Tullison Monroe Tate (1866-1948)

Tullison Monroe “Tully”Tate was the direct descendant of the major landowner and planter of Perry County Alabama, Thomas William Monroe but was not considered an heir because he was an illegitimate offspring.  Tully was just another cotton sharecropper, on his grandfather’s land with no more status than any other black farmer  in Alabama around the turn of the 20th century.  The reason he was not acknowledged as a true Monroe heir was not simply because he was born outside of marriage, but more importantly, because his grandmother was a slave whom Will Monroe had impregnated in 1844.  The result of this miscegenation was Tully’s mother Celsie Monroe.

Celsie was briefly married to a white man, Joshua Tate, and Tully was their only child before separating.  Tully was a cotton farmer whose status within the community was complicated by the fact of his heritage, which everyone knew, calling him Monroe’s Tully (see song “King Cotton“). After leaving Tully’s father, Celsie would go on to marry Mingo Harper, also a former slave, and they would have four other children, two of whom would play a not insignificant role in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s.

Tully Tate would marry Pearl Robison, the daughter of Ruby Robison and Levi Motts resulting in the birth of Hazel Tate.  Hazel would in turn marry Virgil Raney, descendant of Lonsom Raney producing a son, Vernon Raney, husband of Molly Motts. This created the complicated reality that Tullison Monroe Tate’s mixed blood ran through the various strands of the Tate, Raney, Motts and Robison families.

Almost exactly one century later there would be another Tully Tate, the son of a country singer in Louisiana.

“King Cotton”

It’s July 1899 and Tullison Tate (1866-1938) is sitting in his wagon, loaded with cotton, in line waiting for it to be ginned.  The Monroe family has owned most of this Perry County, Alabama, town’s businesses including the gin. Tully’s grandmother was a slave from a neighboring plantation, Jessie “Crawford” (1828-1905), who was impregnated by Thomas William Monroe (1812-1909), producing a mixed blood daughter, Celsie in 1844, Tully’s mother.  Tully’s status in the community is as complicated as his blood.

King Cotton
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Line of wagons filled with cotton
Moving up one by one
Line ends at Tommy, Jr.
Ol’ man Monroe’s son

Monroe owns the gin, an’ smith
The bank, an’ the store
It’s been a Monroe town
Since before The War

Heard ’em say cotton is king
Well, I ain’ seen one yet
The more I work, all it seems
The more I get in debt

Price of cotton keeps fallin’
Soon it won’t make sense to plant
Most are still plantin’ and pickin’
A few walked off their land

Sittin’ in a wagon of cotton
Won’t get ginned ’til ‘roun’ four
Tommy says what I got comin’
Less my bill at the store

Heard ’em say cotton is king …

They call me Monroe’s Tully
Makin’ sure I know my place
Tom Monroe is my granddaddy
But my grandma was a slave

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Levi Hooper (1973- )

In Levi’s mother’s mind he was named for her ancestor who died in the Civil War.  However, the name Levi was also an old Hooper family name, and Leon Hooper, Levi’s father, chose to name his son after his grandfather who had died the year Levi was born.

Levi Hooper was a descendant of two old Southern families: the Hoopers came into North Carolina in the early 18th century and then migrated to Alabama in the mid-19th century.  The Mott family was an old Louisianan family going back to the 1750s.

Jackson, Mississippi, was where Levi was raised and he never moved away.  His daddy was a welder and made a good living but died just before Levi turned two.  After that Levi’s mother turned the family home into a thrift shop (see song,”Mildred’s House of Values“) putting price tags on everything from lamps and vases to the furniture.

Levi eventually got his own place and met his neighbor from across the street, Lucy Cooper, and began a kind of courtship (see song, “Levi + Lucy“).  Lucy Cooper was nothing like Levi, she was rebellious and wild whereas Levi was mild-mannered, a church -going man.  But Lucy was strangely attracted to Levi’s wholesome quality and made a real effort at cleaning up her life and trying her best to change.

But as this kind of thing is never really easy, Lucy had trouble straightening out and one thing led to another and she was arrested and sent to the penitentiary to serve eighteen months on a drug charge.

Levi visited her often and told her was waiting for her, but Lucy could not take prison life and ended up over-dosing shortly before being released.  Lucy’s death, coupled with the passing of his mother the year before, was too much for Levi.  He started down a dark path of drinking and driving all through the western Mississippi/eastern Louisiana area (see song, “Levi After Lucy“).

He would not break out of this self-destructive behavior until he learned from Lucy’s mother, Mae Cooper, that before she died Lucy had given birth to Levi’s son whom Mae was raising and had named McCoy.

“What Tully’s Done”

What Tully’s Done
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Tully left the girls at his sister Ruth’s
Took off for Baton Rouge
Barked the tires in all four gears
Their mama’s gone and run off again
Third time Tully’s seen I-10
And each time it’s a little more weird

Oh no, don’t you know
When she leaves he’s bound to follow
Least that’s what Tully’s done
Oh no, don’t you know
One damn day when she goes
Tully’s just gonna let her run

But today’s that ain’t where he’s at
He’ll track her down and bring her back
Hope she ain’t a mess
She left eggs frying in the pan
Tully waitin’ for that call again
From a stranger with a question and an address

Oh no, don’t you know …

Tully says, “Doc, what makes her be like that?”
Doc just looks away and gives his head a scratch
Tully says,”if it was just me I wouldn’t care,
Those kids need their mama there”

Oh no, don’t you know …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Electric Mule Music/Warner Music (BMI)

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.