“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
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Sand Mountain’s where I’m from
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
Had to hold 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 looking 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
Shoveling Lowndes County dirt”

They call this place Alabam
But Hell is surely where I am
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.

“Riding Shotgun in Phenix City”

Josh Tate, Tully Tate’s nephew, the son of his sister Ruth, was born in 1985 in Phenix City, Alabama.  This song is a coming of age story, describing Josh’s first two loves: his girlfriend Sally Anderson and his car, a 1978 Chevelle.

Josh and Sally met in high school and were best friends which developed into their first experience with love.  As soon as he could Josh saved up and bought a 1978 Chevelle, which he worked on and got running.  With his new drivers license in hand he and Sally would go driving on Highway 80 outside of Phenix City.

Until the summer night that changed Josh’s life

Riding Shotgun in Phenix City
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Phenix City, Alabama
We were in high school
Talked like we were slick
Walked like we were cool

I got my drivers license
Summer of 2001
Bought a green ’78 Chevelle
You rode shotgun

Didn’t know how brief
Our time would be
That summer was sweet
You rode shotgun with me

We rolled the windows down
Laughin’ in the wind
I’ve never loved anyone
Like I loved you then

Never knew what hit us
80 at Evans Road
A little cross stands at that corner
The Chevelle was sold

Didn’t know how brief
Our time would be
That summer was sweet
You rode shotgun with me
That summer was sweet
You rode shotgun with me

Phenix City, Alabama
We were in high school

© 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.

“James”

Rosalie Broussard found her self pregnant a week after turning sixteen (see song “Jenny or James“).  Though her boyfriend wanted her to have an abortion, and even offered her the money, she refused, because Rosalie had a naive understanding about what having a baby really meant, and also because she just didn’t like the idea.  However, she eventually realized she couldn’t handle the responsibility and when James was three she handed him over to her father and his second wife, MaeAnn.

When Rosalie was twenty she left Vivian, Louisiana and married Tully Tate, a man she met while waitressing at a truck stop.  They had twin girls and lived in Mobile, Alabama.  But Rosalie never could make peace with domestic life and would run off from time to time, ech time Tully would find and bring her back home (see song “What Tully’s Done“).  But eventually he grew tired of chasing after his runaway wife and Rosalie finally left that family as well (see song “Rosalie“).

Mike and MaeAnn dearly loved James since they saw that his mother had not shown him the natural love of a mother.  But James still felt an emptiness which was only relieved when he played catch with his grandpa.

James
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

James was Wednesday’s child, full of woe
His mama left when he was just three years old
Rosalie was only sixteen when she had him
Left him with her parents; he was raised by them

James grew up wondering if he’d done something wrong
That made his mama leave him at his grandpa’s home
His father was a shadow, a name that wasn’t said
But Mike and MaeAnn did their best

When James played catch with Mike
For a little while everything seemed alright
A peaceful feeling settled in with the dimming light
On those summer days when James played catch with Mike

He overheard bits and pieces about his mama’s life
She was living in Mobile, a truck driver’s wife
At Christmas she might visit but wouldn’t stay too long
Gave James some toy he’d long ago outgrown

MaeAnn said he had twin sisters in Mobile
James really hoped that they had a better deal
But soon Rosalie would run off from them too
It seemed that’s all his mama was cut out to do

When James played catch with Mike
For a little while everything seemed alright
A peaceful feeling settled in with the dimming light
On those summer days when James played catch with Mike

© 2019 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.

“Rosalie”

Rosalie Broussard Tate has a history of running away from any relationship she is in.  This time she has run from her marriage leaving her husband Tully Tate and their twin girls at home.

Rosalie
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

In a cocktail lounge in Mobile
Just about closing time
Empty shot glass on her table
Rosalie shuts her eyes

Tully would always find her
Bring her home in the past
Rosalie looks around her
Guess he gave up at last

Anytime anyone loves her
Soon she’ll be gone
To the dim lights of a barroom
Where she feels she belongs
Mistrusting human kindness
She’d rather be alone
Telling herself she’s free
Rosalie, ah, Rosalie

She’d like to kick the habit
Always choosing to run
Since she was sixteen
It’s what she’s relied upon

There’s a devil lying to her
Whispering in her ear
She wants to ignore it, but
It’s the strongest voice she hears

Anytime anyone loves her …

© 2018 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.

“Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge “

In 1844 Celsie Monroe was born into slavery; in 1865 she was freed.  One hundred years later her great-grandson, Willie Harper, was one of those who joined the Selma March.

 

 

Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge

WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Named for a Confederate general
Who has all but faded from history
That bridge is a landmark of a struggle
Where slave descendants took a step towards victory

It’s only fifty miles from Selma to Montgomery
But that’s not really how far it is
It was a hundred year long journey
Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge

Celsie Monroe was a slave woman
Her great-grandson was William Crawford Harper
He was just a few miles from that plantation
When he stood with the hundreds of other marchers

It’s only fifty miles from Selma to Montgomery …

Four girls were bombed in Birmingham
“The eagle stirs her nest”
Jimmy Lee Jackson shot down in Marion
Willie Harper was on that bridge for justice

It’s only fifty miles from Selma to Montgomery …

© 2018 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.

William Crawford Harper (1942-2001)

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.

© 2018 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.

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. Josh Tate was unusual for that time, he was sympathetic to the plight of negroes and his marriage to Celsie was one of love.  After the war the years of Reconstruction were hardly less violent than the war itself. Joshua Tate wished to see the local political power elites toppled and sought to help the Republican elect suitable progressive candidates, including whenever possible negro men.  And he was shot down in 1867 at one of these elections when he confronted a mob that was attempting to control who was allowed to vote.

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.