Two Empty Spaces in Cap Smith’s Little Boy’s Heart

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 23, 2015

shirley noes swieszPlease welcome guest author Shirley Noe Swiesz. Swiesz grew up in southeastern Kentucky knowing she wanted to be a writer; however, raising children and moving around with a military husband did not leave much time. She wrote her first book, Coal Dust, when she was forty nine years old. Her weekly column ‘Quilt Pieces’ appears in Harlan County’s The Tri-City News, and her new book A Great Heart, featuring stories surrounding Mary Breckenridge’s midwives/nurses and the people they served, is being published shortly by iUniverse.


I think that most of us mountain kids were not afraid of much of anything except the occasional haint or two. I am sure you all remember Bert Vincent? Well, once he wrote about a teenager whose friends dared her to go to a graveyard after dark. She was supposed to stick a fork in a grave to show that she had been there.

Well, you know we wore those full skirts back then, probably made out of feed sacks, and this girl squatted down in her pretty skirt and stuck the fork into the grave. She was a brave girl…but that fork went into her skirt and when she got up it felt like someone was pulling her into the grave. Ole Bert swore that she had a heart attack and died.

Now ole Bert was a writer and that bunch tend to stretch the truth about as far as it will go, so I have no idea if this story is true or not! My dad loved to read Bert Vincent’s stories. I can see him now, laughing to himself when he read some of Bert’s tales.

Those of you who don’t know Bert and never heard of him, he was a columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel back when I was growing up. We couldn’t afford a paper so Corrine and Ralph Price gave us theirs after they were finished reading it and Daddy would read it word for word, beginning with Ole Bert.

Bert Vincent. Photo courtesy the author.

Bert Vincent. Photo courtesy the author.

Sam Lewis lent me his book called the Best Stories of Bert Vincent, Sage of the Smokies. It was illustrated by Bill Dyer. Now ole Bert was born in to a family of educators at Bee Springs, Kentucky in 1896. He got a college education and went to work as a newspaperman for the sole purpose of someday becoming a governor.

But I am getting ahead of myself. He taught school for a while but he quit, for he said the students were picking up Vincent habits of cussin’ and chewin’ tobacco. He worked for such newspapers as The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch but eventually returned to the Appalachian Mountains.

At the time of the printing of his book in 1968 he had worked 35 years as a columnist doing his popular ‘Strolling with Bert Vincent’. He started the Cosby Ramp Festival which Harry S. Truman once visited. He solicited funds to build a chapel for people at a ‘poor farm.’ His humanitarianism brought him many awards; his literary talents brought him honorary college degrees. An anonymous friend once said about him, ‘Bert Vincent has religion and doesn’t know it!’ But my words for him are, ‘he was a character!’

A few years ago a man said that he picked up a stranger hitch hiking over around Whitesburg, making his way toward Harlan. ‘He was higher than a kite,’ or perhaps he said, ‘he was drunker than a skunk’…I can’t quite remember exactly how the man said it. Anyway the inebriated man told him his name was Bert Vincent.

I have heard that old Bert liked ‘shine along with tobaccy and cussin. He was a true mountaineer who liked to sit on sacks of grain beside the old men who hovered around a stove at the local store and listen to them tell their stories, trying to outbest one another. He was loved by housewives and adored by children, for he offered homes for pets in his column and was liberal with his compliments to the ladies. I think he only did one book.

I guess my Ole Cap Smith story reminds me of Bert’s stories. The idea of Ole Cap just sort of grew on me after I met an old man who had gone to work in the mines when he was seven years old.

And so, Ole Cap began working in the coal mines that same age. He is sort of a combination of those young children who knew little except hard work and the loss of their childhood either in the coal fields or the logging woods.

Ole Cap was raised right near two big mountains in the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky, the Big Black on one side and the Pine Mountain on the other. His Pap got kind of weary of working the poor, tired land and moved his family to a coal camp.

Trapper Boy, Turkey Knob Mine, Macdonald, W. Va. Boy had to stoop on account of low roof, photo taken more than a mile inside the mine. Photo by Lewis Hine, 1908. National Child Labor Committee Collection /Library of Congress

Trapper Boy, Turkey Knob Mine, Macdonald, W. Va. Boy had to stoop on account of low roof, photo taken more than a mile inside the mine. Photo by Lewis Hine, 1908. National Child Labor Committee Collection /Library of Congress

Now, I realize that Ole Cap Smith’s story is difficult to read, but after trying to use the words of today, or as we called them ‘proper words,’ it just wasn’t the same. The words they used then, and many still use today, are a version of words brought over from Scotland and Ireland by the first settlers. They got all turned and twisted throughout the years, but we are different and I wanted to bring out that difference. We are a unique people and I hope that all of you stand up tall and proud when you say you are from Harlan County, Kentucky.

Cap Smith’s Story:

“Sissy war th oldest gal an we jest got ta calling her Sissy an hit stuck. She was as beautiful as one o th Lady Slipper flowers thet a body would run acrost in th mountains an as rare. She had allus had a wild streak in her an she wanted real bad ta git away from th mountains. Truth be tolt she hated th mountains an th unending poverty. She had a way o makin fun o th people right in front o them an they didn’t seem ta understand hit. She allus tolt me thet she didn’t feel like she belonged around har.”

“Mam allus had control o her when she war alive but adder Mam died, there war nothing ta do but let her have her way. Thar war times thet Pap stropped her with th leather shavin strop but she didn’t shed a tear. She would stand thar an glare at him with hatred in her eyes.

She war a right good worker an she could make a biscuit as good as Mam’s eny day. And Lordy how thet gal could sang. At least some o us allus went ta church an she would allus sang. Iffen someone war sick, th rest o us would go an thet war about ever Sunday. Hit war usually us younguns fer Pap war allus sick on Sunday’s adder Mam died. I hate ta admit hit but Pap hit th ‘shine right steady adder Mam was gone.

Nobody could hardly blame him. He worked long hard hours in the coal mine an then he come home ta a bunch a younguns. The womern who war keepin the new babe finally got hit on a bottle an Pa wanted ta brang hit home. Sissy got real upsot.

“I can’t take keer o another younun, pap!” She tolt him.

“Ye’ll do as I say gal!” He tolt her an got th strop.

Mam never let Pap use th strop on us. Pap war becoming a right mean drunk. None o us hed ever seed this side o him. I war scart when he staggered ta work with me at his side. He had them little packets of sin-sin thet he would use ta kiver th booze on his breathe.”

“Sissy war no more than a kid herself but she war havin ta take keer o us all an I saw tears stream down her cheek when th babe war brought home. First time I ever saw her cry. She hadn’t even cried when Mam died.

The babe, hit war a purty little thang an Sissy fell in love with hit, but th drudgery o th work got ta her. Three months adder Mam died, Sissy left us. Thar war a drummer (salesman) who follered her around a lot an she complained ta Pap thet he made her feel uneasy like.

“Did ye do somethang ta make him thank ye war interested in him?” Pap ast her in a frightening way.

“No, Pap! He is a horrible man! I hate him! I hate this place!”

Pap got th strop agin.

“Thet night she left us. Pap looked ever where he could but no sign o her. She seemed ta have disappeared inta thin air. Aunt Versie allowed she would stay with th younuns fer awhile an she moved in with us. Aunt Versie war no kin ta us but she loved people an she loved ta hep. She had been hepin out some other folk er she woulda hepped sooner, she told Pap.

“Hit be too hard on thet pretty young girl ta take keer o all them younuns an clean an wash an do a growed womern’s work.”

Pap reckoned hit war. Sissy would have smiled at hearin Aunt Versie defend her thet way, fer th old womern hed often been at th stingin end o Sissy’s remarks.

“Th drummer left th same night thet Sissy did so everybody thought she went with him. I didn’t though. Sissy hadn’t took a thang with her, not even a pair o shoes. She would never have left with somebody without her shoes, sich as they were.

“Somethang’s ahappened ta her, Pap,” I kept sayin.

He allus said th same thang.

“She hated this place an she hated takin keer o all them younuns. I guess I didn’t do right by my little girl,” he would say, an I knowed he grieved.

Sometimes I would find him at th graveyard, talkin an acryin ta Mam. Hit jest about broke my heart. Hit got so thet I started ramblin in th mountains looking fer her. I hed this sinkin feelin deep in my soul. My beautiful sister hed ta be dead.

“Hit war nine days adder she left thet she war found on th river bank. She war deader then a door nail, jest like I thought she war. A man war going fishin an come acrost her body, almost in th water. Pap an me hadn’t gone ta th mine yit when th sheriff come ta see us.

“They fount yer little girl,” he tolt Pap. “Hit looks ta me like she war beat ta death. We figgered the drummer did hit but he is long gone now fer shore. I am sorry!”

“The men at th mine built a casket fer her an Aunt Versie an some o th other womern lined hit with a quilt. They brung her home fer thet last night…th pretty young girl who had never lived. The casket war never opened but Pap went ta th company store an bought her a dress. Hit war th prettiest thang you ever did see an all I could thank o war how much she would have loved hit. Hit seemed so pitiful ta me, even though I war a boy an still a kid, thet she hed never hed a thang beautiful when she war alive an then she war dressed in that purty thang.

Th preacher said, “Th good Lord giveth an He taketh away, an ye all need ta git yer sins shet from ye right here an now so ye can meet up with this girl. Ye needs ta git saved right now!’

Well right thar in our little camp house with my sister laid out in th front room Pap give his life ta th Lord. People started singin an shoutin. I war right glad thet Pap got saved an all, but I war rightly grievin over my sister an not only fer her, but my Mam too. I missed them both so much. I cried and cried.

“Pap never did drank enymore adder thet day an fer thet I war thankful, but thar war two empty spaces in my little boy heart. I jest couldn’t fer th life o me figger out why life was so unsartin and painful. I guess ye might say I couldn’t figger out God. Hit took me a long time ta figger Him out, but I guess He had patience.”

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Looks like the stork is visiting their house again

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 22, 2015

When I was born, I guess everybody just threw up their hands! The night I was born, Hobart went to visit with the neighbors, the Buckles family, across the street. According to Hobart, Mr. Gray Buckles said, “Well, It looks like the stork is visiting Oscar’s house again.” Joe Bush, one of the Buckles’ relatives who was also visiting, responded: “Hell, that ain’t no stork! That’s a duck! The stork’s done worn its legs off!” So, I came into the world with laughter echoing on Carolina Hill.
—from ‘The Flavour of Home: A Southern Appalachian Family Remembers’ by Earlene Rather O’Dell

Earlene O’Dell, born in Bristol, TN, certainly wasn’t the first person in Appalachia to be exposed to the idea that the stork delivers babies. This myth can be found widely throughout US culture. In O’Dell’s case, it’s entirely possible that she could have encountered North America’s only native stork, the wood stork, as a child. The wood stork has a post-breeding summer range that extends from its Gulf Coast wetlands nest areas north to Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

But the physical presence of wood storks hardly explains why ‘stork stories’ are so prevalent in areas of the US where wood storks never venture. The folk tales and beliefs that Appalachia’s German immigrants brought to their new home are a better place to look. The stork’s association with babies seems to have originated in northern Germany centuries ago.

In that country, white storks are known as “Adebar” which translates as “luck-bringer.” And apparently seed bringer, as well; even today pregnant German women are said to have been ‘bitten by the stork.’

Storks nesting on one’s roof means good luck generally, and especially in the form of family happiness. The birds were actively encouraged to nest there. German nursery stories are full of references to the stork delivering babies down a chimney. By contrast, in rural Denmark, it means bad luck if a stork builds a nest on your roof; someone in the house will die before the end of the year.

stork delivering babies, Germany 1890sOne popular German stork tale revolves around the folk legend that the souls of unborn children live in watery areas such as marshes, wells, springs and ponds. Since storks visit such habitats frequently, they were believed to fetch babies’ souls and deliver them to their parents.

White storks are highly migratory, leaving Europe for Africa in the fall. They return to central and northern Europe in late March or early April, and hence are regarded as a herald of spring.

They arrive just about nine months after Midsummer’s Day, June 21, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. This was a major festival in pagan Europe, a time for weddings and merrymaking well lubricated by fermented beverages.

(After the arrival of Christianity the feast continued to be celebrated as Saint John’s Day; the modern association of June with weddings may also be related to this festival.) The return of storks just as the progeny resulting from summer revels put in their appearance would not have gone unnoted.

Furthermore, storks are monogamous, tend to return to and raise their annual offspring in the same nests, and seem to attach themselves to the same houses or villages year after year.

No surprise, then, that they’ve come to symbolize traditional human ideals of home, family, fertility, faithfulness and constancy.


Sources: The Flavour of Home: A Southern Appalachian Family Remembers, by Earlene Rather O’Dell, The Overmountain Press, 2000
Beacham’s Guide to the Endangered Species of North America, by Walton Beacham et al., Thomson Gale, 2000

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The Truth About Virginia’s Final Lynching

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 21, 2015

deborah michaelPlease welcome guest author Deborah Hampton Michael. Michael is a graduate of Western Carolina University. She is a native North Carolinian, but her maternal family is from Rural Retreat, VA. She is heir to a rich oral history of one of the oldest families to settle Southwest Virginia. After a long career that included professional technical writing, she is making a foray into historic story documentation.


One of the things I know for sure is that stories from our family histories are rarely cut and dried. Personal involvement, our experiences and many other filters shade interpretation, and we all interpret stories through filters.

Since I was a small child, a staple in our family storybook has been the mutilation and hanging of Raymond Arthur Byrd in Wythe County, VA. This is the last documented lynching in VA and led to strong anti-lynching legislation by the state of VA and Gov. Byrd (no relation to the victim).

Many authors have visited Southwest Virginia and attempted to get to the true story, but have been met with silence. What has been written feels fictional and laced with prejudice. It is time to tell what I know, since it was my family at the center of this saga.

Raymond Arthur Byrd was born in Speedwell, VA in 1895. He served in the European theater in WWI and returned home to Southwest Virginia where he married Tennie Hawkins and began a family.

Raymond went to work for my great-half uncle, Grover Grubb. Grover was the oldest son of an Irish/German pioneer named Robert Crockett Grubb and Mary Buckner. It is well established that slavery was not a common practice among mountain farmers, especially those who were German settlers. Settlers in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains did not follow the plantation practices imagined by many as routine southern life. Raymond and Grover became friends even though Raymond worked, for wages, to farm the land.

1926 New York Times Raymond Byrd headline

1926 New York Times Raymond Byrd headline

Grover’s wife was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis and confined to bed. Grover did have one son who helped to work the land, and his brother, Will, lived on an adjacent piece of land. My grandmother and her husband also lived adjacent to Grover’s farm. My grandmother was Grover’s half-sister.

Mountain life was never easy and required back breaking work to be successful. Therefore, it was “all hands on deck” every day. Grover’s daughters must have been at a disadvantage without the guiding hand of their mother, but they worked the land like everyone else.

One foggy early autumn morning, my grandmother, Lelia Grubb Musser, was hanging out her laundry. She heard voices in Grover’s corn field and was somewhat shocked to see Minnie and Raymond cutting corn stalks, alone in the early morning. She questioned Grover about this access to the young girls, and Grover assured her that Raymond was a trusted friend, and everything was ok.

But it wasn’t ok. Grover’s two daughters, Mae and Minnie, both became pregnant by their father’s trusted friend and employee. Each recounted that Raymond had told them he wanted to show them something he had learned in service in France.

Minnie, 20 years old at the time of her delivery, almost died in the backseat of a car rushing her the hospital in Abingdon. The story is that she took the bus home, and Raymond was waiting at the bus stop for her. She got off the bus, handed the baby to Raymond and walked off.

The second daughter, Mae, also delivered a child by Raymond Byrd. Her child was born at home. Months later, an African-American couple drove up to the house, and were welcomed in. While the Grubb family went to the kitchen to prepare refreshments, the visitors stole upstairs and spirited away the infant. By all accounts both children ended up in Ohio, and from what I have found on the internet, Raymond Byrd had family in Kentucky and Ohio, where the children likely grew up.

As mentioned before, farming is a tough life, and there isn’t time for prejudice and racial bias to the extent that it exists in other places. Prejudice exists everywhere, and I acknowledge that, but families worked together more often in the mountains regardless of race. There was a greater human dependence on one another.

"The cabbage industry has built up an important business center at Rural Retreat,with good hotels, banks, mercantile houses, etc., which attracts much attentionin the wholesale vegetable market." Photo and caption from ‘A Hand Book of Virginia,’ by George W. Koiner, Virginia Dept of Agriculture and Immigration, Richmond, Everett Waddy Co, 1911

“The cabbage industry has built up an important business center at Rural Retreat, with good hotels, banks, mercantile houses, etc., which attracts much attention in the wholesale vegetable market.” Photo and caption from ‘A Hand Book of Virginia,’ by George W. Koiner, Virginia Dept of Agriculture and Immigration, Richmond, Everett Waddy Co, 1911


Nonetheless, the circumstance of a friend, employee, and yes, African American, having sexual relations resulting in pregnancies of both of his daughters, was too much for Grover to bear. Surrounded by family, his brother, Will, my grandfather and Grover’s brother-in-law, Forrest Musser and by some accounts as many as 50 other neighbors, banded together to confront Raymond.

The Sheriff, W.C. Kincer, had arrested and jailed Byrd for his offenses, and probably for his own protection. The men who set out to find Byrd disguised themselves, not as Klansmen, as some have stated. They absolutely were not members of the Klan. I know that my grandfather used one of my grandmother’s stockings to pull over his head.

They rushed the jail and took Byrd out of the jail. There is a report that he was shot once in the left lung, but actual death probably came from being dragged for miles behind a car from the jail in Wythe County to an area near St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Whether he was dead or not, we will never know, but he was beaten severely in the head and neck. His genitals were removed with a knife and he was hanged from a tree.

There was an arrest in the lynching. Floyd Willard was indicted for the murder of Raymond Floyd in January, 1927. The jury promptly acquitted him after his family corroborated that he boasted of participation in the incident on a hunting trip. Indeed, his family verified that he had been home in bed during the actual vigilante event.

This is such a sad story, for everyone involved. Right? Wrong? Some stories just don’t have those elements. No one was ever prosecuted for the crimes against Raymond Byrd. Nothing was ever heard of the children born from this tragic circumstance. It should be noted, though, that Byrd’s father did not attend his funeral, citing that Raymond had brought it all on himself.

About a week after the hanging, expecting my grandfather to be away from home, several of Raymond’s friends showed up at my grandmother’s house. She had four small children, the oldest of whom was about six. There the men stood on the backdoor threshold, threatening in their stance and language. My grandfather kept his rifle over the door to the living room. As he heard the commotion at the backdoor he headed that way and just reached up and grabbed his rifle on the way through the door. Seeing him, Raymond’s friends began to back away, apologizing and moving as quickly as they could to get away.

As I have read internet accounts, I have seen information presented as fact, which I know is devoid of any truth. For example, the KKK involvement, and that Grover Grubb is presented as a “white owner of a large farm”, which may be true, but it doesn’t mean he was rich or that he endorsed slavery or bias against African Americans. The girls were not in love with Raymond and I have always been told it was a situation of rape. But nonetheless, Raymond was married to someone else, and these were young mountain girls, with little exposure to men or salacious situations. They were easy prey. Raymond was nine years older than Mae and eleven years older than Minnie.

I have seen Grover Grubb maligned as a bigoted and violent man. This was not true. His uncle, William Cooper, was a circuit-riding minister of the Methodist church and the family was well known for their reverence for Christian life. I don’t mean to imply that Grover was a Christian man by association with his uncle; but I do know that the family attended church regularly and a premium was put on living a Christian based life. The farm Grover had was inherited from William Cooper, because of Rev. Cooper’s respect for Grover.

I don’t pretend to have any hard evidence to present in this article. I know that I learned about pulling a stocking over my head from the oldest of my aunts. She and her brother had played with stockings on their heads after seeing my grandfather on the fateful night of Raymond’s death. I have seen the descendants of these incidents post articles online, reaching out for information, and I am sorry I didn’t respond. I am interested in any additional information you might have on this sad scenario.


Additional sources:

Beers, Paul. “The Wythe County Lynching of Raymond Bird: Progressivism vs. Mob Violence in the 20s.” Appalachian Journal 22.1 (1994): 34 – 59

“Wythe Lynching Shames State, Asserts Court,” Richmond Times-Dispatch Sept. 2, 1926, page 1

“Jury Quickly Frees Willard in Mob Killing,” Richmond Times-Dispatch August 20, 1927

“Masked Mob Storms Jail, Kills Negro,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 16, 1926, pg.1

“Killing of Raymond Bird,” Wikipedia

8 Responses

  • Dr. Anthony Quinn says:

    Your tall tale and fictionalized account of the event(s) was interesting. The way you glorified murderers was breath takingly astounding. Your concept of friendship….is….I will leave it at interesting. I will not bother wasting my time detailing the true story here.

  • Deborah Michael says:

    I will not debate the horror of this story on either side,but when you can justify a 31 year old married man with three children, engaging in sexual relations with two young sisters, daughters of his employer under the pretext of sharing “what he learned in France”, you get back to me. Your glorification of a man, and I use that term loosely, with that level of morality is equally abhorrent to me.

    There were no winners in this situation. That was my point. If you found glorification in the murder – you need to calm down and take another read.

  • Dr. Anthony Quinn says:

    First off prove to me that he was with both sisters. Not white lies. He was with one sister and another black man was with the other sister. Whatever, Raymond’s sins were committing adultery with an adult white woman (18 was an adult in 1926?). I don’t think death was justified, maybe in your warped world. Grover shot him in the head in jail (tell me why was he in jail again)? I know people who have spoken to Minnie’s daughter and others and the verdict he was an evil racist. The wasn’t the last time he shot at someone. So sleeping with a white woman outweighs cowardly men attacking one man at night to shoot, beat, mutilate and hang. You sound like a fool, and you damn right, I have an attitude when some nut comes on here speaking and attributing words to people she has never spoken to. Your point was to excuse demonic actions. You need to get your facts straight and quit talking about something you clearly know nothing about.

  • Dr. Anthony Quinn says:

    I see you like to talk and back it up with no facts. When did I glorify Raymond? In my first comment? Reread it. He was unjustly murdered. That isn’t glorification. Now read what you wrote and using his Uncle being a minister as a shield for Grover being some upright Christian. I must say your Science Fiction piece was interesting. Tell us now how Emmitt Till was nothing but a disrespectful troublemaker bother good white folk in Money, Mississippi(sarcasm).

  • Dr. Anthony Quinn says:

    “I have seen Grover Grubb maligned as a bigoted and violent man. This was not true. His uncle, William Cooper, was a circuit-riding minister of the Methodist church and the family was well known for their reverence for Christian life. I don’t mean to imply that Grover was a Christian man by association with his uncle; but I do know that the family attended church regularly and a premium was put on living a Christian based life. The farm Grover had was inherited from William Cooper, because of Rev. Cooper’s respect for Grover.”

    What does the above have to with anything? And, if you aren’t implying anything then why are you bringing it up? You brought this up for some reason. What does his association with someone have to with being a murderer?

  • Denise Smith says:

    Deborah this is not the truth about Virginia’s final lynching. There is so much documentation from the Governor of Virginia papers of Harry Byrd to a lot of actual research on this event to dispute the rape charges against Raymond Byrd. Minnie Grubb and Effie Mae both had said they had not been raped and that is why the prosecution could not bring charges of rape. To say they had is to call both of them liars. Their father being upset and the pressure from their father still does not change the facts.

    If it had not been so and he had been guilty of rape I do not believe the state would have used his case so vehemently to create an anti lynching law. Other members of your own family know a different story, and the black community itself knows a different version. That Raymond was not the father of both children. If they can ever locate the children one day that may be proved with DNA. Raymond Byrd was a black man who had an affair with a white woman in an era of segregation and Jim Crow.

    In my own family I know the Klan was very much alive in this time period in this very area. I don’t believe it was just good ol boys putting stockings on their heads. I agree with Mr. Quinn to claim any Christian link as a justification for what was done is just wrong. Here is a link to some reputable research. Starts on page 167 about Raymond Byrd case.

  • Deborah Michael says:

    I have read the cited documentation before. As I stated in my article, nothing is cut and dried. Our interpretations are shaded by our personal experiences. My family, definitively, was NOT associated with the Klan. I described Grover’s association with his great uncle, simply as an illustration that a man of great religion conviction had great respect for Grover. I assure, had Grover been the embodiment of evil he is made out to be by others, that respect would not have been there.

    Even in the article you cite, Raymond Byrd was accused of taking yet another child of his employer into the woods and began removing her clothes until she bagan to cry, at which point he told her he was “just playing with her”.

    Good and bad people come in all colors. I challenge you to take a good long look inside and analyze how you would handle it if two of your daughters were sexual used by an employee. What might your reaction be?

    The girls were raped, although I avoided use of that term in the blog article.

    If they testified otherwise, then they were indeed guilty of perjury.

    Governor Byrd was entrenched in trying to build Virginia’s reputation as a progressive, enterprise friendly environment. The lynching was an act which shot those efforts to pieces. Face it, that was the main reason for the Anti-Lynching Legislation. Follow the money – the governor could not have cared less about the death of a field worker in Southwest Virginia.

    If you missed the focus of this story, it was that some stories have no redeeming outcomes. There is no good part to this story, other than the anti-lynching legislation that resulted.

  • Denise Smith says:

    With all due respect Deborah you were not there and could not say whether they were associated with the Klan or not. Dressing as they did concealing their identities and some reports said some wore sheets too. Although they said some dressed as women…the hiding of their identities is mimicking known Klan ritual attacks throughout the south at that time.

    I believe the girls were brave to tell the truth, (I am sure it infuriated their father, I’m sure it infuriated the families, possibly on both sides!) but you are accusing them of perjury? Why? Is it so hard for you to believe in interracial relationships even in 1920’s Southwestern Virginia?

    Regardless of their ages regardless of what the laws are…real people break the law and society rules all the time. I’d say some of those who participated in the mob had affairs themselves out of marriage. Some of those affairs could have crossed over the race divide! Not saying they particularly did but it happens and is recorded in history all over the place!!

    I’m sure there were men who respected Grover Grubb and we could all understand why he would be upset about his daughters…but is that justification to ignore the real truth of what the daughters said? As for the younger daughter, you can see why some would find the story suspect. None of these people were saints and they were products of their time.

    We may never know all the truth, since many are now deceased that knew.

    But you are right…there is no good part to this story, other than the anti lynching legislation that resulted.

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Book Review: “The Secret Wisdom of The Earth”

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 20, 2015

crystal goodPlease welcome guest book reviewer Crystal Good. Good is a writer poet, Affrilachian homecoming queen, TEDx Talker, tunk player, Mom of three, author of “Valley Girl.” She is currently entangled in Charleston, West Virginia. Find her online at and @cgoodwoman


The Secret Wisdom of the Earth started out with a boom boom. My expectations were high for the novel when I read its opening:

“It was always coal……

And then, after they gave their years to the weak light and black sweat,

Coal killed them.

And began again”

The book takes you into a world where Kevin, a 14 year old white boy and his mother, move into the Appalachian town called Medgar. Kevin meets another young white boy and local, Buzzy. Through the narrator, Kevin readers start to uncover the hard facts of the region: prejudice, mountain top removal beside the intimacy and challenges of family. In one chapter, Buzzy takes Kevin to the Telling Cave. In the Telling Cave you tell your truth, you share a secret about yourself.

secret wisdom

Well, here is my truth, my Telling Cave secret: I didn’t enjoy the book.

On the surface, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth looks like a book my personal taste would agree with – its Appalachian characters, environmental themes and coming of age storyline. But, I didn’t.

I don’t know if it’s because I tend to prefer the economy of language, and the dialogue in “Secret” was excessive to me. I found details to be over described. I just don’t understand why a sentence such as “As he defecated, I turned to the travois.” is needed.

I like things edgy and out of the ordinary — for instance, I’m fond of the novels West Virginia native Giancarlo DiTrapino is publishing. This novel, by contrast, felt safe.

Most everything about “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” was predictable to me – the Appalachian plot and characters, the “modern” twist with “diversity” in a gay character, a black family, and the ending. I saw all the plots and turns coming like an Andy Griffith show episode– except for what I’m calling the ‘Ode to Deliverance’ canoe chase. Didn’t see that plot twist coming.

I clomped through “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth”. I trudged to the end. I even scented the pages with “Mental Clarity” essential oil to help me stay focused. It was not an exciting read for me. Sure, it has all the elements of craft, and the author, Christopher Scotten, spent years of his life writing and doing all the things a good writers do to birth a story, but it was a slow, a very slow read for me.

But while I’m telling my truth, I need to tell you why I persisted in the book and why maybe you should too.

I was enchanted by the titles; the titles carried each chapter like a poem! I paused in them and used them to reflect on them across the chapters. The titles were a delightful detail, and so were the little nuggets of what I consider prose poetry preceding certain chapters:

The mountains have their memories.

Rooted in narrow rock, hard set to the crest, fused in the folds and braes where the white water races. Their earliest recollections manifested to primordial, wild and feral, then become tamed with people.

This! Yes. And, the section doesn’t stop there it keeps going with throttle and truth, and there are several of these nuggets. These italicized passages that preceded a few chapters were my favorite sections of the book, and of my reading experience.

I was encouraged to keep reading by thinking about how others might read this story and take an activist stance, how others might see Appalachia and the devastation of mountain top removal, how others might see the region in all its beauty that is both of the land and its people. The book is set in 1985, but mountain top removal is still happening today, right now somewhere in Appalachia.

I was impressed with the way the author crafted the dialect. I thought for an outside writer he did a great job capturing conversation. He wasn’t stereotypical, and this impressed me as an Appalachian and writer. There were plenty of aint’s and messn’ and colloquial phrases, but it wasn’t overdone. It felt natural and genuine – the way people talk. I’m sensitive to these things. I own that. His skill in this area impressed me, especially when infusing dialogue with humor.

When he used humor in the dialect, this is where the author’s understanding of the region stood out to me. Humor is one of my favorite Appalachian traits. Appalachians tend to find humor in most anything but it’s a raspy type of funny, often during the most inappropriate times. Perhaps this is how we survive.

I have a hard time recommending this book; however, John Grisham is recommending the book, and to everybody.

“The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” is a marvelous debut novel by Christopher Scotton. The setting, in the coal country of Appalachia, is rich in history and lore and tragedy. A young teenager comes of age under the wise counsel of his grandfather. An ugly murder haunts a small town. The story has everything a big, thick novel should have, and I hated to put it down. —John Grisham

He likes it and maybe you will too. He’s a famous writer. I’m not.

One thing is for certain: this book asks that we all tell our truths.

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A school for subversives and Communists?

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 19, 2015

How would you like to have attended the same school that Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, and Fanny Lou Hamer all attended?

That would be Highlander Folk School, near Monteagle, TN, for many years the only place in the South where white and African-American adults could live and work together, something that was highly frowned upon in that strictly segregated society. The 1950s brought Highlander to national attention, as civil rights legends and social activists learned the ways of non-violent protest there in the school’s “Citizenship School Program.” Rosa Parks’ participation in a Highlander workshop in the summer of 1955, 5 months before her back of the bus incident, had a crucial influence on her. And during the subsequent Montgomery bus boycott, Highlander co-founder Myles Falls Horton introduced Rosa Parks to Eleanor Roosevelt as “the first lady of the South.”

billboard denouncing Highlander Folk SchoolPolitical enemies angrily erected billboards across the South showing Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks attending an integrated event at the Highlander Folk School in 1957.

But two decades earlier when the school was first begun, poor, uneducated miners learned about self-respect and self-empowerment at the school. In his autobiography, Horton wrote, “We didn’t think of ourselves as working-class, or poor, we just thought of ourselves as being conventional people who didn’t have any money.”

Highlander, Horton once claimed, held the record for sustained civil disobedience, breaking the Tennessee Jim Crow laws every day for over forty years, until the segregation laws were finally repealed.

Horton attended Cumberland College in Tennessee, Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and studied Danish folk school models on site before opening the Southern Mountains School, in 1932. A short time later, he and co-director Don West, a Congregational minister from Georgia, changed the name to the Highlander Folk School. At Highlander the purpose of education was to make people more powerful, and more capable in their work and their lives. Horton had what he called a “two-eye” approach to teaching: with one eye he tried to look at people as they were, while with the other he looked at what they might become.

Not everyone was tickled by the Highlander formula. One anonymous Tennessee citizen wrote FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in 1936: “This school is a hot-bed of communism and anarchy. This is proven by the part taken by its members in the strikes at Harriman Tenn., Daisy Tenn. and at the present at Rockwood Tenn.” Hoover promptly opened a file, one that over the years accumulated in excess of 1,000 pages.

For his outspoken support of union, civil rights, and poor people’s organizations, Horton endured arrests, threats, violence, and denunciations from industrialists, politicians, and segregationists.

Finally, in 1961, the state of Tennessee closed the school, revoked its charter, and sold off the assets at auction. During this time, many of the buildings were burned by arsonists. Undaunted, Myles Horton redesignated the folk school as a research center under a new charter and moved from Monteagle to Knoxville, and then to the present location in New Market, Tenn., where it is now known as the Highlander Research and Education Center.

Related posts: “Don West background”

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