Sunday, July 20, 2014

Heard Four Shots

Hystercine Gray Rankin was ten years old when she heard four gunshots while retrieving water from the pond. She thought it was hunters in the woods but the shots heard had killed her father. Denver Gray had been murdered by the owner of the land where he was a tenant farmer. Gray laid in the road until the log truck came to pick him up.

Quilting was taught to Hystercine by her maternal grandmother. Hystercine was recognized for her quilts by the National Heritage Fellowship. She used quilt making to capture her experiences growing up in rural Mississippi. Below is a scene from the day of her father's funeral.

"The day of my father Denver Gray's funeral was also the day we left Union Church. My Grandmother, Alice Whalem, moved us to the Blue Hill community To live with her father, Joe January, who was born a slave and later bought 100 acres of the land he was a slave on, and built a very large house there in 1890. He died in 1941 I moved in 1946, when I married Ezekiel Rankin, a staff sargent [sic] in the US Army. My Grandmother died in 1943 and my Mother Brothers And Sisters continued to live with my great uncle Lovie January My Mother Laula Gray died in 1950 of Cancer." Hystercine Rankin
The Full Quilt

Newspaper Account of Denver Gray's Murder
Farrell Humphreys Killed Negro Monday

Surrendered to Sheriff and Released on Bond to Await Grand Jury Action

Mr. Farrell Humphreys who owns and operates a farm property on Highway 20 about 15 miles east of Fayette shot and killed a negro tenant on his place about seven o'clock Monday evening, April 3, The negro, Denver Gray, about 38 years of age, and Mr. Humphreys had been having tenant and landlord differences for several days prior to the difficulty that resulted in the killing.

Mr. Humphreys gave himself up to the Sheriff's office, waived preliminary hearing and was admitted to bail to await grand jury investigation. Several witnesses are reported to have seen and heard all that passed between the two men at the time of the shooting.

The Chronicle has heard no detailed statement of the trouble that caused the tragedy.

Denver Gray was the son of Walter Gray and Gaule Williams. He was born March 27, 1905, near Union Church, Jefferson County, Mississippi. He married Laula Meeks/Mix, daughter of Alex and Alice January Whalum.

Sources: The Fayette Chronicle, April 7, 1939, Page 1
Hystercine Gray Rankin

11 comments:

  1. The quilt is beautiful, and a work of art. But how sad that a young girl had to experience this. It reminds me, though, of how we use our experiences to develop coping skills and to survive and thrive, and contribute something of beauty and permanence back in our lives. And, I certainly hope Mrs. Rankin got $18,000 for that quilt when it was sold.

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    1. If she didn't get the $18K, she probably came close. Camile Cosby, Bill Cosby's wife, was one of the purchasers of her quilts.

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  2. A very sad, and probably all too common story. The quilt is beautiful.

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    1. It is a sad story, I am pleased she had quilting to help with her grief.

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  3. What a fascinating story, although so sad. I'm sure that making the quilt brought up memories, but hope that there was also peace in its making. I'm glad that she was fittingly honored. (and, she raised seven children, what a woman!)

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    1. She raised her own seven children plus her younger siblings after her mother's death in 1949. Shen mentioned in one interview that quilting helped to deal with her grief and the difficulties of poverty. .

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  4. Linda, No matter how many times I read a similar account of the heinous maltreatment of my people, I still am troubled each time. Thank you.
    Saundra

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    1. The aftermath of these heinous acts destroys some families. A young widow and several children are usually left behind and the widow has to make quick decisions for provisions for the family.

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  5. She was a strong woman with a good heart. The fact that Farrell Humphreys was never charged, even though he turned himself in, is a sad statement about the attitude of the community and the times.

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    1. Farrell Humphreys gave his version of the murder; the witnesses were likely his Negro tenants, no need for further investigation. Hystercine's quilting was able to support her seven children receiving their college education. She was a remarkable woman.

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  6. Whew, what a sad story. The newspaper account is appalling. The tone seems odd, and it's hard to understand how little interest the paper had in learning more about the circumstances.

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