“A Mighty LOVE” – Lucy Mae and Clarence


 “I Love You Just The Way You Are”.

This undated image features my mother and father, Lucy Mae and Clarence Williams.  During This Valentine’s Day weekend, my greatest memory of them is the deep friendship they developed with one another.

Clarence and Lucy Mae Williams (abt.1940)

They really liked each other and loved to be in one another’s company. They laughed a lot and showed us how to seek harmony rather than discord.   I lived with my role models. They were my heroes, not the people in books. I could touch, hear, feel and observe my heroes.

My mother always said no matter what, even during the (Great) Depression when money was scarce, she always received a nice box of chocolate from Day at Valentines’ Day.  ALWAYS!  Daddy delivered that candy until the day he died.  As a child, I remember waiting the share that treat with mama. Around the age of twelve, I was added to Daddy’s candy list along with mama my sister, Leliar (Lee Ann).  My securely wrapped box of candy  arrived via U.S. mail even after I left home for college.

In the photo, Mama so  pretty and “free” and daddy was the epitome  COOL.  The hat, the tie, the pose, the cigar.  His eyes were “deadly” and beautiful. I loved these two way back when and …I love them still.

 © Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“You Are So Beautiful To Me” – Vintage Pictures of Lovely Ladies!

 “You’re Everything I Hoped For…Everything I Need.  You Are So Beautiful To Me…”

Surely, that was the sentiment of the men who loved these ladies.  In early celebration of Valentine’s Day and to lighten the mood after the serious content of previous posts,  I will shift the focus to “matters of the heart”.  These images are not those of my relatives, rather they were in a batch of photos loaned to me by my friend Dorothy Lartheridge Cox (of Chicago) who happens to be a very young 93 years old.  She is a Mississippi native, as am I and these are her relatives whom I assume are Mississippians as well.  It is unfortunate that many people fail to “picture” southern women of color as refined, elegant and beautiful, especially rural  residing Mississippians.  Need I say more?

Dorothy Lartheridge Cox Collection 20140000


Dorothy Lartheridge Cox Collection 20140020

Dorothy Lartheridge Cox Collection 20140022







“Rock of Ages, Cleft For Me” – Grandfather Giles’ Death Certificate


  There are a few surprises in the death certificate. One, he was buried the day after his death and two they actually utilized the services of an undertaker.  I would have thought that this was uncustomary, but obviously not.   It saddens me somewhat that he was “found dead in bed”…

The document may be slightly illegible to the reader, therefore it has been transcribed.  The sections are numbered for clarity.

Death Certificate – Giles Williams 1881- 1940

  1.  Paternal Grandfather died in Simpson County, Mississippi outside the city limits of Mendenhall,  Mississippi.  It incorrectly states that he’d lived in the community for 58 years.
  2. It  indicates that his residence before death was in the same area. (Previous posts have documented his years living away that area, beginning at least around 1904.)
  3. His full name was Giles Williams, was not a veteran and did not have a Social Security Number. 
  4. Male
  5. Negro
  6. He is listed as widowed, which is technically accurate since he and Grandmother Leliar were living apart, but not divorced prior to her death. 
  7. Born November 27, 1881
  8. He was 58 at his death, eleven days away from his 59th birthday!
  9. Born in Smith County, Mississippi
  10. His “usual occupation was listed as “breakman”  
  11. His industry was listed as Railroad.  He had been a brakeman for the G&SI Railroad which was also previously documented.) 
  12. Name of his father misspelled as Randle (Randall) 
  13. Father’s Birthplace – North Carolina
  14. Maiden name of his mother Lucy Harris (actually Harrison)
  15. Mother’s Birthplace – Smith County, Miss.
  16. Informant’s signature – Clarence Williams (This was  Giles’ younger brother and my father’s uncle , known as C. S. of Mendenhall, Mississippi.)
  17. Burial 11-17-40.  (I am amazed to discover he was buried the day after his death.  I’d like to delve further into this. I wonder if this was customary in Simpson County during the that era.)  Like most of his family, he was buried in Zion Hill Cemetery in Mendenhall.   I have visited Zion Hill at least twice.  He has no headstone that I am aware of, bot admittedly, I did not cover the entire area. I wonder if there is a cemetery map available?) 
  18. The funeral director was – R.C.  Cook Undertaking Company in Jackson, Mississippi. 
  19. Date the Death Certificate received by  local registrar , 12-9-40 and signed by Nola F. May
  20. Date of Death November 16, 1940 at 3 o’clock a.m.
  21. Last doctor was R.E. Giles of Mendenhall about two years ago. Found in bed dead. No doctor attended. 


This is the first vintage family death certificate in my possession. (I’m sure my father kept this one  many others, but after his death, they were “mislaid” (as he’d say) and forever lost.

Many,  many thanks to Linda, author the blog  entitled “Between The Gateposts” for searching, (unbeknownst to me) locating and forwarding this document to me.  It was very timely.  Linda, you are a peach!

Please, please, please , please… “BABY”, Please DO go!” – (The Notorious “Baby Giles”!)


 “Baby Giles”

Oct. 1910 – Dec. 1985

( vintage letter excerpt posted)

“Giles was so “dern” bad, he’d tear up the doggone devil if he could get his hands on him.”

 “Baby Giles always never been nothing but trouble!”

“Giles worried Leliar right into the grave.”

(Words of his brother, my father, Clarence Giles Williams)

According to family lore, Uncle Baby (Giles Williams, Jr.) would end up directly contributing to the utter destruction of Grandfather Giles’ finances and his marriage to Grandmother Leliar. That’s putting it nicely! He was my father, Clarence’s youngest brother and – he – was – a – “pistol”.  Daddy would say, “That Baby Giles is as bad as a ape with a walking cane!  He just stayed in trouble!”

My grandfather was one of six heirs to 159 acres of land that Great-Grandfather Randall acquired under the Homestead Act in 1889. The tale goes that Uncle Baby got himself involved in some serious trouble AGAIN while the family was living in Chicago during the 1920’s. Grandmother Leliar was having such a fit over the inevitability of “Baby Giles” going to jail that she insisted that his father “buy” him out of trouble.  Grandfather Giles did not have access to the large amount of cash required , so he proceeded to “borrow” it.

He enlisted the help of  his sisters in Mendenhall and then deeded his land (in Simpson County) to two of them, Harriett and Sophronia , I’m certain.  The understanding was that he would re-pay them and reclaim the deed to his land when he came home from Chicago. Well, Daddy always said to me that when his father, Giles came “home” to re-pay his sisters the borrowed sum, they refused the payment and KEPT THE DEED TO THE LAND!

Other family members “recollected” another version of the story.  They asserted that Giles did not honor the agreement  and never offered to repay his sisters.  They chose to believe that version.  Cudn’ Hattie (who should have known better since the aunts “took” her land for themselves also) and Cudn’ Minnie (mentioned in earlier posts) told me personally told me that Giles reneged on the loan.   I vehemently disagreed! Well, guess what? My father’s version is basically irrefutable due to what I consider to be proof of their “anemic” character when it came to almighty LAND!

June 25 – 1944  – Sunday 

My dear husband how are you by this time O do hope you are Just fine and Ted I sure feel better now than (that) I have for a long time for my uncle Clarence have ben on his sisters wend (wind) untill he has got them to agree to let me have my land back and aunt Sophronia said she will make me a new deed back for the land so he is got them to gather yesterday and they said I could have it but that will ma made she give them I mean aunt Harriet and aunt Sophronia between the too of them and that is all rite they are welcome to it for they are the ones ma wanted to have her land so honey I got mine and honey I have been to see a lawyer for infamation so my uncle auntee Armildia (Armilda) sure has stuck to me and all the credit is due (to) my uncle Clarence uncle Charlie did all he could at Mendenhall but I thank the Lord I have got it back and Ted they are borening (boring) for oil down here they are working on a well now about 4 or 5 miles north of my place and all the people through this neighborhood has their land… (excerpt)

Hattie Maybell Collection Letter June 25, 1944 Cudn' Hattie's Letter to her husband, Theodore Wallace

Hattie Maybell Collection Letter
June 25, 1944
Cudn’ Hattie’s Letter to her husband, Theodore Wallace

For me, The Mattie Maybell Collection letters allay all negative speculation related to Giles and “the loan”. Those two aforementioned great-aunts of mine actually confiscated, the land legally inherited by Cudn’ Hattie from her grandmother, who left her a parcel of land.  She was the only child of Ada (who died when Hattie was 9 or 10 yeas old).  IT’S ALL IN DOCUMENTED THE COLLECTION! Cudn’ Hattie, being an only child, would have been  the sole heir to her mother’s portion of the family property.  Hattie Maybell, as indicated in the vintage letters, as an adult she stopped speaking to and writing to her aunts when she realized that her inheritance  had fallen prey to their shenanigans.  Upon the 1941 death of her Grandmother Lucy, Hattie “declared war” on her aunts and got ALL of her land back!  The details are in the letters Hattie wrote to her own husband when she was away from home.  She kept those as well.  (They are scanned and ready to “fly”, but February will be reserved for “love”.  The “Hattie Maybell Collection holds a treasure trove of love letters! I consider it redundant to “celebrate” Black History Month via this blog, because it’s definitely all about Black History everyday.)

…back to the story. LONG STORY SHORT, my grandfather was the only one of the six children of Randall and Lucy Harrison Williams to end up with ZERO acres of land in Simpson County.   This was due in part to the expenses of rescuing Uncle Baby , then subsequently because of his land-stealing sisters!  “Ain’t Fronie” and “Ain’t Harrit”! (” Bless their hearts.  Little ole’church ladies. Their actions were so “nice and Christian-like.”)

In terms of the dissolution of the marriage of my paternal grandparents, Grandmother Leliar allegedly left Grandfather Giles in Chicago several times with Baby Giles in tow.  This action was to prevent him from going to jail for one thing or another.  It’s sad to say, but he was reputed to be a habitual thief. I was told that one particular incident was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”.  Leliar left her husband trying ONCE AGAIN to “protect” Uncle Baby.  She spirited him away, taking him to Hattiesburg, Mississippi (where her extended family still lived).  My father’s parents would never reconcile. Leliar was considered to be smart, but where her youngest son was concerned, all sound judgement “went straight out of the window”.

The final and most devastating blow in the family, actually told “far and wide” were the circumstances surrounding Grandmother Leliar’s sudden death.  Although my father would retell this story throughout his life and was also told to me by several of my parents’ friends (whom I encountered in my adulthood in Chicago) and by both Cudn’ Hattie and Cudn’ Minnie.

“Did you know that doggone Baby Giles really did kill his mama?  A man came to her house one day in Hattiesburg and told her the “police was looking for Baby Giles” for some crime he was supposed to have committed.  He was always doing something he ain’t had no business doing. Miz Leliar said,”Lord, that boy is in trouble again?  Baby (Giles), you’re going to be the death of me!”  Before she could take her next breath, she suffered a MASSIVE STROKE AND DIED!”

Good job, Uncle Baby…wherever you are.  You were largely responsible for the  destruction of your father’s finances, his inheritance (land), his marriage and ultimately the loss of his wife’s life.

My  grandmother Leliar Sheard Williams was in her early 60’s years at the time of her death around 1939-40.  There is no record of her to be found in the 1940 census.  The facts:  By 1940, her daughter Mattie was dead (a few weeks after childbirth), her son Clarence (my father and mother) was living in Chicago, her son Talmadge Eugene, aka “Cootley” was living in Pineville, LA with his wife Eloise, and Uncle Baby was still  up to this same old tricks! He was true to his vocation,  a thief!  (Unfortunately, I cannot locate his discharge papers from the infamous Parchman Farm Penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi.  I “handled” it about a month ago, but it has been miss-filed. My father had kept it since the 1930’s. It will be posted.)

Letters in The Maybell Collection from Aunt Georgia and an introduction to my maternal relatives, the Dawkins will be shared in the coming weeks.

 © Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” – Grandfather Giles in the 1940 Census

“…seems to be all in his mind.”

At some point between 1930 and 1940, my grandfather was teaching school in the Simpson County area.  This oral history recount is quite plausible for many reasons. Per the 1900 Census, (previously posted)  at age 18, Grandfather Giles was still attending  school.  He was intelligent and industrious and hailed from a  family that valued education. My father shared with me that his father , Giles taught at a “country school” for several years after he went back “up home” to Mendenhall. I am almost certain that the school was located in a church building in the area, as was customary at the time. Many, if not most, black children living in rural areas attended school in local churches. Although the Piney Woods (boarding) School was located in the next county, there were schools operating in Simpson County educating black children.  I will refine my search via the MDAH website (MS Dept. of Archives and History) Educable Children Report in an attempt to retrieve more information.

The 1940 census was the final census in which Grandfather Giles was enumerated.  He was then 58 years of age, unable to work and had suffered a stroke. (The latter statement was oral history from my father.)  Consequently, his standard of living had continued to decline.

In 1920, he had a wife, children, a house, two businesses, his health and the apparent potential to continue to live a full and prosperous life.  Grandfather Giles had “the world in a bottle and the cork in his hand.”

Per the 1930 Census, he was back living in Simpson County (as noted in the previous post) without his wife Leliar (my grandmother) and was living with his “bad seed” son, Giles… The previously successful entrepreneur was no longer self employed, but performing manual labor for a public entity.

Now in 1940, he is at “his last.  Fortunately, “Uncle Baby” is no longer living with him. Hallelujah! He shares a home with  Great Grandmother Lucy who is listed as head of household.  I regret that I cannot fill in the numerous gaps since I failed to retain SO VERY much of the oral history generously (and regularly) provided to me by my father, Clarence G. Williams.

Grandfather Giles is mentioned in several letters in the Hattie Maybell Collection that will be subsequently posted. However,  he is not mentioned after 1941.    Several letters in the Collection disclosed that he was very ill and appeared to have become an invalid of sorts. One letter stated that “Giles is not getting along well, he is sick but says he is not hurting anywhere, but it seems to be something wrong with his mind.  I suspect the loss of his livelihood and his health had finally exacted a terrible toll and lapsed him into a state of depression. He was brokenhearted… 

Other letters mentioned that “he is being cared for by Mrs. Thames”. She was the mother of my father’s oldest sister, Georgia Rankins Funchess (1900-1943).  Georgia was born in the Simpson County area to Elizabeth and Giles, but the couple never married. He was about 19 when Georgia was born in 1900. Despite the fact that they never married, Elizabeth apparently felt compelled to care for Giles during his convalescence.  The letters mention how well Mrs. Thames was taking care of Giles. Another sad note is that Georgia would die in 1941 at the age of 40 or 41. Her grave is marked and is located in Zion Hill Cemetery in Simpson County, Mississippi. It appears that she and her father, Giles would die around the same time.  Aunt Georgia’s letters are coming this month.  They are “chock full of news”, I promise.

In 2015, I intend to  order death certificates and “nail down” the dates of death for all ancestors  of mine whose “dates of death” remain in question.  The State of Mississippi does not provide this information online, only via “snail mail”. Have then, I must!

1940 U.S. Census  Giles Williams and Mother Lucy WIlliams

1940 U.S. Census
Giles Williams (1881- 1940)
Lucy  Harrison Williams (1962-1941)

When I began the  soldfor35cents blog in April 2014, my intention was to post at least once per week.  To date, there have been 36 posts in 9 months, an average of 4 per month.  There are months when I write more or less than others, but somehow, I remain on target. As the posts continue, I will return to sharing the vintage letters that got this entire thing started, aptly named The Hattie Maybell Collection.

Lucy  Mae and her antics will re-appear intermittently and the Dawkins clan will debut as well.  In order to cover numerous “relations” and various  topics pertaining thereto, I am forced to “skip around” somewhat. There is  a “method to the madness” as any attempt to organize and post the  characters chronologically would be futile. It would take me 20 years that I don’t have to tell each person’s story completely (as I “know it”) and in order. Telling the story of my family will be a lifelong endeavor.

Keeping the content fresh, frequent and (occasionally) fun is what I strive to accomplish.


© Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“When I Think of Home” – Grandfather Giles’ Unceremonious Return to Simpson County

“Trouble In My Way…I Have To Cry Sometimes”

The U.S. 1930 Census features  Grandfather Giles at 49 years of age along with his youngest child, Giles, Jr. at 20 years of age.  He was living and working in Sanatorium (Simpson County), Mississippi,   employed as a “kitchen helper”.  Grandfather Giles  was enumerated as “head of household” and was paying $5 per month in “rent”. Why was he renting and  “helping” in a kitchen?  He and Grandmother Leliar were property owners in Hattiesburg as well as entrepreneurs, owning a “dry goods” store and a livery stable.  My father, (Giles’ son), Clarence Williams told me that his father owned almost an entire “city” block on 7th Street in the bustling timber town of Hattiesburg. By 1930, all evidence of his hard work and trappings of his “self-made” success and prosperity  in Hattiesburg were all GONE!!!  … And so was he!


Giles Sr. and Giles Jr. in Sanitorium , Mississippi in 1930

Giles Sr. and Giles Jr. in Sanatorium , Mississippi in 1930


Back to “the country…”

Between 1929 and 1930, Grandfather Giles returned to the Simpson County, Mississippi area where his extended family still resided.  His father, Randall, now deceased,  had homesteaded 159 acres of Simpson County land in the late 1800’s. In the area,  resided his mother, Lucy;  daughter, Georgia Funchess; four surviving siblings,  including three married sisters: Sophronia Weathersby, Harriet Hayes, and Armilda Jackson; and one brother, Clarence (C.S.) Williams. His oldest sister, Ada Epting Craft had been deceased for two decades.

Unlike his five siblings, Grandfather Giles had left the family farm just after the turn of the century. Having to go back home had to be heartbreaking, not to mention embarrassing. He’d left home for “greener pastures” around age 20 and was back in Simpson County by age 50.

After having lived in Chicago and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he returned “home”. I doubt if any bugles blared and flowers were strewn in his path  as he wound his way back up the road to the “home house”. (Familiar with that phrase?) Giles no longer had his wife, Leliar, his home or his businesses.  In this census document, he is working and boarding at a hospital for tuberculosis patients, sharing living quarters with his youngest son.  This could not have possibly been a comfortable domestic arrangement for Giles, Sr. It was a widely known fact that Uncle Giles, better known as “Uncle Baby” was notorious for getting into trouble.  He was “slicker than a can of paint”!  If trouble was within his line of sight or range of  imagination,  Uncle Baby would  enthusiastically participate… “Baby” was BAD NEWS! (His discharge document from the notorious Parchman Mississippi Penitentiary was kept by my father and is now in my possession. It will be posted.)

1930 U.S. Census

Mississippi State Tuberculosis Sanatorium


1930 U.S. Census – Simpson County Giles Williams Sr. and Giles Williams Jr. employed and boarding together at the Tuberculosis Sanatorium Hospital in Sanatorium, Mississippi


Grandmother Leliar is enumerated in the 1930 Census still living in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She Grandfather Giles were separated and subsequent reconciliation would not occur.  My father  shared with me that his parents “broke-up”  after the children grew up and they did not  “go back together”. More details are forthcoming in subsequent posts.  Finally, vintage letters in which Grandfather Giles was mentioned will be posted.

© Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“You Make Me Feel Like A NATURAL WOMAN” – 1880’s Cabinet Cards


(I think Aretha was talking about these two “natural women.)

Vintage Images of Unidentified Ladies from the The Hattie Maybell Collection

(IF ANY READER HAS THE EXPERTISE TO “DATE” THESE PHOTOS MORE ACCURATELY, PLEASE INFORM ME.  A collector of  vintage African American images  suggested that they were taken around 1880. )

Take note of the difference in the two dresses, but the similarity in the facial expressions. In addition to their identity, I wonder about their age, occupation and location. I wanted to liberate them from the boxes, trunks and  “chifferobes” where they had languished for decades.  They may be unknown, definitely gone and likely forgotten, but at one time, they were “something to somebody”.  Somebody’s daughter, sister, mother aunt, wife, friend and confidant.  Though “unknown”, they  live on  each time they are “seen” in these photos. Live on ladies! Live on!

Unidentified Cabinet Card #1 (abt.1889)

Unidentified Lady – Cabinet Card #1 from The Maybell Collection  (abt.1880)

1880's unidentified ladies0001

Unidentified Lady – Cabinet Card  #2 from The Maybell Collection (abt. 1880)

In order to maintain my self imposed commitment to posting consistently, I’ve decided to share selected vintage photographs as I continue to research and and subsequently write detailed posts.  The promised post revealing the unraveling of Grandfather Giles’ health, marriage and fortune is yet under construction.

Prepare yourself for this!  It’s a confession. Recently, I’ve actually  struggled mightily with the whole concept of “truth”. I’ve found it difficult to tell this truth… rather,  the whole truth!

When I began writing this history, I naively assumed and that total candor would be easy and total transparency wouldn’t challenge me. It has and it does.  It gives me great pride to peer into the prosperous lives of The Williams Family, specifically Grandfather Giles.  He was a self made success story and it is painful to disclose that his success would not last. Although, I am tempted to exclusively use only the “bright colors on the palette”, I am committed to telling the full story. While documenting this history, I will make a concerted effort to avoid lying,  either by commission or OMISSION!

Thank you for reading.


© Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Beautiful Ladies in “Sunday-Go-To-Meeting Clothes”

Beautiful ladies, both unidentified

  The photo one on the right was found at an antique store in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  When scouring antique and resale shops,  I habitually  thumb through vintage photos searching for people of color.  Once found and purchased, they must join my collection.  The photo on the right was found in the Maybell Collection.  In a parched and yellowed envelope were ten copies of this photo.  I dare not speculate on this discovery of multiple duplicates of this photo.

Sunday Clothes-Beautiful Ladies

Sunday Clothes-Beautiful Ladies


I decided to take a break momentarily from posting  serious content.  Presently, I’m working on the post about Grandfather Giles’ eventual demise.  Also I’m a bit taken aback that the subject is exacting a minor emotional toll.  It’s requiring a bit of soul searching to get “comfortable” in candidly “outing” my grandfather.  The details will be shared and  the task will be executed with total transparency… but of course, with all due respect.

© Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Going To the Courthouse…Going to Get Ma-a-a-ried” – Giles and Leliar’s 1905 Marriage License

Giles and Leliar Williams

 Photograph, Marriage License, WWI Draft Card and City Directory Images

Giles and Leliar were married in December 1905 in Perry County, Mississippi.  In 1906, a portion of the county would later be renamed Forrest County after Perry was divided. When the couple married, Grandmother Leliar already was the mother of a 16 month old son, Talmadge Eugene McElroy from her previous marriage in Alabama to Thomas E. McElroy. (Noted in previous post.  Record attached below.)  Leliar has to own  the most misspelled name on record.

Name: Thomas Mc Elroy
Spouse’s Name: Leila Sherard
Event Date: 09 Jan 1902
Event Place: , Sumter, Alabama
Indexing Project (Batch) Number: M59344-6   System Origin:  Alabama-EASy   GS Film number: 1293889

Our father, Clarence Williams would be born later ten months later in Hattiesburg (Forrest County) Mississippi. As far as I know, this was Giles’ first marriage, although he had a daughter born  in Mendenhall Simpson County, Mississippi.  My aunt’s name was Georgia Rankins, later Funchess  (1900-1941).  Her mother was Elizabeth Rankins Thames. (Aunt Georgia’s letters in the Maybell Collection will be introduced. They are detailed, newsy and very amusing.)

Photo of Giles and Leliar Sheard Williams dated 1921

Giles (age 40 )and Leliar Sheard Williams (age abt. 41) Photo Dated, 1921

Giles (age 40 )and Leliar Sheard Williams (age abt. 41) Photo Dated 1921


The image above depicts my paternal grandparents in a formal photo, both are about forty years of age.  They present as secure and stable individuals with all of their material needs met.   I believe Grandmother Leliar is about a year older than Grandfather Giles but in this photograph he appears to be her elder. He does not appear dominant over her in the. Unlike in many formal studio shots of that era, the subjects seem stiff and uncomfortable.  Giles is confidently seated, wearing a suit and tie. By now, he should be missing a limb due to his work related railroad accident.  His hands don’t reflect the wear and tear of manual labor and fortunately by now he is a newly minted Hattiesburg entrepreneur. (Additional information about his business follows in this post.)

 Leliar is “baby-faced” , confident in and comfortable with herself in this photo.  Our father, Clarence  said “Leliar” (as he referred to his mother, believe it or not) was a “stout” woman, who at 260 pounds was without question, the smallest of all her sisters.  It’s difficult to imagine that she was  “the runt of the litter”.   The “natural” hairdo” Leliar is wearing is neat and attractive and fits her to a “T”.  Her attire  is elegant but not overly dressy.  Notice the sheer sleeves of her blouse.  Indicative of the family’s affluence, she is wearing earrings, a necklace adorned with a cross and a ring on each hand, a wedding band and a “pinky” ring.     I am taken with her serene countenance and seemingly calm demeanor.  Take notice of her ample bosom and statuesque build.

Our mother would stated more than once,“Clarence’s  mother’s bosom looked like she had two-weeks’ wash stuffed down in there”.   Still, Grandmother was neat in the waist and looking just lovely in this picture.  AND, just so you know…our mother’s wish was granted!


  Marriage License of Giles and Leliar Williams dated 1905


Marriage License – Giles and Leliar Sheard Williams – Dec 1905


The family was living at 325 East 7th Street in Hattiesburg in September of 1918. Grandfather Giles was recorded as “tall, stout, with brown eyes and black hair”.  Our grandmother, Leliar  is listed as “Lellia” Williams. Note that he does not appear to have a middle name or initial.  Interestingly enough, since Giles is still listed as a G&SI RR employee in the draft document below, as well as in the subsequent 1918 Hattiesburg City Directory, the railroad accident had not yet occurred.

 Giles Williams World War One Registration Draft Card

(with signature)

Giles Williams-Draft Card (Side #1) Age 38 - Gulf & Ship Island Railroad Brakeman

Giles Williams-Draft Card (Side #1)
Age 38 – Gulf & Ship Island Railroad Brakeman


WWL Draft Card- September 12,1918 (side #2) . Giles Williams' Signature

WWI Draft Card- September 12,1918 (side #2) . Giles Williams’ Signature

    1918 City

Directory Entry- Hattiesburg, Mississippi

The family is now residing at 816 Atlanta Street.  Giles remains employed as a laborer with the railroad company. Leliar’s name is misspelled, as usual. She is listed as “Lela”. Since the railroad line ran between Mendenhall and Hattiesburg, it’s clear that  Giles’ moved was precipitated by that fact.

1918 City Directory-Hattiesburg, MS Giles and Lela (sp) Williams 700 Memphis Street

1918 City Directory-Hattiesburg, MS-Giles and Lela (sp) Williams
700 Memphis Street


 1920 U.S. Census (Hattiesburg, Mississippi)

1920 U.S. Census (MS) Giles and Leliar were both 35 years of age.

1920 U.S. Census (MS)
Giles and Leliar were both recorded as 39 years of age.

In 1920, the Williams family is listed in this census as parents of four children. ( Giles, Jr. was born October 10, 1910 and was now nine years old.) They are now homeowners and living at 700 Memphis Street. He is no longer employed with the railroad which suggests  that his leg was lost between 1918 and 1920. More good news is that he is now an entrepreneur, operating his own store.  Daddy said that his father also owned the property (and most of the block) where the store was located. (I have not yet researched this property.) The census record lists him as a merchant which my father vividly remembered and commented on frequently in conversation with me.  Giles also operated a livery stable along with his “dry goods” business.   Leliar is not working outside the home. I don’t believe that my grandmother ever worked for anyone except her family while living in Hattiesburg. (The story of Leliar’s family relocation to Mississippi from Alabama was highlighted in a previous post.)

Grandfather Giles would also move the family to Chicago in the the 20’s where he worked in the infamous stockyards.  The family (and sometimes just Giles) would move back and forth (between Chicago and Hattiesburg) several times in this decade according to my father.  I believe this was initially an attempt to work to retain his business interests in Hattiesburg. (A letter he wrote to Cudn’ Hattie from Chicago in 1926 is included in an earlier post.  He made no mention of his family residing with him.)

Enumerated at the bottom of the image is Leliar’s brother, James Sheard (misspelled Shears) and his wife, Pearlie.

1929 City Directory Entry- Hattiesburg,Mississippi

1929 City Directory-Hattiesburg, MS. Clarence and Leliar Williams

1929 City Directory-Hattiesburg, MS. Clarence and Leliar Williams

In the 1929 Hattiesburg City Directory image posted above note that the “(c)”  stands for “colored”.   They still own the store at 402 1/2 E. 7th Street. Giles and Leliar are no longer living in their home on Memphis Street. In fact,the family is living at 710 Royal Street which is on the opposite side of town from the business and their former house they owned.  Infact, Royal Street in the 20’s was considered semi-rural.  By then our father would be 23 years old.His older brother, Talmadge Eugene (better known as Cootley)  was 25, married and long gone , Daddy was likely on his own as well and his sister Mattie was dead.  Giles Jr. (aka “Baby”) the youngest in the group would have been 19 and perhaps still at home.  Giles may have been in Chicago, Hattiesburg, or even Mendenhall.  His whereabouts at that time are unclear. at this point.

Daddy often spoke of how the family lived in great abundance.  His was a family of successful entrepreneurs and they always “had plenty of everything”! Comparatively speaking, they were considered somewhat affluent. Unfortunately, it is a fact that Grandfather’s most prosperous and productive decade would be the 1920’s. His business was destroyed in part by the Great Depression according to our father, Clarence Williams. Grandfather Giles’ business, wealth, health and his WIFE  would all be gone by 1930!  I shudder when I think of how defeated he must have felt after realizing so many of his dreams, then seeing them all evaporate.   Remember, he was the only one of his father’s (Randall Williams) offspring to leave the farm in Simpson County, Mississippi and strikeout on his own.

The story of Grandfather Giles’ “ruination” is truly heart-wrenching…but it must be told.

Listed above them on the census page are Leliar’s paternal uncle James Sheard (misspelled Shears) and his wife Pearlie.  James is Leliar’s brother.

© Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Soul Train! Soul Train?” Giles Williams (b. 1881) – Formal Photo and 1910 U. S. Census

          Grandfather Giles’ Photo – Standing and Revealing His Missing Limb

Many “Soul Brothers” were brakemen and befell horrific  accidents while employed in the railroad industry.  These accidents regularly involved the loss of  life or limb. Therefore, I suppose, my grandfather was “lucky!”

Undated photo of Grandfather Giles Williams standing with crutch.  His leg was amputated at work at the Gulf and Ship Island RR. (Est. to be in his 30's in photo , abt. 1915)

Undated photo of Grandfather Giles Williams standing with crutch. His leg was amputated at work at the Gulf and Ship Island RR. (Est. to be in his 30’s in photo , abt. 1915)

Grandfather Randall strikes a dashing figure despite the loss of his leg.  He is wearing a well fitted dress suit and vest, watch chain and a ring.  I am mesmerized by his hands for some reason.  His fingers are long and elegant in appearance, but yet his hands reflect strength.  I have no idea why I love his hands, I just DO!

 Grandfather Giles is 28 years old., though incorrectly listed as 38 in the 1910 United States Census. He is employed with the railroad company as a Laborer. His company was the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad, which operated between Mendenhall and Gulfport, Mississippi. Unfortunately, Grandfather would lose his leg while working as a brakeman with GS&I.  This occupational hazard was widespread in the rail industry as many men would suffer the same fate.

African American Registry

Article on Andrew J. Beard

“In the early days of American railroading, coupling was done manually. Car coupling, an extremely dangerous requiring a railroad worker to brace himself between cars and drop a metal pin into place at the exact moment the cars came together.

Few railroad men kept all their fingers, many lost arms and hands. And, many were caught between cars and crushed to death during the hazardous split-second operation. Beard himself lost a leg as a result of a car coupling accident. His idea secured two cars by merely bumping them together. Beard invented the Automatic Railroad Car Coupler, commonly referred to as the “Jenny” coupler. The patent for his invention was issued on November 23, 1897 .”

In the late 1990’s I visited  Mrs. Gladys Jackson Randall (b. 1908), a longtime friend of my parents.  Though she’d migrated to Chicago as a very young lady, she maintained a vivid memory of  and an avid interest in ALL THINGS HATTIESBURG!  She shared with me that she remembered the day Giles lost his leg.  According the Mrs. Randall, my Grandmother Leliar sent for young Gladys to come to her house quickly.

She stated, “Your grandmother wanted me to come sit with Mattie, your daddy’s little sister, while she rushed off to the hospital to see about her husband.  She’d gotten word that while Mr. Giles was at work his leg had been cut off by the train. You know he worked for GS&I Rail Road.” She said she was about 12 years old and Mattie was about 8 years old.  If Mrs. Randall’s account was accurate, the “accident” would have occurred between 1918 and 1920.  ( Per the information reflected on his WWI Draft Card, he hadn’t had his railroad injury by 1917. ( That image will be featured  in the next post.)

 1910 U. S. Census

1910 U.S. Census - Williams family in Hattiesburg, Forrest County MS - Giles, Leliar, "Eugene", Clarence, and Mattie

1910 U.S. Census – Williams family in Hattiesburg, Forrest County MS – Giles, Leliar, “Eugene”, Clarence, and Mattie


The family is living in a rented house at 700 Memphis Street. Both are literate , of course. Giles is 28 years old, though incorrectly listed here as 38.  Leliar (misspelled Lela) is about or 28 or 29 years old, not 30.    Grandmother Leliar  was not working outside home and she was expecting her last child, Giles Jr. who would be born later that year (on October 24, 1910).

The children are: Eugene (Talmadge E.), age 5; Clarence (our father), age 3;  Mattie, age 1,  who was named after my maternal father’s aunt. She was my  father’s only sister on his maternal side.  Aunt Mattie would marry and  later die at age 19 after the birth of her child.  According to family oral history, she washed her hair several days after giving birth and died.  This related occurrence  is a superstition once observed in many Southern Black families. It was strictly forbidden for a woman to wash her hair until six weeks after the delivery.  Many were convinced  that in doing so, one would surely be flirting with death.  (My parents were not superstitious, however this tale was recounted frequently during my upbringing.)   There was also a sister, Georgia on my father’s paternal side.  She was born in 1900 and lived in Mendenhall.  She and her vintage letter deserve and will have their very own chapters.)

At the bottom of the census page, lines 96-100 at 713 Seventh Street, other family members are enumerated.  Leliar’s paternal aunt, Hattie (Sheard) Davis, 19 years old (who would eventually weigh over 350 pounds); her brother-in-law, Foster Carter, age 28; her sister, Mattie, age “30”, her nephew Eddie Ben, age “5” and her niece, Ella “9/12″.  Ella was the namesake of Lelia’s mother, Ella Wilson Sheard.


© Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Saundra Blackman and soldfor35cents.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.