“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)

Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936)

Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936) was born into slavery but was freed by Will Monroe, a wealthy white planter and her father, in 1863 as a result of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Celsie’s mother, Jessie Crawford (1828-1905), was a slave from a neighboring plantation of whom Will Monroe had grown quite fond. Monroe made sure Jessie was provided for and also insisted that she be freed in 1863 by paying off her owner Carson Crawford.

Celsie was what was called a “yellow gal”, and quite beautiful.  Once she was freed at age 19, Celsie began seeing a white man, Joshua Tate (1828-1867), and their relationship developed into a common law marriage, although the possibility of such a union was denied at the time.

The Tates were a wealthy Alabama family held in high regard and Joshua’s indiscretion was of course never openly acknowledged by the family and surrounding community, although everyone knew of it and the child it eventually produced.

Joshua was nominally a lawyer handling cotton trades and other mercantile business for the planters. But as was the custom for sons of his class, his hours were at his own instigation. Although he made a daily trip to town, he might only spend an hour or two in the afternoon in his office, often asleep on the leather couch sitting against the wall, next to the large hearth fire.

After the War, Republican “carpetbaggers” entered the former Confederacy and worked to overturn every vestige of slavery and the old ways at every turn; Alabama was no exception.  These men were hated since they were seen as enemy outsiders, and interlopers and exploiters who added insult to the injury of losing the war.  It was during this turbulent period that Joshua Tate was murdered in 1867 in his second floor office by a man with a three barreled derringer pistol, while Joshua was relaxing on the couch with a volume of Homer.

Some said the motivation behind the killing was Tate’s relationship with Celsie Monroe; others said he was killed because of his covert support of the Republicans.  Still a few others said he was killed by a carpetbagger.  However, no one was ever accused much less arrested and convicted of Josh Tate’s murder.

Tate lingered for two days before dying, leaving Celsie with a son, Tullison Monroe Tate (1866-1948). Tully Tate was one-quarter African-American, light-skinned and who would marry a white woman and whose descendants would all be considered white, Tully’s blood becoming less and less present with each successive generation.

In 1872 Celsie’s first official marriage was to a African-American man, Jesse Harper (1850-1922), and Celsie and Jesse enjoyed a long and happy union, raising four children, seven grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. However, Celsie’s oldest child, Tully, was raised by his spinster Aunt Ruth, his father’s sister.

One of Celsie’s great-grandchildren, William Crawford Harper (1942-2001), marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 (see song “Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge“). Willie Harper lived to see most of the Jim Crow laws reversed even as the stubborn stain of racism remained.

“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)