Why am I here I ask myself? I’m not attempting to go home again. I have not been here in sixty years. I no longer know this place. It is as foreign to me as any European
country I have traveled. Why go
back? Because of an
unusual existence in America’s south during the first forty years of the twentieth century.
I want to honor the black men who
had the fervor to set down their roots on their own land. These were landowners, not tenants. They earned the land through their own
efforts. Some rented from other farmers
or sharecropped with other farmers until they had the down payment for their
own farms. They paid for the land
through their own toil and sweat. Their
average age was 45. They had lived on
their land from 20 to 40 years, enough time for them to become one with
I call them “black gentry” from
the British classification, referring to “gentry” as a class of landowning
people ranking just below the nobility (Agnes, 2000). They were honest, wise, resourceful,
insightful, proud, dedicated, moral, and religious. It was their character that made me hold
these men in high esteem. I respect them
even now though many have been dead for twenty to forty years.
Tennessee, as I remember it, was an enclave
of black farmers who tilled their purchased land. The land, which was their soul, nourished
their bodily and spiritual needs. They
tilled it, planted it, tended it, and reaped its reward. The land was their lives and their
livelihoods. It sustained them, gave
them purpose, work, pleasure, joy, and beauty.
They were tobacco farmers whose tobacco bought good prices at the
auction house. Among them was a dairy
farmer who provided milk for the local dairy to sell to the entire county. Another one was my grandfather, Harry Beach
I vaguely remember their
faces. I have a desire to match the
faces with the land. More importantly,
I want to learn how this group of men was able to attain so much when so many
other black men of their day had so little. I have come full circle from my
early childhood to the twilight years of my life. I have read of great accomplishments by Black
Americans, but I have not had the satisfaction of knowing them personally. Images of these men of Woodlawn, though I was
too young to really know them, have been forever etched into my memory. I am proud to have been a native and a
short-time resident of their community.
Woodlawn is in the northwest
corner of Montgomery County, Tennessee. On a world map or globe, it is 36.5 degrees
N, and 87.3 degrees W. It is located in
the Central Time zone and is a 50-minute drive northwest of Nashville,
the capitol of Tennessee.
Its county seat, Clarksville,
Tennessee, was once located on the main U.
S. Route 41 highway which ran from Minnesota
to Florida. Now Route 41 has been bypassed but left
behind is the old Route 41, which is now referred to as Alternate U. S. Route
Woodlawn had existed as an
isolated, unknown pocket of richly, rewarding crop producing land for its
residents. This is the Woodlawn still
unknown, but it’s very existence provided the land for
Fort Campbell, Kentucky,
an army post situated on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. The land, once the pride of the black farmers
who lived there, is now an army base that created the group of paratroopers in
the 101st airborne division, known as “The Screaming Eagles.” Yes, the same 101st that fought in World War
II in France
and also, who fought in Vietnam.