William Crawford Harper was the great-grandson of a woman born into slavery, Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936 ). Willie Harper would grow up just a few miles from the former plantation where Celsie lived, however he would join one of the landmark events of the civil rights era, the march from Selma to Montgomery (see song “Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge“).
William served in the Marines during the Vietnam War but came home and used his training to start an electronics business. He married Corinne Morgan and they had one son, Morgan Harper. Morgan married Rosa Blanton, and they had three children, including one son Crawford Harper (1987).
Willie Harper always knew that his great-grandmother, Celsie, was half-white, and had given birth to a son Tully Tate in 1866 from her common law marriage to a white man, Joshua Tate. Tully Tate married the illegitimate daughter (Pearl Robison) of a Louisiana prostitute (Ruby Robison) and Confederate soldier (Levi Motts) (see songs “Levi Motts is My Name” and “Fannin Street“).
The Harpers had lost track of the Tate side of the family. But Willie Harper’s grandson, Crawford Harper, would end up coming into to contact with descendants from the white side of the family, Vernon and Donald Raney, in Meridian Mississippi, which is just across the state line from Demopolis, Alabama, where Crawford was living in 2007.
Unfortunately the Raneys were not exactly upstanding individuals. Their family had been involved in making moonshine, bootlegging and later drug distribution ever since Lonsom Raney established his copper pot still in the early 19th century in north Georgia. Later members of the family moved to Mississippi (see songs “Lonsom Raney 1828” and “’57 Fleetwood to Memphis“).
Crawford and the Raney brothers would join up for a period of time which would have greatly disturbed Willie Harper, who had tried to instill only the highest values in his children and grandchildren. However, Willie never lived to see how his grandson turned out, dying in 2001 from a heart attack.