In the first installment of Crime and Punishment, I shared with you the arrest record of my Uncle Marlin, one of my great-grandfather’s younger brothers. I also speculated that the arrest had something to do with moonshine. Well, I did a bit of asking and confirmed that suspicion. According to my Aunt Madie– one of Marlin’s nieces and one of my grandfather’s younger sisters– it was a moonshining arrest. Here’s how it went down:
Leave it to the Nances to provide a trail of mischief and mayhem for me to follow. I was browsing ancestry.com and noticed a database of Alabama county convict records. I figured I’d see if any of my relatives were among the incarcerated. And to my surprise, there was one of my great-grandfather’s younger brothers, Marlin, listed in a Coffee County register. It was December 1935 and he was serving a six-month term for a crime I’m not quite sure of. (That’s not commentary on his guilt or innocence– I really can’t figure out the crime. It says VCL. I have no idea what that means, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had to do with moonshining.)
Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on a project to document the history of the Coffee County Training School. This school, located in Enterprise, Ala., was once the only high school for black students. While researching, I found out that this school was in fact a Rosenwald School. At the urging of an employee from the Alabama Historical Commission, I submitted a proposal for a presentation at the National Rosenwald Schools Conference next June.
I have learned so much, namely how firmly entrenched my family was in education and in Coffee County.
The school opened in 1918 and my cousin, Elijah Tindel, was its first
principal. When the school burned down in 1938, my great-grandfather, J.E. Nance, sold the school board land so that the school could be rebuilt.
Interestingly enough, everyone I’ve talked to to get information about the school is related to to me. There was Burnice Brooks, who gave me a lot of context about the education of blacks in Coffee County. Right before we ended our conversation, he said to me, “Oh, we’re related too.” It turns out, his mother was a sister to Bud and Charley Brown, the two brothers of my great-great-grandmother, Flora Brown Gilley.
I later spoke with the president of the Coffee County Training School Alumni Association. She said her name was Dorothy Richardson. I didn’t find out until later that her name is Dorothy Whitehurst Richardson. Her father was my paternal grandmother’s older brother.
Dorothy showed me old photos of the school and I spotted my uncle, James Nance, my paternal grandfather’s youngest brother, suited up as a player on the school’s 1948 football team. She told me how the school’s teachers often boarded at my great-grandparents’ home, which was across the street from the school.
In a way, I feel like I’m picking up where my relatives left off. The information Dorothy gave to me was compiled by a committee that included my aunt, Myra Nance Riley, my paternal grandfather’s youngest sister, and Vernetta Clark DeRamus, whose grandmother–Henrietta Nance Clark— was my great-grandfather’s (J.E. Nance) older sister.
I don’t want their legwork to have been done in vain. This part of Enterprise’s history is important, but lives mostly in the fond memories and file cabinets of the people who lived it. It’s time for that to change.
During a recent fact-finding trip to Enterprise, Ala., I visited the Mount Zion Cemetery, where members of my great-grandmother’s family are buried. My great-grandmother’s parents, Frank Gilley (formerly Tindall) and Flora Brown Gilley are buried there, according to their death certificates. However, their graves either do not have headstones or were damaged when vandals desecrated the cemetery a few years ago.
But to my surprise, I found the grave of Seaborn Tindel (1853-1932), who was one of Frank Gilley’s brothers. Next to him were the graves of his wife, Ella, and
three of their children, Elijah (1890-1973), Lula (1902-1996) and Henry (1894-1956).
I found the final resting places of some other Tindel cousins, including Ernest Tindel, who, according to the grave marker, was a World War I veteran.
The faded inscriptions on some of the headstones made it impossible to determine who was resting where, but it appeared that quite a few of the Tindels were buried together.
A group of Browns are buried along the back fence of the cemetery. My great-great-grandmother’s maiden name was Brown, so I think it’s safe to assume that the Browns I discovered were also her relatives. I haven’t been able to identify her parents, but I know that she had two brothers, Bud and Charley.
But know that I know some names of likely relatives, I may have some extra clues to what Flora Brown was doing before she became Flora Gilley…