will be familiar with some name dropping here.  My characters like Ms. Stacey, Thomas and Ned Neely, Miranda and her mother, Martha Gay, and of course Matt and his brother Toby Kelly, all carry the honorary names of those in my family’s history.  Referencing back to part one of “The Large Blue Tub” written last month, I have continued going through the letters and papers of Ms. Mary Louise Gay, (my grandmother’s aunt) and discovered a blank envelope with a large amount of papers and newspaper clippings in them.  After carefully extracting the aged paper, I discovered it to be a letter from the Forest Park Baptist Church dated March 31, 1954 from Pastor G. Nelson Duke, addressed to T.G. Gilbert (my great-grandfather) and Family.  It was a kind regard from the pastor for the passing of my Great-Grandma Martha Neely Gay, and in the letter he gave the information about the verses he read from the bible for her, and also a poem.  She died on a Sunday afternoon, March 21, 1954, after waging war with a heart ailment for about five weeks.

This post was going to be about the verses and poem, but something changed my direction. (I think it was the news about the celebration of MLK new memorial in Washington, D.C.)  The pastor referred to the verses  of Matthew 25: 34-40 as a reflection of my great-grandmother’s life and how she treated people around her.  I got curious so I picked up the Bible and read them.

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come you who are blessed of My Father,

inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry,

and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger,

and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison,

and you came to Me.”  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying “Lord when did we

see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You

a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?  And when did we see You sick,

or in prison, and come to You?”  And the King will answer and say to them,

“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine,

even the least of them, you did it to me.”

My Great Grandparents lived in the heart of turmoil in the 1950s.  Times were definitely changing, and so were the people in the South.  In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine which formed the basis for state-sanctioned discrimination by way of the Jim Crow Laws.  On May 17th, 1954, just two years before Martha Neely Gay passed away, the Supreme Court also ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.   With this in mind, I go forward about a year after great-grandma’s death in Montgomery, Alabama, and enter Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

Rosa Parks, after hearing a speaker talk about the brutal murder of a young African-American, decided the next day that she had enough of discrimination.  When the bus driver asked her to give up her seat to a white person, she refused and was arrested.  It did not take long for Martin Luther King to become involved and he put forth the Bus Boycott in Montgomery which lasted about a year after this incident until December 20, 1956 when a federal decision, Browder v. Gayle took effect, and Alabama’s law, along with Montgomery’s law, requiring segregated buses, was ruled to be unconstitutional as well.  The Bus Boycott was one of many successful things which happened for the Civil Rights Movement, and took place not too far from where my family lived in Alabama.

Not far from Forest Park Baptist Church, there is now a MLK Expressway.  I know you are probably asking where this is going, right?  Well, I thought about the verses, and what the author truly meant by them.  The heart of the matter?  Well we need to treat everybody with equal kindness, compassion, thoughtfulness, love, and quit trying to separate those good things from our human nature based on irrational judgements of people just because of the color of their skin, their sex, or their handicap.  We all put our pants on the same way in the morning, one leg at a time, and if you cut any human, we all bleed red.   We, as educated people, need to look at those around like they may be Christ in disguise, and treat them the way they should be.

While Civil Rights has made immense progress, there is still some work to be done.  I guess I will dive back into the large blue tub and see what other connections I may find in there.  I think I want to see about the letters from World War II.  Hey, you guys have a great day, and do not forget, love conquers all things.

The Large Blue Tub – Part One.

When Mom and Dad brought my grandmother’s cedar chest from Texas to Georgia, it sat in my dining room for about a week before I looked at the things which it sheltered.  My daughter briefly went through the contents the day it arrived, but I did not have time to.  She was the one to show me that besides several pieces of silver, there was other mementos Granny put in there from her life with my grandfather, like the japanese silk fan he brought back from overseas when he was in the Army Air Corp.

What caught my attention was a large blue tub.  Popping the lid open, I was surprised to see several large ziplock bags with Airmail letters from my grandparents from the 1950s and 60s to someone named Mary Louise Gay.  There was also turn of the century photos which were in excellent condition, but not labeled, so the identity of the people in them was uncertain.  Another large bag contained papers and receipts from the 1930s and 1940s for Mary Louise Gay, and then there were letters from my mother’s uncles, Sam and James Gay, during WWII.

I placed them back into the blue tub and sighed.  Later I would go through these when I had more time.  As a Historian, the items were evidence and I would need to carefully scrutinize the information they contained.  It was part of my heritage and I wanted to be able to put them together to see what was happening in my family’s lives during that time.

Last night I began that journey.

I started first with the immense files of Mary Louise Gay.  From what I gather, Mary Louise Gay was my Granny’s Aunt, and I don’t believe she ever married.  (Found a certificate from Continental Casualty Company which stated she was 42, and her beneficiary was her mother Sara A. Gay)   Delving into her personal files, I saw she was a very independent woman, who purchased her own home in Montgomery, Alabama, for the small price of $2250.00, her monthly payments being $17.63.  She worked as a clerk and manager for a dry goods store named A. Nachman at the rate of $16.50 per week. (Monthly receipts typed out by someone named Kate Thrasher showed she first was hired at $15.00 dollars a week but after one month got a raise.)

I tried to find out some information on A. Nachman’s store and was lucky to find an old photo with the building in it.  The caption stated it was taken at a parade in downtown Montgomery, Alabama before the annual Blue-Gray Football Classic.  A. Nachman building was on the corner, before it burned down.  I have not been able to find out when it burned down, but am still looking.

Like most of those who lived in the 1930s, she suffered from the effects of the depression.  There are many letters in her files stating she was behind in her mortgage payments, and receipts from the Regional Office in Atlanta of the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation from about 1936 to 1943.  I was curious what the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation was, so I did some research.

Home Owner’s Loan Corporation was a New Deal agency established by F.D.Roosevelt during 1933.  It’s purpose was to refinance mortgages that were in default to prevent foreclosure during the depression.  After monies were exhausted, they stopped giving aid in 1935, and then begin to liquidate the assets by selling off the mortgages.  It appears Mary Louise Gay paid them until about 1943.  I could not find anything after that, and the airmail letters from my grandparents were sent to a different address on 4th Street in Montgomery in the 1950s and 1960s.  This is something I want to investigate further as I feel she made have lost the fight to keep her home.

Going through the files is proving to be very interesting, as Mary Louise would place letters, newspaper clippings, notes, and other items in with her receipts.  I have discovered many more historical things which I will blog about later.  Right now I am going to pour over the letters from WWII, and see what they have to offer.