From Durant to the Delta

monument dedication aerial

On a sunny October Thursday in 1913, it looks like all of Greenwood has gathered on the Courthouse lawn to watch the unveiling of the Confederate Monument. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, spearheaded by the inexhaustible Lizzie George Henderson, had raised most of the funds for not one, not two, but SIX Italian marble figures to be carved and placed on pedestals on the southeast lawn. Their contract with Columbus Marble Works is lengthy and numbingly detailed, right down to specifying that the female figure on the west side was to be a “sure enough woman,” i.e., no winged muse of history or toga-clad ideal of femininity. None of that for Lizzie and her fellow dowagers, tough-as-nails matrons who could squeeze blood from a turnip and wield their husband’s checkbooks with impunity. They built monuments and libraries and memorial buildings in those days and had no time or patience with wilting violets. Their Confederate Monument would be the largest in Mississippi, clustered with foot soldiers and generals and gallant young men and rock steady women.

It is extremely doubtful that Mrs. Henderson and her high society buddies were aware of two young ladies from Durant, huddled together somewhere in this vast crowd. Olive West, 21 years old, had screwed up all her courage and resolve just a few years earlier, packing a valise and a knife-sharp mind as she set out for the new nurses’ training program at Greenwood’s Kings Daughters Hospital. Along with three other ambitious teenagers, she buckled down to learn about babies and bedpans, caring for the ill and the dying and honing a sense of compassion and competency which would be her hallmark through decades on the wards of Greenwood Leflore Hospital and dozens of private homes.

Emboldened by her older sister’s courage, Jessie West packed her Durant High School diploma and followed that same path down the hills to the Delta in 1913. A few months at a Memphis business college provided the necessary skills with a typewriter and a stenographer’s pad, and she quickly found work with Barnwell and Ashcraft’s insurance agency on Howard Street.

Looking at the size of this crowd a century later, it’s unlikely that the insurance office or the hospital had any business on this crisp October day. Several hundred Confederate veterans were in attendance and their grandchildren were the favored few who unwrapped the drapes obscuring the statues. Olive and Jessie were not members of that club, but claimed an even more immediate connection to the Lost Cause: Their father, Anderson West, was a cavalry veteran who had passed on to his reward just two years earlier in Durant. So these two ambitious young ladies knew very well the sacrifice and valor being memorialized on that long-ago day in Greenwood.

I have studied this picture and the others taken that day with a hopeful eye, wishing that I could spot my grandmother Jessie and my great-aunt Olive beneath one of those umbrellas or whispering to each other in the shade of the bandstand. No luck. But just knowing that they are somewhere in the crowd on that exciting day, beginning the long chain of generations that would call Greenwood home, makes me happy.

There won’t be any celebrations of the monument’s 100th birthday in October of 2013, as Those Who Are Easily Offended seem to have the rest of us hesitant to make a peep about recognizing art and history for what it is. But I’ll give a nod to those old statues on October 9, maybe even a discreet honk of my horn, wishing them another century of quiet vigilance on their pedestals.

Jessie West, circa 1913

Jessie West, circa 1913

Olive West Stott ("Big") by old Greenwood Leflore Hospital
Olive West Stott (“Big”) by old Greenwood Leflore Hospital

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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One Response to From Durant to the Delta

  1. lilajane1@yahoo.com says:

    I wonder if my Jewish relatives are there. They were in Durant before they went to the Delta, Cleveland, MS, to start their store, Kamiens, in 1904 which is still in operation today.

    >________________________________ > From: daughterofthedelta >To: lilajane1@yahoo.com >Sent: Monday, September 16, 2013 9:18 AM >Subject: [New post] From Durant to the Delta > > WordPress.com >sec040121 posted: ” On a sunny October Thursday in 1913, it looks like all of Greenwood has gathered on the Courthouse lawn to watch the unveiling of the Confederate Monument. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, spearheaded by the inexhaustible Lizzie George Henders” >

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