The short answer to the question in the headline is yes. But first a bit of background:
Coppinville is the section of Enterprise, Alabama where my paternal ancestors and relatives have lived for more than a century. In fact, if you take a drive down Coppinville Road, you’ll notice it intersects with Nance Circle and further down is Gilley Street. Gilley is my great-grandmother’s maiden name.
Anyway, Coppinville is named for Levi Jenkins Coppin, (1848-1924) a former bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. But why this guy? Well, according to this history, the Coppinville area was among the first areas in Coffee County where black people settled. Many of them belonged to the AME church, and Coppin was bishop of the church during the time Coppinville was being developed. He married Fannie Jackson, a writer, educator and missionary after whom the historically black Coppin State University is named.
I’ve been getting to know the white Nances by reading The Nance Memorial. It’s a meaty read, and virtually itemizes the Nance family, a sprawling clan whose roots in the United States begin in Virginia and spread to Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas.
With my great-great-grandfather Henry Nance (c. 1835– 1926) being a Nashville native, of course, I was most interested in the Nances of Nashville, Tenn. According to my family’s oral history, he took the name of his owner; a while ago I had identified some possible slave owners using Tennessee tax records, which included a Josiah Nance of Davidson County, Tenn.
Reading The Nance Memorial, I scanned the text for anything that might lead to more information about Henry: Davidson County, negro, slave and Nashville. (Shout out to the find function in Google Books). I quickly zeroed in on a passage about William Howe Nance (1779-1837). He and his wife had 13 children, including a son named Josiah. This particular line jumped out at me:
“. . . when Josiah married in December 1829, he gave him 50 acres on the southeast corner of his land on which he settled and raised his family of 12 children and 15 negroes.”
I had two immediate thoughts:
- William Howe Nance must have been a man of means to have had 50 acres to give to his son.*
- This Josiah must be the same one I came across in the tax records, and these 15 negroes could have included one or both of my great-great-great-grandparents, William and Lula Nance. Or neither. The only way to confirm is with some sort of document– like an inventory, a receipt, a bill of sale, or a will, like the one I found listing my great-great-great grandmother Sallie Whitehurst. (NOTE: in 1829, my great-great-grandfather Henry Nance hadn’t been born yet).
This bit of context could be the clue I’ve needed to begin to piece together Henry Nance’s life in Tennessee.
*I was right. More on that later
Christmastime is here and that means carols are blaring from speakers left and right. You can’t walk five feet without having a holly, jolly Christmas or hearing a jingle bell. My family has its own collection of holiday standards that have become staples, and no matter how many times we hear them, we never tire of the melodies or the memories. Here’s a sampling of the songs we enjoy during Christmas and why:
Daddy: Upbeat. Really puts me in the Christmas spirit. Can’t help having a merry Christmas when it’s playing.
Mom: Reminds me of romance, when you’ve just met someone and you’re looking forward to a time strengthen your relationship.
Sister: I like this song for its musicianship. I LOATHE ANY COVERS. DONNY HATHAWAY ONLY.
Me: This song lets me know Christmas is officially here. It’s a well-composed song with warm lyrics sung by a warm voice. “Presents and cards are here/My world is filled with cheer and you.” That’s exactly what Christmas is.
2. “White Christmas,” The Drifters
Daddy: Makes me think about (my brother) Tye. This was probably his all-time favorite, sang it all the time.
Mom: Just nostalgia. Being born in the South, there was never a white
Christmas, but the song was part of the songs that I always heard at Christmastime.
Sister: This song is my all time favorite Christmas song. I like the different voices. It makes me think of Daddy.
Daddy: Never paid much attention to it until recent years. Nothing like Gene Autry’s version.
Mom: Brings joy, fun and a sense of being carefree.
Sister: This song also makes me think of Daddy. #HEYRUDOLPH
Me: Now THIS is how you make a song your own.
Daddy: Takes me back to Union Springs when I was in high school and (my sister) Sue was in college. All of her friends would be home for Christmas and they’d get together. This was one of the songs they always played. Always got a hoot out of the line, “Oh, by the way, it’s snowing,” ’cause we never saw snow.
Mom: Nostalgia. I love it because I heard it often during my childhood.
Sister: I don’t really connect with this song. This song for me is when I make a plate.
Me: I love the simplicity of this song. It’s so cute! It makes me want to slip into a powder blue shift dress, press my hair, style it into a bouffant and do the Horse, the Slop, the Mashed Potatoes , the Swim and any other 1960s-related dance. Oh, and I love when she says “It’s soo-o good to tawk to you again…”
Daddy: Makes me think about the less fortunate and how we used joke about those who only got a lump of coal for Christmas.
Mom: This one was not the ordinary Christmas song and it still reminds me that there are those whose circumstances are not like the idyllic scenes we hear about in songs and see on TV, but who have the same desires as everyone else. We should not forget those who are not as fortunate as we are.
Sister: The blackest Christmas song.
Me: This is actually a quite poignant song– if you can sit still long enough to listen to the words.
Daddy: Doesn’t do much for me.
Mom: Reminds me of the joyful expectancy and excitement of looking forward to getting gifts from a fat man with a beard.
Sister: This song gets me super hype for Christmas. The buildup at the beginning gives me everything I need in life.
Me: I mean, it’s the Jackson 5 and young Michael is announcing the arrival of Santa Claus. You can’t help but get excited.
Daddy: Makes me laugh thinking about all the white Santas I grew up seeing, not knowing the real deal.
Mom: During my childhood the image of white Santa Claus was always displayed and in my mind that’s who he was. This reminds me of how important it is to provide varied, realistic images for your children and to let them know that the source of gifts at Christmas can come from many people.
Sister: The second-blackest Christmas song.
Me: The first time I heard this song, I thought it was a commercial. But then it kept going. I liked it because it had kids in it, and it was only later that I understood the deeper meaning.
8. “What Do the Lonely Do At Christmas,” The Emotions
Daddy: Makes me feel for anybody who doesn’t have somebody to share Christmas with.
Mom: It’s a sad, sad, song! Makes me think that the holiday is not really fun for everybody.
Sister: Depressing, but pretty song. It reminds me of MAJIC after dark (102.3).
Me: I have never heard a sadder jingling of bells than the sounds in this song. The Emotions– what an aptly named group to sing this song. Nevertheless, I go full-on girl group when this song comes on. Like, singing lead and backup at the same time.
Daddy: My favorite Christmas song of all time!
Mom: Reminds me of the importance of sharing special times with that special person in your life.
Sister: This song reminds me of Mommy. It’s just ok to me.
Me: I always hear Daddy singing the first verse and Mommy coming in with the chorus. That’s the ONLY way I hear this song.
Daddy: Brings to mind the guy who is just happy to be with his sweetie on Christmas. A lot cheerier than Charles Brown’s rendition, which always made me think of a guy who had one drink too many and wants to confess his love to his sweetie.
Mom: It has never been on of my favorites. Just a song that plays at Christmas.
Sister: THIS IS MY JAM!!!!!!!! YOU KNOW I REALLY LOVE THAT ORGAN!!! I ALSO LOVE HIS VOICE!!!!!
Me: Ayyyye! “Santa came down the chimney, half past three y’all…” That’s my favorite line!
Daddy: Reminds me of people I have known who would spare no expense buying Christmas gifts, never thinking about how they would be able to pay for them.
Mom: Nostalgia. My parents loved it, DJs played it on the radio, it was everywhere and it just became that song that when I hear it, I know Christmas is here and good times, good food and goodness is abound for at least two weeks.
Sister: I don’t know this song…..
Me: This is my Christmas jam for real! It makes me want to hand dance with Daddy *clears throat*
With Thanksgiving upon us, I only feel it proper to address the sweet vs. unsweet tea thing. Some may read this as a diatribe, others as a sugary paean, but what’s right is right, and that is sweet tea.
NOTE: In my family, we never made a differentiation between sweet tea and unsweetened. Sweet was the default, served cold and over ice. Anything less would be an affront to our tastebuds and tradition.
I’ve guzzled more glasses of tea than I can count, and over the years my palate has become finely attuned to the subtleties of tea. Perfectly chilled tea is one of my favorite beverages and it’s almost always a finishing touch to Sunday dinners, Christmas feasts and Thanksgiving meals.
Sadly, I failed to properly brief a friend of mine before she showed up to Thanksgiving dinner at my cousin’s house in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a few years ago with a quart of unsweetened swill.
Jaws dropped. Eyes narrowed, curious at the sight. The container remained unopened for the rest of the evening, as we enjoyed glass after glass of the tea my cousin made.
Some of you may be asking, Couldn’t you just add sugar? Well, no. Unsweetened tea + sugar = a bitter, undrinkable slurry. Stir as swiftly as you like, but the sugar always settles at the bottom of the glass.
I wish I knew the intricacies of the science behind properly sweetened tea, you know the expanding molecules and diffusion and whatnot. But because I’m a writer, I’ll put it like this: sugar mingles better in warm environments — don’t we all?
Here’s how I make my tea:
Ingredients: water, five tea bags (I use Lipton) and a five-pound bag of sugar.
Directions: Fill a medium-sized pot with water, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and steep tea bags for 5-10 minutes, depending on how strong you prefer your tea. Pour the tea into a pitcher, then add sugar (to taste) and stir. Fill the rest of the pitcher with water, chill and serve in a tall glass over ice. Enjoy and repeat as necessary.*
Variations: follow the recipe above, adding lemon or mint before you chill the tea.
*may change your life
Confession: I love voting. I love the empowerment. I love the engagement. And above all, I love that I can enjoy the right with the relative ease that my ancestors probably longed for.
I routinely walk into my polling place before dawn, and am greeted by cheery volunteers. I casually show my driver’s license and voter registration card (I carry multiple forms of ID because, well, you never know) and take my pick of the voting booths. I fill in the bubbles, cast my ballot and leave. In my car. To go to work.
This moment is made possible by struggle and sacrifice. Fifty years ago– if I so dared to vote — I could have been greeted by the barrel of a shotgun instead of a smile. I could have been required to show a poll tax receipt, as my great-grandfather was required to do in Coffee County, Ala. In another time and place, it could have been my bloodstains on the path to equal voting rights.
I decided to try a writing challenge this month and it instantly reminded me of the two decades I spent writing letters to my Uncle James.
Uncle James was my grandfather’s youngest brother. We met one summer at my Aunt Myra’s house in Enterprise, Ala. I was about 9, and he was 59 or 60.
He walked in and greeted everyone. When he got to me, he paused and said, “You have my face!” And he was right.
We began writing letters to each other later that year and we kept it up well into my 20s. My exchanges evolved from report cards to job offers. He’d send me newspaper clippings and tell me about his grandchildren — my cousins in California who I had never met. (Uncle James was helping me connect with family long before Facebook came around!)
At our family reunions, we’d pick up where we left off in our letters and our conversations often ambled down unbelievable paths. (He told me he didn’t speak until he was four years old because a
little she-devil childhood friend dropped him on his head).
The last correspondence I got from Uncle James before he died was a Christmas card, signed simply and lovingly.
This cliffhanger never seems to end, right? So remember this? And how I was anxious to find out its contents? Well, I tore open the envelope and searched feverishly for my great-great-grandmother’s name: Annie Nance.
Maybe Annie Cotton Nance?
OK. Maybe she got fancy and went by A.C. Nance.
No such luck. There was not a Nance to be found.
But I did see that a Claudia Tindall sold land to the government on Oct. 1, 1942. Tindall. This has to be a relative, I thought. As you may recall, my great-great-grandfather, Frank Gilley, was born Frank Tindall.
I immediately began searching Census records to get better acquainted with Ms. Claudia.
This was Claudia Tindall, nee Baxter– sometimes listed as Claudie. She was born in Alabama around 1889 and married Shirley Tindall (sometimes listed as Shellie). The couple had three daughters and two sons. At least two children died in infancy.
Shellie Tindall was the oldest son of Mack Tindall. Mack Tindall was great-great-grandpa Frank’s baby brother.
So yes, eminent domain did have a hand in my relatives move from Haw Ridge, but not the relatives I thought.
It’s been a few weeks– well, months, actually– since I began the dive into my family’s move from Haw Ridge, Alabama to Enterprise.
Since then, I’ve discovered a 200-page gem that could reveal the information I’ve been seeking: was it the intrepid Nance spirit or a gentle push from the government (i.e., eminent domain) that prompted the move?
Last year I emailed the president of the Pea River Historical and Genealogical Society, which is a wonderful resource for anyone looking for information about the history of the Wiregrass area of Alabama. I asked if he knew anything about eminent domain and Fort Rucker. He suggested that I read The Origins of Fort Rucker, by Val L. McGee.
Lo and behold, Amazon had one copy of the book left. I just started reading the book last night, and the first few pages have provided a rich context for understanding southeast Alabama’s climate during the 1930s. Here you had a once-thriving community nearly suffocated by the Great Depression. It was a tableau that stretched from one end of the state to the other, one that repeated itself across the country.
But there was a difference in Dale County, Alabama: folks saw an opportunity to turn nothing into something.