“The Black Belt”

Time period: 1965
Location: Marengo County, Alabama
Dramatis personae: Lower class white share-cropper
THE BLACK BELT
(f.d. leone)

The Black Belt is known for the richest dirt
But it's drenched in a history of hurt
Cotton is king and defines life round here
Row after row under the gun of an overseer 
The Black Belt runs across this whole state
The Alabama River carries tons of freight
Down to Mobile and the markets cross the seas
The Black Belt reaches 360 degrees

The Black Belt got its name from the color of the soil
But also by the color of the skin of those who toil
Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863
But a hundred years later looks 'bout the same to me

I'm white and poor as they come
I ain't got nothin' but I ain't dumb
I know that just by being white I've have more
Than what a better black man can ever hope for

The Black Belt got its name from the color of the soil
But also by the color of the skin of those who toil
Lincoln freed the slaves in1863
But a hundred years later looks about the same to me
A hundred years later looks about the same to me
© 2022 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.

“Magomry”

Time period: 1923
Location: Montgomery County, Alabama, along US 80
Dramatis personae: Maclin Hooper (1877-1955), Lamar Hooper (1907-1969)

Mac Hooper was a tenant farmer in Montgomery County, Alabama, growing cotton, corn, and sorghum. He depended upon his son, Lamar, to help with the farm work, but Lamar hated farm work and couldn’t wait to take off for the nearest city, Montgomery which was about 50 miles down Highway 80 East.

Lamar Hooper was Levi Hooper‘s grandfather.

MAGOMRY
(f.d. leone)

I been dreamin' about Magomry
This stinkin' farm is his, and he can have it
My hands are calloused, and ugly
I want my own life, that's all I'm askin'
I'm sixteen and I made a choice
It's branded on my heart, and in my soul
I've had my fill of my father's voice
There's a fire in me, I can't control

Magomry is just down the road 
Where I wanna be, where I need to go 
Gonna get out from under my old man
Magomry is the answer to who I am

I guess my dad once had dreams
Somewhere along the way he give up on them
Now he looks around for someone to blame
And I sure don't want to end up like him
In Magomry the first thing I'll do
I take a long walk down those wide sunny streets
I'm sure in a week or two
Get me a good job and it'll be sweet

Magomry is just down the road 
Where I wanna be, where I need to go 
Gonna get out from under my old man
Magomry is the answer to who I am
Gonna get out while I still can
Magomry is the answer to who I am

My father left all his dreams behind
He's doing his best to kill mine too
When I see that city limit sign
My dreams will start, coming true
© 2022 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.

“Let Her Run”

Rosalie Broussard was a restless girl from a very young age. She would often wander off, not telling her parents anything, causing them to worry. Rosalie was precocious, sexually mature for her age. She got herself pregnant before she was sixteen and decided to have the baby, a boy, whom she chose to name James (b. 1985).

Rosalie married Tully Tate, and they went to live in Bellamy, Alabama, leaving James behind with Rosalie’s father. Rosalie and Tully had twin girls a few years later.

Throughout these early years of her marriage, Rosalie would run off from time to time, forcing Tully to find her and bring her back, only to run off again a few weeks later.

Finally, Tully just gave up on her and let Rosalie run.

LET HER RUN
(F.D. Leone, Jr.)

Rosalie Broussard just turned sixteen
She likes movie magazines
Spends hours in her room alone
But Rosalie’s barely hanging on

She hasn’t told her parents yet
Robert Abbott said it’s either him or it
Under her pillow there’s a list of names
She circled in red Jenny and James

Tully Tate drove a log truck
From Hosston to Bastrop
Rosalie met Tully one Friday night
For once everything felt just right

Tully was from Alabama
He and Rosalie left Louisiana
Got in his truck and drove all night
After leaving James with her daddy Mike

Rosalie’s restless as it gets dark
Listening to the wind outside and a dog bark
She’s stir crazy in that little town
Bellamy, Alabama’s all shut down

Tully works at the WestRock paper plant
Rosalie’ll wander off when she feels trapped
Leaving eggs frying in the pan
Tully just can’t understand

Rosalie don’t know why she has to roam
Tully always found her and brought her home
Later she hates the harm she’s done
One day Tully’s just gonna let her run 

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.
 

“Demopolis, Alabama”

James Matt Broussard (1985) is the grandson of Michael James “Sarge” Broussard (1948-2014), whose daughter Rosalie Broussard (1969) gave birth to James when she was sixteen (see song “James“).

Even though Rosalie Broussard was from Vivian, Louisiana, she had James in Shreveport, where she lived initially after giving birth. Eventually she left James with her parents and left for Alabama with a guy she ended up marrying, Tully Tate.

Once James turned 18 he also moved to Shreveport.  This song describes a two-year period, from 2016 to 2018, when James lived in Demopolis, Alabama.  He was interested in Alabama since that was where he thought his mother was.  He had taken up with a woman in Shreveport who was from Demopolis and she convinced him to move to Alabama with her.

That relationship didn’t last, but James didn’t immediately leave Demopolis. Maybe, he had in the back of his mind that he might get back together with the woman. But once James realized that he didn’t even want to get back together, he finally decides to leave Alabama and return to Shreveport.

James liked guns, and enjoyed shooting guns; something about shooting lifted his spirits. So, on his way out of town he stops at a pawn shop to see what kind of guns they had, but unbeknownst to James there was a robbery in progress. James instinctively tries to stop the holdup but the robber panics, takes a shot at James, missing by a wide margin.

That was enough for James, who runs to his truck and tears off on 80-W to Shreveport. The robber also exits the pawn shop, ignorant of the fact that his getaway car has a bad fuel pump. He doesn’t get very far before it breaks down and he is apprehended without much trouble by a Marengo County Sheriff’s Deputy.

DEMOPOLIS, ALABAMA
(F.D. Leone)

I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana
But for about the last two years now
Been living in Demopolis, Alabama
It ain’t never felt like home somehow

I came here on account of a woman
But we didn’t last too long
Stuck around, I guess, looking for something
Months ago I should’ve been gone

Gonna get my gun, get my gun
Wanna shoot some, shoot some
Buy some more, at the range
A pump shotgun, a thirty eight

There’s a market with a wooden Indian out front
An old man we called Shakespeare was the owner
It’s been there since the fifties, untouched
I put some pork rinds and a beer on the counter

Handed Shakespeare the cash for my provisions
I remarked that the Indian was a little weird
He said, “ain’t you ever heard of Hank Williams,
‘ Kaw-Liga’ was a pretty big hit ‘round here”

Gonna get my gun, get my gun
Wanna shoot some, shoot some
Gonna get my gun, change my mood
Wanna shoot some, improve my attitude

I’m sitting in my truck outside her house
She’s got a new boyfriend, from Alabama
I watch him take all her garbage out
Guess I’ll head on back to Louisiana

But before I do I stop at a pawn shop
A guy had a gun, “gimme all the cash,” he said
Without thinking I yell, “hey fella, stop”
He whirled around, threw a shot at at my head

Gonna get my gun, get my gun
Wanna shoot some, shoot some
Gonna get my gun, that’s what I’ll do
Put Demopolis, Alabama in my rear view

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.

“Miss Lucy Keith”

During the latter half of the 19th century shaped note singing became very popular.  Singing schools were found all though the South, and singing conventions would be held for three days at a time, or even as long as a week.  These events were part of what has been called The Great Awakening in which revivals or camp meetings were held where, along with the preaching, much singing would take place.

This song is about the great-great-grandparents of Lucy Cooper (1980-2015), Cowan “Dusty” Cooper (1843-1925) and Lucy Calhoun Keith (1859-1919).  They were an unlikely match since Cowan was a ne’er-do-well and more than 15 years older, while Miss Lucy Keith was a dignified young lady, the heir to her father’s banking fortune.  But they happened to meet at an opportune moment.

Because Lucy was a somewhat intimidating lady, suitors had never succeeded in winning her hand, and by now seven years had elapsed since she had attained marriageable age.  At the same time, it was 1885, Cowan Cooper had become dissatisfied with his life as an itinerant gambler and con-man and was ripe for change.

After becoming aware of Miss Lucy Keith, and seeing that she was strikingly beautiful, and destined to become rich, Cowan began to make himself available wherever she might be, including one of these camp meetings. Although at first his motives might not have been exactly honorable, that changed rather quickly.

They officially met at a group singing event held by the river in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  As he joined in the singing, Cowan felt himself being born again and from then on he and Lucy Keith began courting seriously. Cowan grew into a proper gentleman and eventually met with the approval of Old Man Keith, who took him on at the bank.

Cowan and Lucy married, raised three children, and lived happily together for 32 years.

MISS LUCY KEITH
(F.D. Leone)

I buried Lucy yesterday
After thirty-two years together
But I am getting ahead of myself
I mean to tell you how I met her

My name is Cowan Cooper
Been a grifter my whole life
I was making a pretty good living
With cards and dice

I come from Jackson, Mississippi
Born in 1843
But I cared nothing about
Preserving the Union or slavery

While other boys fought and died
I bought myself out of the war
Dealt poker in a Vicksburg saloon
And lived with a whore

I met Lucy in 1885
By then the war was twenty years gone
I was tired of the gambler’s life
But it’s all I’d ever known

Miss Lucy Keith was the talk of Vicksburg
Her flashing green eyes and long red hair
They said she can look right through you
Made you feel like you weren’t even there

I was intrigued by this young lady
And would appear wherever she went
Until one night I found myself
At a camp meeting, under a tent

Now I was raised up in the church
But learned more songs in less sacred places
There was a feeling in that tent
A light radiated from all the faces

I sat down next to Miss Lucy Keith
She kindly indicated to me the hymn
We shared a Sacred Harp
Leaned in close and sang “Jerusalem”

I can’t explain what came over me
The singing mixed with Miss Lucy Keith’s perfume
From the fragile scent of lilac
I felt myself rising up in the room

In the weeks after that night
I was often seen with Miss Lucy Keith
My former friends couldn’t understand
And stared at me with disbelief

I threw away my cards and dice
Having no use anymore for them
A wretch such as I had been saved
When Lucy Keith and I sang “Jerusalem”

So now you’ve heard my story
And it’s all I have to tell
I walked away that old hymn book
Somewhere, it's sitting on my shelf

Those shaped notes may be old-fashioned
I hope there’s still some power left in them
Save your old Sacred Harps
My life was changed when I sang “Jerusalem”

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.

“Lowndes County”

This song takes place in 1933, during the depth of the Depression in North Alabama. Lamar Hooper, Levi Hooper’s grandfather, was born on Sand Mountain and when he was in his early 30s chose to go south to look for work. He walked to the nearest road and then put up his thumb hoping for a ride.

It wasn’t long before a truck picked him up and brought him all to way to Lowndes County in the central part of the state. However, that night he got into a little trouble in Lowndesboro, a small town on Highway 80.

LOWNDES COUNTY
(F.D. Leone, Jr.)

Sand Mountain’s where I’m from
I was traveling south on my thumb
Until I heard a jail door slam
In Lowndes County, Alabam’

I’d just been there a week or two
What they said I done, I did not do
They picked me up Saturday night
Charged me for damage and a fight

I told them it was self-defense
What I said made no difference
They held me over for trial,
“Be a few days,” they smiled

The Judge was deaf to my plea
“Son, you look guilty to me”
Thirty dollars or thirty days
Up to you, it’s all the same”

“Thirty dollars I ain’t got
I might as well sit in jail and rot”
Just came south to look for work
Never thought things’d be worse

Teenage girl brought me a plate
Then sat and watched as I ate
A biscuit and slice of ham
She even gave me some strawberry jam

Slipped the fork back through the bars
Said she’d come around after dark
If I could get myself free
She just might run away with me

Sheriff came to check my cell door
Said, “One day done, 29 more
Get some rest tomorrow you’ll work”
I fingered that fork under my shirt

They call this place Alabam’
But Hell is surely where I am
I forgot why I chose to come
Never should’ve left Sand Mountain

Don’t know why I chose to come
Never should’ve left Sand Mountain

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.

“That Night in Columbus”

Sonny Tate (1936-2003) was born in Opelika, Alabama and displayed musical talent at an early age. He could mimic Hank Williams 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.

The events of this song took place in 1999 when Sonny Tate was 63 and living in Columbus, Georgia. A serious thunderstorm had hit the town leaving most of Columbus without power. That night, a local bar decided to go ahead and open up despite not having power: They put a case of beer on ice and set candles on each table, and Sonny entertained the regulars with his guitar until power was restored.

THAT NIGHT IN COLUMBUS
(F.D. Leone, Jr.)

Sonny had his guitar and was singing the blues
It really hit the spot for us
The power had gone out from a storm that passed through
That night in Columbus

They opened up that bar and let us in
Some beer was iced down in a wash tub
It sure felt good getting out and seeing friends
That night in Columbus

A lot of rain, oh boy, the wind sure did blow
But we were all right in that dark club
Listening as Sonny sang in the candle glow
That night in Columbus

It could have been worse, least nobody died
As it was the storm just hurt some stuff
We passed the time safe and dry inside
That night in Columbus

Bad weather comes and then it goes
Go ahead shake your fist and cuss
Made you feel a little better I suppose
That night in Columbus

Sonny’s packing up, his guitar’s in the case
The lights are on, but we ain’t in a rush
The storm turned that old bar into a sacred space
That night in Columbus

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.

“Jess Harper Returns to Macon”

Jess Harper (1949) and Dooley Johnson (1949) grew up in Macon, Georgia in the 1950s.  During this decade the civil rights movement was gathering momentum, but it would still take a decade or more before a change in consciousness, especially in the South, would coalesce and the culture would begin to change.  This process was helped along by the participation of progressive Southern intellectuals, like the family that produced Dooley Johnson, who offered their support to African American leaders by writing editorials, raising money and pressuring local elected officials.

Dooley and Jess met in grade school and grown up together forming a close friendship which by the time they were teenagers deepened into a romantic relationship.  However, interracial dating was considered taboo, particularly in Macon, Georgia, in the Sixties.

Jess was 18 in 1967, the Summer of Love, and had heard about all the exciting things going on in California, Haight-Ashbury, and elsewhere.  She desired to escape the claustrophobic racism of Georgia and the lure of California was strong. Despite her young love for Dooley she reluctantly began to believe that their relationship was doomed and chose instead to try her luck in San Francisco.  This song is a flashback to the day she left Macon soon after graduating from high school.

Dooley who had been interested in history as a small child, reading about the early settlement of Georgia and forming a critical opinion about the treatment of Native Americans as well as the racial reality of his state.  Dooley remained in Georgia where he pursued a degree in history eventually earning a doctorate and becoming a tenured professor of history at Mercer University in Macon.

Jess spent two years just hanging out in San Francisco until she learned that the University of California-Berkeley had created an African American Studies program.  She realized that this is what she wanted to do with her life and enrolled in 1970.

She kept up on news from Macon through her mother, and when she learned of Dooley’s death in 2007 she made the long trip back to Macon for his funeral.

JESS HARPER RETURNS TO MACON
(F.D. Leone, Jr.)

Jess Harper threw some clothes into a suitcase
Took what she could but left a lot behind
She’s been thinking ‘bout leaving Macon
Got an early start ‘fore she changed her mind
She didn’t tell nobody not even her mama
Just got on 80 heading west
She’ll try and call Dooley from Alabama
The first chance that she gets

Her mama said they were asking for trouble
She could love a black boy just as easy as one who’s white
Plenty of Georgia don’t like to see a mixed couple
Jess began to think her mama was right

Jess met Dooley Johnson in first grade
They’ve been best friends ever since
He opened up her mind to new things
Like no other boy ever did
When Dooley was sixteen and had his license
He took Jess to see the Indian mounds
Left there by the great Mississippian people
A thousand years before the white man was around

Many nights Dooley told Jess stories
About the Choctaw and the Creek and their fate
Dooley’s family’s been in Georgia for generations
Jess knows Dooley’ll never leave this state

Jess pulls off the highway at Columbus
Stands at the river as a warm rain starts to fall
Her destination remains undecided
Dooley never did get that call
Forty years will pass before Jess returns to Macon
From California back to the land of her birth
In his Georgia drawl Jess hears Dooley talking
As they lower his body into the blood-red earth

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.

“Tybee Island”

Ruth Ann Robison (1950) was a paternal aunt of Pearl Robison (1973) but instead of Conyers, Georgia, Ruthann grew up in Savannah.

This song describes a weekend in the summer of 1968 when a seventeen-year-old Ruth Ann and her boyfriend Billy Wainwright spent a romantic night on Tybee Island.  Ruth Ann and Billy would go on to marry, move to Mississippi, and have eight kids, Pearl’s cousins.

Depending upon your orientation, Tybee Island is either the terminus or starting point of Highway 80, which at one time ran continuously from Tybee Island to San Diego, California.  During the 1960s, US 80 was decommissioned west of Dallas.

TYBEE ISLAND
(F.D. Leone, Jr.)

Billy Wainwright was from Savannah
Ruthann Robison was his girlfriend
July ’68 they took East 80
And drove to the highway’s end

Billy built a fire near the lighthouse
As shadows began to grow
They shared a bottle of Mateus
And sang songs like “Ode to Billy Joe”

On Tybee Island, Tybee Island
The waves sparkle like diamonds
The sand on the beach
The salt and the sea
Billy picked a Georgia peach on Tybee Island

Ruthie spread out the tattered blanket
That Billy kept in that old truck
They talked underneath the starlight
Until the sun came up

On Tybee Island, Tybee Island
The waves sparkle like diamonds
The sand on the beach
The salt and the sea
Billy picked a Georgia peach on Tybee Island

Ruthann said she wanted ten children
Billy told her all his deepest dreams
They kissed and the world stopped spinning
That’s how love is when you’re seventeen

On Tybee Island, Tybee Island
The waves sparkle like diamonds
The sand on the beach
The salt and the sea
Billy picked a Georgia peach on Tybee Island
The sand on the beach
The salt and the sea
He picked a Georgia peach on Tybee Island

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.

“Robert Dodge”

Of the approximately twelve million Africans brought to the Americas, as few as 350,000 came directly to the territories that would become the United States.  Virtually all of those slaves were brought to the East Coast, primarily to Virginia and the Carolinas.  Among them were the ancestors of Winnie Mason (1845-1930) and Charles Dodge (1841-1912), whose ancestors had been given their freedom prior to the Civil War.  Charles and Winnie moved from Virginia to Mississippi as free persons of color.

Winnie had given birth to nine children, but only five survived to adulthood.  Robert Dodge (1884-1932) was the youngest and last to leave home.  The events of this song took place roughly from 1880 to 1920.

Free blacks in the South were not uncommon.  In 1810, there had been over 100,000 free black persons there, and by 1860 more free blacks lived in the South (261,918) than in the North (226,152).  Forty percent were mulattoes, and for the most part they had been released from slavery through manumission (formal acts of emancipation by their slave-owners). That had been the case for the Dodge family, whose mixed-blood ancestor had fought in the Revolution and been granted his freedom as a result.

After receiving their freedom former slaves often moved from the upper to the deep South, as did the Dodges who went from Virginia to Mississippi. For the most part, such movement was instigated by the possibility of money to be made in the Lower South’s cotton industry.

Robert Dodge was not like his father, who was a hard worker and entrepreneur. While Robert was blessed with musical talent he was cursed with a lack of discipline and need for instant gratification. He never settled in any town long because of his wanderlust and wherever he went trouble was not far behind.

Robert was one of many songsters who traveled around Mississippi singing and playing for house parties in what were called jukes or juke joints.

ROBERT DODGE
(F.D. Leone, Jr.)

Robert was born on a plantation
Charlie Dodge’s youngest son
The Dodges lived in Albemarle
Six generations before Charles

A Dodge had fought with Washington
That’s how their freedom was won
Charles left Virginia for Mississip’
He’d heard there was cotton to pick

Charles was good with his hands
He set up a blacksmith stand
Put his money in a crockery pot
Saved enough to buy his own spot

In the year nineteen-aught-one
Robert wanted his own freedom
He didn’t like plantation work
Picking cotton made his hands hurt

He got a guitar by trading his shoes
Started making money playing blues
He was known in all the juke joints
From Clarksdale to Friars Point

When he was living in Greenville
Took up with a gal named Lit’l Lil
Til her husband found them both in bed
And he hit Lit’l Lil upside the head

He came at Robert with a knife
Robert ran for his life
Shouting, “I don’t mean a thing to her
I’m just a poor songster”

He ran to Memphis on his bare feet
Found a hoodoo shop on Beale Street
A conjure woman sitting at a boiling pot
Said her brew would bring him luck

She gave him a bag made of jute
Filled with graveyard clay and snakeroot
Added some cat’s teeth and colored glass
Would make him play his guitar fast

He found his way to New Orleans
His fingers flew across his guitar strings
There was a train would take him North
To Chicago and Detroit

Robert was born on a plantation
Charlie Dodge’s youngest son
The Dodges lived in Albemarle
Six generations before Charles

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). 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.