Highway 80

Cedar Street, Tallulah, LA

Highway 80 is a stretch of road that ran at one time from California all through Georgia and was once part of the early auto trail known as the Dixie Overland Highway.

However, the entire segment west of Dallas, Texas, has been decommissioned in favor of various Interstate Highways and state highways. Currently, the highway’s western terminus is on the Dallas–Mesquite, Texas city line. The highway’s eastern terminus is in Tybee Island, Georgia, at the intersection of Butler Avenue, Inlet Avenue, and Tybrisa Street, near the Atlantic Ocean – just past Savannah.

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My focus will be the stretch from Dallas to the other side of Macon, Georgia.  I will tell the narrative of nine families going back to when they first came to America and more specifically when and how they got to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia.

These stories will be told in song.

Song : “Mildred’s House of Values”

Mildred’s House of Values

Mildred’s “House of Values,” on a corner lot
A price tag hung from every table and chair
Things for sale like any other shop
But it was Mildred’s home and she still lived there

Her son Levi would stop by and do odd jobs
Help his momma with what she needed done
Rustin’ on blocks, a ’68 Dodge
Levi never could get to run

A person does all they can do
Full time job just gettin’ through
Rise in the morning, close your eyes at night
In between, try to get it right

Mildred was widowed nineteen-seventy-five
Leon Hooper was a good man
Price tags went up, year after he died
Life don’ turn out nothin’ like we plan

The ’68 Dodge, last car Leon bought
Rest of his stuff, sittin’ in a shed
You can see in Levi, Leon’s walk
Are the ones we love ever really dead?

A person does all they can do …

Mildred’s “House of Values,” on a corner lot
From every stick of furniture a price tag hung
A ‘68 Dodge rustin’ on blocks
Levi never could get to run

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Mildred Motts Hooper (1944-2014)

Mildred Hooper

Mildred Motts Hooper was born in Tallulah, Louisiana in 1944, the half sister of Maggie Motts Raney. Mildred married Leon Hooper and had one son, Levi Hooper, and passed away in 2014 at the age of 69 just before her 70th birthday.

Mildred liked to cook and crochet and was happy as a homemaker.  One of her favorite dishes to prepare was baked cheese grits which she would serve with breaded pork chops and homemade rolls.

She and Leon were married in 1963 shortly before Leon was shipped off to Vietnam.  When Leon returned from his tour of service they settled down in Jackson, Mississippi where Leon worked as a welder and they raised their only son, Levi, who was born in 1973.

However, Leon only lived another two years, dying in 1975, and Levi had no memories of his father.  To help make ends meet Mildred began to sell items from her home, establishing a thrift store at her residence.

Mildred passed away in 2014 after suffering a stroke.

Leon Hooper (1933-1975)

Leon HooperLeon Hooper made a good living as a welder and hardly spoke of his war years.  However, he was quietly proud of his Marine service, first in the infantry in Korea later in a support unit in Vietnam, and kept in touch with his buddies from the war.  Leon did not drink hard liquor as a rule, but on those occasions when he got together with his Marine buddies, mostly those who were with him in Korea, he would have a few shots of  bourbon and turn a bright shade of red if the talk became bawdy.

Leon was born in Jackson, Mississippi and lived his entire life there with his wife, Mildred, and son, Levi.  He did not see Levi grow up, however, because Leon died in 1975 just two years after Levi was born.

Leon would repair bicycles and give them to the neighborhood kids and he also created steam powered folk art which he would roll out and run on the Fourth of July each year.

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Place: Tallulah, Louisiana

Tallulah

Tallulah is a small city in and the parish seat of Madison Parish in northeastern Louisiana, United States. The 2010 population was 7,335, a decrease of 1,854, or 20.2 percent, from the 9,189 tabulation at the 2000 census.

During the American Civil War, Union gunboats in Lake Providence headed south to Tallulah, where they burned the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Texas Railroad’s depot and captured Confederate supplies awaiting shipment to Indian Territory. The Confederates in Tallulah offered no resistance. Numerous potential Confederate troops in the area were turned down for enlistment because of a lack of weapons.

On July 20th, 1899, citizens of Tallulah showed their level of anti-Italianism : five Sicilians from Cefalù were lynched by a mob, and two other Italians who lived in nearby Milliken’s Bend had to flee. The five Sicilians were doing a good business in fruit, vegetables and poultry, having four small stores in the town, and all save one were relatives. The lynchers completely evaded punishment.

Tallulah was the first U.S. city to offer shoppers an indoor shopping mall. A businessman built Bloom’s Arcade in 1925, in the style of European arcades. It was one hall with stores on either side much like the ones today. The hall opened into the street on both ends. This landmark is still in Tallulah on U.S. Route 80 on the historical registry. As of late 2013, it has been restored to its original character and functions as an apartment complex.[8] Madison Parish claims the title of birthplace of Delta Air Lines, and the original airport building, Scott’s Field, still stands near Tallulah, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Place : Opelika, Alabama

Opelika, Alabama

Opelika is a city in and the county seat of Lee County in the east central part of the State of Alabama. It is a principal city of the Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Area. According to the 2013 Census Estimate, the population of Opelika was 28,635.

The first white settlers in the area now known as Opelika arrived in the late 1830s and established a community called Lebanon. After the removal of the native Creek (Muscogee) peoples by federal troops in 1836-37, the area became known as “Opelika.” This word taken from the Muskogee language means “large swamp”. Settlement was sporadic until the late 1840s, when the railroad reached the town. This stimulated development of Opelika as a commercial center.

In 1848, the Montgomery & West Point Railroad Company extended a rail line from Montgomery, Alabama to Opelika, and in 1851 completed a connection to West Point, Georgia, thus connecting Opelika with Atlanta, Georgia. This line was the only direct rail route between New Orleans and the Eastern Seaboard. It rapidly became one of the primary trade lines for shipments of raw cotton from Southern plantations to the North. The Montgomery & West Point was soon joined by a rail connection to Columbus, Georgia in 1855, and a connection to Birmingham, Alabama in 1869. Almost overnight, Opelika became a regional hub for commerce.

Soon after the end of the Civil War, the Alabama state legislature created a new county out of parts of Macon, Russell, Chambers, and Tallapoosa counties to be named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee. In 1866, citizens of the new “Lee County” voted Opelika as the county seat. The town was technically unincorporated after having its charter revoked for abetting the rebellion against the United States.

After Opelika received a new charter the town nearly doubled in size between 1870 and 1900. During this time, Opelika began to gain a reputation as a wild, lawless town. Soon after receiving the new charter, city officials attempted to scam outside investors by issuing fake railroad bonds. For this, the town’s charter was revoked again in 1872, and the town was administered as a police district by the state legislature for the following year.

Opelika’s downtown was packed with saloons catering to railroad workers and other men. Frequent gunfire in the street by intoxicated patrons resulted in railroads directing their passengers to duck beneath the windows when their trains passed through the town.

In 1882, two factions claimed to rule the city government, one known as the “Bar room” headed by Mayor Dunbar, a saloon keeper, and another known as the “Citizens”. There was a riot in late November–December of that year, in which a dozen men were wounded. In the end a couple were killed. The Citizens had claimed control of the city via the elections, but Dunbar refused to give up. After continued violence, the state legislature revoked the city’s charter and the governor sent in the militia to restore order. The legislature appointed five commissioners to manage the city, a situation that continued until 1899. That year the legislature restored the city’s charter.

In 1900, local investors founded the Opelika Cotton Mill as the first textile plant in the city, employing 125. The city was located on the Fall Line of the Piedmont, where factories were established to take advantage of water power. Attempts to expand the textile industry in Opelika continued for the next three decades. In 1925 city officials used a $62,500 bribe to induce executives of the Pepperell Manufacturing Co. (now WestPoint Home) to construct a large mill just outside the city limits.  From 1930 to 1970, Opelika continued industrialization, becoming a regional economic powerhouse.

Between the late 1970s and 2005, non-agricultural employment in the Auburn-Opelika,  grew at a slow and steady pace. Of the goods-producing industries, the metropolitan area has experienced the most change in manufacturing, which peaked in employment in the late 1980s. As many jobs moved offshore, employment declined. But this trend appears to be changing, as the number of manufacturing jobs has risen steadily since 2002.

Place : Vivian, Louisiana

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Vivian is a town in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, United States and is home to the Red Bud Festival. The population was 3,671 at the 2010 census, down from 4,031 in 2000.

Vivian is fifty miles from Texarkana, and that was about as close as you could get and still be in Louisiana. Vivian [is] surrounded by the smaller towns of Rodessa, Ida, Oil City, Belcher, Gilliam, and Hosston. Vivian was the ‘urban center’ where citizens from the smaller towns came to shop, go to the movies, join in the excitement of city life as it was. For local residents, Vivian was the hub of the universe. At least it was the ‘Heart of the ArkLaTex,’ as folks down there liked to claim.

Song : “McLemore’s”

The singer is Mike Tate, son of Tully Tate, who was around 34 in 2016 the year Mike is telling this story, and 12 years after he first entered the bar.

McLemore’s

Walked in there first time in aught-four
Took a stool by the pinball machine
Come to know the owner Jake McLemore
Dropping by each day became routine

He looked to be about my dad’s age
If my dad ain’t died in ninety-three
Jake was always adopting strays
Like a three-legged dog and me

Time seemed to pass a little slower
Behind soft country music and bumper pool
The world looked a whole lot better
From where I sat on that bar stool

Pickled eggs and pigs feet in a jar
Antique cash register, black dial phone
Scratches ‘n’ nicks in a hickory bar
Left by those who are never really gone

He pointed to a snapshot of some soldiers
Leaning on a tank in Iraq
“They call my son a hero,” Jake told me
“Would’ve preferred if he’d just made it back”

Time seemed to pass a little slower …

Jake sold out last year with a big payday
Bought 26 acres outside Shreveport
I don’t drink much anymore and anyway
Can’t find a bar like McLemore’s
No, there ain’t no place like McLemore’s

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Sonny Tate (1936-2003) : Country singer

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Sonny Tate (1936-2003) was born in Opalika, Alabama and displayed musical talent at an early age.  He could mimic Hank Williams from the age of eleven and would stand on his father’s bar and entertain the patrons who were delighted with the youngster’s uncanny ability.  Sonny would later go on to have something of a professional career as a country singer but never making it really big.

He performed on the Lousiana Hayride and even was invited to perform at the Opry for once when he had a Top-20 song but he he was never asked to join the Opry as a member.

After Sonny’s wife passed away, he was left to raise  his son Tully alone.  This he did despite still trying to carry on with his career as a singer.  Tully would travel with him and stand backstage as Sonny performed and was adopted by all the musicians and other performers something like a mascot.

Sonny outlived his son Tully who pre-deceased him in 1993 and is remembered as someone who could sing and sell a song but not hold his liquor. He is also remembered as a loving grandfather to Mike, Tully’s son, who lived with Sonny until 2003 when Sonny passed away and Mike moved to Nashville.

Mike inherited Sonny’ guitar and had some dreams of follwoing in Sonny’s footsteps as a country singer.

Place : Louisiana Hayride

Shreveport-municipal-auditorium-1995

Louisiana Hayride was a radio and later television country music show broadcast from the Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana, that during its heyday from 1948 to 1960 helped to launch the careers of some of the greatest names in American country and western music. Elvis Presley performed on the radio version of the program in 1954 and made his first television appearance on the television version of Louisiana Hayride on March 3, 1955.

While the Opry, the Jubilee and the Hayride all showcased established stars, the Hayride was where talented, but virtual unknowns, were also given exposure to a large audience. Over the years, country music greats such as Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, Jimmie Davis, Will Strahan, Slim Whitman, Floyd Cramer, Sonny James, Hank Snow, Faron Young, Johnny Horton, Jim Reeves, Claude King, Jimmy Martin, George Jones, John and The Three Wise Men, Johnny Cash, Frankie Miller, Tex Ritter, Cowboy Jack Hunt & Little Joe Hunt of the Rhythm Ranch Hands, Nat Stuckey, and Lefty Frizzell, among many others, performed on Louisiana Hayride.

By mid-1954, a special 30-minute portion of Louisiana Hayride was being broadcast every Saturday on the AFN Pacific channel of the United Kingdom Scottish Forces Radio Network. On October 16 of that year, Elvis Presley appeared on the radio program. Presley’s performance of his newly released song from Sun Records called “That’s All Right Mama” brought a tepid response, according to former Hayride emcee Frank Page (1925-2013), but soon after Presley was nonetheless signed to a one-year contract for future appearances. The immediate and enormous demand for more of Presley’s new kind of rockabilly music actually resulted in a sharp decline in the popularity of the Louisiana Hayride that until that point had been strictly a country music venue. On March 3, 1955, Presley made his first television appearance on the television version of The Louisiana Hayride, carried by KSLA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Shreveport.

Within a few years, rock and roll had come to dominate the music scene, and on August 27, 1960, Louisiana Hayride ended its primary run

Jake McLemore (1951- )

jake and truck

An American historian in the 19th century described the frontier vanguard in the following words:   

“Thus the backwoodsmen lived on the clearings they had hewed out of the everlasting forest; a grim, stern people, strong and simple, powerful for good and evil, swayed by gusts of stormy passion, the love of freedom rooted in their hearts’ core. Their lives were harsh and narrow; they gained their bread by their blood and sweat, in the unending struggle with the wild ruggedness of nature. They suffered terrible injuries at the hands of the red men, and on their foes they waged a terrible warfare in return. They were relentless, revengeful, suspicious, knowing neither ruth nor pity; they were also upright, resolute, and fearless, loyal to their friends, and devoted to their country. In spite of their many failings, they were of all men the best fitted to conquer the wilderness and hold it against all comers.   

The Anglo-American 18th-century frontier, like that of the Spanish, was one of war. The word “Texan” was not yet part of the English language. But in the bloody hills of Kentucky and on the middle border of Tennessee the type of man was already made. “

These were the McLemores who left Tennessee for Texas.

Owen McLemore was born in 1790 in Tennessee and married Annabel March in 1816.  Together they worked a sustenance farm in Tennessee and began to build a family outside of Nashville, seeing their first son Jacob McLemore come into the world on  Christmas Day 1818.  Annabel gave birth to six other sons before dying in 1860 by which time the family had migrated to East Texas.

Jacob “Christmas” McLemore, as he was known his entire life, was Jake McLemore’s great-great-great-grandfather.

Jake McLemore’s father, Charlie McLemore, was farmer and later petroleum businessman of Nacogdoches, Texas where Jake was born in 1951 and where he spent his early life. Jake decided to make his way in the world by returning to the family’s old territory of Tennessee and moved to Nashville in 1978.

After investing in several businesses, he came to own a bar, which he had won in a poker game.   He promptly changed the name and settled down as proprietor of McLemore’s Bar in 1984.

By that time Jake had already married and had a son, Lee, in 1982 who would go on to join the army and fight and die in Iraq in 2007.  But not before having a son himself in 2004 (a child Jake knew nothing about) with his girlfriend whom he secretly married shortly before being shipped out.

Jake kept the bar going for several years after Lee died but ended up selling it and buying some land outside of Shreveport, Louisiana near Caddo Lake where he used to go fishing with his father as an adolescent.  Here Jake lived out the rest of his days fishing and shooting the breeze with Mike Broussard and other men from the area until the day Jake met his grandson, Charles, named after Jake’s father – in 2017.

Jake is raising Charles to be a sturdy young man in the long line of McLemore men.