Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936) was born into slavery but was freed by Will Monroe, a wealthy white planter and her father, in 1863 as a result of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Celsie’s mother, Jessie Crawford (1828-1905), was a slave from a neighboring plantation of whom Will Monroe had grown quite fond. Monroe made sure Jessie was provided for and also insisted that she be freed in 1863 by paying off her owner Carson Crawford.
Celsie was what was called a “yellow gal”, and quite beautiful. Once she was freed at age 19, Celsie began seeing a white man, Joshua Tate (1828-1867), and their relationship developed into a common law marriage, although the possibility of such a union was denied at the time.
The Tates were a wealthy Alabama family held in high regard and Joshua’s indiscretion was of course never openly acknowledged by the family and surrounding community, although everyone knew of it and the child it eventually produced.
Joshua was nominally a lawyer handling cotton trades and other mercantile business for the planters. But as was the custom for sons of his class, his hours were at his own instigation. Although he made a daily trip to town, he might only spend an hour or two in the afternoon in his office, often asleep on the leather couch sitting against the wall, next to the large hearth fire.
After the War, Republican “carpetbaggers” entered the former Confederacy and worked to overturn every vestige of slavery and the old ways at every turn; Alabama was no exception. These men were hated since they were seen as enemy outsiders, and interlopers and exploiters who added insult to the injury of losing the war. It was during this turbulent period that Joshua Tate was murdered in 1867 in his second floor office by a man with a three barreled derringer pistol, while Joshua was relaxing on the couch with a volume of Homer.
Some said the motivation behind the killing was Tate’s relationship with Celsie Monroe; others said he was killed because of his covert support of the Republicans. Still a few others said he was killed by a carpetbagger. However, no one was ever accused much less arrested and convicted of Josh Tate’s murder.
Tate lingered for two days before dying, leaving Celsie with a son, Tullison Monroe Tate (1866-1948). Tully Tate was one-quarter African-American, light-skinned and who would marry a white woman and whose descendants would all be considered white, Tully’s blood becoming less and less present with each successive generation.
In 1872 Celsie’s first official marriage was to a African-American man, Jesse Harper (1850-1922), and Celsie and Jesse enjoyed a long and happy union, raising four children, seven grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. However, Celsie’s oldest child, Tully, was raised by his spinster Aunt Ruth, his father’s sister.
One of Celsie’s great-grandchildren, William Crawford Harper (1942-2001), marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 (see song “Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge“). Willie Harper lived to see most of the Jim Crow laws reversed even as the stubborn stain of racism remained.
© 2018 Frank David Leone. The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.