[Masthead] Fair ~ 43°F  
High: 75°F ~ Low: 52°F
Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gray Matters: Living History Book

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In researching the story of the Choctaw Indians which I recently shared with you I was privileged to read an account of another descendant of Greenwood LeFleur which was written by my great-nephew, then a college student living in Louisiana. I have told you in the past of my amazement at remembering my own grandmother's recollection of the Civil War, so you know I share a bit of his reaction. I hope you will enjoy his account which follows.

"Seven miles outside of Greenwood, Mississippi, in a modest trailer on the edge of a cotton field ,lives Josephine "Mama Jo" Montgomery. The 90-year old is a "living history book""who inspired me to appreciate my own heritage as well as history in general. I am distantly related to Mama Jo, so her tales of our ancestors' exploits help me further understand my own family heritage. For example, her great-aunt lived near Fort Sumter and heard the first shots of the Civil War. Her great-uncle, who was at the battle, retrieved the United States flag afterwards, and it was sewn into a couple of Confederate uniforms. She has told several times of a relative, a Confederate soldier captured by Union troops, who was forced to walk barefoot across a frozen lake in Michigan, ultimately leading to his death. She still holds a grudge against "the Yankees" for that. Her own life story is as fascinating as that of our ancestors. She has lived to watch the horse and buggy days turn into the jet age, through both world wars and the great depression, the Civil Rights movement and man's walking on the moon. She was taught how to use a gun at an early age and often used one to put food on the table. In fact, she is still handy with a gun, keeping a .38-caliber handgun by her bed to rid her garden of armadillos. She lived in the mansion named Malmaison, built by Choctaw Chief Greenwood Leflore, for several years and clearly remembers the night it burned down in 1942. (I told you of that tragedy in my previous account of the great Choctaw Chief.) Having lived in Mississippi her entire life, Mama Jo views the many changes from that perspective, particularly the days of segregation and the turbulent days of integration. She noted that because Mississippi was already so poor, it wasn't hit quite as hard by the Great Depression as many states were. She said her parents always had food on the table and she helped provide food for workers on her family's cotton farm by shooting raccoons for them to eat. She tells of how her home state has diversified both culturally and economically. She witnessed the automation of the cotton industry firsthand, with her father and one of her sons growing cotton. Even though I have heard Mama Jo tell some stories several times, I am still spellbound by them. She enlivens her stories of our ancestors, her colorful life and the changes in society during the 20th Century with vivid details and amusing anecdotes. Her tales have made me much more interested in history and much more likely to turn to the History Channel than I once was. Having been around for more than a third of America's history, Mama Jo is, herself, a living piece of it, and I am looking forward to seeing her again soon."

As this piece was written nearly five years ago, I asked for an up-date on this remarkable woman who would now be 95. I was happy to learn that she is still living, but has had to move into a nursing home. There, in spite of several health problems, she is still alert and eager to share her stories.