Article Series By Reed Now Available On Amazon
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WATER VALLEY – The meticulously recorded stories of dozens of black matriarchs from Yalobusha County originally published in the North Mississippi Herald are now available in a paperback book available from Amazon. “Outstanding Black Women of Yalobusha County: Their stories and their contributions to a Mississippi Community,” was compiled and edited by Dottie Chapman Reed and first available on Amazon on Dec. 16.
Reed, a native of Water Valley and 1970 graduate of Davidson High School, reported a link will soon be available on her website, blackwomenofyalobusha.com, where autographed or bulk copies of the book can also be purchased. The book is a compilation of 45 articles written by Reed over a two-year period as part of a project to record the history of black matriarchs from the county. The idea originated after Reed, who now resides in Atlanta, attended the funeral of her second cousin, George Adams, in Illinois.
“When his son, George Adams, III, spoke, he talked of his father’s love for our hometown, Water Valley, and how his dad never ever missed an opportunity to travel home,” Reed reported. “The next speaker, whose last name, Backstrom, sounded like a name I remember from my home church, Miles CME, began by telling about he and George going to my mom’s Sunday School class,” she continued. “I was astounded and flattered to hear that she always picked them up for Sunday School.”
As Backstrom continued his eulogy, he shared another special memory of Reed’s mom.
“Instantly I realized there was more of a reason for my being there that day. I would have missed this tribute to my mom, Helen Chapman,” Reed continued in her first article.
Later she learned that a large van was chartered to transport Water Vallians to the funeral, and many others with roots in her hometown community, from across Mississippi, Memphis, Davenport, Milwaukee, Chicago and other cities attended.
“This merging of home folks and families, coupled with George’s love for Water Valley, gave me an urge to hear more stories like that Mr. Backstrom shared,” Reed wrote in her first article as she reached out for information about black women of Yalobusha County. “Your mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunties, teachers, etc.”
Two months after that initial article, Reed shared the inspiring story of the late Sallie Ann Polk. The memories, Polk’s own words recorded a decade earlier when she was 100, revealed a wholesome life and a love for her family and God.
After that the articles came twice a month, with a few exceptions, as women who had a powerful impact on their families and their communities were featured. The stories recorded hard times, as many of the women logged long hours starting at a young age as they worked in the field or performed domestic duties for white families in the community. The stories shared a harsh history, as the ugly truth about how segregation impacted families and the entire community was revealed. But probably most importantly, the stories showed the strong resolve of the matriarchs to create a better life for their children and grandchildren, second and third generation family members who excelled professionally and continue to leave a mark in history for equality.
A few times Reed deviated from profiling matriarchs – reader input was shared; a Veteran’s Day tribute honored her brother and cousin who served in Vietnam; end-of-the-year thoughts were included; and her finale, an extensive profile of one of Water Valley’s strongest educators, Professor E.C. Davidson.
Although the bi-weekly features in the Herald ended in July, Reed’s project entered a second phase as the University of Mississippi launched an oral history project in the fall semester in 2019 to document the stories of elder African-American men and women in Yalobusha County. Reed collaborated with Dr. Jessica Wilkerson, assistant professor of History and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, and her grad students for nine interviews. At the end of the semester, students worked the interviews into a script, which they shared with interviewees and community members in an oral history performance at Spring Hill North M.B. Church in Water Valley. In February, 2020, they shared the performance at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.
In the spring, 2020, Dr. Brian Foster, assistant professor of Sociology and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, took over as director of the project and will continue to work with Reed on the project. The book’s epilogue includes an overview from Dr. Foster of what the future holds for the project.
The book also includes a few new pictures not originally published in the Herald as well as many reader comments. To place an order contact Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website.
“It was my vision to feature the unknown and the lesser known, connecting their stories to the history of the county,” Reed explained.