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WATER VALLEY – Greg Goodwin was a child growing up in Tulsa when he first heard about Water Valley and his family’s journey from Mississippi to Oklahoma more than a century ago.
Goodwin’s great-grandfather, James Henry Goodwin, was a successful Water Valley businessman in the early 1900s. “He had good businesses while he was here,” Goodwin said during a visit last week, “but he wanted better for his kids. They could only receive a fourth or fifth grade education at that time. In Oklahoma they could complete high school and go to college.”
Goodwin knows the value of education. He spent 38 years in the Atlanta area as an educator at the Redan School in Stone Mountain, where he was a teacher and assistant coach and for the last nine years was principal.
One of the places Goodwin visited while in Water Valley was the Casey Jones Railroad Museum. His great-grandfather had worked for the railroad as a brakeman before becoming a businessman, according to the 1900 census. While at the museum, Goodwin stood in front of a large photograph of downtown Water Valley and saw the block of buildings that housed his ancestor’s grocery store on what is now the location of the post office. Nearby was his funeral business above the Addington Stable.
“My grandfather walked these streets that I am on now. His father walked these streets. And that’s important to me,” Goodwin added.
“Water Valley has always been on my list. I’m retired now and I have the opportunity to travel and do things I like to do,” he said. “I’ve been close to here several times passing through Memphis on my way back to Oklahoma.”
The invitation to visit Water Valley came from local historian Calvin Hawkins. “Calvin reached out to me. He’s been so hospitable on the phone,” said Goodwin. “They are talking about our family in Tulsa. Our family was in Water Valley before it was in Tulsa. I wanted to connect that. I thought it was important that I be here.”
The Goodwin family story began to unfold in October 2019 with emails from writer Victor Luckerson, who is working on a book about the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. Luckerson was following several Tulsa families who were part of the historic Greenwood Community of which the Goodwins are prominent members.
Luckerson discovered that J. H. Goodwin, his wife, and four children left Water Valley for Tulsa around 1914. One of his early businesses was the Goodwin Building, which he built and rented office space. He also had interest in a funeral home.
The January 15, 1916 issue of the Tulsa Star announced that J. H. Goodwin had been hired as business manager of that newspaper. His son, E. L. Goodwin, who is Greg Goodwin’s grandfather, continued the newspaper tradition by purchasing the Oklahoma Eagle. It is still being published today by Greg’s uncle, James Goodwin, who is also a prominent Tulsa attorney.
Greg’s father, E. L. Goodwin Jr., worked for the Eagle. “He was a journalist. When my grandfather bought that newspaper, my dad had no choice but to grow up as a newspaperman. I never saw my father without a camera.”
Other members of the Goodwin family who are prominent in Tulsa include Robert Goodwin, who accepted a political appointment to serve in the Department of Education, where he led the White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges during the presidency of George H. W. Bush; Jo Ann Goodwin Gilford, who was the first black teacher at Burroughs Elementary in 1961; and Regina Goodwin, who has served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from the 73rd district since 2015.
“My Dad made a couple of trips to Water Valley driving from Oklahoma. The last time he came he had a car wreck here. He told that story often,” said Goodwin, who explained that the wreck was in the mid-1940s when his father was 10 or 11. “His last trip was to see his aunt, Alberta Ware who was still living here then.”
Goodwin said that he plans to return to Water Valley for a visit in the future. He added that other members of the family want to come here, too. “Our roots are Water Valley,” he said.