Friday, February 5, 2010

Gid's Travels

One of the things I've learned from perusing early Itawamba County newspapers is that my great-grandfather Gideon C. Robinson was a constant traveler. I'm grateful to the small tidbits, or social items, found in most small weekly newspapers for the wonderful information they contain. You know the kind of items I'm talking about: "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith visited his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, Sr. last Saturday night." Pretty boring stuff, at least to everyone except genealogists, but every once in a while you get lucky, and the social item may provide better information such as a hog killing, sickness in the family, or a marriage.

From looking at Itawamba newspapers from the early 1920s into the 1940s, I've found many items under "local happenings" or other such headings that tell me that Poppa Robinson loved to travel. He visited relatives in Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama on a regular basis as well as friends and relatives much closer to home.

A couple of the items had me perplexed. I didn't recognize the names of the people mentioned in his visit to the Shiloh Park area of Tennessee so this got me to sleuthing, tracking down long-dead people and trying to connect the dots.

Here are a couple of tidbits that got me started:

* * *

Fulton News Beacon
September 15, 1938
Local Happenings
Mr. G. C. Robinson returned Saturday from visits with old friends and relatives in Mississippi and Tennessee. While away Mr. Robinson visited in the homes of Mr. Andy Suggs and Mr. N. O. Dickson of Corinth, Dr. Phillips of Adamsville, Tenn., Mr. John Gray and family of Stantenville, Tenn., and Q. Lanton [actually Cue Blanton] and family of Shiloh Park.

Fulton News Beacon
August 21, 1941
Mr. G. C. Robinson has returned from a visit in Tennessee, where he was a guest of Bill Atkins and Mrs. L. E. Surratt of Selmer, John M. Gray at Stantonville, Leonard Blanton at Shiloh, and Mr. and Mrs. L. W. Snelson, all at Milan.

* * *
The Surratts, Blantons, and Grays were all cousins, I've discovered. Gid's mother, Charlotte Purnell Robinson, died when he was just a little boy, and these cousins were descended from his mother's sisters. These would have been about the only remaining relatives from his mother's family.

Some of the other names I've yet to figure out, but N. O. Dickson of Corinth is one that I do know about, again due to some sleuthing on my part. Noah Orlando Dickson was born in Itawamba County in 1873, five years after Gid was born. I suspect the two men were once playmates. Noah's mother was Hannah Sweat, daughter of Noah Sweat and Elizabeth Jane Hargett. The Sweat and Hargett families were neighbors of Gid's father, George Emerson Robinson, in the area around Providence Church, north of Tremont. In fact, George Emerson Robinson bought 260 acres from Noah and Elizabeth Sweat in 1882, and in 1883 he purchased additional acreage from N.O. Dickson's parents, John and Hannah.

Noah Sweat eventually moved to Alcorn County, along with several of his children, including his daughter Hannah who was married to John Collins Dickson. Hannah and John's son was Gid's friend, Noah Orlando Dickson.

Noah Sweat's son, Laney, also moved to Alcorn County where his son Noah Spurgeon Sweat, Sr. was born in 1892. Noah Spurgeon Sweat's mother was Sarah Elizabeth Roberts, born in 1859 in Itawamba County. Noah Spurgeon Sweat, Sr., a lawyer, had a son, also a lawyer, whom he named Noah Spurgeon Sweat, Jr. Oh, and by the way, Noah Jr.'s mother was an Itawamba native too, Vivien Cayce Dorsey.

Noah Spurgeon "Soggy" Sweat, Jr. was a well-known and well-loved judge and state legislator from Alcorn County, but with deep Itawamba roots. He is perhaps best known for his "whiskey speech" which was included in William Safire's book "Lend Me Your Ears" as a classic example of a speech with political doublespeak. Noah Sweat delivered his speech in 1952 when legalization of liquor was a hot topic in Mississippi. Prohibition had been lifted just a few years earlier, in 1948, when Noah let his views be known on the legalization of whiskey:

"My friends,

"I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey."

"If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it."


"If when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it."

* * *
Judge Sweat delivered his speech at a banquet at the old King Edward Hotel in downtown Jackson, a hotel that has just recently been refurbished and reopened. At the time of the 1952 speech, liquor was still illegal in Mississippi although federal prohibition had been lifted. The state was collecting millions of dollars in black market taxes on whiskey and legislators were fearful of the impact that legalization of liquor would have on the state's coffers, in addition to worries about the moral issues surrounding liquor and how the "folks back home" might feel about a vote in favor of making whiskey more readily available.

Noah "Soggy" Sweat only served one term in the Mississippi legislature, but he was elected and served as a state circuit judge for many years. After he retired from the judiciary, Judge Sweat was a professor at the Ole Miss Law School where he taught my husband in an Ethics class.

Hope you enjoyed this little history lesson. The "whiskey speech" is really a classic - Google it and see just how widespread and well-known it is, and remember that it was written and delivered by a man with really deep Itawamba roots! It even was performed on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.

Oh, and it was Judge Sweat's second cousin that Gid traveled to see in 1938. Now that's some Itawamba Connections!

1 comment:

Arvel said...

Soggy was a lovely kind person. Perfect Southern gentleman.