Saturday, July 15, 2017

Singleton interviews 108-year-old former slave who was born in Claiborne

(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Former slave, 108, traveled up river in trunk as a baby” was originally published in the July 1, 1971 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

One hundred and eight years young Louise (Lou) Cooper was born in the Town of Claiborne (on) June 5, 1863. The oldest of three children, she was born into slavery.

Her parents were moved from Claiborne when she was only a few months old, and sent to Mobile by way of steamboat. They were returned to Claiborne after a short stay in the port city, with orders to leave their oldest, and at that time, their only child, in Mobile. This was due to the fact that the Town of Claiborne was under quarantine, became of smallpox epidemic.

Not wanting to leave their child behind, Louise’s parents put her in a small trunk and carried her aboard the river boat for the trip up river to Claiborne. Twice during the voyage Louise’s mother opened the trunk under the pretense of getting a clean apron, and checked to see if her child was still alive.

Louise received no food during the trip up river, as her parents did not open the trunk again until they reached the house they were to live in, for fear the child was dead.

“My Mama said that when they opened the trunk, I was just laying there, sucking my thumb. They said I didn’t cry; don’t know why, I just didn’t.”

Asked what she remembered most about Claiborne, Louise said she remembers the steamboats coming up the river and landing at the Claiborne wharf. “I remember the crowds of people and the barrooms too. I liked the parties they had, and the church socials. I liked these best of all. I remember a steamboat sinking one time at the wharf. I watched the paddle boats, the little skiffs hurrying around on the water, picking up people and carrying them to the banks on both sides of the river. All the hollering and yelling; I won’t ever forget that.”

The mother of two children, Louise has outlived her family and is now living with her great-great-grandson. Although her sight has failed her and her hearing is a bit bad, she enjoys good health. “I like to eat,” says Louise. “I still have all my teeth, except four.” Her grandson of the third generation plans to have her eyes tested soon and maybe get her a hearing aid. “If I could see, I’d be just about as good as I ever was.” But until she gets her glasses, she is content to sit and play with her fourth generation of grandchildren and reminisce of the days when she, as a young woman, lived and raised a family in the communities of Claiborne and Perdue Hill.

A member of the Methodist Church of Claiborne, Louise still attends services on occasions, when the weather permits. Being the oldest living member she says she has to keep things straight when she’s there.

As I prepared to leave this amazing and stout-hearted woman, I asked her what she thought of today’s generation. Her answer was that there is not enough work to keep everyone busy. “Hard work and trust in the Lord” is what they need today, she said. “The schooling I got was about three months out of the year, and all my learning came from the Blue Back Webster. Everybody read from the Blue Back Webster. Everybody goes to school all the time now. They can’t get no work done.”

After promising that I would return again and visit her soon, she thanked me for taking time to remember her, and told me to be sure and put her picture in the paper. I promised I would. I also promised myself that on occasion, when all seemed wrong with the world, I would remember Louise Cooper; and with some of the strength and the will to live that she possessed, I would travel the rough road of life, with all ease. And as I remember our conversation, this passage of Scripture comes to mind:

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; They shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.”

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County on June 28, 1964 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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