During the 1920s and ’30s the boll weevil devastated the cotton crop in several Southern states along the Highway 80 corridor. Many farmers gave up and left their farms since the weevil appeared to be impervious to all attempts to drive it out or kill it off. Ironically the thing that finally caused the weevil to move on, was a widespread drought in 1930, which farmers did not see as much of a savior. After the drought the Great Depression caused the remaining farmers who had managed to survive the weevil, as well as the drought, to be threatened yet again with economic collapse.
The West offered a virgin land, a territory full of promise. The allure was irresistible for some men who uprooted themselves and often their entire families to try their luck “out West”.
Missouri WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE
There’s land in Missouri
I’ve heard tell it’s rich and dark
Ain’ nothin’ for me ’round here
I’d like to make a brand new start
Boll weevil killed my cotton
What drove him off was a drought
I’ve had enough of Texarkana
I’m thinkin’ hard of movin’ out
To Missouri – I’ll head west
Where a man can start fresh
I won’t rest until I’ve left
To Missouri I’m bound
Ol’ man Taylor thinks I’m lazy
Says soon it’s bound to rain
I should stick it out and make a crop
No matter where I go it’ll be the same
Since my Julie took sick and died
I’ve got no reason to stay
Texarkana is for Taylor
As for me, I’ll move away
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.
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