Watch your step

School playgrounds can be hazardous.

There are the usual hassles of equipment: tall metal slides, monkey bars, boys swinging as high as possible and jumping out of the seats.

There are also unexpected hazards.

A quick hit from the recommendations for Dallas Grammar School faculty in 1955:

“(f) The fact that there is an electrically charged fence bordering on the school grounds was also discussed. We were assured that Mr. Scoggins had already warned the children of this fact and had spoken to the owner of the fence. We were assured, also, that the fence was not heavily charged. However, we would deem it advisable that you discuss this charged fence with your children and strongly advise them to AVOID it.”

Alas, there are no known updates as to if there were any incidents involving the fence.

The year of 1955 seems to have been a dangerous one. During the same month as the mention of the Dallas hazard, Toomsboro had its own close call on campus.

At Toomsboro Elementary, a second grader named Marie “was bitten by a poisonous snake while playing on the school grounds during recess Monday. The child was rushed to a local doctor for emergency treatment and then carried to a Milledgeville hospital.”

Sources: The Dallas New Era – Sept. 15, 1955; Wilkinson County News – Sept. 16, 1955


Not a swell time in Atlanta

Compared with the rural nature of most of Georgia, Atlanta likely seemed a bed of vice, especially in the 1940s.

The city, however, kept some illicit things out of sight – literally.

Atlanta had a movie censor, keeping your eyes from seeing what it shouldn’t on the many, many theaters that existed in the city.

Miss Christine Smith held the post in 1947.

She  made the news in February of that year by banning Swell Guy, a Universal flick starring Sonny Tufts as the leading cad, Jim Duncan.

The wire story in the Waycross Journal-Herald described her reasoning as such: “the leading man has an illicit love affair[;] an affair with a thrice-married woman teaches his nephew to cheat and dies a hero’s death.”

Sounds rotten, eh?

It looks like, though, there was a bit more nuance than Smith saw in it.

Avoiding the spoilers (which can easily be discovered by searching for “Swell Guy” and “movie” in a search engine), the review from the New York Times said that not everyone was amazed by Duncan.

“This fact becomes very soon apparent as this new film at the Winter Garden unreels, but it takes some of the people quite a long time to catch on—and most of them never do. First to catch on is a local prom-trotter who falls in love with the fabulous gent. She gets caught in an age-old situation and roundly denounces him. Then his own sister-in-law, almost toppled by the character’s diabolic charm, discovers his evil disposition, but she doesn’t say anything because suddenly the character is offered an opportunity to die a hero—and he does.”

Universal was not thrilled about Atlanta’s denial, said Waycross, and had plans to go to court.

The Waycross article said Smith had also banned another Universal film, Scarlet Street.

Scarlet Street was a Fritz Lang film and was briefly banned in New York City before being released with cuts. It can be viewed freely at the Internet Archive. Though too scandalous for Atlanta, a listing for it at Tifton’s Tift Theatre was spotted in archives for 1953.

Sources: Waycross Journal-Herald – Feb. 18, 1947; New York Times – Jan. 27, 1947, Feb. 15, 1946.

An education in cotton picking

White schools had once upon a time adjusted their schedules according to farming interests – rural schools in Murray and Gordon counties were rarities in that they were scheduling education around crops into the 1950s – but it was a practice that likely did not completely end across the state for black schools until total integration.

Counties handled the farming requirements in different ways. Some added the non-traditional Saturday to the calendars while others essentially went to a year-round schedule.

While black residents were rarely vocal in print about any misgivings they had about any part of the inequalities going on in their school systems, a letter in Waynesboro proved that not everyone was happy about the sacrifices the schools had to make.

In 1952, an article announcing the black school calendar caused an unnamed black reader to write editor Roy Chalker of The True Citizen. The writer was upset that the schools operated to serve farmers, who frequently employed black citizens … and their children to harvest the crops. Printed August 21, the letter said:

“Dear Mr. Chalker:

The article in a recent issue concerning the opening of Burke County schools is written every year around this time.

After reading the article, I regretted to think those who make school laws could be so hard as to demand that Negro teachers work on Saturdays, so as to make up time because they are not allowed to open on time. It seems a denial of human rights and liberties.

The reason, of course, is it serves the larger farm interests, in that crops are gathered by school children. It is a deplorable situation, which can be helped only when the hearts of the people who make these laws become clean. Until that time, the Negro children of Burke County, as well as the teachers, will suffer.

Another factor which deserves consideration is that teachers, in all probability, will be there on Saturdays disgusted and disheartened at the thought of being robbed of their weekend’s rest, which they most certainly deserve.

These teachers will have no spirit to do good jobs, thereby crippling the school children and retarding progressive education.

Very truly yours,
A Negro Reader”

A week later, Chalker responded in an editorial of his own. His tone did not seem overly sympathetic.

“It is perhaps unfortunate that “cotton picking” time does come in conflict with the first few days of school,” he said, “but we believe that the best possible arrangement has been to accommodate all concerned by the school officials. Teachers and students make up the time by attending on Saturdays for eleven out of the 36 Saturdays of the term.”

Those involved in picking cotton should consider themselves lucky, even.

Chalker said, “The contention of the Negro teacher that the arrangement is designed to “serve the large farm interests” is without foundation. Especially is this so when the farmers are paying $2. to $3. per hundred for cotton picking, and a good picker makes from $5 to $10 a day.”

Further, he said, the teachers should not whine. It would be nice for them to have weekends, but the schools do not exist for them; they exist for the students.

The year before the letter to Chalker, Burke had had to postpone the black school openings three weeks to September 24 because of a large cotton crop. Saturday classes again made up the time.

The practice was not limited to Burke County.

The Sparta Ishmaelite, in announcing that black schools were taking a two-week break September 12, 1963, said the local board of education figured it best. It was either that or heavy absenteeism.

In Johnson County, even two weeks were too short.

The break in 1955 ended after that period, but superintendent Bessie B. Martin said that while city school Dock Kemp was only missing 80 of its regular enrollment, that as many as 800-1,000 were still out across the county.

During a visit to Spring Hill School in 1950 as part of a survey of The Bulloch Herald, the paper noted that only 12 of 32 enrolled were present. Teacher Lula Lockwood said they were probably helping with cotton. Spring Hill was a typical African-American school of its era in that it was one room, but it lacked a proper schoolhouse, being held in the church by that name. Instead of desks, children sat in church pews. No buses served the school, meaning that a few children were walking as much as eight miles per day to attend.

During the same edition of The Herald, the response of “chopping cotton” was also given in reply to a high absentee rate at St. Paul School. One of its students walked six miles each way to attend school.

Dooly County had a slightly different solution in regards to its farming black students.

The September 20, 1956 edition of The Vienna News reported that like many systems, Dooly had delayed school openings for its rural black schools; the city-based Vienna High and Industrial opened September 3, but the others began September 17. Additionally, the News said, “the schedule has been set from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. so that cotton pickers can help on the farm.” This was expected to last several weeks.

Other counties pushed the start of school forwards instead of back.

Elbert County in 1951 opened its county schools – Elberton was a separate system at the time – on July 30. The term would last six weeks or two months. After the cotton was harvested, the winter term would begin. This system was said to be in place for years. Walton County also reported split terms in 1953, as did Madison County in 1954 (The Madisonian on July 15, 1954, reported the session was to start July 19 and to last two months). Oglethorpe County split sessions as well in the 1950s.

Pike County’s schools recessed September 6, 1955 for what The Pike County Journal described as “cotton picking vacation.” Their delay lasted even longer than usual as the county was finishing its building program under the Minimum Foundation Program and State School Building Authority. The buildings were finished, but equipment was not in yet, delaying the schools’ reopening to November 7. If the equipment was still not in, students would briefly have to return to their old schools.

Some of the split sessions and delays seemed to die out with the consolidation of rural schools during the Minimum Foundation Program, but a few systems were still altering their black schools’ calendar well in the 1960s.

Hancock County was still using delays into the mid-1960s. Decatur County, which was battling its rural white schools in an attempt at a county-wide high school during the decade, faced more problems in 1964.

The African-American Faceville Elementary burned March 28, 1964. Bainbridge’s Post-Searchlight on April 9 said that the students were “being transported to other schools in the vicinity which have the same calendar months. The calendar year for the colored schools in that section of the county is set up so that these students are released two weeks prior to those in other areas in the county.”

Faceville’s students were split amongst Fowlstown, Attapulgus Elementary and Attapulgus-Mount Moriah High. The school would not be rebuilt.

Sources: The True Citizen – Sept. 20, 1951, Aug. 21, 1952, Aug. 28, 1952; The Sparta Ishmaelite – Sept. 12, 1963; The Wrightsville Headlight – Oct. 13, 1955; The Bulloch Herald – May 25, 1950; The Vienna News – Sept. 20, 1956; The Elberton Star – July 27, 1951; The Madisonian – July 15, 1954; The Pike County Journal – Oct. 27, 1955; Post-Searchlight – April 9, 1964.

Tex Ritter gets busted

Celebrities of the screen sold tickets often in small Georgia towns. It was not every day, though, that celebrities were ticketed in small Georgia towns.

Actor and singing cowboy Tex Ritter was pulled over in Chatsworth in December 1947 when his driver was caught speeding through the city.


Tex Ritter

As The Chatsworth Times detailed in its December 11, 1947 edition:

“Sheriff’s Deputy George Duncan had no idea he was stopping a celebrity when he halted the sporty station wagon that was speeding through town. But he wasn’t fazed when the actor arose from the back seat of the station wagon while the officer reprimanded the driver. Ritter introduced himself, but Duncan was not impressed enough to forget the whole thing.”

Nor did the court. Duncan brought Ritter and the unnamed driver before Mayor Sam Kelly.

Kelly fined Ritter $20, which apparently the star paid.

The Chatsworth Times offered no further details about where Ritter might have been headed or when exactly – beyond “last week” – he was stopped.

Ritter seems to have been going through a quiet period at the time of the Chatsworth incident. He had not appeared in a film in two years. Discogs does note a handful of single releases in 1947. Appropriately enough, they included “The Last Mile” and “I Can’t Get My Foot Off the Trail.” Son, Thomas, had been born earlier that year.

Also, just over nine months after he was fined, Ritter and wife, Dorothy Fay, became the parents to John Ritter.

Anyone missing a pet?

The Waycross Journal-Herald had a pet lost and found notice in the January 9, 1950 issue:

A pet raccoon has been found in the back yard of a local resident. This party has a squirrel and keeps a box for him. The raccoon has joined the squirrel in his tree penthouse it is reported. The squirrel wears a collar. It is a good sized raccoon. The party owning the raccoon may get in touch with the Journal-Herald for his new address.

A Duke’s drive through the deep south

Duke's route

Route of the Windsors, through southern Georgia, outlined in black over a 1950 Georgia highway map. They exited a train at Nahunta and drove west to Pearson on US 82 before going south to Lakeland, then west to Thomasville on GA 122. The motorcade took all paved routes, a rarity in that section of the state.

King Edward VIII’s abdication of the British throne for Wallis Simpson caused considerable turmoil in December 1936.

It had played out over several months in a will he or won’t he scenario that finally ended when he made a late night journey by sea to France after he and his brothers signed the abdication document.

His successor, King George VI, was on the throne, but soon had the dual turmoil of World War II and the problem of What To Do with the Duke of Windsor. There were still headaches, but fewer of them, when the Duke was posted to the Bahamas.

Time did not dim the appeal, though, of the idea of a King who gave up his throne for love.

In 1940, Elbert County sent out an invitation to the Duke and Duchess to attend the county’s 150th anniversary.

Considering his Bahamas obligations, the chance was nil that they would be able to appear, even if appearing in Elberton was high on their list.

The Elberton Star reported a letter sent back said, “The Duke and Duchess desire to thank you for your kind letter of welcome and offer of hospitality but much regret that duties will entail his remaining on these island[s] for a considerable length of time.”

Elbert County was thrilled to just get an official decline.

“The receipt of this letter and the fact that His Royal Highness saw fit to acknowledge the invitation is an exceedingly great honor, not only for Mr. [celebration director N.M.] Nelson but for the people of the country and state as well.”

Following the war, the Windsors – who married in 1937 – lived mostly a jet-set life, traveling frequently to New York.

In 1950, they took a break from New York to visit George Baker and the Horseshoe Plantation near Tallahassee, Fla., and the area buzzed with excitement for the precious few hours that an ex-King and his love would breathe the same air they breathed.

The Duke and Duchess were also in Tallahassee in January 1947, but that venture into the deep south did not capture the attention in Georgia of that in 1950.

The 1950 trek through the piney woods drew plenty of eyes. Apparently, one Sunday newspaper printed the route.

Dr. W.H. Howell, a pharmacist in Lakeland, told the Lanier County News that he was able to predict the time His Grace would be passing through town, based on that account. Howell was said to be just five minutes off that guess when the entourage rolled through.

The newspaper that published the route has yet to be discovered. Few south Georgia newspapers printed Sunday editions and it was not in the Savannah Morning News or Tallahassee Democrat.

The Windsors’ car trip began when they exited the train in Nahunta at 8:15 a.m. From there, they drove through Waycross, Pearson, Lakeland, Hahira and Thomasville before reaching Tallahassee.

The route was apparently changed late. The Valdosta Daily Times seemed to think the Windsors would be going through their town.

Instead, they turned west at Lakeland instead of going further south. Valdosta’s press quickly headed for Hahira when they learned of the change from Chris Trizonis of the Georgia State Highway Patrol, which escorted the Windsors through the state.

The cars apparently only stopped once after Nahunta – in Hahira, where they spoke to the Valdosta Daily Times.

A big crowd greeted them in Nahunta.

Douglas Enterprise editor Thomas Frier summed it up well in his account from February 2:

“Since it’s not every day that a Georgia Cracker gets to see a former King of England, we were all up for the trip.”

AT NAHUNTA, people were said to gather at the station from “Waycross, Nahunta, Jacksonville [Fla., presumably], Brunswick, Douglas, Blackshear, Hoboken and other towns.”

Also in attendance were Frier and Laurie Lee Sparrow, the latter from the Waycross Journal-Herald.

1950-01-30 Waycross Journal-Herald (Duchess of Windsor)

The Duchess of Windsor (Jan. 30, 1950 Waycross Journal-Herald)

Sparrow made special notice to describe the clothing of both:

The Duchess wore a Balanciaga wool suit of blue and red plaid. The Duchess said it was made in Paris.

He was clad in a “tweed suit and camel’s hair topcoat.” The Duke wore no hat, but did carry a pipe.

Further, Sparrow said, “No camera has ever done justice to the flawless skin, beautiful eyes, hair and beautiful figure of the Duchess.”

“In our opinion,” said Frier, “the Duchess is even more lovely than she has been described. She is as gracious in manner as she is beautiful.”

Sparrow and Frier were not the only ones gaga over the Duchess of Windsor. Mrs. George Brantley of Blackshear said the Duchess’ eyes were “gorgeous.”

The Journal-Herald gave the Duchess camellias, as did Beta Sigma Phi members. The Duke carried the box from the Beta Sigma Phis.

The Duke of Windsor took time to admire the scenery.

He asked what type of industry the area had. He had noticed a sawmill along the way. The Duchess, a Baltimore native, told the crowd that she liked hearing southern voices again.

Frier was amazed that they were indeed real, living people.

“What impressed us most about the former British monarch and his wife was their friendly and democratic attitude. There was no aloofness on the part of either as they amiably chatted with reporters and others gathered around the train.”

1950-01-30 Waycross Journal-Herald (Duke of Windsor)

Duke of Windsor (Jan. 30, 1950 Waycross Journal-Herald)

The luggage – estimated by Sparrow as being 60 pieces – was eventually loaded up and the three-car entourage sped away on Georgia Highway 50 towards Waycross.

AT PEARSON, the view was brief at 10 a.m., but noted on the front page of The Pearson Tribune.

Pearson folks smiled and waved at the Windsors and the gesture was returned.

IN LAKELAND, the motorcade rolled through at 10:25 a.m.

The Lanier County News watched the state patrol car followed by the Windsors in a station wagon. A jeep carried the luggage.

1950-02-02 Douglas Enteprise (Windsors)

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess is carrying camellias presented to her while the Duke is far left in the background. (Feb. 2, 1950 Douglas Enterprise)

BERRIEN COUNTY’S border was brushed, but the Nashville Herald made no mention of any celebrity visits.

ONE MILE EAST OF HAHIRA, the car stopped again at 10:45 a.m. to allow for Betty Wilkison of the Valdosta Daily Times and a photographer to get their story.

More camellias followed. Mrs. Lamar Wilson of the Daily Times pinned a Valdosta one, an Alba Piena Camellia, on the Duchess’ suit.

The Duchess, said Wilkison, “spoke with a pleasing accent and the congenial smile on her lips and in her eyes never left for a split second.”

He grinned at the flash bulb going off, remarking, “Those things are nearly as dangerous as an “A” Bomb or Hydrogen Bomb, aren’t they?”

The Duke took the time to nod at highway workers. They were impressed.

BROOKS COUNTY AND THOMASVILLE somehow missed the couple coming through.

The Times-Enterprise borrowed Valdosta’s report, adding a few notes about the Horseshoe Plantation, but nothing else about the ride through the city before entering Florida.

Sources: Elberton Star, Oct. 8, 1940; The Valdosta Daily Times Jan. 30, 1950; Waycross Journal-Herald, Jan. 30, 1950; Thomasville Times-Enterprise, Jan. 31, 1950; Lanier County News, Feb. 2, 1950; The Douglas Enterprise, Feb. 2, 1950; The Pearson Tribune, Feb. 2, 1950; Official Map: Georgia State Highway System, 1950. The Brantley Enterprise declined to write an original account, instead borrowing that of the Journal-Herald.

Tribute to ’56’

From the November 4, 1921 Madisonian:

“”Fifty-Six,” the famous ratter of Madison is dead. This dog belonged to all of us. Everybody fed him. He would not have a regular home but slept around town, often at the police station, as that he might be ready to go ratting any minute. And when “6” went ratting, rats went right on west. We will miss “56.” His work in town has been beyond valuation to our people. Taxes or no taxes, the City should be a nice little stone over “56,” with an account of his life and work “56” has done more for the world than some people do, for he fought an evil all his life.”