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Monday, February 25, 2008

Bessie Coleman 01/26/1892-04/30/1926

Born in Atlanta, Texas, on January 26, 1892 Bessie Coleman took an arduous path to becoming the world's first licensed African-American pilot. Her journey started when she moved early in her life with her family to Waxahachie, Texas. She lived within her Father's boundaries of a sharecropper's life. Growing up in Waxahachie she helped around the house and walked 4 miles to school. It was an everyday life in the Jim Crow South. Suddenly in 1901 her Father, George Coleman, left the family and moved to Oklahoma. He did try to convince his family to come with him but they would not. Soon after, her brothers also went there own ways and left their Mother, Susan, to raise 4 daughters on her own. "Susan found work as a cook/housekeeper for Mr. And Mrs. Elwin Jones." Bessie soon started taking care of the Coleman household near Mustang Creek. At the age of twelve she was accepted to the Missionary Baptist Church. Though all activities were interrupted during cotton pick'n season she eventually saved her money working as a laundress and attended Colored Agricultural and Normal University in Langston, Oklahoma. After one year she ran out of money. Eventually she moved to Chicago with her brother Walter at the age of 23. Her brothers John and Walter had served in WWI. John use to tell Bessie about the French women pilots. This got her inspiration going. She eventually applied went to France and obtained a flying license. On June 15, 1921 became the first African-American licensed pilot. She returned to America soon after but returned to France for advanced training. She returned again to the US an expert pilot.

"Her first appearance was in an air show on September 3, 1922 at Curtiss Field near New York City." "On June 19, 1925, Bessie made her flying debut in Texas at a Houston auto racetrack renamed Houston Aerial Transport Field in honor of the occasion."

She performed shows in San Antonio, Richmond, Waxahachie, Wharton,and Dallas. She always requested that the audience be integrated. On the occasion she performed in Waxahachie she had disappointingly found that Jim Crow still ruled in Waxahachie which it would until the late 60's. She had requested that the everyone was to enter the same gates. To her disappointment when she flew over in her Curtis JN-4D she saw a chain separating the blacks and whites after the gates. At that moment she probably understood a little better why her Father had left Waxahachie.

"At the end of April in 1926, Bessie's Jenny arrived in Jacksonville. On the evening of April 30th, she and her mechanic took the plane up for a test flight. Once aloft, the plane malfunctioned and the mechanic, who was piloting the plane from the front seat, lost control of the plane. Bessie fell from the open cockpit several hundred feet to her death."

10,000 people filed passed her coffin. She's had streets,a day, Bessie Coleman Aero Club(An African American flying school) and a US Stamp named in her honor and Legend.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

LaRue Kilgore-Miller

LaRue Kilgore-Miller will have the new Midlothian Elementary named after her. Mrs Miller has taught three generations of students at Midlothian ISD. This wonderfull career may have never happened if not for the cottonseed oil mill in Midlothian back in 1906. The oil mill was where cottonseeds were pressed and the oil is collected. Cottonseed oil is mainly used as salad oil, cooking oil, and found in many baked goods.

Before the Cottonseed oil mill, Blacks were not allowed to live in Midlothian and were definitely not allowed after dark. But the oil mill needing more workers changed things and Buck Kilgore became one of the first Blacks to live in Midlothian. 9th street became the street that the Black folk lived. Little LaRue Kilgore grew up with her Dad Buck and Mother Amanda at 511 n 9th street. The great perk of living there was that the Black school Booker T Washington was right next door with it's playground.

LaRue enjoyed her school but it was only for 1st to 8th grade. After 8th grade was High School and the only black High School was in neighboring Waxahachie. I believe she went to Oak Lawn School on Wyatt street. Originally the school was located on aiken st next to the future location the Joshua Chapel A.M.E. Church. So LaRue and her classmates would catch the bus at 6:30 am and ride to Waxahachie and get bused back around 3:00 pm. Unfortunately they could not stay for after school activities.

LaRue Miller graduated High School and went to Paul Quinn college in Dallas. Where she met Arthur Miller. She graduated in 1949 and then Married Arthur in 1950. Arthur Miller's brother has claim to fame. Doris (Dorie) Miller received the Navy Cross for his bravery at Pearl Harbor. He fired a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun at the Japs until it ran out of ammo. He was not trained to fire the gun. He also carried injured men to safety.

Mrs LaRue Miller began to teach at her old school Booker T Washington. Though at first the principle was afraid that since the students knew her so well she would not be able to discipline the children. Everyone knew her as Baby Ruth. But it all worked out. She taught there until 1967 when the school's became integrated.

At the time of integration Mrs LaRue said that she couldn't remember a problem. She began at J R Irving where the teachers were very nice and helpful. She didn't even remember a student fight. Mrs. Miller being use to hand me downs from the white schools began using more up-to-date materials to teach. She taught in Midlothian ISD until she retired in 1994. She still substitutes and is involved the Midlothian Education Foundation. LaRue Miller Elementery sounds like a school doesn't it? Well deserved!

Note: majority of this post was obtained from the cover article in the Feb 2008 Midlothian NOW magazine written by Betty Tryon.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Stairway to nowhere?

Through a Ellis County Sheriff friend, I was given a tip on a location that may have historical value. He told me in the southeastern region of Ellis County there is a stairway that goes up a hill . It is made of lumber and goes up a wooded hill near a creek by railroad tracks. I went to the location on Sandswitch Road and being summertime was not able to locate it. Returning this winter, sure enough, there it was. The Sheriff said he had metal detected the area and found coins mainly from the 1930's. There is an abandoned house and barn just east of the stairway where unfortunately people dump stuff. The stairs are in two sections. A long one goes close to the top until the angle changes then another stairway goes the rest of the way to the top. Where they seperate you can see an old waterline(I'm guessing for water) and it runs under the top section of stairs. Maybe it was a way for people who lived on the hill to catch the train?