Panola County celebrated Juneteenth Friday evening at the Panola County African-American Wall of Fame in Cook’s Quarters.
Omowali Lumumba led the ceremonies, talking to members of the community about history of Juneteenth and emphasizing the accomplishments of African-Americans in Panola County and beyond since the first Juneteenth, when slaves in Texas were freed after the Civil War.
The celebration included adding several plaques honoring influential Panola County African-Americans to the wall of fame, free food, games and more.
“This is the day that they let us honor our ancestors, and we’re going to do it, we’re going to enjoy every year on June 19, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday or Tuesday or whatever, June 19, we’re going to honor it,” said Shelly Barkins. “Ever since 1865, slaves been free, and we’re gonna keep on honoring it ever since then, and we appreciate that day that they gave us, so we’re going to enjoy it.”
When he was in Brenda Giles’s sixth grade class, Lewis Hollie took home a tree seedling and planted it.
It’s still there, and last Monday, the student and the teacher went to go visit the tree.
They hopped in Giles’ suburban and drove to the Cook’s Quarters neighborhood where Hollie once lived. Just past the corner of Benton and Boynton, behind the New Beginning Bibleway Church, stood the tree.
They got out, put their hands up to shield their eyes from the sun and marveled.
“He said ‘It’s leaning a bit!’ But I said it looks good, doesn’t it?” Giles said.
She quickly pulled out her phone.
“Would you take a picture of us by the pine tree?”
“When I was in high school, we always took pictures with trees, and the boy would be on one side and the girl leaning around the other side. That used to be our pose!”
Meanwhile Hollie was just staring straight up.
“Look at that,” Hollie said. “Look at that.”
The tree’s journey began on Arbor Day 45 years ago. David Hall, a local forester, brought Giles some seedlings, and she passed them out to her students at Baker-Koonce Intermediate School. Hollie said he was determined to have his tree grow straight and tall.
He picked the spot near what was then a row of plum trees and a chicken coop and in the middle of two pine trees, behind Josephine Tucker’s house. Tucker is Hollie’s “Big Momma,” a woman who took Hollie in and raised him like her family.
“Over here in the back of the house, we would always play, but it was a bunch of shrubs we would go up under for shade and make a little playhouse,” Hollie said. “I said ‘You know, I’m going to plant my tree with the pine trees that are over there. I’m going to plant mine in the middle and that way I can watch it while we’re under the playhouse.’ You know how kids are, just like that shrub there. We cleared out an area, got cardboard boxes and made a little house and got up under there and played.”
Hollie remembers Tucker having one very important piece of advice: “Son, you’ve got to watch that tap root. Make sure your tap root is straight.”
“I said ‘Tap root?’ I didn’t know what that was,” Hollie said. “She showed it to me. It was in a paper napkin, wet. I buried it with the napkin.”
He dug a hole a little too deep, then ended up putting a little more dirt on it after Tucker advised him to make the hole shallower.
“I set the tap root so it was straight up and down, and I put a lot of water in the hole and I covered it in,” Hollie said.
Hollie, who now lives in Gary, hasn’t had an easy life. Born with throat cancer, he had an aneurysm at age 7 and he lost his mother at age 10 after watching her have a stroke one morning on the front porch of their isolated home in the woods near Overton.
His father moved them to Carthage, to a shotgun house near Blacks Funeral Home. But Hollie’s mother’s death took its toll, and Hollie’s father began drinking and driving. When Hollie’s father was sent to prison, Tucker took him in.
Hollie speaks of her with love in his voice.
“No kin to us at all, but right to this day I call her Big Momma,” he said. “She’s dead. She was born in 1909. She died in 2006.”
Giles had Hollie in her class about 1975 or 1976. She remembers Hollie as a good kid, but says he was teased because he had a growth on his face. That’s what caused Hollie to leave school in the ninth grade. He couldn’t put up with the bullying anymore. (Hollie has since gotten his GED)
“I can still picture in the old annex at Baker-Koonce where Lewis sat. He was a quiet student and very respectful. His daddy did a good job raising him,” Giles said.
“Life’s been a rough journey, but God’s seen fit for me to come through. I just keep pushing,” Hollie said.
The pair reunited last year, when Giles was delivering a poinsettia to Hollie at the nursing home.
“I just kept going in the back of my mind ‘That name is familiar.’ But knowing Lewis’s age would have only been about... 54-55, maybe it’s his daddy,” Giles said. “As I was walking out, he went ‘Miss Watson’ — because I hadn’t married yet. And he said ‘You’re the teacher that gave me the tree!’”
Hollie told Giles his tree was still standing. They made plans to go see it one day, but not before Hollie warned Giles that it was “on the wrong side of the tracks.”
“’Lewis, there are no wrong side to the tracks,’” Giles remembers telling him.
Still, the warning was a remembrance of their shared past. The pair remembers when Carthage’s racial divide was starker than it is now.
Giles recalled how, to receive federal funding, they had to make students participate in ‘the count,’ where students had to stand up and say if they were black or white, male or female. This was only a few years after Carthage ISD had integrated.
Hollie told stories of being stopped by police as a teen as he rode his bicycle to his job working in a wealthy white neighborhood. The only way police accepted his explanations for being there was after he called the white family he worked for and the family explained to officers he was allowed to be there.
“Back then I knew what it was,” Hollie said.
“I had to go in there and get on the phone and let him talk to them. ‘Well we’re just doing our job. I don’t mean no harm.’ But when they say ‘What are you doing in this area?’” he said. “Today I reflect back and this a part of the United States... what law says I couldn’t go ride a bike down through there? So I looked at it like that. Now I do. But I’m not a part of that ‘this color, that color.’”
Keeping It Straight
Hollie made sure to check on his tree every so often, to keep it straight. But then he said he started living out his teenage years and got away from it.
Still, he said last week he was amazed at how the seedling he planted had grown so big.
“Mostly I’m amazed of it,” he said. “But I already know that, you know, that’s something in life I have accomplished. Something someone gave me that I cherished. I put it like that. I really cherished it. The accomplishment was that it lived. It made it.”
Giles told Hollie the tree and his life reminded her of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” the story of a young girl who realizes that the tree outside her tenement apartment symbolizes resilience in the face of hardship.
“It shows even through impoverishment and poverty, people stand tall and they grow up and they prosper,” she said.
“God’s children are God’s children,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you are. It’s that you purposefully plant yourself, and I loved what you said about the tap root. That’s the key here that we tap into God’s amazing grace.”
Hollie agreed, even if like his tree, he never perfected that lean.
“That’s the growth. If you don’t get yourself in that tap root, you ain’t going to make it,” he said.
CASA of Harrison, Marion and Panola Counties recently appointed Vivian Lewis to be its new board president.
Lewis, who started out as a volunteer after moving from the Dallas area to Elysian Fields a few years ago, is honored to have made history as the first African-American in this role. She succeeds longtime Board President Patrick Roades, who dedicated six years to the position.
“He’s left some big shoes to fill,” Lewis said, praising Roades’ years of service.
Wendi Everingham, executive director, said she’s excited about Lewis’s appointment and she’s thankful to Roades for doing a wonderful job.
“He had served on the job for six years. It was time to pass the torch,” Everingham said. “It’s a big responsibility.
“She’s definitely taken the bull by the horns,” Everingham said of Lewis.
CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, acts as the eyes and ears of the court by advocating in the best interest of children who are in the custody of Child Protective Services due to abuse or neglect.
Everingham said Lewis has not only always taken advantage of training opportunities to better benefit the organization, but she’s also willingly represented the organization as a spokesperson when no one else could.
“She’s gone out when the weather was horrible and spoke,” Everingham said. “She’s invaluable. She’s always willing to do anything and everything to help promote CASA and get the word out about the children we serve.
“I can’t say enough wonderful things,” the executive director said.
Lewis’s appointment as CASA board president came earlier this month after serving a short stint as vice president. It came as a pleasant surprise for her and something she doesn’t take for granted, Lewis said.
“I am humbled to be given the opportunity for this position,” said Lewis. “It’s just a real honor to serve as the face of CASA because I have a real passion and commitment for helping children.”
Lewis became a CASA volunteer in 2014, before joining the board as a member in December 2016. Since joining, she’s made it her goal to share the mission of CASA with local churches and civic groups.
“My two goals that I would like to see CASA do right now is more community outreach and fundraising because when you ask the average person on the street, what is CASA, they don’t know what CASA is,” said Lewis.
“It’s all about the best interest of the child,” she said. “I’d like to imagine that my voice could be the only voice that stands up for a child; and you never know what kind of impact you’re going to have on a child.”
Lewis said she’s excited about the enthusiasm of the new group of energetic volunteers that will be sworn in soon.
“A CASA volunteer is a volunteer appointed by judges to watch over and speak up for abused and neglected children,” she said.
Lewis has served in leadership roles before at her former employer, AT&T in Dallas, where she retired after 35 years. She served on several committees for the company, including as chair of the Women of AT&T committee.
Volunteering is in her blood, as she’s had an extensive background as a volunteer with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure breast cancer fundraiser. She was a new volunteer for Marshall’s annual Night to Shine prom event for students and adults with special needs and disabilities.
Lewis is looking forward to making a difference in her new role as board president for CASA of Harrison, Marion and Panola Counties.
“The role of CASA is to make sure no child gets lost in the system,” she said.
The Country Music Hayride returns from its COVID-19 hiatus with ‘A 50’s Sock Hop Concert’ Saturday, June 27 at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6 p.m. at the Esquire Theatre in downtown Carthage.
Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children 6-13, and free for children under 6. Concessions will be available and social distancing guidelines will be followed.
Hayride Bands Dusty Boots and Southern Impact will play an assortment of songs from the 1950’s, Carthage Main Street Manager Cindy Deloney said. They will perform in front of the Esquire Theater’s screen, which will be playing videos and commercials from ‘50s as a backdrop.
Deloney encouraged the community to come out to the show.
“It’s going to be a really cool show,” she said. “It’s a very different show for us, so it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I think that people who haven’t come to see us before, if people have never come to see us before, this would be the one to come to because it’s going to be a lot of fun, and our bands are amazing.”
Deloney said they will be following all the social distancing guidelines that are on the Open Texas Checklist. Every other row of seats will be closed, with two seats left open between groups. There will be hand sanitizer available and signs to remind everyone to social distance. The people working in the concessions will be wearing masks. There is no mask requirement for guests.
The Esquire has been closed since February due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Deloney said the bands are really excited to get to start playing music again for a live audience. The last thing they did was the Radio-a-thon, which did not have a live audience this year. Deloney said they appreciate everyone’s support with that fundraiser.
Deloney said getting back a live audience is important for the Country Music Hayride and the Esquire.
“The artists, the musicians, they need that audience, and then we also need those people to support us so that we can continue doing what we do plus more and keep that building going in the direction that we know we’ve had it going in, keeping it up,” Deloney said. “And we’ve got all our bills and our insurance and all the things that we’ve got to pay, so it’s really important that we get our audience back as soon as possible.”