As a reporter, getting “the whole story” includes gathering information from various perspectives to make sure the story is balanced. As a researcher, I’m finding that history– especially a segregationist one– doesn’t always play by the same rules.
I spent a few hours today at the Birmingham Public Library, which has an extensive Southern History research room. In it, there are hundreds of books about the history, families and culture of Southern states. I spent most of my time trying to read more about the Dobbins family in Georgia and researching what I could about my roots in Lower Alabama.
My eyes lit up when I saw a book titled “The Heritage of Coffee County (Ala).” I just knew that this book would contain some interesting tidbits about the paternal side of my family. After all, I thought, how does a family stay in one place for more than 130 years and remain unnoticed?
I looked for any mention of my family members in the military section of the book. They had served in every war since World War I. Nothing.
I thought I might come across an entry about the Coppinville section of Enterprise in the communities section. This is the area where some of Coffee County’s earliest black residents settled. My forbears have lived there for most of the 20th century. Street signs even boast family surnames. No such luck.
Maybe the education section would detail the history of the Coffee County Training School, the high school for black students that my great-grandfather, J.E. Nance, donated land to after the original building burned now. Again, nothing.
Actually, there weren’t very many entries about the black residents of Coffee County. The way the information was presented was as though if Coffee County did have black residents, they were of marginal importance.
However, I did come across the following:
— my great-grandparents, Marion and Emma Barnes Whitehurst, according to an entry submitted by some of my Whitehurst cousins, established the Triumph Holiness Church in Coffee County after moving there from Barbour County, Ala.
— my uncle, Marlin Nance (one of my great-grandfather’s younger brothers), was an early officer of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Coppinville, which is still in existence.
As bothered as I am by what I read– or more appropriately, what I didn’t read– I am that much more driven to find and document as much as I can about my family. As rich as my legacy is, I would hate for it to be devalued and forgotten by history.